Give Me Liberty celebrates a nation for everyone
Nationalism is out of place in a liberal democracy like the United States. The U.S., along with Great Britain, represents the heart and soul of liberal democracy. Where would it be without them? The election of Donald Trump and the vote by Britain to leave the European Union are not the nationalist triumphs the media claimed they were. They were shocking, but the real nationalism comes from such countries as China, Japan, India, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Hungary, Italy, Russia and Poland. Nationalism varies from nation to nation, but it is a matter of men putting race, ethnicity and religion, or a combination of two or three, above all else.
American conservatives stand for liberal democracy: Free elections, free speech, freedom of religion, a free media and equality of opportunity. Now they are confronted with the specter of global nationalism.
Richard Brookhiser, author of Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exeptional Idea has been an editor at National Review for decades. Still, this volume is very much a progressive reading of American history. Old-fashioned conservatives would be appalled at its contents and its choice of heroes.
Brookhiser celebrates a nation where “men and women, of all backgrounds, worship and think, write and speak and aspire to office.” Who’s going to argue with that? Conservative nationalism would also have America playing an active, militaristic role in the world. At least Brookhiser doesn’t hold up George W. Bush as a model.
The book celebrates progress, such as the Seneca Falls Convention. Old-fashioned conservatives were skeptical, if not outright opponents of democracy. They loved to point out that America was a republic, not a democracy. Self-sufficiency meant that elections wouldn’t matter. Similarly, Brookhiser’s predecessors at National Review opposed the civil rights legislation of the 1950s and ’60s, while criticizing the excesses in Dr. King’s rhetoric.
Give Me Liberty is a quickie book. There were bound to be omissions. George Washington did not lead the last integrated army until the Korean War. Andrew Jackson’s army at The Battle of New Orleans was a collection of whites, free blacks, American Indians and Mexican-Americans. Brookhiser also celebrates Ellis Island immigration. The America Party (“Know Nothings”) were hardly its only opponents. In 1920, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge ran on a ticket supporting an immigration moratorium. The GOP won landslide victories that year and again in 1924.
Most striking is the chapter on Franklin Roosevelt. Conservatives have never had a good word to say about the man. The New Deal did nothing to alleviate economic suffering. Roosevelt knew Pearl Harbor was coming; His oil embargo on Japan made it inevitable. His White House, on Dec. 7, 1941, refused to put the military on alert, action that would have prevented the Japanese attack.
This book is nationalism for liberals—America’s not as bad you say it is—even though few of them are going to listen.