Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolutionby Michael Lind
As this century comes to a close, debates over immigration policy, racial preferences, and multiculturalism challenge the consensus that formerly grounded our national culture. The question of our national identity is as urgent as it has ever been in our history. Is our society disintegrating into a
Are we now, or have we ever been, a nation?
As this century comes to a close, debates over immigration policy, racial preferences, and multiculturalism challenge the consensus that formerly grounded our national culture. The question of our national identity is as urgent as it has ever been in our history. Is our society disintegrating into a collection of separate ethnic enclaves, or is there a way that we can forge a coherent, unified identity as we enter the 21st century?
In this "marvelously written, wide-ranging and thought-provoking"* book, Michael Lind provides a comprehensive revisionist view of the American past and offers a concrete proposal for nation-building reforms to strengthen the American future. He shows that the forces of nationalism and the ideal of a trans-racial melting pot need not be in conflict with each other, and he provides a practical agenda for a liberal nationalist revolution that would combine a new color-blind liberalism in civil rights with practical measures for reducing class-based barriers to racial integration.
A stimulating critique of every kind of orthodox opinion as well as a vision of a new "Trans-American" majority, The Next American Nation may forever change the way we think and talk about American identity.
*New York Newsday
- Free Press
- Publication date:
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- 6.54(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.40(d)
Read an Excerpt
The First Republic
Picture North America in the year 2000 A.D., as Thomas Jefferson might have imagined it in 1800. As the twenty-first century dawns, the American ethnic nation -- defined as Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent, with infusions from closely related Western European groups -- accounts for the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of North and South America and the islands of the Caribbean. In 1801 Jefferson had foreseen the day "when our rapid multiplication will expand itself...and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws" -- for this reason, Jefferson had opposed allowing emancipated blacks to settle in the west.
Although they form a single cultural nation, united by common race, language, and Protestant religion, the 500 million Anglo-Saxons of North America, in Jefferson's vision, are divided among a number of friendly sister republics. In addition to the United States of America, which retains the dimensions it acquired during Thomas Jefferson's lifetime, there is the Republic of Canada, the Republic of Texas, the Republic of California, and the Republic of Oregon (Jefferson told John Jacob Astor that his Columbia river settlement was "the germ of a great, free, and independent empire on that side of our continent.") Other North American countries retain their former names -- Mexico, Cuba -- but they have been thoroughly Anglicized, with predominantly Anglo-American populations, with English as the official language, and with common-law institutions in place of the Hispanic heritage.
Despite their greatgeographic diversity, the Anglo-American republics all have a family resemblance. If you take a slow-moving balloon-schooner from Mexico City to Oregon, you will see similar patterns in very different landscapes -- the small, square fields of yeoman farmers, cultivated by simple and yet ingenious labor-saving devices, spread like quilts around the small towns, each the capitol of a ward, or a section of a county, modeled on the ancient Anglo-Saxon "hundreds." If you fly low enough, you might even see the militia drilling in the parks; none of the republics has significant standing armies, in this quartersphere of democracy, liberty, and peace. Each hamlet has its neoclassical town hall, in the Greek Revival style introduced by Thomas Jefferson, and its cluster of churches and temples -- Congregationalist, Deist, Masonic and Unitarian. To one correspondent Jefferson had written in 1822: "The pure and simple unity of the creator of the universe is now all but ascendant in the Eastern states; it is dawning in the West, and advancing towards the South; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States." In the same year he wrote to another: "I trust there is not a young man now living in the U.S. who will not die an Unitarian."
Continuing your northward journey, you might join the pilgrimage of tourists to the spiritual capital of Anglo-America -- Washington, D.C. (District of Cherronesus). The District of Cherronesus is the peninsula between Lakes Huron and Michigan. In 1784 Thomas Jefferson proposed to give this region its name to commemorate the original Cherronesus, the region (now encompassing Danish Jutland and German Schleswig-Holstein) from which he believed the Saxon ancestors of the American people migrated to Britain after the fall of Rome.
The gleaming neoclassical city of Washington, D.C., buffeted by the cold winds from Lake Michigan, is full of monuments to Anglo-American ideals and history. One of them is American University, with its curriculum modeled on the one that Jefferson provided for the University of Virginia. Here, the "natural aristocracy" of North America, students from all classes selected by rigorous examination and admitted without any reference to family income, study in the hope of becoming leaders of their respective republics in the Pacific northwest, the California coast, the Canadian prairie. Their curriculum includes study of natural history, the hierarchy of races (with special emphasis on the hereditary mental and moral superiority of the Germanic peoples), the secular ethical philosophy of Jesus (in the edition of the Gospels prepared by Jefferson, with the miracles removed), and Anglo-Saxon laws and institutions, ancient and modern. Every graduate must be proficient in Anglo-Saxon, which, since its revival by Jefferson in the United States, has replaced Latin and Greek as the New World's learned tongue.
Many of the details in this vision are peculiar to Thomas Jefferson. However, the basic conception of the American people as a branch of the Anglo-Saxon tribe, whose members remained part of a single "race" no matter how many governments they were divided among, was the conception of American identity shared by most of the Founding Fathers of the United States and generations of later American leaders. Until the early twentieth century, for example, the major school of American history was devoted to the germ theory, which traced the evolution of American institutions through British roots to the customs of the ancient Germans. The idea that the United States is or should be "a nation of immigrants," not only non-Germanic but nonwhite, would have struck most Americans before World War II as bizarre. They would also have been puzzled by the idea that the American people was created in 1776. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Americans would not have confused the mere establishment of the American government in 1776 with the creation of the American nation (that is to say, the American branch of the millennia-old Anglo-Saxon race), and they would have been baffled by the mention of the "Judeo-Christian tradition," because everyone knew that the American nation was not only Christian but Protestant.
Such a way of thinking about American identity seems as alien to us today as the ideals and mores of a remote civilization. Indeed, in many ways, we modern Americans live in a new and different country. The United States of the 1990s differs far more from the United States of the 1790s than today's France does from that of Robespierre and Napoleon (for a start, the borders of France, and the composition of its population, have been far more stable than those of the United States). The continuities in the history of the French nation are disguised by the discontinuities in French constitutional history; since 1789, France has had five republics, several empires and constitutional monarchies, a directory and a fascist dictatorship (Vichy). Americans are governed, at least on paper, under the same federal constitution that went into effect in 1789, and the name of the country has not changed since 1776. Constitutional continuity in America disguises the discontinuities in national history between what can be described as the three "republics" of the United States. We cannot understand our America, Multinational America, the Third Republic of the United States, without understanding its predecessors.
The First Republic of the United States (1789-1860) might be called Anglo-America. National identity in Anglo-America was a compound of three elements: an Anglo-Saxon national community, a common ethic of Protestant Christianity, and a federal-republican national political creed. These definitions of Americanness did not go unchallenged. Black Americans argued for a nonracial or multiracial conception of American identity. Irish immigrants and Catholic immigrants of varying ethnicities contested the equation of Americanness with Anglo-Saxon heritage and Protestant religion. The political creed of federal republicanism, particularly in its extreme Jeffersonian and Jacksonian variants, was challenged by Hamilto
Meet the Author
Michael Lind has been a senior editor at The New Republic and Harper's and executive editor of The National Interest. He is a frequent contributor to many national publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Review of Books. He is the author of Up From Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America and a novel. Powertown. He is currently a staff writer at The New Yorker.
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