Ask Language Log: -ism exceptionalism

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Jonah Goldberg, "The Trouble with Nationalism", National Review 2/7/20

But I firmly believe that when we call the sacrifices of American patriots no different from the sacrifices of Spartans — ancient or modern — we are giving short shrift to the glory, majesty, and uniqueness of American patriotism and the American experiment. I’m reminded of Martin Diamond’s point that the concepts of “Americanism,” “Americanization,” and “un-American” have no parallel in any other country or language.

Fred Vultee sent in the link, and asked:

My immediate guess is Eskimo snow myth, but that also seems to be the sort of assertion that's addressed with specific examples. Does anything spring to mind, or do you have any suggestions on a chunk of literature that addresses discourses of nationalism?

I'm no expert in "discourses of nationalism". But I'll note that this claim of lexicological uniqueness, sourced to Martin Diamond, has been widely repeated. Walter Berns, Making Patriots, 2002:

The late Martin Diamond had this in mind when, in an American government textbook, he points out that the terms “Americanism,” “Americanization,” and “un-American” have no counterparts in any other country or language. This is not by chance, or a matter of phonetics—Swissism? Englishization?—or mere habit. (What would a Frenchman have to do or believe in order to justify being labeled un-French?) The fact is, and it was first noted by the Englishman, G.K. Chesterton, the term “Americanism” reflects a unique phenomenon; as Diamond puts it, “It expresses the conviction that American life is uniquely founded on a set of political principles.”

David Brooks, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and Always Have) in the Future Tense, 2004:

It is often declared that America is not only a plot of land but also an idea and a cause. As the political theorist Martin Diamond has observed, words like "Americanization," "Americanism," and "un-American" have no counterparts in any other language. Nobody says that a country or culture is being Italianized or Japanized or Chinese-ized, yet the Americanization of the world has been a topic of debate for a century. This doesn't mean just that there are McDonald's and Tom Cruise movies sweeping the landscape; it means some distinctive creed, mentality, and way of life is felt to be overrunning earlier patterns and cultures.

[Brooks has a unique talent for encapsulating plausible generalizations in baldly false particulars, revealed in this case by a quick web search for Italianization, Italianized, etc.]

Joe Carter ("The Patriot's Asterisk", First Things 7/5/2010) quotes Walter Berns quoting Martin Diamond, and concludes that

Most Americans have so internalized this concept of America as both a geographic place and an abstract ideal that we sometime forget how radical it must appear to the rest of the world.

And so on.

Here's the source — Martin Diamond, The Founding of the Democratic Republic, 1981 (reprinted from The Democratic Republic: An Introduction to American National Government, 1970)

The creedal character imparted to American life by the Declaration is revealed in several uniquely American terms and usages. Consider the term Americanism: no other country has an expression quite like it. How can America be an ism?

When we examine the meaning of Americanism, we discover that Americanism is to the American not a tradition or a territory, not what France is to a Frenchman or England to an Englishman, but a doctrine — what socialism is to a socialist . . . a highly attenuated, conceptualized . . . assent to a handful of final notions — democracy, liberty, opportunity. [(myl) from Leon Samson, Towards a United Front, 1933]

The term Americanism thus reflects a unique phenomenon. Other countries have no single political doctrine, adherence to which is a kind of national obligation or heritage. Frenchmen, for example, are no less French in being clericalists, or monarchists, or republicans, or Gaullists, or communists, or fascists. But to be an American has meant somehow to accept the fundamental credo; deviation from it causes one to be regarded as un-American (another expression which has no analogue elsewhere). The term Americanism expresses the conviction that American life is uniquely founded on a set of political principles, superior to those of the rival modern ideologies. And this American ism consists in certain "final notions" regarding the relationship of "democracy, liberty, opportunity."

The term Americanization — widely used during the mass immigration period — point similarly to the creedal framework of American politics. Americanization meant more than the mere adoption by immigrants of American clothes, speech, and social habits; to become Americanized meant to acquire the political ideas peculiarly appropriate to America. Other countries that have had substantial immigration did not develop a concept or term like Americanization. The French did not Gallicize immigrant Algerians, nor do the English Anglicize their Commonwealth immigrants in the political sense of Americanization. French and English immigrants had, so to speak, to become acculturated; in America, immigrants had to be politicized.

So in Diamond's original, at least, this is quite a bit deeper than the standard "no word for X" trope, which is often transparently false as a matter of lexicography as well as a matter of culture. Diamond's idea is more like Anna Wierzbicka's argument that the concept of "fair play" and the associated senses of the words fair and unfair are recent innovations exclusive to Anglo (-American?) culture. This might be false, but it's not transparently false.

It's worth noting that this meme, currently circulating among right-wing intellectuals like Berns, Goldberg, Brooks, and Carter, started in 1933 with the socialist Leon Samson. A somewhat longer sample of the original:

When we examine the meaning of Americanism, we discover that Americanism is to the American not a tradition or a territory, not what France is to a Frenchman or England to an Englishman, but a doctrine — what socialism is to a socialist. Like socialism, Americanism is looked upon … as a highly attenuated, conceptualized, platonic, impersonal attraction toward a system of ideas, a solemn assent to a handful of final notions — democracy, liberty, opportunity, to all of which the American adheres rationalistically much as a socialist adheres to his socialism — because it does him good, because it gives him work, because, so he thinks, it guarantees him happiness. Americanism has thus served as a substitute for socialism. Every concept in socialism has its substitutive counter-concept in Americanism, and that is why the socialist argument falls so fruitlessly on the American ear. … The American does not want to listen to socialism, since he thinks he already has it.


  1. Saurs said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 6:32 am

    (What would a Frenchman have to do or believe in order to justify being labeled un-French?)

    Be black? Muslim? Jewish?

    Nothing could be more credulously American than believing its own exceptionalist hype, that their country invented assimilation. Nothing could be more unimaginatively American than lacking the capacity to detect a jingoistic slogan or an alien nationalism if expressed by ways and in tones less obnoxious than just bellowing USA! USA! USA! at people. What, do they think foreigners just automatically accept that they themselves will never be, could never hope to be, the Greatest Country on Earth?

    Swissism? Englishization?

    Britishism? Anglicization? Francization? Yugoslavism?

    Most Americans have so internalized this concept of America as both a geographic place and an abstract ideal that we sometime forget how radical it must appear to the rest of the world.

    Has this man never heard of football clubs?

    Nobody says that a country or culture is being Italianized or Japanized or Chinese-ized, yet the Americanization of the world has been a topic of debate for a century.

    Bees can be "Africanized," regions can be Balkanized, a good chunk of the world briefly succumbed to Romanization once upon a time.

    [(myl) The argument, at least from Samsom through Diamond, is not that America is unique in having cultural nationalism or a pattern of cultural assimilation. And the form of ethnic nationalism implicit in your "un-French" suggestions is completely in the wrong direction to be a counter-example. (Though in fact the idea of ethnic or racial exclusivity is historically rather un-French, it seems to me.) Football-club partisanship is an even worse choice.

    The claim under evaluation is that American nationalism is uniquely associated with "a doctrine", "a system of ideas" rather than simply "a tradition or a territory".

    Both sides of this claim might be false — the claim that Americanism is crucially a system of ideas, or the claim that no other nationalism is a system of ideas in the same way — but your attempts at counter-arguments represent a complete misunderstanding of the idea that you're arguing against.]

  2. Outeast said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 7:32 am

    "Un-british" certainly gets a lot of exercise ("leaving the EU quitessentially un-British says Churchill's grandson"), but I'd guess this (and probably plenty of other such counterexamplesf) was consciously modelled on "un-American".

  3. Martin Taylor said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 7:50 am

    "Un-English" is attested in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" from 1881. As an Englishman and a Brit, I find the concepts of un-Englishness and un-Britishness quite familiar, and am more inclined to think of their having been translated to a New World environment than the reverse.

    [(myl) But the basic issue is not when the word occurred, but what it meant. In Treasure Island, the sense of "un-English" seems to be a matter of personal character and conduct rather than the essentially political "doctrine" and "system of ideas" claimed to be involved in the notion of Americanism:

    "Trelawney," said the doctor, "contrary to all my notions, I believed you have managed to get two honest men on board with you—that man and John Silver."
    "Silver, if you like," cried the squire; "but as for that intolerable humbug, I declare I think his conduct unmanly, unsailorly, and downright un-English."


  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 8:45 am

    There's "Finlandization," but that's something Soviet foreign policy did to Finland, rather than something Finnish culture did to incomers.

    The claim of American uniqueness here is I think tied up with an implicit claim that the historical circumstances that gave rise to the particular claimed sense of "Americanism" — viz the need during and after the "Ellis Island" era to assimilate to a common identity massive numbers of immigrants from sufficiently diverse ethnic/cultural/linguistic backgrounds that more conventional forms of nationalist narrative wouldn't do the trick — were also unique. So to look for close counterexamples you'd need to question that. Which would mean not looking at Italianness or Frenchness but at the experience of other countries whose population was largely formed by mass migration in the 19th/20th centuries. Australia and Canada would probably be the first parallels to come to the American mind, but I can think of reasons why their histories were different enough that they might not be all that useful. But what might be useful are places (typically understudied in English-language discourse about this sort of thing) like Argentina and Brazil, which experienced quite significant mass migration from sources other than the "founding" colonial population, e.g. Italians and to some extent Germans in Argentina, Germans/Ukrainians/Japanese/etc/etc in Brazil. What sort of conceptualization of a unifying national identity did those immigrants and their children/grandchildren sign on to? I don't know the answers myself, but that's where I'd suggest looking.

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 8:59 am

    NB that both Diamond and Berns were students of Leo Strauss (and in fact their respective careers in grad school at the U of Chicago overlapped chronologically, so they probably first met way back then). One need not share the demonizing/paranoid view of the Straussians and their influence that was in vogue about a dozen years ago to appreciate that a Straussian take on American identity is likely to be a bit idiosyncratic and indeed is likely to sound at first glance more uncontroversially plausible than it actually is, because it will refer to common ideas and themes (yay Declaration of Independence!) in ways that prove subtly esoteric upon closer reading.

  6. Doug said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 9:01 am

    Readers of this thread might be interested in this survey:

    of responses to statements of the form "_____ is very important for being truly [survey country nationality]"

  7. R. Fenwick said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 9:05 am

    I’m reminded of Martin Diamond’s point that the concepts of “Americanism,” “Americanization,” and “un-American” have no parallel in any other country or language.

    At least one of those is blatantly false, and "un-Australian" is certainly a cardinal accusation to be avoided by any Australian politician. As with the American (un-American?) version, it tends to be hurled by conservative politicians (most famously our 25th Prime Minister John Howard) at those of more socially or environmentally conscious leftist political persuasion, who are seen to be exhorting – in the eyes of the conservatives, at least – some kind of socialist unionist homosexual dole-bludger fascistic pinko agenda through which the fair go will be attacked and we'll all be rooned, or something to that effect.

    See Wikipedia on the topic.

  8. bks said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 9:27 am

    Does Goldberg mean embracing a history of building an empire by using free slave labor on free expropriated land? That doesn't seem unique.

  9. Julie-Ann Ellis said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 9:30 am

    "Un-British" has a long history, from at least the mid-nineteenth century. The exhortation "Be British!" is also of long standing:
    “ ‘Be British, boys, be British’ was the cry that rang up and down the decks. Each man straightened his shoulders…" (from a survivor's account of the sinking of the Lusitania).

  10. Sid Smith said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 10:14 am

    Perhaps other countries aren't daft enough to think they invented "democracy, liberty, opportunity".

  11. mike said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 10:19 am

    Wasn't de Tocqueville an early proponent of the idea that there was something different about America? Not excluding the contradiction of espousing freedom while holding slaves.

  12. David Marjanović said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 10:39 am

    The word undeutsch certainly exists. It's such a Nazi thing to say that even the AfD doesn't use it; in fact, I'm not even aware of the NPD using it (and that's the party that loves to put "national" and "social" into the same sentence), but I make no guarantees.

    In the 19th and early 20th century, nationalism was fashionable, and more and more European countries tried to legitimize their existence as the natural home of a particular ethnicity. The US, founded on abstract principles instead, was very much an exception to that (…as was Switzerland, but Switzerland didn't experience mass immigration). That must be where the claim comes from.

    Funnily enough, things have almost reversed in recent decades: nationalism, even patriotism is out of fashion in much of Europe, so the US, where it's still taken for granted that everyone is a patriot, very much stands out…

  13. D.O. said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 11:02 am

    I thought French are much attached to liberté, égalité, fraternité and might consider it as a part of national identity.

    [(myl) Indeed — but there does not seem to be any associated word francisme or similar. There's gallicisme, but that means "Tournure propre à la langue française". During the events of 1789, 1848, and 1870, the tripartite motto seems to have been as much internationalist as nationalist; and the words or their translation have been adopted into the preamble of the constitution of India, the motto of the Social Democratic Party of Denmark, and the mottos of various former French colonies.]

  14. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 11:09 am

    I think Samson's reference to "final ideas" (emphasis added)–what might also be called "normative ideas"–is telling. In that sense it seems to me not too far from Gramsci's notion of the "historic bloc," whose conception of the nation comes to be identified as the national identity itself. Thus for example in 19th century Italy the very idea of Italy as a unified nation, which ought also to be a unified nation-state, was successfully reframed as "Italy"–competing views being stigmatized (by clear implication if not in so many words) as "un-Italian." I suspect "un-American" arose in just such a way, as a way to stigmatize revolutionary ideas (Socialist or Anarchist, later Communist), with "Americanism" the complement–us, not them. (Alexander Saxton's "The Rise and Fall of the White Republic" applies the "historic bloc" analysis to US political history.) But in any case I don't think the conflation of national allegiance with a set of final ideas is peculiarly American. (Is it peculiarly American to argue that it is? Hm.)

  15. Sid Smith said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 11:36 am

    Has America been exceptionally just and free? If not, words such as un-American, Americanized, Americanism, etc, as signifying "democracy, liberty, opportunity", or an aspiration thereto, are humbug.

    So maybe other countries are less inclined to humbug.

    "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

  16. Mara K said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

    So can we describe the (often loudly-proclaimed and in many ways incorrect) belief in American exceptionalism as "exceptionalismism"? Or is it just nationalism at that point?

  17. Peter Metcalfe said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

    I think the Brits would use "not cricket" to refer to something that is unenglish (which is an actual word in German and used to refer to something the British would not approve of).

  18. Dan Lufkin said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 4:21 pm

    I remember the novel (and later movie) The Americanization of Emily. Here (h/t to Wikipedia) is what Americanization meant back then (late 1940s):

    The screenplay implies, but never explicitly explains, what is meant by the term "Americanization". The novel uses "Americanized" to refer to a woman who accepts, as a normal condition of wartime, the exchange of her sexual favors for gifts of rare wartime commodities. Thus, in reply to the question "has Pat been Americanized", a character answers:

    Thoroughly. She carries a diaphragm in her kitbag. She has seen the ceilings of half the rooms in the Dorchester [hotel]. She asks that it be after dinner: she doesn't like it on an empty stomach. She admits she's better after steak than after fish. She requires that it be in a bed, and that the bed be in Claridge's, the Savoy, or the Dorchester

  19. R M said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 4:25 pm

    Un-American's first recorded use was in 1818 according to Meriam-Webster, so it does predate the likes of Bakunin or Marx. According to Google Ngram there was a huge spike in its usage from around WWI and dropping off steeply in the mid 20s, which in interesting as in my mind, and in no doubt others, my first association would be with McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

  20. NatShockley said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

    R. Fenwick is right: "un-Australian" functions for all intents and purposes exactly like "un-American". I also think rootlesscosmo is onto something in saying "But in any case I don't think the conflation of national allegiance with a set of final ideas is peculiarly American. (Is it peculiarly American to argue that it is? Hm.)" In other words, this insistence on the uniqueness of "un-American" seems to be in itself yet another manifestation of the self-flattering fallacy of American exceptionalism.

  21. David Morris said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 4:56 pm

    What would a Frenchman have to do or believe in order to justify being labeled un-French?

    Not eat cheese and not surrender.

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

    Those skeptical about the notion of an American nationalism based around loyalty to universal-sounding metaphysical abstractions (called in certain circles in recent decades the "creedal nation" or "proposition[al] nation" concept) may be heartened to learn that some of those close to our new president share that skepticism, as outlined in this better-than-you-might expect piece from that leading journal of comparative political philosophy Vanity Fair.

  23. Haamu said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 5:46 pm

    Aside from the question of uniqueness/exceptionalism, there's a second aspect to the mythology of "Americanism" that we haven't dealt with yet: Far from being the philosophical bedrock that instantiates us (I'm an American) as a nation, the concept is actually unclear and ultimately divisive. American political discourse seems to be a perpetual argument about who gets to define it.

    (In anticipation of complaints that I'm venturing into territory inappropriate for this blog, I'll keep this brief, and I'll propose, gamely, that I'm discussing semantics here, not politics.)

    Samson offers an enumeration of "final notions" — democracy, liberty, opportunity — that is itself disputable. Other commentators (and perhaps Samson himself, given his comments on Socialism) evolve that list into slightly more specific ideas like "limited government." From there, it's a fairly direct path to claims that conservatives are the only true protectors of the American ideal.

    Meanwhile, there are other perfectly reasonable interpretations of "Americanism." A very defensible reading of the Declaration of Independence is that it isn't really about limited government at all, but about responsible, accountable government — something many across the entire current American political spectrum hold dear.

    And now we have the phenomenon of Trump, who represents a refocusing of the argument about "Americanism" away from the role of government entirely. Now we're basically arguing about inclusion vs. exclusion. The crowds in the streets are there to claim that "Americanism" is the ideal of a truly inclusive society.

    So yes, this may be some sort of inversion of the "no words for X" trope — only in multiple ways. Outside of the U.S., we may or may not be dealing with "no concept for X." Inside of the U.S., though, we are definitely dealing with "too many concepts for X." Given the claims that are made for the importance of X, that's a real problem.

  24. Haamu said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 6:01 pm

    P.S. — "Attenuated" seems a truly odd word for Samson to apply to something that is supposedly powerful enough to neutralize Socialism for generations. Is there another sense of the word (other than weakened, diluted, made thin) that I'm not aware of, or is he merely trying to express the lack of an emotional aspect?

    Beyond that, he confuses me by calling the assent "solemn" and yet utterly pragmatic ("because it does him good, because it gives him work, because, so he thinks, it guarantees him happiness"). Either he's as confused as I am, or there are subtleties to his argument that I can't glean from this single quoted paragraph.

  25. Clare Stinchcombe said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 6:32 pm

    Canada seems to have all three:

    "I have before me as a pillar of fire by night and as a pillar of cloud by day a policy of true Canadianism, of moderation, of conciliation. I have followed it consistently since 1896, and now I appeal with confidence to the whole Canadian people to uphold me in this policy of sound Canadianism which makes for the greatness of our country and of the Empire." (Wilfrid Laurier)

    "They said my plan to screen all immigrants and refugees to Canada was 'un-Canadian.'" (Kellie Leitch)

    And here's a discussion of "Canadianization" which describes "its standard definition as the instillation of white, middle class, Anglo-Protestant values… [including] service, obedience, respect for authority, and commitment to family and nation."

    And Australia has at least one of the three: "Un-Australian is an increasingly pejorative term used in Australia. In modern usage, it has similar connotations to the United States term un-American, however the Australian term is somewhat older, being used as early as 1855 to describe an aspect of the landscape that was similar to that of Britain. Its modern usage was popularised during the 1990s by Prime Minister John Howard and One Nation Party founder Pauline Hanson; however, Stanley Bruce used it in reference to striking workers in 1925 and Joseph Lyons during the 1930s to decry communists and migrants from non-British backgrounds."

    It's plausible to me that this is a property of Anglo settler-states…

  26. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 7:05 pm

    @Haamu: "American political discourse seems to be a perpetual argument about who gets to define it."

    As I understand him, that's more or less what Gramsci is talking about in the context of Italy: that argument, carried on by "historic blocs" via their "organic intellectuals" (e.g. political parties, the press, religious institutions etc.), is the substance of political discourse.

  27. Ari Corcoran said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 8:29 pm

    @ R. Fenwick and others re: unAustralian. While it has largely been used by people to the right of politics, it has also been used by the trade union movement to castigate employers' exploitation of workers.

    As touched on by others "Americanism" and "Americanisation"–outside the USA–and certainly in Australia–is used to describe the effects of American English and other cultural exports (Hollywood etc) on local Strayan language and culture. Usually in a critical manner.

  28. AntC said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 10:44 pm

    @R.M. , my first association [for un-American] would be with McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

    Indeed. I.e. something America should be ashamed of.

    Americanization is foisting Coca-Cola and McDonalds on poor countries that need that stuff like a hole in the head. Elsewhere spelt "cultural imperialism".

    Americanism elsewhere spelt "jingoism". "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"? From the country founded on the slave trade, "humbug", as @Sid Smith said. From the country that turned away the kindertransport, and is now trying to turn away refugees caused by its own imperialist misadventures: outrageous.

    For all Trump's "make America great again", I can't remember him using any of those three terms much. Perhaps too embarrassing even for him.

  29. AntC said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 12:02 am

    @myl the claim that no other nationalism is a system of ideas in the same way

    I don't like to make these comparisons, but I'm pretty sure Fascism and Naziism/pan-Germanism would describe themselves as a "system of ideas".

    "Socialism in one country" [Stalin was a "system of ideas".

    Maoism is a system of ideas.

    I'm pretty sure every tin-pot dictator in Africa would claim something about their [anti-colonial] ideas. Trevor Noah's doing a good job of explaining that to America.

    I have to agree with @Saurs Nothing could be more credulously American than believing its own exceptionalist hype

    Only America's astonishing capacity to forget its own history (and the whole world's history) could lead anybody to suggest there's anything exceptional about it. Someone has invented new words for very familiar ideas. So what?

  30. Zeppelin said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 3:33 am

    "Germanisation" and "un-German" were both used by the Nazis, and the latter especially was firmly ideological in meaning — "undeutsch" was whatever went against völkisch ideology. It's not that we don't understand these concepts or find them exotic. It's just that using them unironically marks you out as a literal Nazi, so they don't occur in mainstream political discourse.

  31. Zeppelin said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 3:43 am

    So yeah, subsuming everything you find true and good in the world under the label of your nation and what you perceive as its national ideological "soul" isn't some radical American innovation. It's bog-standard national chauvinism, itself presented as uniquely American by its proponents because exceptionalism is necessary to sustain national chauvinism.

  32. maidhc said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 4:34 am

    How are the sacrifices of modern Spartans any different from the rest of the Greek population? And the "sacrifices" of ancient Spartans involved enslaving the helots, Greeks who inhabited adjacent areas. I suppose the reference is to Thermopylae.

    The status of peoples in ancient Greece is pretty complicated over the years. It is not very easy to sum it up. I'm not sure that over all the Spartans were people who suffered sacrifices.

    In modern Greece I think you could probably deal with the Greeks as one people.

    I think you are not really dealing with the National Review 2/7/20, or you would have some connection to the world of the future. Or if you do, who is President in 2020?

  33. Johan P said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 4:55 am

    "Osvensk" – un-swedish – may be unique among these national negations in that it's a positive word, a compliment.

    "You were kissing and drinking Sangria on the beach until 4 AM? That's wonderful, so un-swedish!"

    BTW, while Etnonym+ism constructions may be rare (although Panafricanism and Panslavism are worth considering in this context), surely the meaning of Americanism is not per se that different from "American patriotism" or "American nationalism" – two-word terms that readily translate to other nations?

  34. philip said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 5:08 am

    I would argue that the Statutes of Kilkenny
    are a very early example of one nation – England – promoting its practices and traditions to the level of a system of beliefs, the main belief being that the English are superior in every way to any other race.

    The Statutes were very pervasive, covering everything from language to the correct way to ride a horse, and were aimed at the Anglification (or re-Anglification) of English nobles who had invaded and colonised areas of Ireland.

  35. ardj said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 10:00 am

    @David Morris: There is a delightful lady who works at my local cheese counter. She is very firm that she does not like cheese, never has. And she has (alas) definitely not surrendered. But she could not be more French if she tried.

  36. EndlessWaves said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

    Are these not parallels for older religions terms and ideas? Christianization and being un-christian date back centuries.

    [(myl) This seems to me like the strongest challenge yet – but I expect that Samson and followers would be happy with the idea that Americanism is a kind of (proselytizing) religion.]

  37. Christopher Buckey said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 3:43 pm

    I'm not qualified to speak on the linguistics, but historically the idea that "Americanization" and related terms are somehow unique is nonsense. When writing about the Classical Era you often use terms like "Hellenization" and "Romanization" and later in history you have "Anglicization".

    [(myl) Terms of the ETHNONYM-ization type are clearly widespread and old. The claim seems to be that the X-ism/X-ization/un-X complex, with a politico-ideological sense rather than a purely cultural one, is special for X=American. So "Anglicization" doesn't have corresponding Anglicism and un-Anglic(an?), Romanization doesn't have corresponding Romanism and un-Roman, etc.]

  38. Zeppelin said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

    I just remembered that there is in fact a German term that corresponds pretty well to "Americanism" — "Deutschtum" (German-dom). It, too, was co-opted by the Nazis. The related articles on its English-language Wikipedia page are "Volksgemeinschaft", "Britishness" and "Romanità"*.

    So German at least has the X-ism/X-isation/un-X trifecta in Deutschtum/Germanisierung/undeutsch, but they're out of favour due to their direct association with fascism.
    I suppose the terms somewhat conflate politics/ideology and culture (certainly in their Nazi usage). But I'd say that's because to the Nazis culture and politics/ideology were both ultimately products of race and breeding and hence inseparable. A "healthy" German culture would automatically be National Socialist and völkisch.

    *One English translation of which appears to be "Romanism".

  39. Geoff said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

    'Un-Australian' is the exact counterpart of 'un-American'. The 'Australian' that's being negated is, similarly, a bunch of simplistic, flattering cultural stereotypes, although the details are a bit different (to do with fairness, egalitarianism, mateship, self-reliance, commonsense, no bullshit).

  40. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

    "Romanitas" arose as a word fairly late in the day (3d century A.D., sez the internet), and it may be relevant that: a) Roman citizenship had by then been extended to lots of different people around the Empire with no tight genetic/ethnic/etc connection to the population of Latium, but that wider group of "Romans" had to have *some* sort of something-or-other in common by way of Roman-ness; and b) after a few more centuries various bits of the former Empire had to deal with new rulers arriving from outsider ("barbarian") ethnocultural backgrounds and needed to decide how to deal with them conceptually. So, e.g., various courtiers/apologists for Theoderic the Great stressed his supposed "romanitas" by way of suggesting that his rule over Italy was legitimate and not merely the unfortunate fait-accompli result of a bumptious Ostrogoth being better at wielding the sword than the locals had been. This necessarily required the assumption that "romanitas" as some sort of organizing political ethos (perhaps a set of "final notions"?) was something that could, if desired, be acquired by those coming from non-Roman backgrounds.

  41. Saurs said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 1:02 am

    a complete misunderstanding of the idea that you're arguing against.

    Certainly someone is fundamentally confused. But t'aint me.

  42. Graeme said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 5:37 am

    As an Australian I could echo the fact that 'unAustralian' serves as a socio-political pejorative. But it's also unAustralian to big note oneself or one's tribe so I'll avoid the paradox of doing so.

    'Anglicisation' may be an old fashioned word now but it is on a par with Americanisation. The seeping adoption or deference of an hegemonic culture, political and even worldview. It defined a lot of colonial mindsets, for better or worse, during and after the British Empire.

  43. philip said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 7:36 am

    and un-British is the term instead of un_anglican (which would refer to religion).

  44. Gunnar H said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 4:24 pm

    The discussion seems somewhat confused by the fact that Brooks uses "Americanization" in a different sense than Diamond, who was not talking about cultural imperialism, but of assimilation.

    I don't think it's just American exceptionalism to recognize that the American rationale, the "why we should be a country" story, is somewhat unusual. Most modern nation states were founded or re-founded on some form of nationalism, and in most cases whatever political doctrines they may profess are secondary to a tribal, geographical or historical identity.

    At the same time, I'm somewhat dubious that we can really distinguish an "-ism" in the sense of a doctrine or system of political ideas from a set of cultural values considered as a key part of national identity. For example, in Norway, solidarity and egalitarianism are often identified as important Norwegian values, as is an inclusive, non-aggressive form of patriotism – the fact that the National Day is celebrated with children's parades rather than military parades is often cited in this regard.

    Obviously these ideals (which are not always adhered to in practice) have a political dimension, even if it's not explicitly identified as an ideology of "Norwegianism", and violating such norms can certainly lead to being called out as un-Norwegian ("unorsk"). (Unlike the American and Australian examples, this is probably more often used to censure right-wing expressions than by conservatives against the left.) I disagree with commenters who argue that this is just a matter of jingoistically "subsuming everything true and good" under the national soul. Rather, it's a matter of choosing to identify with certain (real or stereotypical) positive traits or ideals. Other countries may choose other ideals, making for genuine cultural and ideological differences.

    The term "Norwegianization" ("fornorsking") also exists, primarily referring to historical assimilation policies towards the Sami/Lapp minority. Whether it meaningfully corresponds to the relevant sense of "Americanization" is at least debatable. The racist and oppressive nature of these policies (forced conversion to Christianity, suppression of the Sami languages, discrimination, etc.) may discredit the term from being used for attempts to integrate and assimilate immigrants, but much ink is spilled over what it takes to "become Norwegian".

    Then again, I don't recall seeing many contemporary references to "Americanizing" immigrants in the US, either.

    Finally, how about Israel and the term and concept (or set of concepts) of Zionism as a parallel to America and Americanism?

  45. dporter said,

    February 16, 2017 @ 5:37 pm

    Given where this appears, I'm kind of shocked no one has discussed Sinicization (or Sinification, your choice) (漢化 hànhuà in Chinese), which is a huge concern in a great deal of discussions of Chinese history (and in particular the history of the so-called "barbarians" who conquered China). Though there is certainly an ethnic component to it (clothing, language, and the like), in many respects it is ideological. When people insist that Manchus or Mongols "Sinicized" following their conquests of China, a big part of the evidence used is their supposed adoption of "neo-Confucianism" as a governing ideology, and their turn away from martiality and violence. Indeed, the idea that China exerted a morally transformative influence on those who came into contact with it dates back quite a long time (though it would not have been discussed with the term 漢化).

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