Commonplace Book #21

The creedal national identity that emerged in the wake of the American Civil War today needs to be strongly reemphasized and defended from attacks by both the left and the right.  On the right, plenty of new white nationalist voices would like to drag the country backward to an identity once again based on race, ethnicity, or religion.  It is urgent that these views be firmly rejected as un-American, much as Ben Sasse sought to do.

On the left, identity politics has sought to undermine the legitimacy of the American national story by emphasizing victimization, insinuating in some cases that racism, gender discrimination, and other forms of systematic exclusion are somehow intrinsic to the country’s DNA.  All these things have been and continue to be features of American society ,and they need to be confronted in the present.  But a progressive narrative can also be told about the overcoming of barriers and the ever-broadening circles of people whose dignity the country has recognized, based on its founding principles.  This narrative was part of the “new birth of freedom” envisioned by Abraham Lincoln, and one that Americans celebrate on the holiday he created, Thanksgiving.

While the United States has benefited from diversity, it cannot build its national identity around diversity as such.  Identity has to be related to substantive ideas such as constitutionalism, rule of law, and human equality.  Americans respect these ideas; the country is justified in excluding from citizenship those reject them.

Francis Fukuyama, Identity, 170-171