Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

Patriotism as Status Socialism (or, America: F**k Yeah!)

November 4th, 2010 · 43 Comments

Michael Kinsley unloads on “American exceptionalism”:

The theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters and approximately 100 percent of all U.S. politicians, although there is less and less evidence to support it. A recent Yahoo poll (and I resist the obvious joke here) found that 75 percent of Americans believe that the United States is “the greatest country in the world.” Does any other electorate demand such constant reassurance about how wonderful it is — and how wise?

It occurs to me that there’s an obvious link here with the idea that the contemporary populist right is heavily driven by ressentiment—and that a lot of our current politics has less to do with actual policy disagreements than with resolving status anxieties. You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of “American-ness” relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it.

You can gin up bogus reasons why it might matter from a policy perspective when the president says something that can be construed as “apologizing for America,” or doesn’t engage in a lot of symbolism that’s supposed to signal commitment to “American values”—but none of them have ever made much sense. The conventional take is that it’s really about markers of tribal affinity, but we can go a step further: Maybe it’s more precisely that people want high-status figures to invest in building the brand of their shared identity—a sort of status redistribution as noblese oblige.

Update: Lest I I be thought to be making any claim to originality here, South Bend Seven notes that the basic idea here should be familiar enough from readers of the likes of Eric Hoffer:

The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.

— The True Believer, Section 9

Tags: Sociology


       

 

43 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Derek Scruggs // Nov 4, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    We’re #1 in self esteem!

  • 2 Status redistribution and American exceptionalism | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen // Nov 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    [...] Julian Sanchez. I like the concept of status redistribution, but it’s not as catchy as ‘epistemic closure’. [...]

  • 3 Reflecting in the Gloom « A Feather Adrift // Nov 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    [...] Sanchez has a point about American Exceptionalism. Why do we need to think we are better than everyone else? Perhaps because for those of us who are [...]

  • 4 DivisionByZero // Nov 5, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Well, one could construe “exceptionalism” to mean that America is exceptional in the sense that it is not socialist. In other words the American way of life is better than the socialist one. Whether it’s true or not is certainly up for debate and I am sure that most socialists would disagree. It’s more like capitalist machismo than nationalism.

  • 5 Gene Callahan // Nov 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Mises from Human Action:

    ‘From the pluralis logicus (and from the merely ceremonial pluralis nlajestaticus) wc must distinguish the pluralis gloriosus. If a Canadian who nevertriedskatingsays,”Wearetheworld’s foremosticehockeyplayers,” or if an Italian boor proudly contends “We are the world’s most eminent painters,” nobody is fooled. But with refercnce to politicaI and economic problems the pluralis gloriosus evolves into the pluralis impcrialis and as such plays a significant role in paving the way for the acceptance of doctrines determining international economic policies.’

  • 6 Gene Callahan // Nov 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    I don’t know what happened to the spaces up above — it was pasted straight from a pdf that seemed ok!

  • 7 LauraNo // Nov 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    We are a nation with way more than our fair share of yahoos. However you want to frame it. I’ve long thought that the right-wing is one big weakass ego, connected by invisible e.s.p.-like threads acting and screeching in concert. In other words, yahoos. I really don’t mean to sound so mean but it’s the only way to describe what I mean to say.

  • 8 Cannoneo // Nov 5, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    It’s true, as an objective matter, that exceptionalism is bullshit. But I find your notion of “status redistribution” unconvincing and class-ist in the way that gives elites a bad name (ie, creates ressentiment!). E.g., your equation of status with self-esteem — “graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special” — is disturbing. It betrays an extremely limited view of human worth. Most people who graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money do so on the basis of foundations for which they cannot claim any credit — ie, the community and/or class structure (or, if you like, genes) that produced them. I.e., they “don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here.” Most people have self-esteem, on the other hand, not because they have high social status but because their mothers love them. I.e., they live in a web of relationships that is emotionally rewarding. A mechanic or a nurse who earns enough to support a family and is valued by his or her community would have no need of this palliative pro-Americanism you describe. It may be the case that economic stress and attendant social dislocation in the working class cause some to reach for American identity, the way others turn to crystal meth, as a substitute. But those factors are not the same thing as simply being in the bottom half of the social or income hierarchy. And they don’t describe the majority of people who respond to exceptionalist rhetoric.

  • 9 gregorylent // Nov 6, 2010 at 4:53 am

    it is ego … all universities need departments of ego studies

  • 10 “Status Socialism” « Socialism and… // Nov 6, 2010 at 8:44 am

    [...] -Julian Sanchez [...]

  • 11 Pithlord // Nov 6, 2010 at 10:48 am

    As a Canadian, I doubt Americans are unique in thinking they are uniquer than anyone else. Seems like a universal feature of human nature to me.

    It’s true that Canadians or Luxembourgeois are not in a position to claim their country is the most powerful in the world or can kick everyone else’s ass. But that just means we emphasize other dimensions on which we can convince ourselves we are the best.

  • 12 GSW // Nov 6, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I’m with Pitlord’s (#11) comment except for the fact of my being American, as in US citizen, unless there is some data suggesting we have a hold on being “exceptional.” Even then, I suspect that it would reveal great diversity in what Americans think is “exceptional” about us.

  • 13 Left coast dave // Nov 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

    American Exceptionalism is the concept that our founders created a government and gave it limits on its power. That gave individuals the freedom to prosper. The left hates this notion of limited government and thus perverts and attacks the notion of American Exceptionalism.

  • 14 American Exceptionalism Again « Matt Schiavenza // Nov 6, 2010 at 11:54 am

    [...] good column explaining why American exceptionalism is stupid and possibly dangerous. Julian Sanchez has a thoughtful take on the subject, too. Filed under: Uncategorized Leave a comment Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) [...]

  • 15 LauraNo // Nov 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    There are limits on most other country’s power – that doesn’t make us exceptionable in my view. Most people in most countries have the ‘freedom to prosper’, I’d even say that most people in most places also love their families and work hard to support them, so we are not exceptional in those areas. We are exceptional in our aggression, also our propensity to borrow and spend, where I think we may win the prize. Or at least share top spot.

  • 16 Julian Sanchez // Nov 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Cannoneo-

    In general, I don’t really disagree, but I’m writing against the backdrop of a specific political movement that transparently *is* appealing to a set of anxieties and resentments centered on class and education. The constituency for that message, I’m suggesting, is also especially likely to enjoy being reassured that, quite by default, they share in in a kind of collective superiority to the rest of the world that trumps the sense of personal inferiority that our contemporary demagogues are so shamelessly playing upon.

    LCD-

    “American Exceptionalism is the concept that our founders created a government and gave it limits on its power”

    That is a true and important concept, but it is also not at all what “American exceptionalism” means.

  • 17 Patriotism as a Form of Socialism « VMG // Nov 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    [...] chucked a bit last night after reading this. I believe it has some truth to it. You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a [...]

  • 18 Where the crazy comes from « // Nov 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    [...] the crazy comes from Julian Sanchez (one of my favorite bloggers) tags the French term ressentiment as a useful way to understand 21st [...]

  • 19 A ‘good’ reason for denying reality | Somer’s Place // Nov 9, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    [...] reason for denying reality Posted on November 9, 2010 by somerville61| Leave a comment from Julian Sanchez, with a tip of the cap to Ed Brayton we get a cogent explanation as to why so many Americans deny [...]

  • 20 Why so much aggressive patriotism? « Later On // Nov 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    [...] Sanchez has a good answer: Michael Kinsley unloads on “American exceptionalism”: The theory that Americans are better [...]

  • 21 sinz54 // Nov 10, 2010 at 10:29 am

    America is exceptional in one very important respect: Except for the American Indians, none of us trace our history here back more than a few centuries. We all came here from elsewhere.

    Unlike China or Europe, our patriotism doesn’t come from race or blood or soil, but from the ideas that our Founding Fathers came up with.

    One of those unique ideas is unalienable rights: That we’re born with certain rights; governments can take away those rights by force (unfortunately), but government doesn’t grant them as gifts.

    That idea had originated in Europe by men like Rousseau, but no society there could put those ideas into effect because all those societies evolved from statist pasts. Whereas our Founding Fathers, on this continent, started from scratch. They could have invented any type of relationship of Man to government. They came up with the one we now inherit.

    If there’s one idea that the modern socialist Left will never accept, it’s that of unalienable rights. To them, we all start from belonging to a collective, and any rights we have are granted as some gift–and can always be taken away again.

    And that’s why they are furious about this notion of “American exceptionalism.” They admire Europe–despite its recent history of bloodlettings and ethnic cleansings (ask the Roma in France)–and wish to wipe out this notion that Americans will always have rights as a birthright. They don’t believe in that.

  • 22 Mike // Nov 10, 2010 at 10:52 am

    All I can say is what did the liberals expect the reaction would be when they started referring to three quarters of the nation as “flyover country” and constantly proclaim the virtues of European style *everything*.

    Conservatives like America the way it is (or how they think it *was* anyway) more than liberals by definition – if it’s so awesome, why would you want to change it to be like Europe so badly?

    Combine this with the concentration of wealth and power in cities (which trend liberal), the ownership of most media by a relatively liberal crowd (note: I don’t mean the standard MSM is evil liberals line, I mean hollywood), and a liberal intelligentsia in academia who has been making a living for the last fifty year writing about nothing but what is wrong with America… and it’s a very understandable backlash.

    People believe in all sorts of silly exceptionalisms. If you press me, I will admit that the University of Michigan produces very solid graduates and has a proud football history – but I will still stand by the argument that Ohio State is somehow still better in an arbitrary and ill-defined way. The degree to which those beliefs come to the forefront of debate, though, is how often they are attacked and meant to feel inferior.

    If you tell someone that their baby is cute, but he has kind of a funny nose, she will laugh and possibly agree with you. If you tell someone they have an ugly baby with a hideous growth on their face, they’ll respond that they have the cutest baby ever and you can go fly a kite.

    The liberal “elite” have been calling America an ugly baby for years.

  • 23 Mike // Nov 10, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Oh, and one thought on Sarah Palin – people like to forget that she established herself as a charismatic, well-spoken, and likable populist before she was exposed as a policy lightweight.

    Therefore many conservatives already saw her as “one of us” before the attacks began… which means that attacks on her policy wonkage are unlikely to resonate among those who are not particular policy experts themselves. It’s all about signaling whether you are part of the group or not – she doesn’t the NYT, but she does know how to dress a deer carcass.

    Just remember that John Kerry and George Bush were both C students at Ivy League universities. It’s all about establishing yourself as “one of us.”

  • 24 Gene Callahan // Nov 11, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    sinz54:

    “America is exceptional in one very important respect: Except for the American Indians, none of us trace our history here back more than a few centuries. We all came here from elsewhere.”

    So, we’re rootless, without any cultural unity.

    “Unlike China or Europe, our patriotism doesn’t come from race or blood or soil, but from the ideas that our Founding Fathers came up with.”

    So it’s based on abstractions, i.e., a castle built on sand.

    “One of those unique ideas is unalienable rights:”

    And nonsense.

    Your remarks are kind of anti-American, sinz54.

  • 25 Gravity’s Rainbow » Blog Archive » What I’ve Noticed // Nov 14, 2010 at 11:57 am

    [...] Julian Sanchez on patriotism: You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of “American-ness” relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it. [...]

  • 26 MFarmer // Nov 14, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    As with all of Julian’s clever diagnoses of the conservative psyche, they are after all merely clever with little insight and no balance of perspective. You can say that at least the conservative is claiming exceptionalism for the nation, which is shared with other Americans and American ideas of liberty and rights, whereas many liberals find exceptionalism in their on righteousness, as defenders of the oppressed within American society. In most cases, the liberal finds exceptionalism in his periodic action of carrying a sign or voting for a Democrat — in his abstract defense of the oppressed, the “poor” are multi-purpose units of poverty used as statistics to justify an expansion of the State, or photos of despair to establish liberal compassion, or as sad stories to heighten the emotions and lower the IQs of attendees at a political rally, or votes to be bused from the ghetto to the voting booth, but not as individuals the well-fed and privileged liberal operating a blog out of Starbucks knows much about or ever spends much effort, time or money helping.

  • 27 Vanishing Middle Class | American Exceptionalism, Tea Party | Generation Bubble // Nov 19, 2010 at 9:55 am

    [...] role, then, is there for national pride? Julian Sanchez suggests that the widespread belief in exceptionalism stems from its being a cheap way for Americans to [...]

  • 28 racetoinfinity // Nov 29, 2010 at 5:05 am

    Another reason for the prevalence of the belief in American exceptionalism is that it’s on a simpler, more primitive level of consciousness, that of nation-centric chauvinism. One hasn’t developed to the level of seeing that we’re all one on this planet. That 75% of us are still there is a sad commentary on the American collective mind. I doubt if the figures are nearly that high in Europe.

  • 29 Browser Bar Roulette « Beyond Rivalry // Dec 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

    [...] is for an article by Julian Sanchez ‘Patriotism as Status Socialism (or, America: F**k Yeah!)’ – about ressentiment [...]

  • 30 cyoung // Dec 21, 2010 at 12:36 am

    socialism is clearly the more intelligent way to go.The problem is most Americans really do not understand, or vote for the policy that might help them.For the most part they ignore the substance of most policies,and simply vote the trend ,or in most cases for the person whom might confuse them the least.For example BUSH.I think the key is to some how find a way to simplify the definition,of the effect socialism might have on the average Americans life so they can clearly see how this would benefit them more then a policy that clearly favors the economic elite.I think the reason many Americans might view themselves as better then other nations is due mainly to their lack of factual unbiased information on other nations ,and policies.I long for the day this changes!

  • 31 Sean // Mar 11, 2011 at 2:03 am

    This was very wonderful. I like the term “status socialism.” Very good.

  • 32 Jennifer Kendrick // Mar 11, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    You wrote: “You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production.”

    Your obviously paid-for Fabian socialist diatribe makes me sick. Trying to turn American libertarian patriots who are against Malthusian Fabian socialists is like trying to turn gold into lead, with propaganda.

    Your work identifies who you are, and who pays you, by the way.

  • 33 Jennifer Kendrick // Mar 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Read about how the Fabian socialists operate, which uses a lot of manipulation and deception to get what they want (collectivism and the loss of rights of the individual) —

    http://centurean2.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/inevitability-of-gradualismby-their-ideas-we-should-know-thembirth-rate-down-or-death-rate-up/

  • 34 Lyle Turner // Mar 11, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Sir:
    You have put to words what I have long felt, that much of the chest pounding Patriotism I have seen, is done by the poorest least educated (mostly white) people in this country.

    It is almost the same group of whites that are the most racist. And it has always seemed to me that its some kind of pathology, I just never knew if there was a word for it.

    We have seen the same kind of false “exceptionalism” from Romans, Spaniards, Germans, British, Soviets, and a wide variety of religious types. But I suspect its all the same pathology.

    Thanks for the great work, and insight.

    LT

  • 35 Kevin // Mar 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    I worked my ass off to be born here in America, you know. I had to first stand in a line of 3.5 billion wandering souls waiting for reincarnation. That took 152 years, you know! And THEN as the Deity was about to do the deed, some dickweed bureau messed up my paperwork, and I had to spend 123 more years trying to clear it up. Eventually, I had to go visit Lucifer to sign off on a waiver on some crap I did a thousand lives ago – new f*cking accounting rules or something.

    So don’t tell ME I didn’t earn it. Being born in America takes work!

  • 36 Al Falfa // Mar 12, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Major venues where the the U.S.is STILL #1:

    -war crimes
    -torture
    -financial fraud
    -embezzlement
    -kidnapping
    -crimes against humanity
    -rape

    FUCK America!

  • 37 Mbxtrm01 // Mar 14, 2011 at 9:50 am

    This says it all: http://www.theonion.com/articles/congress-passes-america-is-1-bill,1574/

  • 38 sac à main // Aug 26, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Welcome to http://www.replicabagsell.com .Our company was founded in 2004 and was committed to internet marketing businesses in 2006.

  • 39 Smile // Oct 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    free shipping any order ,ten of the special offer everyday!

  • 40 エドハーディー // Jan 20, 2012 at 3:37 am

    ipping any order ,ten of the special offer everyda

  • 41 Rules for the Class War: Rule #3: Own Your Patriotism | // Jan 27, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    [...] else in their individual lives to be proud of aside from their nationality. Or as Julian Sanchez puts it: You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism — a collectivization of the [...]

  • 42 The Greatest Takedown of American Exceptionalism (and Redemption of Real Patriotism) Ever in the History of the World » | // Oct 10, 2012 at 7:26 am

    [...] else in their individual lives to be proud of aside from their nationality. Or as Julian Sanchez puts it: You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism — a collectivization of the means of [...]

  • 43 dwayne stephenson // Jul 8, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Assume politics that is borderline discriminatory operates on the same logic. If you’re on the ass end of the social hierarchy, who are the people you are better than? Criminals and deviants. People who are just inside the circle of social acceptability are the ones most desperate to police the line, and it’s there you see most often, not really arguments so much as displays of outrage, talk about letting all the guys in prison kill themselves on TV, or casual calls to nuke the middle east.

Leave a Comment