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Rich Lowry Presents His 'Case For Nationalism'

"The Case for Nationalism," by Rich Lowry. (Alex Schroeder/On Point)
"The Case for Nationalism," by Rich Lowry. (Alex Schroeder/On Point)

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, says, “Nationalism shouldn’t be a dirty word.” And he blames the right and the left for smearing the term’s true meaning.


Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review. Author of “The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free.” (@RichLowry)

Liah Greenfeld, historian of nationalism. Professor of sociology and political science at Boston University. Author of a trilogy of books on nationalism: “Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity,” “The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth” and “Mind, Modernity, Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience.”

From The Reading List

Excerpt from “The Case for Nationalism” by Rich Lowry

America is Not an Idea, but a Nation

America is a nation, whose sovereignty and borders are dear to it, whose history and culture are an indispensable glue, whose interests guide her actions (or should). What makes us different from other nations isn’t the fact that we have national ideals—so do France, England, and Russia, China, Japan, and India. Nor that we consider ourselves distinctive or chosen and honor our Founders. These, too, are fairly common national characteristics.

The American Cultural Nation Has Been Supremely Important

Our cultural nation was extremely important at the outset, and remains so today. At the time of the Revolution, the colonists were 80 percent British and almost entirely Protestant. As John Jay wrote in the Federalist 2, “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.”

The fact is that culture is seeded with ideas. Would America be the same if its people spoke Russian, the language of a country that has never effectively supported property rights, the rule of law, or limited government, rather than English? Would our political culture as we know it have emerged if practically every home in America a couple hundred years ago had had a Koran on the bedstand rather than a King James Bible? Of course not.

America Has Been Defined By Big, Nationalist Projects

Throughout our history, we have pursued half a dozen significant, broadly nationalist projects: to achieve independence from Great Britain; to forge—and maintain—a government capable of holding the nation together; to take over the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific; to muster enough national strength to ward off foreign threats; to assimilate immigrants to this country; to establish an international system of nation-states, ideally democratic, but certainly independent and sovereign, free of the control of hostile neighbors and totalitarian empires.

This was the work of Washington and Hamilton, of Jackson and Polk, of Lincoln and TR, of FDR and Reagan. It has been absolutely central to our fate as a nation and essential to our greatness.

Nationalism is Powerful

Nationalism, or at least national feeling, isn’t new or manufactured but quite old and entirely natural. It isn’t based on hatred, instead on love: our affection for home and our own people. It is caught up in culture, in the language, manners, and rituals that set off any given country from another. It is an elemental force that can’t be effaced without government coercion, and even then has proved impossible to wipe out. Empires and totalitarian ideologies have failed to eradicate it.

A Common Language is Indispensable

Our sense of community depends heavily on a common language. Where one is present, it creates a cultural glue; where it isn’t, there are deep-seated divisions.

Nice, pleasant Canada has been nearly torn apart in recent decades by the presence of a French-speaking province, Quebec, in an English-speaking country. Equally nice, pleasant Belgium is perennially riven between its French-speaking and Dutch-speaking regions. Spain has been buffeted by an independence movement in Catalonia, where, despite the best efforts of the Spanish central government over the centuries, Catalan is still spoken by much of the population.

Our Continental Expansion Was a Boon

We should always remember the bottom line of our expansion: it was a stupendous boon to our nation, to our people, to our interests, to our wealth, and to our power. We wouldn’t be nearly as affluent or influential today without it. Try to imagine an America without free navigation of the Mississippi, without New Orleans or Seattle, without Florida or Texas or California, without unified control of the Great Plains, without a secure continental base, free of foreign adversaries, from which to pursue our commerce, protect our national security, and project our power.

Immigration Policy Is Central to the Preservation of the Nation

Few topics in our public life are so heavily encrusted with clichés and saccharine myth and so resistant to reality and rational analysis. Everything is geared to ruling out of bounds the view that we need less immigration, and indeed, bipartisan “comprehensive” immigration reforms invariably propose more.

The issue of immigration involves questions central to the nature and standing of the American nation. Are we a people with a coherent culture as opposed to an abstraction or a collection of “peoples”? Do we have borders that can and should be meaningfully enforced (including by a wall, if necessary)? Is it legitimate to put the interests of people already here, both the native-born and legal immigrants, over and above all the would-be immigrants who would like to come here? The answers to all the above should be in the affirmative.

The Importance of Cultural Nationalism

The overarching priority of American nationalists has to be protecting and fostering the cultural nation, as a source of coherence and belonging and the foundation of our way of life.

As Michael Lind argues in his brilliant book The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution, our culture—the language, the holidays, the national symbols and mores—provides a source of national identity that doesn’t depend on citizenship or government recognition of any sort, nor on doctrinal tests. It is organic and open.

Trump and the Future of Nationalism

Democrats—and the country—would be much better served if they countered Trump’s nationalism with a version of their own. Their iteration would presumably emphasize national solidarity as a reason for across-the-board federal activism, and national unity and ideals as the rationale for their preferred immigration policies and international posture.

On his own side of the aisle, Trump has made Republicans more nationalistic. Still, much of the party is quietly uncomfortable with its new nationalism. It’s unclear how the Trump phenomenon will ultimately turn out. If it goes badly, the party’s establishment may try to snap back to its pre-Trump disposition of relative indifference to nationalism. This, too, would be bad for the party and bad for the country.

Republicans should be considering how to learn the lessons of Trump and in particular how to thoughtfully integrate his nationalism into the party’s orthodoxy.

Excerpted from THE CASE FOR NATIONALISM Copyright © 2019 by RICH LOWRY. Used with permission of Broadside Books. All rights reserved.

National Review: “The Case for Nationalism Is Almost Out, and Some Reviews Are In” — “My new book, The Case for Nationalism, is out on Tuesday. A couple of early reviews appeared last week. I am, not surprisingly, partial to the favorable review in the Washington Examiner, which is very thoughtful and gets what I tried to do:

“Lowry’s book is part theoretical defense of nationalism and part history of American nationalism. Drawing on the work of scholars such as Anthony Smith, Lowry dismisses a number of fashionable arguments used to discredit nationalism. Nationalism is not a recent invention (one can see the stirrings of English nationalism as early as the 8th century), nor is it inherently racist or aggressive (prejudice and violence are constants throughout human history). Perhaps more important for contemporary debates on the Right, Lowry attacks the idea that one can separate a values-based ‘civic nationalism’ (good) from an “ethno-nationalism” (bad). Americanness (or Frenchness or Britishness) is not defined by race or blood, but neither can it be reduced to a set of abstract propositions. It is also a set of collective memories and myths, patterns of culture and history, and a relationship between the people and the land. Our patriotic songs are not just hymns to the Constitution — they praise our landscape (‘O beautiful for spacious skies’) and our ancestors (‘land where my fathers died’) as well. Nobody singing or listening to them would ever get a catch in their throat if they didn’t.

“The Washington Post, on the other hand, goes after it hammer and tongs (more about that in a bit), and Gabe Schoenfeld at The American Interest is more mixed, but not a fan, either.”

The Atlantic: “The Nationalist’s Delusion” — “Thirty years ago, nearly half of Louisiana voted for a Klansman, and the media struggled to explain why.

“It was 1990 and David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, astonished political observers when he came within striking distance of defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, earning 43 percent of the vote. If Johnston’s Republican rival hadn’t dropped out of the race and endorsed him at the last minute, the outcome might have been different.

“Was it economic anxiety? The Washington Post reported that the state had ‘a large working class that has suffered through a long recession.’ Was it a blow against the state’s hated political establishment? An editorial from United Press International explained, ‘Louisianans showed the nation by voting for Duke that they were mad as hell and not going to take it any more.’ Was it anti-Washington rage? A Loyola University pollster argued, ‘There were the voters who liked Duke, those who hated J. Bennett Johnston, and those who just wanted to send a message to Washington.’ ”

Washington Post: “The inherently, intrinsically and inevitably flawed case for American nationalism” — “‘You know, they have a word,’ President Trump explained at an October 2018 rally in Houston. ‘It sort of became old-fashioned — it’s called a “nationalist.” And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Use that word! Use that word!’

“Rich Lowry is using that word.

“Early in 2016, Lowry, the editor of National Review, published an ‘Against Trump’ collection in the conservative magazine, with more than 20 contributors lamenting Trump’s egotism, racial scapegoating, constitutional ignorance and insufficient devotion to conservative values, and with Lowry himself deeming Trump a ‘poor fit’ for the Oval Office. But winning has a way of tempering such concerns, and now Lowry has written a book not only surveying the nationalist impulses in American history, but also urging Republicans to embrace Trump’s worldview and ‘thoughtfully integrate his nationalism into the party’s orthodoxy.’ “

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