At the centennial of the 1912 election, pundits and politicos tell us, we again confront a constitutional moment. For the Right, the existential choice is between entrepreneurialism or social democracy, America or Europe. For the Left, it is between the 99 and 1 percent or, in President Obama’s less unhinged version, between a common future that’s “built to last” and unbridled, destructive capitalism.
The ties that bind seem to have frayed: We have lost the unifying sense of what it means to be an American, which must be recovered if we are to ever have a healthy political and social order again. That’s how the story often goes, at least. Samuel Goldman’s new book, though, challenges the idea that the kind of American unity we are looking for has ever existed.
Do the stories we tell about American identity hold up to historical scrutiny? Would we be better off abandoning the hope for national unity and looking instead for the ways to best cope with an inevitable pluralism? Are constitutionalism and equality under the law better understood as “institutions of disagreement” than as an ideological American creed?
We invited five reviewers to consider After Nationalism and the prospect of a unified American identity.
Marching All One Way
After the Know-Nothings?
Steven B. Smith
Caught Between Creed and Covenant
Brian A. Smith
The Necessity of Cultural Nationalism
After National Conservatism