Some of the liberal criticism of President Donald Trump since his election stems from an intellectual tradition that gained tremendous influence in the West during the 1960s, especially in American universities. According to what historians have labeled the New Left, a more radical strain of the American left, America is just another example of a toxic nationalist state, not unlike certain imperial or even fascist states.
In 2000, the historian Eric Kaufmann warned that in choosing to be “particularist” rather than “cosmopolitan,” as he labeled the distinction, America travels the deadly path that 20th century nationalist states paved. Liberals are once again warning of a sort of toxic nationalism under Donald Trump.
Kaufmann’s, and the New Left’s, assessment of America is misguided for multiple reasons. First, it creates an overly simplified metric for assessing modern societies. In service to a cosmopolitan working class, international communism caused some of history’s greatest bloodshed. Cosmopolitanism alone cannot be the solution to what ails the world.
But there is another dangerous implication of this frenzied drive towards cosmopolitanism. It ignores the fact that America, as it was founded, is a unique alternative to the modern and bloody contest between nationalism and globalism. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that America has a unique character because it “participates in the making of its laws by the choice of its legislators. ... It may almost be said to govern itself, so feeble and restricted is the share left to the administration, so little do the authorities forget their popular origin and the power from which they emanate.” In 1906, H. G. Wells saw the same exceptional quality: “The American, it seems to me, has yet to achieve what is, after all, the product of education and thought, the conception of a whole to which all individual acts and happenings are subordinate and contributory.”
To see the full story, subscribe to our print or e-edition. For more information, please call The Reedley Exponent at 559-638-2244.