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America Right or Wrong

An Anatomy of American Nationalism

Second Edition

Anatol Lieven

Publication Date - September 2012

ISBN: 9780199897551

312 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

A powerful critique of an American foreign policy driven by a highly destructive nationalism


Originally published over half a decade ago, Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong has become a classic analysis of the special character of American nationalism. As he demonstrated, America's foreign policy response to the 9/11 attacks flowed directly from a nationalistic tradition that was two centuries in the making. Within that nationalism, Lieven identified two strands. The first was the "American thesis," a civic nationalism based on the democratic values of what has been called the "American Creed." These values are held to be universal, and anyone can become an American by adopting them. The other tradition, the "American antithesis" is a populist and often chauvinist nationalism, which tends to see America as a closed national culture and civilization threatened by a hostile and barbarous outside world.

Much has changed since 9/11. The American public has turned inward in the wake of the Great Recession, but interestingly, Lieven's fundamental analysis of American nationalism remains powerful and convincing. In this expanded new edition, he includes and in-depth analysis of the domestic component of both the American creed and the American antithesis. Barack Obama's improbable election to the presidency illustrates well the first strand. The rise of the Tea Party in response to both the financial crisis and the Obama administration's response is highly characteristic of the second strand. Lieven concentrates especially on the Tea Party's hard-edged American nationalism, which is evident in anti-immigration sentiment, hatred of Obama, and opposition to redistributive social programs that allegedly reward the unworthy. His account of Obama's election and the right-wing response to the economic collapse not only bring the story up to the present, but indicate the staying power of the book's hard-hitting thesis.

New to this Edition

  • Fully updates the earlier edition and shifts the focus so that it covers the most important events in recent US politics, including Obama's election, the great Recession, rising anti-immigration sentiment, and the rise of the Tea Party


  • exposes the role served by antithetical impulses toward nationalism and ethnocentrism in American political culture
  • provides controversial critique of the ideology of George W. Bush's presidency
  • written by a prominent American public intellectual

About the Author(s)

Anatol Lieven is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. His other books include Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power and The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Path to Independence, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 1993.


"A fascinating and incisive analysis of American nationalism."--London Review of Books

"Lieven is relentlessly candid, and has produced a remarkably thought-provoking book.... Tightly written and extensively researched.... A valuable and also a troubling book on a subject that is both crucial and in many ways extremely sensitive."--Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books

"Cogently argued...an important contribution to the discourse on national identity, the war on terror and the nature of political liberalism."--Publishers Weekly

"America Right or Wrong shows a serious intellectual talent and ambition stretching its wings. In particular, Lieven takes on some of the big questions about American identity, ideology and exceptionalism in ways that yield surprising and provocative results.... At its admirable best America Right or Wrong asks important questions and makes readers review some of their own most cherished convictions."--Walter Russell Mead, Washington Post Book World

"This fighting book digs beneath the trauma of 9-11 to uncover the cultural sources of popular support for a blindly aggressive and self-defeating foreign policy. Dazzling and inspiring."--Stephen Holmes, Professor of Politics and Law, New York University School of Law

"Anatol Lieven is one of today's most insightful observers of U.S. foreign policy. In this exceptional book he provides an analysis of the virtues and the dangers of American nationalism that is as provocative as it is perceptive." --Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation

"A searching examination of the deep-seated sources of American behavior, Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong takes on what others evade--the topics that, whether for good or ill, make us who we are and provide the engine of U. S. foreign policy. In pungent, muscular prose, Lieven makes a strong case that the neoconservatives have gotten far too much credit for the course of American policy since 9/11. His chapter on the mutually destructive course of U.S.-Israel relations is not only courageous but powerfully illuminating."--Andrew J. Bacevich, author of the forthcoming The New American Militarism

"The author demonstrates that U.S. policy in Afghanistan during the 1980s was a failed attempt to counter Soviet influence and to compensate for the loss in Vietnam skillfully unravels the origins of American nationalism and illuminates its failings and virtues."--Karl Helicher, Foreword Magazine

"Anatol Lieven is one of the most thought provoking and insightful writers in Washington. This book is very much in the same tradition."--Senator Dick Clark, Director of The Congressional Program, The Aspen Institute

Table of Contents

    Preface to the Second Edition
    One: An Exceptional Nationalism?
    Two: Thesis: Splendor and Tragedy of the American Creed
    Three: Antithesis Part I: The Embittered heartland
    Four: Antithesis Part II: Fundamentalists and Great Fears
    Five: The Legacy of the Cold War
    Six: American Nationalism, Israel and the Middle East

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