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America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism Hardcover – October 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this provocative and scholarly work, Lieven, senior associate at Washington's Carnegie Endowment, argues that normative American patriotism—an optimistic "civic creed" rooted in respect for America's institutions, individual freedoms and constitutional law—contains a monster in the basement: a jingoistic, militaristic, Jacksonian nationalism that sees America as the bearer of a messianic mission to lead a Manichean struggle against the savages. Since 9/11, the Bush administration and its Christian-fundamentalist "base" have invoked the nationalist tradition in waging the struggle against the "evil-doers." The result, Lieven argues, has been catastrophic for the war on terror. Rather than rally to America as the beacon of liberty, other nations (particular European and Muslim ones) feel repelled and threatened by the cavalier and unilateral superpower. Lieven's provocative final chapter argues that much of U.S. support for Israel is rooted not in the "civic creed" (e.g., support for a fellow liberal democracy) but in a nationalism that sees the Israelis as heroic cowboys and the Palestinians as savages who must be driven from their land, as Jackson did the Cherokees. Throughout, Lieven takes to task the American liberal intelligentsia for abandoning universalist principles in favor of ethnic chauvinism and nationalist fervor. Cogently argued, this is an important contribution to the discourse on national identity, the war on terror and the nature of political liberalism.
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"Lieven is relentlessly candid, and has produced a remarkably thought-provoking book.... Tightly written and extensively researched.... A valuable and also a troubling book on a subject that is both crucial and in many ways extremely sensitive."--Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books

"A fascinating and incisive analysis of American nationalism."--London Review of Books

"Cogently important contribution to the discourse on national identity, the war on terror and the nature of political liberalism."--Publishers Weekly

"America Right or Wrong shows a serious intellectual talent and ambition stretching its wings. In particular, Lieven takes on some of the big questions about American identity, ideology and exceptionalism in ways that yield surprising and provocative results.... At its admirable best America Right or Wrong asks important questions and makes readers review some of their own most cherished convictions."--Walter Russell Mead, Washington Post Book World

"Some of the most trenchant and original criticism of the trajectory of U.S. foreign and military policy that has surfaced since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, 2003."--Inter Press Service

"Skillfully unravels the origins of American nationalism and illuminates its failings and virtues."--Foreword Magazine

"This fighting book digs beneath the trauma of 9-11 to uncover the cultural sources of popular support for a blindly aggressive and self-defeating foreign policy. Dazzling and inspiring."--Stephen Holmes, Professor of Politics and Law, New York University School of Law

"A searching examination of the deep-seated sources of American behavior, Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong takes on what others evade--the topics that, whether for good or ill, make us who we are and provide the engine of U. S. foreign policy. In pungent, muscular prose, Lieven makes a strong case that the neoconservatives have gotten far too much credit for the course of American policy since 9/11. His chapter on the mutually destructive course of U.S.-Israel relations is not only courageous but powerfully illuminating."--Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism

"Anatol Lieven is one of today's most insightful observers of U.S. foreign policy. In this exceptional book he provides an analysis of the virtues and the dangers of American nationalism that is as provocative as it is perceptive." --Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation

"Anatol Lieven is one of the most thought provoking and insightful writers in Washington. This book is very much in the same tradition."--Senator Dick Clark, Director of The Congressional Program, The Aspen Institute


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (October 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195168402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195168402
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,192,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Ben Piggot on November 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Siegfried Sutterlin on March 21, 2006
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.
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53 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Tom Munro on April 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By David W. Southworth VINE VOICE on January 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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