An American Nation?

Every problem we face in American politics can be boiled down to one word: nationalism.

Out of many, one. It’s on our “money.” But did the founding generation really believe this phrase?

Nope. Not if you read the documents that led to the ratification of the Constitution. Americans more properly identified with their States, their sections, and their neighbors than some imaginary American nation.

Not everyone fit this description. Hamilton, Marshall, James Wilson, and others believed in an “American people,” but as John Taylor later wrote, this is like a Utopia for Utopians. It doesn’t exist.

But “nationalism” is a powerful tool for one thing: power.

Daniel Webster figured this out which is why we went from a diehard nullification promoting New England sectionalist to a diehard New England promoting nationalist.

People like to wrap themselves in the red, white, and blue. Just look around on “Flag Day.”

If Webster was really an “American man,” then he certainly thought America was New England.

You know who else thinks that? Just about every nationalist in the United States. America is just two sides of the same New England coin.

On one side you have the political puritans intent on remaking America to their Utopian “justice” vision. On the other are the “city upon a hill” conservatives who like to think of America as a land historically opposed to racism and slavery but who tolerated bad people in the South.

The American nation and the idea that “all men are created equal” saved them all. For the SJW, that idea was a lie and only minorities, but principally black Americans, have ever lived up to it.

For conservatives it was St. Abraham the wise who slaughtered one million Americans in the name of ending slavery.

Neither is correct because both ignore the diverse interests of original America, the four British folkways that made up American culture.

George Packer at The Atlantic has come up with what he thinks are the four American political cultures of today. I don’t think he read David Hacket Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, but he is on to something.

He misses a lot, but he certainly understands that Americans are in very different places in 2021. They always have been, which is why the New England nationalist myth that Lincoln capitalized on in his Gettysburg Address is so problematic.

There is another coin, the Jeffersonian tradition, that has been trampled and ignored by most Americans since 1865.

Packer talks about it a bit, but still doesn’t fully understand where he is going. You see, Americans don’t really need a national government. If we were to think about a Union today, would a majority of Americans get on board? Probably not.

And that’s a good thing. Packer thinks we’re stuck in this marriage of incompatible things. Not so. A political divorce can be worked out, but we have to drop our love affair with nationalism.

That is our only hope.

This is why you need my book, The Jeffersonian Tradition (and my Southern Scribblings).

I talk about Packer’s piece in Episode 459 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

Warning, this is the LONGEST podcast I ever recorded, nearly an hour, so buckle up. The rest of the week features shorter shows on a similar theme.

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