Woodard addresses international fellows at National Defense University on problems of U.S. nationhood

December 10, 2023

WASHINGTON –  The director of Salve Regina University’s Nationhood Lab presented on the problems of U.S. nationhood at National Defense University Dec. 6.

At the invitation of the university’s International Fellows Program, director Colin Woodard addressed an audience of 120 international and U.S. fellows, university faculty and staff on the structural weaknesses the U.S. inherited from the colonial era, how the federation has found itself in danger of democratic collapse, and the critical need for a rebooted national narrative tied to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

“Americans need rediscover, reinvigorate, and adapt our lost civic national story for 21st-century life and finally put the ethno-national one in the trash bin of history,” Woodard said in the lecture held in the university’s National War College auditorium. “This is the work of Nationhood Lab.”

Woodard has given an annual lecture at NDU for the past five years. One of his books,  “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America,” has been a core text used in the American Studies curriculum of the International Fellows Program, which brings military and civilian leaders from 146 allied nations to campus for degree or certificate programs under the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Many of the fellows are colonels, brigadier generals or officers of equivalent rank from allied nations around the world.

Woodard noted the United States is really a federation of regional cultures, most of which have their origins in one of the rival 17th and 18th-century colonial projects, from the Puritans in New England and the Dutch settled area around what is now New York City to the Chesapeake Tidewater country and the Spanish settled southwest. This accounts for the enormous and persistent political and ideological differences between these sections throughout our history as a single political entity. It also makes having a credible national story critically important to the country’s stability, he said.

NDU International fellows are chosen by their own governments in response to invitations from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Alumni of the program, which was established in 1984, include eleven current ministers of defense, 17 current chiefs of armed force services, and 27 former ministers and defense chiefs. The university, based at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., educates military officers and  national security leaders in critical thinking and the creative application of military power to inform national strategy and globally integrated operations.

Nationhood Lab, based at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, is an interdisciplinary research, writing, testing and dissemination project focused on counteracting the authoritarian threat to American democracy and the centrifugal forces threatening the federation’s stability. The project delivers more effective tools with which to describe and defend the American liberal democratic tradition and better understand the forces undermining it.