Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

The Paradox of American Nationalism

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The Paradox of American Nationalism

Nationalism pertains to the ideology or movement that connects an individual to a nation or ethnicity, which has a particular political role and pursues certain objectives. However, it is important to a make a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. As patriotism is linked with a state/country, nationalism is not necessarily linked with a state/country. Though since the formation of nation-states, many nations have their own states, there are many nations that share a single state and even some that extend across the state boundaries. Nevertheless, ethnicity, culture, ideology and political inclinations determine that nature of nationalism to a considerable extent. 
As far as American nationalism is concerned, it is unique in certain interesting ways. First, the American nationalism is not determined by a certain ethnicity. It does not claim that because of certain ethnic attributes Americans are better than others. However, it sees its superiority in its ideals, which it considers democratic and liberal. These ideals include pursuit of modernity and happiness, democratic values, economic well-being and military might. Though not based on traditional concept of nationalism, the American nationalism does exist and even favors the notion of superiority over others by the dint of its superior ideals. This phenomenon gives birth to the paradox of American nationalism, which is that it claims not to be nationalistic, by being nationalistic in its essence, because it maintains the concept of superiority over others. At the same time, it also gives rise to the inability to appreciate nationalism among others.
Some of the main characteristics of American nationalism are:
(a) It has its roots in the ideals that are political in nature, not ethnic or cultural. As mentioned above, American have always differentiated themselves from others by their political ideals of modernism, liberalism and democracy. They believe they are superior to others because they follow the ideals that are universal and will ultimately lead humanity to progress and prosperity.
(b) American nationalism is based on a concept of triumph not grief or tragedy. It sees itself in the light of victories gained through wars and conflicts. The basic foundations of the country were laid after the civil wars which made it victorious against the British dominance. Later, it played roles in both first and second world wars to decide the outcome of wars in their favor. Thus, it sees itself capable of triumph in the heart of conflicts and wars. 
(c) American nationalism has a forward-looking approach, which means that it acquires its aspirations from what it wants to achieve, not what it achieved in the past. The concept of ‘great history’ and ‘grand traditions’ are mostly seen in the nations that used to have glorious pasts but now they suffer from instability and disorder. However, as the Americans have their glorious days in the present, they mostly see what they will be able to acquire in future, instead of looking at their achievements in past.   
The American nationalism has always played a role in determining the US foreign policy. It’s attribute of considering the US political values universal and better than others has made it implement them over others. The US has always taken the so-called responsibility of disseminating the liberal and democratic values to the other parts of the world. For example, the US president Woodrow Wilson, after World War I, saw an opportunity to implement his ideals of universal democracy within a background of authoritarian regimes, and his 14 points were the depiction of the same. However, later, the Treaty of Versailles showed that though the US had considered the self-determination of certain states, it had neglected that of Germany vehemently.
The concept of American nationalism also saw clear depiction in US foreign policy after World War II, when it put itself on the course to lead the world through the international mechanisms and organizations to implement the universal principles of democracy and liberalism. The formation of United Nations and the international financial and human rights organizations and their interference within the politics of other nations all were for the sake of the claimed spread of democratic values.
Later, the disintegration of USSR, further provided an opportunity to American nationalism to play a dominant role within foreign policy initiatives. In fact, the Soviet disintegration was considered as the ultimate success of capitalism and democracy over the faulty system of socialism and authoritarianism. This concept justified the interference and intervention of the US in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
After the incident of 9/11, American nationalism again dominated the US foreign policy as it motivated the US forces to attack the nations and groups that were ‘backward’, ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘extremists’; Afghanistan being the prime example. Moreover, the same notion justified the US war in Iraq, where as per the US version, the democratic values were in danger and human rights violations were prevalent.
The US nationalist superiority of its claimed liberal and democratic values has made its presence possible in almost all the corners of the world. Today, US is present militarily in Middle East, in Indian and Pacific Ocean, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and many other places, mostly with the pretext to have a check whether others are following its version of liberal world and democracy. However, that is becoming more and more controversial within the dominated nations; and they are coming out to oppose the narrative being propagated by the US. Moreover, the world has also experienced the rise of several states in the world that points at the rise in multipolarity in international political scenario as compared to hegemony and less dependence on the US. It is interesting to see how American nationalism behaves in a world where the US, alone, may not be leading the world. 

Sajjad Aasim is a PhD Scholar in International Relations. He can be reached at sajjad.aasim@hotmail.com

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