An argument against nationalism


Distinguished and erudite, British journalist and historian Anatol Lieven unabashedly proffered, “America may be spreading progress in other countries, but not democracy.” Continuing the Center for International Studies’ World Beyond the Headlines lecture series Tuesday night at International House, Lieven, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former correspondent for the London Times and the Financial Times, discussed his newest book, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2004).

According to Lieven, America’s patriotic character embodies two contradictory elements: thesis—a civic nationalism espousing liberty, democracy, and the rule of law, which he calls the American creed—and antithesis, a Jacksonian nationalism rooted “in the aggrieved, embittered, and defensive White America, centered in the American South.” One reason he wrote the book, he said, “was to remind Americans of the great many critiques of America’s culture and past. Dividing American nationalism between a thesis and antithesis would qualify some belief in American exceptionalism.”

While the American creed is ultimately optimistic and universalist, Lieven continued, “the danger of the American antithesis displays the liberal imperialist sense that nothing but total victory will do, leading to unrealistic and frustrated goals.” He concluded, “America keeps a fine house, but in its cellar there lives a demon, whose name is nationalism.”

By Bianca Sepulveda, AB’04

Photo: Anatol Lieven.

January 19, 2005