Americanism is a set of United States patriotic values aimed at creating a collective American identity, and can be defined as "an articulation of the nation's rightful place in the world, a set of traditions, a political language, and a cultural style imbued with political meaning". According to the American Legion, a U.S. veterans' organization, Americanism is an ideology, or belief in devotion, loyalty, or allegiance to the United States of America, or to its flag, traditions, customs, culture, symbols, institutions, or form of government. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Americanism is a question of spirit, conviction, and purpose, not of creed or birthplace."
Americanism has two different meanings. It can refer to the defining characteristics of the United States and can also signify loyalty to the United States and a defense of American political ideals. These ideals include, but are not limited to self-government, equal standing in court, freedom of speech, and a belief in progress. This collection of ideals that forms the modern ideology of Americanism holds an enduring appeal to people from lands throughout the globe.
In an essay devoted to Americanism, Agnes Repplier emphasized that, "Of all the countries in the world, we and we only have any need to create artificially the patriotism which is the birthright of other nations." Since the racial and ethnic demographic alterations of the American population caused by the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, Americanism has been rooted less in shared cultural experiences and more in shared political ideals.
The concept of Americanism has been around since the first European settlers moved to North America aspired by a vision of a shining "City on a hill". John Adams wrote that the new settlements in America were "the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth". Such understanding of Americanism was common thinking throughout the New World after the American Revolutionary War with expectations that the newly independent nation would become more than what Thomas Paine called "an asylum for mankind".
During the antebellum period, throughout the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, Americanism acquired a restrictive political meaning due to nativist moral panics after increased Irish and German immigration led to the growth of American Catholicism.
The years from the end of the Civil War to the end of World War II brought new meaning to the term "Americanism" to millions of immigrants coming from Europe and Asia. Those were times of great economic growth and industrialization, and thus brought forth the American scene consisting of "industrial democracy" and the thinking that the people are the government in America. Since then, the success of the American nation has brought tremendous power to the notion of Americanism.
According to Wendy L. Wall in Inventing the "American Way", Americanism was presented by a national propaganda campaign to contrast with Communism and Fascism, during the Cold War. The benefits of Americanism were promoted through the ideals of freedom and democracy.
Some organizations have embraced Americanism but have taken its ideals further, i.e., the Ku Klux Klan believes that Americanism includes aspects of race (purity of white American) and of American Protestantism.
The meaning of Americanism today, however, is very different. To the extent that the term is even still used, its meaning has been hijacked by both the Left and the Right. The Left most often identifies Americanism with multiculturalism, relativism, environmentalism, regulation, and welfarism — in other words, with progressivism. The Right typically identifies Americanism with Christianity, school prayer, tradition, family values, and community standards — in other words, with social conservatism. None of these values are, however, uniquely American. In fact, in one form or another, they all have a distinctly European provenance that is set in direct opposition to the native meaning of Americanism.
- Kazin, Michael and Joseph A. McCartin, eds. Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
- SAL Americanism report, American Legion, 2012.
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