The American historian Jill Lepore wrote recently that much of US history can be understood as a battle between two kinds of nationalism — one liberal and civic, grounded in claims about the equal rights of citizens, and one illiberal, ethnically based and exclusionary. A nation such as the US, “founded on revolution and universal rights”, she wrote, will always be struggling with the forces of chaos and “particularism”. Anyone who has watched the uglier manifestations of American patriotism at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies will know just how unsettling and threatening these forces can be. And it is idle, indeed dangerous, to suppose that the battle can ever be won once and for all. For the time being, in the era of “America first” and presidential promises to make the country “great again”, it appears that the illiberals described by Lepore are in the ascendant. Three new books — by the American writer John Judis; the Israeli political theorist and former politician Yael Tamir; a...

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