American Nationalism: A Debate

Michael Kazin and Atossa Araxia Abrahamian in Dissent:

[Michael Kazin] Last fall, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian wrote a bracing essay for The Nation that criticized progressives in the United States who oppose free migration and defend the existence of nation-states. We should not, she argued, promote “the idea that someone arbitrarily born on the wrong side of a line is less deserving of a good life” or “play by the far right’s rules” that, in part, “got us into this mess.”

An ethical internationalism has always been a cardinal virtue of the left, one we should never abandon. But we can uphold that ideal without calling for scrapping borders and nations. In fact, there are both principled and practical reasons for American leftists to retain them.

One cannot engage effectively in democratic politics without being part of a community of feeling. For most Americans, their nation, with all its flaws, is that community. And nationalism in the United States has always served tolerant, democratic ends as well as racist and authoritarian ones. Think of Frederick Douglass, in 1852, basing his hopes for abolition partly on “the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions.” Or of Franklin D. Roosevelt calling in 1944 for an “Economic Bill of Rights” in the middle of a war against fascism. Or of Martin Luther King Jr. proclaiming during the Montgomery Bus Boycott that “the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.” Each figure, in a different way, was engaged in a transnational effort to advance equality and tolerance. But each also depended on the power and legitimacy of the United States to gain mass support for his ideas.

More here.