America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism

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In this controversial critique of American political culture and its historical roots, Anatol Lieven contends that U.S. foreign policy since 9/11 has been shaped by the special character of our nationalism. Within that nationalism, Lieven analyses two very different traditions. One is the "American thesis," a civic nationalism based on the democratic values of what has been called the "American Creed." These values are held to be universal, and anyone can become an American by adopting them. The other tradition, the "American antithesis" is a populist and often chauvinist nationalism, which tends to see America as a closed national culture and civilization threatened by a hostile and barbarous outside world.
With America Right or Wrong, Lieven examines how these two antithetical impulses have played out in U.S. responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and in the nature of U.S. support for Israel. This hard-hitting critique directs a spotlight on the American political soul and on the curious mixture of chauvinism and idealism that has driven the Bush administration.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this provocative and scholarly work, Lieven, senior associate at Washington's Carnegie Endowment, argues that normative American patriotism-an optimistic "civic creed" rooted in respect for America's institutions, individual freedoms and constitutional law-contains a monster in the basement: a jingoistic, militaristic, Jacksonian nationalism that sees America as the bearer of a messianic mission to lead a Manichean struggle against the savages. Since 9/11, the Bush administration and its Christian-fundamentalist "base" have invoked the nationalist tradition in waging the struggle against the "evil-doers." The result, Lieven argues, has been catastrophic for the war on terror. Rather than rally to America as the beacon of liberty, other nations (particular European and Muslim ones) feel repelled and threatened by the cavalier and unilateral superpower. Lieven's provocative final chapter argues that much of U.S. support for Israel is rooted not in the "civic creed" (e.g., support for a fellow liberal democracy) but in a nationalism that sees the Israelis as heroic cowboys and the Palestinians as savages who must be driven from their land, as Jackson did the Cherokees. Throughout, Lieven takes to task the American liberal intelligentsia for abandoning universalist principles in favor of ethnic chauvinism and nationalist fervor. Cogently argued, this is an important contribution to the discourse on national identity, the war on terror and the nature of political liberalism. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
I don't hate America, I regret it! Sigmund Freud once said. "A mistake; a gigantic mistake, it is true, but a mistake none the less." This more or less is where Lieven comes out in his intelligent and often provocative new book. He makes all the usual criticisms of America's "red state," religious, and populist nationalist culture, but he has it in for the "blue states" as well. "The American Creed"—the tolerant liberal internationalism that informs the generally secular civic faith of nonfundamentalist, non-Darwin-bashing Americans—strikes Lieven as a dangerous form of messianic universalism. Since September 11, in his view, a perverse synthesis between these two unappealing ideologies has shaped the U.S. response to Islamist terrorism: the outraged populist, Jacksonian nationalism of the masses has fused with Wilsonian messianism to provide support for George W. Bush and his neoconservative henchmen. Lieven is pessimistic: these failings are likely to drive us to our doom. But although these are interesting (if not completely original) insights, one awaits Lieven's explanation of why a state with such a deeply dysfunctional culture has succeeded so brilliantly on the international stage for so long.
From the Publisher

"Lieven is relentlessly candid, and has produced a remarkably thought-provoking book.... Tightly written and extensively researched.... A valuable and also a troubling book on a subject that is both crucial and in many ways extremely sensitive."--Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books

"A fascinating and incisive analysis of American nationalism."--London Review of Books

"Cogently important contribution to the discourse on national identity, the war on terror and the nature of political liberalism."--Publishers Weekly

"America Right or Wrong shows a serious intellectual talent and ambition stretching its wings. In particular, Lieven takes on some of the big questions about American identity, ideology and exceptionalism in ways that yield surprising and provocative results.... At its admirable best America Right or Wrong asks important questions and makes readers review some of their own most cherished convictions."--Walter Russell Mead, Washington Post Book World

"Some of the most trenchant and original criticism of the trajectory of U.S. foreign and military policy that has surfaced since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, 2003."--Inter Press Service

"Skillfully unravels the origins of American nationalism and illuminates its failings and virtues."--Foreword Magazine

"This fighting book digs beneath the trauma of 9-11 to uncover the cultural sources of popular support for a blindly aggressive and self-defeating foreign policy. Dazzling and inspiring."--Stephen Holmes, Professor of Politics and Law, New York University School of Law

"A searching examination of the deep-seated sources of American behavior, Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong takes on what others evade--the topics that, whether for good or ill, make us who we are and provide the engine of U. S. foreign policy. In pungent, muscular prose, Lieven makes a strong case that the neoconservatives have gotten far too much credit for the course of American policy since 9/11. His chapter on the mutually destructive course of U.S.-Israel relations is not only courageous but powerfully illuminating."--Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism

"Anatol Lieven is one of today's most insightful observers of U.S. foreign policy. In this exceptional book he provides an analysis of the virtues and the dangers of American nationalism that is as provocative as it is perceptive." --Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation

"Anatol Lieven is one of the most thought provoking and insightful writers in Washington. This book is very much in the same tradition."--Senator Dick Clark, Director of The Congressional Program, The Aspen Institute

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195300055
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Anatol Lieven is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. His other books include Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power and The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Path to Independence, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 1993.

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Table of Contents

1 An exceptional nationalism? 19
2 Thesis : splendor and tragedy of the American creed 48
3 Antithesis part I : the embittered heartland 88
4 Antithesis part II : fundamentalists and great fears 123
5 The legacy of the Cold War 150
6 American nationalism, Israel and the Middle East 173
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    Great Book!

    I recommend a million times over! This book is a must read, especially for those interested in American foreign policy and international relations. Lieven provides great insight about America's policies that have driven us to where we are today.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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