What Is Conservative American Nationalism?\


PREMO Member
As I suggest in a new book, Age of Iron, conservative American nationalism is the country’s oldest foreign-policy tradition. Designed to preserve American self-government, it always has been based on a recognition that the United States is an independent nation-state. This means that the material integrity, security, prosperity, and health of the U.S. as a nation ought to be of real concern. It also means that in formulating U.S. public policy, the interests of American citizens come first. One might think this is obvious. And for previous generations, across party lines, it was. But in our own time, a great many public intellectuals — along with the now-dominant progressive wing of the Democratic party — have together decided otherwise.

In addition to protecting the country’s sovereignty, American nationalism has its own unique qualities. Ever since the founding, the U.S. sense of identity has been bound up with a sort of civic nationalism or distinctly American creed emphasizing the rule of law, constitutionalism, individual freedom, and limited government. These features are classically liberal in the 19th-century meaning of the word. And it’s American progressives, over the past 100 years, who’ve most consistently challenged that classical foundation, casting it as out of date.

With regard to foreign commitments, America’s conservative nationalist tradition goes back to George Washington’s Farewell Address, along with Thomas Jefferson’s confirmation of it, urging the country to avoid permanent entangling alliances. This was the mainstream and consensual U.S. foreign-policy tradition for most of American history, well into the 20th century. Its central premise might be summed up in three words: freedom of action.