America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism

Overview

Originally published over half a decade ago, Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong has become a classic analysis of the special character of American nationalism. As he demonstrated, America's foreign policy response to the 9/11 attacks flowed directly from a nationalistic tradition that was two centuries in the making. Within that nationalism, Lieven identified two strands. The first was the "American thesis," a civic nationalism based on the democratic values of what has been called the "American Creed." These...

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Overview

Originally published over half a decade ago, Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong has become a classic analysis of the special character of American nationalism. As he demonstrated, America's foreign policy response to the 9/11 attacks flowed directly from a nationalistic tradition that was two centuries in the making. Within that nationalism, Lieven identified two strands. The first was 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.

Much has changed since 9/11. The American public has turned inward in the wake of the Great Recession, but interestingly, Lieven's fundamental analysis of American nationalism remains powerful and convincing. In this expanded new edition, he includes and in-depth analysis of the domestic component of both the American creed and the American antithesis. Barack Obama's improbable election to the presidency illustrates well the first strand. The rise of the Tea Party in response to both the financial crisis and the Obama administration's response is highly characteristic of the second strand. Lieven concentrates especially on the Tea Party's hard-edged American nationalism, which is evident in anti-immigration sentiment, hatred of Obama, and opposition to redistributive social programs that allegedly reward the unworthy. His account of Obama's election and the right-wing response to the economic collapse not only bring the story up to the present, but indicate the staying power of the book's hard-hitting thesis.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A fascinating and incisive analysis of American nationalism."—London Review of Books

"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

"Cogently argued...an 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

"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

"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

"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 forthcoming The New American Militarism

"The author demonstrates that U.S. policy in Afghanistan during the 1980s was a failed attempt to counter Soviet influence and to compensate for the loss in Vietnam skillfully unravels the origins of American nationalism and illuminates its failings and virtues."—Karl Helicher, Foreword Magazine

"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

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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199897551
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/25/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 1,214,394
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (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

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface
Introduction
One: An Exceptional Nationalism?
Two: Thesis: Splendor and Tragedy of the American Creed
Three: Antithesis Part I: The Embittered heartland
Four: Antithesis Part II: Fundamentalists and Great Fears
Five: The Legacy of the Cold War
Six: American Nationalism, Israel and the Middle East
Conclusion
References
Notes
Index

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