Nationalism Isn’t American

A big problem we face today is that we have not made use of these authentically American ways to refresh our institutions. Our leaders have essentially doubled down on patching up the existing model that was created out of the Depression and postwar era, even as their limits and lack of suitability to today’s world become increasingly apparent.

Before we can talk about Christian nationalism, we first have to talk about nationalism. As many people conclude that something has gone fundamentally wrong in America, nationalism is just one of the proposed solutions. Christian nationalism is a variant of that.

Catholic integralism is another variation on this same theme. Others promote “post-liberalism.” The Left, of course, wants some kind of socialism. Some call for an American Pinochet. Some people on the dissident Right even flirt with discredited continental political philosophies.

While it is understandable that people want to see America change for the better, these approaches won’t work because they are foreign to the American political and cultural tradition.

America is not a “nation” in the European sense. Nationalism was a 19th-century European state-building movement. It was about constructing national identities out of the people in various estates and villages who spoke different dialects of the same language. America, on the other hand, is a continental empire—even if, like “nationalism,” “empire” is another word we would not use to describe ourselves. Manifest destiny was not about forming a nation out of a pre-existing sub-region with a shared history but about conquering and taming the West. America has always been something of a protean nation: restless, forward-looking, growth-oriented, constantly churning, changing and building. This makes it a bad fit for the imposition of some static concept of “nationhood.”

This is why “nationalism” is not a word that Americans have traditionally used to describe what they want for their country, even in the halcyon days of the 1980s. Even if the content of something like nationalism is said to be what Americans have always believed, the word itself is a foreign symbol. It doesn’t compute for most Americans.

As Georgetown professor Joshua Mitchell has shown, wokeness shot rapidly through American culture because it exploited Protestant religious themes that are embedded deep in our public consciousness, whereas Marxism never got traction because concepts like “class” don’t resonate in America. Opponents of wokeness should learn from this: the language and symbols we adopt will have to resonate with Americans’ own self-understanding.

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