Those involved in the debates over American nationalism will find Samuel Goldman’s skeptical intervention, After Nationalism: Being American in an Age of Division, a refreshing read. Free of histrionics, Goldman’s sober and succinct exercise in historically informed political theory makes potent criticisms of contemporary American nationalists. It is less successful, however, as a critique of nationalism. Inadvertently, Goldman in fact makes the case for nationalism’s continued relevance.
The book’s target is nationalism’s starry-eyed contemporary advocates. Naming two—National Review journalists Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru—Goldman hits his mark. Responding to the results of the 2016 election, Lowry and Ponnuru were among many who stressed “the need for national cohesion” and made the case for a new American nationalism. Yet to avoid criticism and distance themselves from the policies and personalities of 2016, they kept their proposals at high levels of abstraction. Goldman observes that these proposals evoke “vaguely positive emotional associations. It is difficult to object to them because it is not clear what they mean.”