by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
What American nationalism might mean as a question of public policy is unclear. Self-proclaimed nationalists talk about acting in the national interest, but that’s no good: Senator Sanders thinks implementing a Soviet-style health-care system would be in the national interest; Tom Metzger has other ideas about the national interest. People of good faith (and other kinds of people) have radically different notions of national interest, because they have radically different notions about community and the good life. Nationalism as a creed does not help us to distinguish prudently between those competing conceptions. As Goldberg argued, the character of nationalism depends greatly on the character of the nation—and the times, too: The New Deal was the nationalist project of a nationalist president. Mohandas K. Gandhi was speaking as a nationalist when he conceded the excellence of British administration but insisted that any people would naturally prefer bad government of their own than the good government of an alien power. Joseph Stalin was a nationalist. Jack Kennedy’s motto was a nationalist one: “Ask not what your country can do for you . . .” As -isms go, nationalism is pretty loosey-goosey.
“Make America Great” is the nationalist motto of the moment (the “Again” is a concession to conservative nostalgia), but that gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, inasmuch as our gentle new nationalists despise so many of the very flourishing institutions and endeavors in which the United States actually excels: Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood, the universities, the National Institute of Science.