Thursday, December 14, 2006

H-Net Review of Kazin & McCartin on Americanism

There is much on talk on Americanism (and anti-Americanism) in the history world these days, with roundtables on the topic in both the Journal of American History and the American Historical Review this past fall. To add to the discussion, Saverio Giovacchini, Univ. of Maryland Dept. of History, has a review on H-Net of Michael Kazin and Joseph McCartin, eds., Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal (University of North Carolina Press, 2006). Giovacchini writes, in part,
This timely collection of essays edited by Michael Kazin and Joseph A. McCartin addresses the central term of the contemporary debate about Americanism. That Americanism is alive and kicking in the United States is indeed almost as certain as the fact that its Doppelganger, anti-Americanism, controls the hearts and minds of many everywhere else. The question the editors want to address is whether American progressives can fruitfully embrace Americanism to advance liberal goals. The editors' reply is a resounding yes. In their opinion, the ideals of Americanism "deserve not just to endure but to be revived and practiced as the foundation of a new kind of progressive politics" (p. 16). The issue here is less one of morality than of pragmatism: a sort of Leftist call for realism and Realpolitik animates Kazins and McCartin's provocative introductory essay. It would be nice if the world were united, they argue, but it is not, and in the absence of a planetary government we need to elect a sensible one in the most powerful nation state on the face of the earth. And to do that, we need a nationalist language that maintains "the ability to speak convincingly to [our] fellow citizens".
...The problem with the liberal nationalist position and, ultimately, with the introduction and many of the essays in this thoughtful volume is that they refuse to contemplate the possibility that liberalism in the United States was at its most successful when it was less nationalist, that is, when it was more active in looking for international engagements at a political and intellectual level. The 1930s, which many refer to as the decade of liberalism triumphant, was not only the decade of the "exiles' returns" to America, Irving Berlin's God Bless America (1938), or Earl Robinson's and John LaTouche Ballad for Americans (1939). As Daniel Rodgers has persuasively argued, the New Deal was also the moment when American liberalism reaped the fruits of decades of intense intellectual Atlantic cross-fertilization....

For the rest, go here.