The New Yorker writer and author of U.S. history book These Truths examines the dilemma of nationalism and the erosion of liberalism in the 21st century in a work of political philosophy that reclaims America's national history.
...an urgent and pithy book-length essay in which she argues for the viability of the nation. Readers seeking clear and relevant definitions of political concepts will appreciate this brisk yet thorough, frank, and bracing look at the ancient origins of the nation state versus the late-eighteenth-century coinage of the term 'nationalism' and its alignment with exclusion and prejudice ... Lepore writes, placing today’s conflicts in context and calling for us to continue the struggle to deepen and protect American democracy.
Much of the book is devoted to describing how nonwhites and disfavored European immigrant groups in previous generations were excluded by illiberal nationalists both from the polity and from mainstream accounts of American history. Lepore makes this familiar material fresh with her attention to Native American nations. She does a public service by drawing her readers to Frederick Douglass’s 'Composite Nation' address of 1869 ... In contrast, Lepore’s critique of illiberal identity politics is so brief it is easily overlooked ... Her attempt to disentangle good American patriotism from bad American nationalism...tangles American history in knots. Isolationism is nationalist ... But interventionism can be nationalist, too ... Jill Lepore has written a thoughtful and passionate defense of her vision of American patriotism as a purified liberalism. But supporters of American liberal nationalism are unlikely to be persuaded to replace Abraham Lincoln’s belief that America is a nation dedicated to a proposition with the quite different idea that the American nation is nothing but a proposition.
Lepore’s exposition of this contradictory terrain is brisk, equitable, dispassionate, and hair-raising. Any suspicion that she was going to advocate for a kind of upbeat revisionism of the American past is dispelled ... The liberal lens, always focused on the most vulnerable subjects of power, remains purposefully in place ... It’s not only liberals who will find sustenance in Lepore’s book. If you’re an ethno-nationalist, you too could wave around This America in support of your claims. Lepore is aware of this fact—there’s little she isn’t aware of, one senses—and makes it integral to her argument, which is that the age-old struggle between illiberal and liberal tendencies is constitutive of the nation ... Lepore voices coherent reservations about the academic drift from the study of the American nation to the study of a world 'grown global, tied together by intricate webs of trade and accelerating forms of transportation and communication.' To an immigrant like me, however, there is something counterintuitive about the idea that Americans need to focus more than ever on our internal differences. Cultivating at least a basic curiosity about the rest of the world seems to be in order.