Nationalism and the Story of America

The idea of nationalism is much contested in today’s politics. The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom had much to do with bringing the subject to the forefront. Your view of nationalism depends a lot on what you mean by the term. Historically speaking, nationalism has, at times, had a dark undercurrent. Some observers on the political left are appalled by any resurgence of nationalism—especially white nationalism. Some conservatives are encouraged by the general nationalist trend, which they tend to see as an emphasis on patriotism and shared values.

A concept so contentious is ripe for fresh historical reflection. Attempts to understand nationalism involve the stories the people of a “nation” tell themselves about their history. Americans can’t seem to agree on whether our national story is a good one or not. A number of recent books examine not only nationalism in general but the American nation in particular. Whether you consider the USA “exceptional,” this nation’s history is worthy of study. Four valuable books—each in its way critical and inspiring—are listed here:

  • This America: The Case for the Nation by Jill Lepore
  • The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham
  • The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism by Yuval Levin
  • Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story by Wilfred M. McClay

Links to a website that compiles book reviews from across the Web can be found below.

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