America Right or Wrong / Anatol Lieven

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by Neil Godfrey

Not sure if this series of posts is going to turn out to be more review or just notes and commentary on Anatol Lieven’s book, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (2004).

“This book seeks to help explain why a country which after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had the chance to create a concert of all the world’s major states — including Muslim ones — against Islamist revolutionary terrorism chose instead to pursue policies which divided the West, further alienated the Muslim world and exposed America itself to greatly increased danger. The most important reason why this has occurred is the character of American nationalism, which in this book I analyze as a complex, multifaceted set of elements in the nation’s political culture.” (p.2)

Lieven compares America’s nationalist popular bellicosity and foreign policy stance to that of the great imperial powers of the nineteenth century — Germany, Britain, Russia — and observes that it is the European countries who tasted the fruits of that sort of belligerent nationalism in World Wars 1 and 2 who today look down on America’s belated attempt to continue that same path.

Lieven notes the irony of American isolationism, too. It is not something that predictably pulls America inward and avoiding any involvement with the outside world, but manifests itself as a sense of being alone, the light on the hill, the misunderstood white knight, who unilaterally involves itself with other nations. It is her isolationist stance that prevents her from understanding and truly effectively engaging with the world except in ways that only ‘blowback’ the consequences of scorn and contempt.

But one difference between America’s position and that of the Europeans of the 19th century: America’s population does not have the motivation to expend the vast amounts of energy required to maintain their empire. Many even deny that it is an empire that they rule. They fail to see that though they may not always rule as directly as did the British in India, they surely do rule in a manner that is little different from the way the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries ruled the East Indies — indirectly.

to be continued of course….

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Neil Godfrey

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