The Culture-Based Nationalism Finds Its Origins in the American Colonial Tradition

According to social identity theory, one of the key determinants of group biases is the need to improve self-esteem. The desire to view one’s self positively is transferred onto the group, creating a tendency to view one’s own group in a positive light, and by comparison, outside groups in a negative light. Individuals will find a reason, no matter how insignificant, to prove to themselves why their own group is superior. This phenomenon was pioneered and studied most extensively by Henri Tajfel, a British social psychologist who looked at the psychological root of in-group/out-group bias. To study this in the lab, Tajfel and colleagues created minimal groups which occur when ‘complete strangers are formed into groups using the most trivial criteria imaginable’. In Tajfel’s studies, participants were split into groups by flipping a coin, and each group then was told to appreciate a certain style of painting none of the participants were familiar with when the experiment began. By having a more positive impression of individuals in the in-group, individuals are able to boost their own self-esteem as members of that group.

The culture-based nationalism finds its origins in the American Colonial tradition, while the belief-based nationalism finds its roots in the American liberal tradition. An accepted view is that the foundation on which the American people’s identity as well as the American nationalism is established because of American people’s identifying with the liberal tradition, known as the belief-based American nationalism. In addition, an alternative view is the culture-based American nationalism with its root in the colonial tradition.

It seems that people widely but wrongly presuppose that there is only one type of nationalism, the belief-based nationalism, in the United States. This can be partially attributed to the fact that America is such a nation, because Alexis de Tocqueville ever argued that the United States presented a wholly novel experiment in modern politics due to the lack of a landed aristocracy and the fact “ever since the birth of the colonies” Americans enjoyed a condition of democratic equality, the foundation of American nationalism is its political ideal, rather than its superiority in culture or ethnicity

The whole story about American nationalism is that there is the other side, just like the coin: the United States is also known of its culture-based nationalism with its colonialism as its core content. From this perspective of colonialism, Americans view the basic engine of Republican freedom to be conquest and republican principles at root as not universally inclusive , Americans regard that the nation as an Anglo-Protestant settler society which has, more than anything else, profoundly and lastingly shaped American culture, institutions, historical development, and identity; and Americans regard that settlers and immigrants differ fundamentally as while settlers leave an existing society, usually in a group, to create a new community, a city on a hill, in a new and often distant territory, immigrants, in contrast, do not create a new society.

The culture-based American nationalism with its nature of exclusiveness can easily find resonance in the external enemy strategy. To put it bluntly, the need of an enemy in American nationalism satisfies with the culture-based American nationalism taking in advance that it emphasis on establishing the United States as a closed and exclusive society. As Mark D. Brewer notes that if there is one thing that appears to connect all of the elements of American multi-national identities, is an enemy (Brewer 2016).

Because the American political elite insist that the world should all be ‘democratic’ according to what they say democracy is, when in reality it is not and apparently does not want to be. Liberalism at root is looking for external enemy. Every generation has something different it is ‘fighting’ for to occupy them and satisfy their ego. USA almost always has an enemy. Even if Soviet Union collapsed, NATO still need to treat them as a threat or it won’t have an excuse to exist.

Finally, the absence of external danger or enemy has always had a strong impact on American domestic politics which affected the American national identity. Threat times are characterized by American unity and consensus. But there is a strong sense of fractiousness as well as uncertainty about America’s role in the world. Oftentimes, outside danger or enemy is only noticed in American politics when the enemy is present. But the absence of threat is also a fundamental dynamic. And if that is true, then democracies are always in danger when there is no foreign threat. Divisions will emerge and will risk tearing apart the democracy itself, and that what start to happened in the 21 century. The 21 century is a decade full of arising social consensus inside the societies to break the colonial mind-set of the hegemony governments which seeks shape the mass identities according to their vision.