A review of Paul D. Miller's 'The Religion of American Greatness: What's Wrong with Christian Nationalism'
“ It’s worth exploring the consequences of a period in American history when American elites, especially Northerners such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Madison Grant, soured on the idea of providence. Understandably traumatized by the carnage of the Civil War, and influenced by critical interpretations of the Bible coming out of Germany, these elites cultivated a more jaded, and more coldly transactional view of society and the role of government. It was during this time that increasingly secular and materialist American elites crafted a new racialist immigration quota system and developed eugenics programs that would later be emulated by Germany in the 1930s. It should not be taken for granted that a less enchanted view of our country’s role in the world will summon our better angels. ”
That association strikes me as a bit unfair to Miller. I haven’t read his book but from my limited understanding he’s not advocating for a “coldly transactional view of society” and certainly not eugenics.
To be honest, I like a lot of what you said in the piece but it seems to me as though there’s a bit of a semantic misunderstanding at play here. I don’t know that you and Miller mean the same thing by “nationalism” or “Christian nationalism.” For instance, do you think “Christian nationalism” signifies something adjacent to white supremacy? I doubt what you mean by the term but I have heard Miller talk about Christian Nationalism and the variety he is describing is alt-right-adjacent.
Also, I think it would do well to lay out what we mean by “nationalism.”
For instance: “ He overlooks the many ways in which a shared national culture can be cultivated voluntarily, not only by private individuals (parents, teachers, artists, musicians, journalists, authors, politicians with a bully pulpit) but also by civil society and the private sector.”
That just sounds like patriotism to me. I used to think Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponneru were correct about “benign nationalism,” but now I’m convinced by Jonah Goldberg that what they are describing falls under patriotism. Which is why I’d argue that I’m a “patriotism not nationalism” conservative, even though I absolutely would say that my love of country is in part simply a “I love my home because it is my home” commitment, as is my commitment to my fellow Americans (they are my countrymen and countrywomen and therefore they are my people, etc.). I think that counts as patriotism.
Nationalism as I see it is fundamentally tribalist and collectivist. It isn’t altogether distinct from socialism, and even the varieties of nationalism that aren’t explicitly socialist have their logical endpoint in anticapitalist romanticism. Nationalism is about unity and channeling the collective will of the people through government or mass politics, all of which is hostile to free markets, individual liberty, the rule of law etc.
However, at the end of the day, I think if we leave the semantic debate aside (in other words if we agreed on one set of terms to use and didn’t use words like “nationalism” to mean different things), you and I and probably Miller would generally agree on a lot of things about America, Christianity, and conservatism.
The one bigger point of difference would be on the role of Providence in American history. I basically agree with you, but think it needs to be emphasized that for all that we aren’t chosen in the exact way Israel was in the Old Testament. George Washington wasn’t King David.