This article missed a real opportunity to craft a modern American liberal nationalism in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech. It first attempts to belittle nationalism by conflating the concepts of “nation” and “state”. While the modern-day state is arguably a recent phenomenon, nationhood is almost as old as humanity itself. Statehood is a creature of international law dating back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. States are entities that have sovereignty over territory. Nations, on the other hand, are peoples with a common heritage, usually ethnic in nature. There are states that are not nations and nations that are not states. The African states created after the end of colonialism are the best example of the former and the world is full of examples of the latter, such as the Kurds.
In contrast, the United States was founded not on an ethnic or denominational basis, but on the concept that all were created equal and were endowed with basic human rights. As I mentioned in my previous post on MLK Day, there is, and never should be, such a thing as an ethnic American. While we have struggled, sometimes bloodily, to fully realize this vision, we should never forget how revolutionary the concept was during the monarchical, absolutist nationalism of the 18th and 19th centuries. We fashioned a nationalism that was committed to achieving the American Dream for all our citizens regardless of origin or religion in the hope that other nations would see the benefits of such a society and adopt this vision in their own unique way.
The author rightly touts these ideals without realizing how unique, indeed exceptional, they are. In contrast, the history of most Eurasian nations is rooted in ethnic-based nationalism and so it will be a driving force of their domestic and foreign policies for the foreseeable future. A sustainable American foreign policy would recognize this fact and prioritize the defense of our interests against it. At the same time, the article correctly points out that our domestic policy must recognize the importance of community spirit and a shared commitment to the realization of the American Dream for all our fellow citizens. Otherwise, our nationalism will descend into the kind of chauvinist jingoism that the Trump Administration too often spouts.