The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution
by Michael Lind
Free Press, 436 pp., $25.00
The Next American Nation is a deeply imperfect book. It is also exhilarating, original, and mostly right on target in its criticisms of the current state of American politics. Even where not, it is wonderfully thought-provoking. Its imperfections are very obvious: it is needlessly repetitive and needlessly combative; it is more boastful of its own originality than is quite decent; it contains too much wishful thinking; and there are too many purple passages that a kindly editor should have struck out. But these are a small price to pay for the energy and high spirits of which they are a reflection. Sacred cows are slaughtered at the rate of one a paragraph—Jefferson is a villain, Hamilton a hero, Lincoln a good guy, but inferior to FDR; the Mexican War did more good than the Civil War, and President James K. Polk should be as revered as the Founding Fathers. Lind is a liberal but attacks affirmative action and “open door” immigration policies; and when talk of nationalism reminds us of xenophobes like Zhirinovsky and Karadzic, Lind is an unabashed American nationalist.
Intellectually, The Next American Nation is most interesting as a work of iconoclastic history and political science. Michael Lind turns upside down every platitude of orthodox American history and political science. But Lind’s unorthodoxies are not offered for our pleasure; they serve a political purpose. Lind believes that American politics will go badly until everyone understands that the United States is a nation-state like other nation-states, not a “multicultural” state but a state built on a single American culture, to which 95 percent of its inhabitants subscribe.
Hostility to multiculturalism sounds like the conservativism of the “angry white male,” but here it is not. Lind wants a transracial, melting-pot America, where the lines of color, national origin, and religion are dissolved by interracial, interethnic, and interfaith marriage. He is perhaps the only liberal today who says openly that interracial marriage is necessary for national unity and racial harmony. Angry white male hostility to multiculturalism usually goes along with a hatred of government. But Lind insists that it takes a strong and active government to look after the interests of ordinary Americans. Indeed, Lind wants government to redistribute wealth and income from the well-heeled to the citizenry at large, with no nonsense about trickle-down economics or tax cuts for the indecently rich, no nonsense about state’s rights, and no kowtowing to corporate interests. He is a big-government populist and a liberal nationalist.
The Next American Nation sets out its unorthodox views on three different questions. The first is philosophical, or methodological. “Are we a nation?” asks Lind—following Senator Charles Sumner in the aftermath of the Civil War. Like Sumner, Lind answers yes. But he must clear the way to that reply. The first obstacle is the multiculturalists, who say that the United States is not a nation-state. “Rather,” they argue, “it is a nation of nations, a federation of nationalities or cultures sharing little or nothing …