Guide The Ethics of Nationalism

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I think it gets at something vitally important about the usually fairly moderate character of American nationalism. It has always seemed to me that liberal critics of American exceptionalism as President Obama sometimes was fail to see that what goes by the name of American exceptionalism is actually a moderating influence on American nationalism, because it holds our nationalism up to a standard rather than using nationalism itself as a standard.

In other words, our idealistic sense of what America stands for gives us high expectations of ourselves that we sometimes actually take seriously. Trump champions American nationalism but not American exceptionalism. In April of , for example, Trump was interviewed by a Tea Party group in Texas, and was asked whether American exceptionalism still existed.

You can see his answer here. He began by putting himself in the shoes of a Russian or German and said, in part:. But there is more to the view Trump lays out on this point, and his inaugural address illustrates it with particular force. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.

And this simple change will help turn our fortunes around. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.


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We will finally behave as all nations are entitled to behave. And once we do that, we will be better able to address the shortage of unity that undermines our own society:. At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

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We ought to love our country because it is our country, as the people of every nation ought to love their nation for being theirs. Obama said:. I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. Conservatives have rightly harped on this response for eight years, and may never let him live it down. We made a lot of mistakes.

The Ethics of Political Membership: Cosmopolitanism vs. Nationalism

So, a lot of killers around, believe me. Trump here advances an equivalence that amounts to a disgusting slander against our country, unlike anything that any sitting president has ever said of us before. And he means it, at least if you take seriously the dark portrait he paints of America on almost any occasion that calls for some reflection or a display of rhetoric.

And it is, in a sense, a natural extension of the equivalence at the core of his brand of American nationalism. The people are. And forgetting that, as we on the Right sometimes do, is a very great failing. An overly abstract idealistic Americanism has contributed a lot to the failure of our politics in recent years. You can see it in particular in the immigration debates, and more generally in the unrequited desire for solidarity that drives a lot of the populism we now see.


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But the ideas and ideals are nonetheless also crucial to what makes American nationalism a force for good. And they are also what unites American nationalism with American exceptionalism. We cannot truly respect ourselves as a people without a story rooted in what has made us distinct. Ross Douthat wrote insightfully about this challenge this past weekend.

The ideas that have always driven our national life are aspirational, not simply descriptive. They form, as Abraham Lincoln put it,. Finding a balance between this rather abstract and conceptual nationalism and the concrete and experiential nationalism essential to a healthy politics is no easy matter. To achieve it, we have to see that over-abstraction is actually a danger that threatens both a nationalism of ideas and a nationalism of home and hearth.

It is ultimately not about what we love but about its being ours. But we love America because it is lovely, not only because it is ours. And when we deny this, or simply do not see it, we make America less lovely and we lose the restraint upon nationalism that the limits of loveliness make possible. This is why abstraction away from our interpersonal reality poses a grave danger to any constructive nationalism. A balanced nationalism needs to be balanced on all sides by the concrete.

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And to see how that balance might be possible requires recourse to the other point that Rich and Ramesh nicely highlight in their essay. Simply put, nationalism can be understood as opposed to localism or as opposed to globalism. It can be a way to broaden the scope of community or to constrain it. And the two are not the same. Hamiltonian nationalism and the progressive nationalism that arose in no small measure in response to a progressive federalism a century ago opposed itself to localism and pointed toward an unlimited cosmopolitanism, or at least an instinct for centralization.

The New Nationalism puts the national need before sectional or personal advantage. It is impatient of the utter confusion that results from local legislatures attempting to treat national issues as local issues. It is still more impatient of the impotence which springs from over division of governmental powers, the impotence which makes it possible for local selfishness or for legal cunning, hired by wealthy special interests, to bring national activities to a deadlock.

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About Margaret Moore. Margaret Moore. There is more than one author with this name. Books by Margaret Moore.