Liberty Expose: The Myth of American Nationalism


In recent months, a lot of terms have been thrown around in the hysteria that followed the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. One term that has been misapplied to a shameful degree is “nationalism.” There are two groups that use the term without even knowing the meaning; the media, which routinely warns of nationalist tendencies in America (one journalist referred to Trump as an “ultranationalist”), and alt-right groups, which claim to be proponents of nationalism. Both groups are too ahistorical to even know what nationalism is.

Nationalism is predicated on the idea of blood and soil; that is a civilization is connected to the land to which that civilization inhabits. Such nationalism is possible in many parts of the old world. This means to have a traditional definition of a “nation,” a civilization must have a national identity that is connected to a territory. America does not have that

Civilizations in Eurasia have existed in relatively the same areas for thousands of years. Through this an identity are created; languages are developed, religions take root, and cultures become more distinct. In the old world, identity becomes intrinsically attached to history; though there may be religious or cultural ropes that tie a civilization together, it is ultimately the ethnic background and the land inhabited that gives a civilization an identity – and makes a civilization a nation.

Much of the basis for modern states originated with this idea. In the latter half of the 19th century, the otherwise divided and small kingdoms in Europe began to unite to fulfill the vision of national unity. Modern Germany was born out of a campaign spearheaded by Otto von Bismarck to unite the German kingdoms into a unified Germany, which he achieved to a high degree in 1871. Italy, similarly divided in smaller states like pre-unified Germany, began a campaign to unify into one Italian state. In Asia, Japan, at the time divided and influenced by Western ideas of national unity, began a modernization campaign to bring Japan into the modern world.

Most of these campaigns were violent; the German Wars of Unification risked a geopolitical collision as Prussia launched wars against Denmark, Austria, and France (many of these tensions led to the World War), the unification of the Italian states saw smaller monarchies launch insurrections against Austria, and Japan experienced a period of rebellion during the effort to modernize the county.

These conflicts were started to unify people of the same nation into one state. Multiple states could exist that belonged to the same nation, but they wouldn’t be until the national unification wars.

The United States, and to an extent, the rest of the Americas, does not have the same “blood and soil” history that the old world has. As modern nation-states in Eurasia can point to a unity language, culture, race, and land as a source of national unity, the United States does not have that.

 There is no American language. Though English is (and should officially be made) the national language, the English language was an import, much like French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and to an extent, Swedish (Delaware used to be a Swedish possession), and Russian (Alaska), the languages that came to thrive in the new world are connected to the land. The United States does not have a unified ethnicity; like the language, the people here represent imports from all the different states and areas of Europe, Asia, Africa, and other parts of the Americas.

Though not all nation-states have a unifying religion, many do, but America was of course so religiously divided that much of the modern American government was decentralized due to the different culture associated with those religions. As every cultural fabric in America is imported, obviously the can be no ancient connection to the land.

The only people who can attempt to claim nationhood are American Indians, though most tribes are too small to claim status as a nation (a notable exception are the Cherokee, which did attempt in a version of political nationhood at one time.

There has been an alternative attempt at nationalism in America: civic nationalism. As traditional nationalism is predicated on “blood and soil,” civic nationalism is based upon the forward the founding American ideas. America does not have a unifying racial or geographic background, but it does have a uniting set of principles that built the republic.

Civic nationalism attempts to promote these. The unifying American idea is based on the Lockean notion of rights: the right to life, liberty, and property (the fruits of one’s labor.) This was revised in the Declaration of Independence to the right of life, liberty, and happiness, (happiness at the time meant self-fulfillment.)

However admirable this promotion of these ideas may be, referring to the pursuit of the founding Lockean principles as civic nationalism is problematic. The term itself is a bit contradictory; nationalism is based upon a national identity, while civic nationalism is based upon ideas. American patriotism might be a more suitable term.

American nationalism is an impossibility – which is a good thing. The United States is unique in that Americans have the luxury to have a set of ideas that the can unite the country. Because of these ideas, anyone can be an American.

For the most part, that is not possible in other countries. Though as the response to Harvey show that Americans are not as remotely divided as certain media sources attempt to convey, Americans can take some comfort in knowing that what divisions do exist can be alleviated by the hope of the America idea, and not in the myths originating from promoters of identity. The pursuit of these ideas is what makes America exceptional.