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Two Concepts of Un-Americanism

  • ALEX GOODALL

Abstract

Using the Congressional record, press articles and the extensive literature on the theme of Americanism published in the early decades of the twentieth century, this article seeks to offer a new approach to the history of the idea of “un-Americanism” in the early years of the twentieth century, particularly in the period between the First World War and the Great Depression. It argues that a key distinction may be drawn between a procedural or “negative” concept of un-Americanism, in which the enemy is defined as the person who refuses to accept the liberal political order and therefore exempts themselves from the privileges of citizenship, and a “positive” definition of un-Americanism based on identity and status politics, in which the un-American is seen as the person who fails to meet the criteria for membership in the mythic community from which the modern nation is assumed to have been founded – usually defined in racial, ethnic and gendered terms; through religious affiliation; or by assertions of culture and character. The history of un-Americanism should therefore be understood principally in terms of the contestations that developed between these two concepts rather than as the evolution of a singular concept and shared understanding of its meaning.

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1 Nathan, George Jean and Mencken, H. L., The American Credo: A Contribution toward the Interpretation of the National Mind (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920), 1415.

2 Ibid., 29, 37.

3 Ibid., 16–17.

4 Pells, Richard, Radical Visions and American Dreams: Culture and Social Thought in the Depression Years (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 25.

5 Hofstadter, Richard, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays (New York: Knopf, 1965).

6 Murray, Robert K., The Great Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955); Bell, Daniel, The Radical Right (Garden City: Doubleday, 1963); Lipset, Seymour Martin and Raab, Earl, The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790–1970 (New York: Harper and Row, 1970); Levin, Murray B., Political Hysteria in America: The Democratic Capacity for Repression (New York: Basic Books, 1971); Rogin, Michael Paul, Ronald Reagan, the Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Kovel, Joel, Red Hunting in the Promised Land: Anticommunism and the Making of America (New York: Basic Books, 1994).

7 Coben, Stanley, “A Study in Nativism: The American Red Scare of 1919–1920,” Political Science Quarterly, 79, 1 (March 1964), 5275, 59.

8 Levin, 6.

9 Brinkley, Alan, “The Problem of American Conservatism,” American Historical Review, 99, 2 (April 1994), 409–29, 415.

10 Gerstle, Gary, “Theodore Roosevelt and the Divided Character of American Nationalism,” Journal of American History, 86, 3 (Dec. 1999), 12801307.

11 See, for example, Pike, Frederick B., The United States and Latin America: Myths and Stereotypes of Civilization and Nature (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), chapter 5; Kramer, Paul A., “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule Between the British and United States Empires, 1880–1910,” Journal of American History, 88, 4 (March 2002), 1315–53; Blum, Edward J., Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion and American Nationalism, 1865–1898 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005); Harris, Susan K., God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898–1902 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Ninkovich, Frank, The United States and Imperialism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001).

12 Jacobsen, Matthew Frye, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), 57. Cf. Preston, William Jr., Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903–1933 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963).

13 O'Leary, Cecilia Elizabeth, To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 221.

14 Hall, Arnold Bennett, Dynamic Americanism (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1920), 14.

15 Stuart, Leonard, The Age of Understanding; or, Americanism, the Standard of World Nationalism (Boston: Gorham Press, 1922).

16 Roosevelt, Theodore Jr., Average Americans (New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1920), 251.

17 Cited in Hendrickson, David C., Union, Nation or Empire? The American Debate over International Relations, 1789–1941 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009), 263–64.

18 Barstow, George Eames, The Effect of Psychology on Americanism (New York: Literary Digest, 1920), 4, original emphasis.

19 Wise Wood, Henry A., “Preface,” in Hobbs, William Herbert, Leonard Wood: Administrator, Soldier, and Citizen (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920), 813.

20 Barstow, 13, 16–17, 20.

21 National Americanism Commission, Ism's: A Review of Revolutionary Communism and Its Active Sympathizers in the United States (Indianapolis: American Legion, 1936).

22 Hill, David Jayne, Americanism: What Is It? (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1916), 9.

23 Ibid., 91.

24 “Senators Riddle Espionage Bill,” New York Times, 19 Apr. 1917.

25 Cf. Ricento, Thomas, “The Discursive Construction of Americanism,” Discourse and Society, 14, 5 (2003), 611–37.

26 Steele, Brian, “Thomas Jefferson's Gender Frontier,” Journal of American History, 95, 1 (June 2008), 1742; Furstenberg, François, “Beyond Freedom and Slavery: Autonomy, Virtue, and Resistance in Early American Political Discourse,” Journal of American History, 89, 4 (March 2003), 12951330.

27 Smith, Rogers M., Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U. S. History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 2.

28 Wiebe, Robert H., The Search for Order: 1877–1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 77.

29 Marsden, George M., Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982); Szasz, Ferenc Morton, The Divided Mind of Protestant America, 1880–1930 (University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1982); Carpenter, Joel A., Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

30 Ward, Robert D., “The Origin and Activities of the National Security League, 1914–1919,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 47, 1 (June 1960), 5165; Pearlman, Michael, To Make Democracy Safe for America: Patricians and Preparedness in the Progressive Era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984); Shesol, Jeff, Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court (New York: Norton, 2010), 108–9.

31 Stephanson, Anders, Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994), 99.

32 Woodrow Wilson, State of the Union Address, 7 Dec. 1915.

33 Spargo, John, Americanism and Social Democracy (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1918), 10, 29.

34 Hanson, Ole, Americanism versus Bolshevism (New York: Doubleday, 1920), viii.

35 Speech by Ellison DuRant Smith, 9 April 1924, Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st Session (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1924), Vol. 65, 5962. Accessed via http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5080.

36 Wood, in Hobbs, Leonard Wood, 8.

37 “Where the Shoe Pinches,” Chicago Defender, 5 Sept. 1914.

38 “A Dangerous Habit,” Chicago Defender, 22 June 1918.

39 See, for instance, testimony of Louis Marshall before House Immigration Committee as reported in “Opposed Immigration Cut,” New York Times, 4 Jan. 1924.

40 Post, Louis F., The Ethics of Democracy (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1916; 1st edn 1903), 323, 325.

41 “Charges of Illegal Practices of the Department of Justice,” Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, January–March 1921 (Washington: USGPO, 1921), 6.

42 Ibid., 195.

43 Nathan and Mencken, American Credo, 78.

Two Concepts of Un-Americanism

  • ALEX GOODALL

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