A (very) brief history of U.S. Nationalism.

I’ve had a lot of reservations about posting this for a long time now; but I’ve decided to put it out and see what happens. It’s possible it could offend people, but understand that it is not my intention to do so.

I talk about Republicans and Tea Partiers being nationalists a lot on this blog. But nationalism is an old instinct, and clearly has been around for a while in politics. What follows is my understanding of how it fits into the history of the United States. So, this is not meant to be some sort of definitive explanation; really, it’s more just me trying to articulate my basic assumptions about how politics work.

Understand that when I say Nationalism, I do not mean racism. People sometimes use “Nationalism” in the sense of “ethno-nationalism”, an inherently racist idea. That is not how I mean it. I mean an aggressive–imperialistic, if you will–attitude about the nation and its culture.

I feel like I barely need to say that obviously this worldview of mine has been shaped by many people I have read over the years, but the two figures who have probably most influenced the view I’m about to set down are Jonah Goldberg and  Paul Krugman. This probably seems odd, since they’re on opposite political sides. However, without realizing it, Goldberg made several very interesting points in his book; points which are not at all flattering to his cause.

Feel free to make any objections you wish; I’m mostly putting this out for my own education:

Once upon a time, it was the Democrats who were the Nationalists. In the 1930s, it was Franklin Roosevelt who led the way with his nationalistic programs, which only intensified in World War II. The Democrats then were a party of both Nationalists and Cosmopolitan intellectuals, because both groups were interested in ideas of shared sacrifice and wealth redistribution. This party was virtually unstoppable from the ’30s to the ’50s.

The Republicans, from the ’30s through the ’50s, were nothing but a party of extremely wealthy people who wished to keep as much money as possible. The Republican philosophy of that era was encapsulated almost perfectly by Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism“. However, the Republican’s views were surprisingly of little consequence, except when it came to fighting communists. (Which was fine by the nationalistic majority of Democrats.) 

It was not until President Johnson that the Nationalist (and, it must be admitted, racist) sections of the Democratic party broke away. The reasons for this are many, but the important thing is the consequence: Richard M. Nixon, while himself no Nationalist, could exploit it to win the election. And the Republican party has ever since been the seemingly-contradictory combination of Nationalism and Libertarianism that it is today.

As I said, this idea may offend people. In which case, I’m sorry. Or it may seem blatantly obvious, in which case I’ll sound like an idiot. Either way, I thought I should at least explain what assumptions I’m operating under when I analyze politics and see what you all make of it.

2 Comments

  1. When we make choices, we will always offend someone.Jonah Goldberg offends me.Unlike you, I try to avoid him. What's the point? I know where he stands.I admire someone (like you) who can go over to the other side and try to be objective.I guess that makes me like them, in a way.

  2. Thanks. I guess the reason I read Goldberg and people like him is because I want to figure out why the conservatives think the things they do. Maybe it is just a waste of time, but I guess I want to try to find out why something that strikes me as so wrong appeals to so many people.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?