PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S "America First" agenda has reignited conservatives' love affair with nationalism, with National Review's Rich Lowry (a onetime NeverTrumper) and Israeli political theorist Yoram Hazony publishing books in the last few years arguing that America needs a nationalist revival to rebuild fraying social cohesion.
The truth is the opposite: Cultural nationalism will dissolve the glue that binds Americans--namely, their commitment to the founding principles of equality, individual rights, and human dignity.
When I came to America 30 years ago, it was obvious to me--as it was to French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville 200 years earlier--that Americans not only love but also like their country. American patriotism, Tocqueville observed, is very different from the Old World variety that regarded the nation as the father and citizens as his offspring. Americans see their country as their offspring and themselves as its creator. It's the result of their actions if not their designs, as the economist F.A. Hayek might have put it.
Americans believe in spontaneous and uncoerced expressions of patriotism, such as displaying the American flag outside their homes and beginning sporting events with a heartfelt rendition of the national anthem. That's not the casein my native India, where Republic Day celebrations involve a massive parade by various military divisions. Four years ago, after India came to blows with Pakistan, the Indian Supreme Court briefly ordered not only that movie theaters play the national anthem but that viewers stand up for it.
That's hard to imagine in America. In fact, precisely because the country exists for the sake of individuals and not vice versa, the First Amendment protects the right to use national symbols for protests, such as taking a knee during the anthem. This makes it more apparent when a course correction by the government is needed, making the country more worthy of affection.
The other striking thing about the American identity is that it does not define itself as against something else. If Pakistan and Islam were to disappear from the face of the Earth, there would be nothing left to sustain Indian nationalism. But America's ideals anchor it. The demise of communism didn't diminish America's self-conception. It vindicated it.
Hazony claims in The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books) that America's classical liberalism is fundamentally imperialistic because its political principles are deduced...