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America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism [Hardcover]

Anatole Lieven
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Oct 2004
In this controversial critique of American political culture and its historical roots, Anatol Lieven contends that U.S. foreign policy since 9/11 has been shaped by the special character of our nationalism. Within that nationalism, Lieven analyses two very different traditions. One is the "American thesis," a civic nationalism based on the democratic values of what has been called the "American Creed." These values are held to be universal, and anyone can become an American by adopting them. The other tradition, the "American antithesis" is a populist and often chauvinist nationalism, which tends to see America as a closed national culture and civilization threatened by a hostile and barbarous outside world.
With America Right or Wrong, Lieven examines how these two antithetical impulses have played out in U.S. responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and in the nature of U.S. support for Israel. This hard-hitting critique directs a spotlight on the American political soul and on the curious mixture of chauvinism and idealism that has driven the Bush administration.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (15 Oct 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195168402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195168402
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.4 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,379,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Anatol Lieven’s fascinating and incisive analysis of American Nationalism…Lieven provides a compelling argument.’ London Review of Books

‘This is a rich book. Lieven hopes it will help to persuade American intellectuals to reflect on their own nationalism, as Europeans were forced to do.’ Independent

‘Illuminating…Lieven draws on his wide reading, consultation and much personal observation to bring balance, perspective, and historical sense to what is a rather intricate tale.’ Martin Woollacott, Guardian

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Anatol Lieven is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. His other books include Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power and The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Path to Independence, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 1993. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, struck a country in which the strength of its nationalism already made it very much the "outlier" in the developed world. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read, but an illuminating one 9 Aug 2007
Anatol Lieven's penetrating analysis has some disturbing things to say about Uncle Sam's national identity and the nation's continuing credibility as world policeman.

It's not an easy read - and not only because the print in this new edition is uncomfortably small. Lieven is a scholar, and makes no attempt to sweeten the pill for those unfamiliar with the workings of US politics or political science in general. His arguments are complex and carefully annotated, but his conclusions are outspoken. America's love affair with democracy and "freedom" has become a form of zealotry in itself, fuelling the fires of Middle East terrorism through forcing its world view on alien cultures.

Most interesting of all when he shines a light onto the more paranoid and defensive elements of the American psyche and its fixation with patriotism, Lieven has produced an intricate but ultimately unsettling glimpse into the world's future.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original thought 5 Jun 2009
By Taka
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
AS noted, not always an easy read, but the author weaves a tapestry of history and contemporary nationalism in America that makes a convincing argument against the disaster of Bush/Rum/Cheney and the need for continuing vigilence in the face of populist nationalism.

Persevere - you'll know America and the Americans better from this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An oustanding overview, particularly for non-Americans 30 Nov 2004
By Ben Piggot - Published on
This is one of the best non-academic treatments of American history, culture, and foreign policy I have ever read. I can't recommend this book enough. Lieven does a great job interweaving American history, politics, and culture and its relationship to globalization and international relations. There is no better book for understanding America's current "anatomy" than this one.

Lieven's perspective is critical, although not overly so. (in other words, "liberal" by American standards, "centrist" by non-US standards) For those around the world looking to understand what seems to many "outsiders" an inexplicable "right turn" in the trajectory of the American nation, this is the place to start.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book that serves absolutely America's and the world's interests 21 Mar 2006
By Siegfried Sutterlin - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Once every five or ten years a brilliant synthesis of the published literature comes along and mixes it with profound analyses and insights to describe courageously diplomatic and political realities in such manner that its truth becomes a work of aesthetics and self-sustaining persuasion. Lieven's book bids for this accolade.

Starting with an excellent summary of America's nationalistic mood resulting from 9/11, Lieven summarizes the nature and types of nationalisms and then rapidly connects many of the negative aspects of America's nationalism to the ones pulsating through Europe before World War I. While doing so, he never loses balance and does not neglect the commendable civilizing aspects of America's Creed. Balance and proportion are quite well sustained throughout the book. Weaving smoothly back and forth between current events and the positions of pundits and politicians and historical ones, even beyond Europe, he brilliantly connects disparate events into a meaningful whole and then extracts meaning. As only one of many examples, Jacksonian nationalism and its brutal manifestations of the ethnic cleansing of the Creeks, etc. is presumably derived from the religio-ethnically inspired Scot-Irish "extermination" of the Gaelic-Irish. While there are incontestable civilizing elements to America's nationalism, there are also dangerous and destructive ingredients, a sort of Hegelian thesis and antithesis theme which places a strong question mark in America's historical theme of exceptionalism.

Unlike in other post-World War II nations, America's nationalism is permeated by values and religious elements derived mostly from the South and the Southern Baptists, though the fears and panics of the embittered heartland provide additional fuel.

While discussing "Jacobin Internationalism", "Wolfy Wilsonians", Nativism, racism in the South, Irish Catholics, the Christian Right, Fundamentalists, Millenarians, etc. Lieven expertly brings historical facts and figures into contact with current ones to illuminate and paint the grand tapestry of America's contemporary nationalism.

Lieven's book, among other elements, is also a summation of lots of minor observations--even personal ones he made as a student in the small town of Troy, Alabama--and historical details which reflect the grand evolution of America's nationalism. When he says that "an unwillingness or inability among Americans to question the country's sinlessness feeds a culture of public conformism," then he has the support of Mark Twain who said something to the effect that we are blessed with three things in this country, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and, thirdly, the common sense to practice neither one! Ditto when he daringly points out America's "hypocrisy," which also is corroborated by other scholars, among them James Hillman in his recent book "A Terrible Love of War" in which he characterizes hypocrisy as quintessentially American.

Lieven continues with the impact of the Cold War on America's nationalism and then, having always expanded the theme of Bush's foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, examines with commendable perspective the complex and very much unadmitted current aspects of the U.S.'s relationships with the Moslems, the Iraq War and the impact of the pro-Israeli lobby. It is the sort of assessment one rarely finds in the U.S. media. He exposes the alienation the U.S. caused among allies and, in particular, the Arabs and the EU.

Lieven wrote this book with passion and commendable sincerity. Though it comes from a foreigner, its advice would without question serve not only America's interest but also provide a substantial basis for a detached and objective approach to solving the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the satisfaction of all involved before worse deeds and more burdens materialize.
53 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars America re-living 1904 25 April 2005
By Tom Munro - Published on
What this book suggests is that a significant number of Americans have an outlook similar to European countries around 1904. A sense of identification with an idea of nation and a dismissive approach to other countries and cultures. Whilst in Europe the experience of the first and second world wars put paid to nationalism in America it is going strong. In fact Europeans see themselves less as Germans or Frenchmen today than they ever have.

The reason for American nationalism springs from a pride in American institutions but it also contains a deep resentment that gives it its dynamism. Whilst America as a nation has not lost a war there are a number of reasons for resentment. The South feels that its values are not taken seriously and it is subject to ridicule by the seaboard states. Conservative Christians are concerned about modernism. The combined resentments lead to a sort of chip on the shoulder patriotism which so characterises American nationalism.

Of course these things alone are not sufficient. Europeans live in countries that are small geographically. They travel see other countries and are multilingual. Most Americans do not travel and the education they do is strong in ideology and weak in history. It is thus easier for some Americans to develop a rather simple minded view of the world.

The book suggests that the Republican Party is really like an old style European nationalist party. Broadly serving the interests of the moneyed elite but spouting a form of populist gobbledygook, which paints America as being in a life and death, struggle with anti-American forces at home and abroad. It is the reason for Anne Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. That is the rhetoric of struggle acts as a cover for political policies that benefit a few and lay the blame for the problems of ordinary Americans on fictitious entities.

The main side effects of the nationalism are the current policies which shackles America to Israel uncritically despite what that country might and how its actions may isolate America from the rest of the world. It also justifies America on foreign policy adventures such as the invasion of Iraq.

The book is quite good and repeats the message of a number of other books such as "What is wrong with America". Probably there is something to be said for the books central message.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exceptional Book for Americans to Consider 2 Jan 2005
By David W. Southworth - Published on
Anatol Lieven has written an exceptional book that should be read by anyone concerned with the direction this country is going in, and more importantly, why it is going in such a radically conservative one.

Lieven focuses his book on the American Thesis and Antithesis. The American Thesis, also called the American Creed, is the quasi-religious belief in democracy, freedom and individuality, and the universality of those beliefs. In other words, America is a special country, the shining "City on the Hill," and the "New Israel." And anyone who wants to come to this country, works hard, and strives to succeed will almost certainly be able to.

The Antithesis is just that, the opposite of the American Creed. The Antithesis is the irrational fear of others, paranoia, and overt aggression and violence that grip many Americans when they are under attack, real or perceived. This view is often viewed through the lense of an idealized, often mythic, American past, before foreigners were allowed to come into the country and pollute its land. Whether it was Irish Catholics 100 years ago or Muslim American today, the paranoid fear of others could have ugly manifestations.

The one weakness of this book, in his discussion of Israel's place in America, Lieven spends too much time discussing the details of the Israel/Palestine conflict. While valuable, it does not fit with the flow of the rest of the book.

This book should be read by all who are curious about American nationalism and its relation to the rest of the world. This is an important book, and should be widely read.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Nationalism to Imperialism 4 Oct 2005
By E. David Swan - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
On international treaties right wing pundit Phyllis Schlafly wrote:

"The principles of life, liberty and property must not be joined with the principles of genocide, totalitarianism, socialism and religious persecution. We cannot trust agreements or treaties with infidels".

Here Phyllis borrows the language of Muslim extremists but the sentiment is pure American Conservativism for the new century. The message is fueled by a belief in a messianic roll for America in world affairs and an exceptionalism of its people. The only good foreigner is one who accepts, without question, the American system of free-market Capitalism. Believing in the superiority of the United States lends itself to a belief in the inferiority of the rest of the world. On this level the author draws a frightening parallel between America today and Europe circa 1914 prior to World War I. It is out of control nationalism.

History shows observable signs of growing imperialism. There is a heightened level of nationalism and a belief in the superiority of the people as well as a feeling of persecution and emphasis on ignorance over knowledge. The author traces the anger back to the civil war and southern states humiliation after their defeat at the hands of the north. The Cold War only served to briefly constrain the seething anger towards Communists and perceived sympathizers but with the fall of the Soviet Union the floodgates of hatred crashed open. The anger has broadened to include all but the most subservient foreign nations while the core hatred is aimed directly at other Americans who are seen as illegitimate or abnormal. The feelings are amplified and justified by religious fundamentalism and its inherent intolerance towards diversity. Phyllis Schlafly is a perfect example of the rage that Conservatives feel towards everyone outside their narrow spectrum. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is the right wings hatred of government combined with extreme nationalism.

The match that ignites it all is our own government gleefully throwing gasoline on the fire of intolerance. Conservatives have been working to foment a hatred of foreigners for decades (see `Freedom Fries') and now Americans are being encouraged to support imperialism under the guise of preemptive strikes and spreading Democracy. There is a tradition, in Conservativism, of venerating authority and a belief that often the `Truth' must be protected by a `Bodyguard of Lies'. The WMD argument in Iraq was the initial smokescreen followed by the tale of spreading Democracy. Meanwhile, Republican's lace their speeches with what the author calls `Black Magic' words like `Traitor' and `Freedom' with the intention of chilling debate.

The quality that has traditionally restrained the United States is a strong loathing of imperialism across the political spectrum. Morality maven William Bennett has advocated complete subservience to conservative leadership. As the author points out, people like Bennett move beyond even `my country right or wrong' into `my country is always right'. This kind of thinking creates a complete chill on international negotiations.

I wouldn't say I found anything completely new in `America: Right or Wrong' but I found it to be an engaging synthesis of the direction America has been moving. The author even suggests that some areas of the world like the Middle East could use more nationalism in order to bind the disparate groups and ethnicities within countries. The problem is when a fully mature and militarily powerful country like the U.S. gets in its collective mind a desire to reshape the world. In the end the author is betting on the self correcting nature of American democracy to regain balance. Hopefully he is correct.
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