Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 12, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
The New York Times bestselling author of Woke Inc. and a 2024 presidential candidate makes the case that the essence of true American identity is to pursue excellence unapologetically and reject victimhood culture.
Hardship is now equated with victimhood. Outward displays of vulnerability in defeat are celebrated over winning unabashedly. The pursuit of excellence and exceptionalism are at the heart of American identity, and the disappearance of these ideals in our country leaves a deep moral and cultural vacuum in its wake. But the solution isn’t to simply complain about it. It’s to revive a new cultural movement in America that puts excellence first again.
Leaders have called Ramaswamy “the most compelling conservative voice in the country” and “one of the towering intellects in America,” and this book reveals why: he spares neither left nor right in this scathing indictment of the victimhood culture at the heart of America’s national decline. In this national bestseller, Ramaswamy explains that we’re a nation of victims now. It’s one of the few things we still have left in common—across black victims, white victims, liberal victims, and conservative victims. Victims of each other, and ultimately, of ourselves.
This fearless, provocative book is for readers who dare to look in the mirror and question their most sacred assumptions about who we are and how we got here. Intricately tracing history from the fall of Rome to the rise of America, weaving Western philosophy with Eastern theology in ways that moved Jefferson and Adams centuries ago, this book describes the rise and the fall of the American experiment itself—and hopefully its reincarnation.
Now updated with a new foreword from the author.
HISTORY OF THE NACIREMA
When I was a kid, we read a book in school that stuck with me. Some of you will have heard of it. It was a study of the culture of the Nacirema, a dead civilization that inhabited the plains of the American West long ago.
The Nacirema were a strange people with strange ways. Their customs were riddled with apparent contradictions, their people consumed by odd obsessions. They were preoccupied with the thought that their own bodies were inherently unclean, and their lives revolved around elaborate purification rituals. Every dwelling had at least one shrine devoted exclusively to these ceremonies; the rich would build more, treating the number of shrines in their hut as a mark of holiness. Their private temples contained urns filled with charms and potions purchased from local medicine men, who wrote and spoke in a different language. They lived in imposing public temples where they would perform the most sacred ceremonies; vestal maidens accompanied them in ritual dress.
The natives had an elaborate hierarchy of priests—just below the medicine men were the holy men charged specifically with caring for the mouth, which the Nacirema viewed as the source of all evil because sin so often came from the words it spoke. They believed that if they didn’t pay the holy men to bless their mouths their teeth would fall out as the mouth’s evil rotted them.
When the corruption of the mouth grew too great, the Nacirema would see a specialized caste of medicine men called listeners, who would try to heal the sufferer by hearing them speak. They would then perform a kind of exorcism involving asking stylized questions, a variation of the call-and-response religions that develop early on in many cultures. The sufferer’s friends and family would often speculate that their own parents had been the ones to curse them.
They were a strange people. They died out eventually under the weight of their own insecurities. As the book concluded, it’s hard to understand how the Nacirema managed to exist for as long as they did under the burdens they imposed on themselves.
Nacirema, of course, is American spelled backward. The children’s book I had been reading was an adaptation of anthropologist Horace Miner’s famous satirical article “Body Ritual among the Nacirema.”1 Throughout the paper Miner made it increasingly clear that he was actually describing Americans themselves. He was describing their culture the way a foreign observer might, viewing them through a fog and from a distance, removed in time. His point was that we often find unfamiliar cultures strange because we don’t inhabit their perspective well enough to understand their actions. Their customs will seem like magical thinking to us.
I remember that book about the history of the Nacirema sometimes when I look at the America I find myself in today. I know this is the United States of America, where I was born and raised, but I don’t know what that means. This place is like a distant land that obeys arbitrary laws. We don’t know where we are anymore or what the rules are, and we watch everything we do and say, always afraid we will violate some unspoken code. Many of us have known each other our whole lives, yet we fear each other like strangers. We’ve all become strangers in a strange land, though we haven’t gone anywhere.
I wonder if my son, Karthik, born in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be taught about the history of the Nacirema in school as I was. The moral of the story is insightful, and it is satire. But I worry that a “progressive” school board may decide that it inappropriately makes light of Native Americans, not understanding that the target of ridicule is actually the reader. It requires a bit of nuance to see that Miner was making fun of our assumptions about Native Americans rather than the natives themselves—he relies on our tendency to view the unfamiliar as primitive to make the point that we are the ones in error. We no longer live in a country that values nuance. I wonder if a teacher today could get away with assigning “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” without herself being sacrificed as part of a purification ritual.
When I looked at the reading lists of the schools Karthik will attend in Columbus, Ohio, I didn’t see anything like that children’s book about the Nacirema. Instead, I saw Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby and Anastasia Higginbotham’s Not My Idea, which portrays white supremacy as a constant devil whispering from one’s shoulder. I worry Karthik will be assigned children’s versions of Robin DiAngelo’s work instead of Horace Miner’s. Miner tried to teach his readers how to think, but I’m afraid the DiAngelo adaptations will only teach my son what to think.
I wonder if Karthik will be taught calculus in high school, if he’ll be placed in advanced classes in the subjects he’s passionate about.2 I wonder what he’ll be good at, and if his talents will be nurtured in the strange land I find myself in today. I wonder whether my son’s teachers will prioritize him or some abstract social good, whether they’ll view it as their duty to mold him into an instrument to make a better world. I guess I would like them to mold him into an instrument to make the world better according to his own notions, not theirs. But the culture he’s been born into may not allow that.3
The Americans. A strange people with strange ways. Their customs are riddled with contradictions, their people consumed by odd obsessions. They seem preoccupied with the notion that they are inherently unclean, and their lives revolve around elaborate purification rituals where they attempt to cleanse themselves and each other.
Many American rituals stem from their belief that the mouth is the root of all sin because the words it speaks have a supernatural power to cause harm. Many insist this verbally inflicted harm is an actual form of violence, perhaps even more damaging than the physical kind.4 Americans believe in a pre-scientific metaphysical system by which the very words one speaks are the primary forces that change self and world; one’s actions are considered secondary, the mere effect of words. And so the Americans are defined by their constant search for more powerful words.
This search is led by their high priests, who speak and write in a different language, one often incomprehensible to the common folk. One representative sample of this unique dialect comes from a document called “Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts.” It’s a sort of grimoire containing descriptions of powerful blessings and curses, written by the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Health Justice. For instance, the book suggests that American medicine men replace the word ‘vulnerable’ with ‘oppressed,’ on the apparent belief that the act of describing sufferers of bodily ailments as the victims of evil will, by naming the evil, combat it. A sort of exorcism. This language apparently reflects an effort by the priests to remind American common folk that even physical afflictions seemingly caused by nature and misfortune are ultimately to be understood as the products of human sin. Americans believe that the best treatment for any disease is simply to call it by its true name, and thus gain power over it.
Likewise, the Americans constantly name and rename themselves and each other, always seeking to gain power over one another through learning and invoking true names, a common element among magical belief systems in developing cultures.5 One warring tribe, for instance, might name itself “liberal,” intending the name to connote a sort of blessing, and their rivals will attempt to turn the name into a curse by uttering it in a spirit of hate.6 Then the first may insist that its true name is actually “politically correct,” “woke,” or “progressive,” and their enemies will then seek to take power over those true names in turn by uttering them. This battle over control of true names is perpetually evolving. If one refers to an American by an old name like “woke” that they have recently abandoned, the American will insist it was never their name to begin with, and that it was violence to call them by it.7
Some African cultures famously believe that by eating certain animal parts one gains that animal’s desirable qualities. For instance, eating a lion’s heart to gain courage.8 The American version of this belief involves their implicit faith that naming themselves something in fact makes them that thing. It is common for Americans to do things like name themselves “antiracist” and insist that their critics must by definition be racist, or call themselves “anti-fascist” to maintain that their opponents are necessarily fascist.9 Some Americans have even been known to adopt a crude kind of numerology, claiming that the incidental invocation of numbers associated with historical oppression is a grave sin. For instance, the Women’s March organization issued the following groveling apology: “We apologize deeply for the email that was sent today. $14.92 was our average donation amount this week. It was an oversight on our part to not make the connection to a year of colonization, conquest, and genocide for Indigenous people, especially before Thanksgiving.”10 Their mouths were blessed; their teeth did not rot.
The Americans are distinctive among cultures in the degree to which they use their descriptions of the world to dictate their beliefs about it. All these seemingly unusual customs involve applying a weak version of something called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to use language to direct culture and thought. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a well-known anthropological theory that says that the words a civilization uses determine the thoughts its people can have. One example of this is author Jared Diamond’s story about an Amazonian tribe who had words only for the numbers one and two, and could only describe larger numbers by conjoining them. Diamond claimed that the practical limit that the language imposed prevented its users from being able to describe or imagine scenarios involving large numbers, which limited the civilization’s development, chiefly through its ability to conduct trade at scale effectively.11
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis comes in strong and weak forms. The former holds that an individual can never imagine a thought their language precludes, while the latter makes the much more modest claim that the language we use has a strong influence over the thoughts it’s easy for us to have. In other words, language carves the mental channels that thought flows through. I believe that rare original thinkers can escape the confines of their language and determine the directions of their own thoughts, using their crude language as a scaffold to discover more complex ideas. But language certainly has a strong capacity to direct thought. That’s what George Orwell had in mind when he said that the best way to control minds in a society was to control its language first.
American culture seems to have been overtaken by a battle using language to exert social control. The Orwellian use of language surfaces in concepts such as doublespeak, where a regime describes an idea as its opposite to legitimize it in the eyes of the populace: war is peace, conformity is diversity, equity is equality, exclusion is inclusion. By calling a negative concept the name of its opposite, this doublespeak uses the positive connotations of the one to gradually legitimize the other.
Unlike the numerical limitations of the tribe Diamond discussed, it’s the American moral vocabulary that has become most limited. This stunts our nation’s intellectual growth. We describe ourselves and each other as impure, as victims of one social disease or another, whether privilege or oppression or both. This language in turn determines our actions: we act like victims, we see oppressors, and we create the world our language of victimhood describes. In my last book, Woke Inc., I compared this phenomenon to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which holds that by observing the world at the quantum level we change it.12 By describing the social world we observe it, and by publicly observing it, we create it.
Change in language can pave the way for change in normative thought, allowing words themselves, rather than their content, to win battles over values and ideas. This becomes a more desirable tactic the worse one’s ideas are. Consequently, some radical ideologies replicate themselves primarily through controlling language. Someday soon, Americans may think “equity” and “equality” mean the same thing, just two pleasant words for social justice, with only the vaguest memory that they somehow used to be different.
There is a certain ridiculousness to the elaborate purification rituals of the American ruling class when viewed from afar. But recall that Miner’s point was actually that we often find unfamiliar cultures strange only because we can’t inhabit their perspectives well enough to understand their thinking. Without proper context, those who think differently from us will often seem to believe in magic.
There are three parts to every magic trick. It’s not enough to take the familiar and then make it strange; you have to be able to make the strange familiar again. In Miner’s article about body rituals, the Nacirema’s practices seemed primitive and superstitious because we didn’t know the context surrounding them. Here, when observing the apparent absurdity of American linguistic purification customs, that missing context usually involves race.
Progressives claim that racism was woven into America’s fabric since its inception. This newly ascendant view is exemplified and propagated by the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which controversially began by alleging that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Five distinguished historians wrote to request that the Times retract this assertion and similar ones, saying that the project was motivated more by ideology than fact; the Times rejected their request.13 It did, however, quietly walk back some of its claims later.14
Although progressives overstate the degree to which America’s past and present revolve around racism, I have no doubt that our nation’s racist past is a central part of its story. But there’s more to the story than the Three-Fifths Compromise or the fact that many of our founding fathers owned slaves and even mistreated them.
For instance, we should not allow history to forget Sally Hemings, who for hundreds of years was described as Jefferson’s concubine and is more often these days described as the victim of rape.15 But Hemings herself demonstrates how the language of victimhood can obscure relevant facts. To remember her primarily as a victim obscures the remarkable degree of agency that she exerted: when she was sixteen years old and a free woman in Paris, she negotiated with Jefferson to win freedom for her future children in exchange for returning to enslavement at Monticello.16 If we remember Sally Hemings as a victim and Thomas Jefferson as her abuser, our history may forget the story of how she claimed control over her destiny and her descendants’.
Sally Hemings should be remembered and her story should be taught to American children. I hope Karthik learns about her in school. But I hope he learns not that she was the powerless victim of rape, but that she was a slave who stood up to one of the most powerful men in the world. If we describe her only as a victim, our stunted moral vocabulary may make us forget the ways she was exceptional. Language carves the channels through which thought flows, and if the American language of victimhood directs us toward condemnation of Jefferson, it may direct us away from praise of Hemings: we may remember her existence at the expense of forgetting her achievements. Whether Hemings was a victim or a hero isn’t just a story about America’s past. It’s a story about America’s future.
Progressives insist that racism is a central part of our nation’s past and present. They are, of course, correct. It is impossible to be a dark-skinned conservative commentator on politics without receiving daily reminders of this fact—antiracists regularly call me an Uncle Tom, or Dinesh D’Souza, or both, as when one progressive celebrated Columbus Day by saying “Happy Uncle Tom day, Dinesh!!!” apparently attempting to compress as much racism as possible into a concise statement.17 Usually these comments just roll off me somewhat like water off a duck, but even I was a bit taken aback when he followed up with “Why is it that Fox puts that skin lightening make-up on you? Do you like it? Does it make you feel white?”18 It’s true that I often wear makeup before going on television. To my knowledge, most white-skinned TV guests do the same. But I spent a few minutes wondering if the lighting had been different that day.
I receive comments like these from antiracists every day, yet to this day no antiracist has ever protested that such comments are wrong, though they would seem to be wrong according to their stated commitments. This is just the price of doing business as a conservative racial minority who speaks in public. Witness the way “Uncle Tim” trended on Twitter after Senator Tim Scott delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union.19 The original Uncle Tom character this racial epithet is based on, by the way, actually dies at his master’s hands when he refuses to divulge where two female slaves are hiding.20
Like our namesake, all of us Uncle Toms and Tims possess more agency than antiracists believe. When antiracists call conservative racial minorities Uncle Toms, they’re simply invoking one of their favorite magic spells, using language to attempt to deprive us of our agency and pretend that they don’t have to take our ideas seriously because we’re mere vessels for white supremacy. I don’t love it, but nor do I let it occupy much of my thoughts. The racism I experience doesn’t define me. My actions do that.
Words are not violence. When I was in middle school and an angry kid pushed me down a flight of stairs because he didn’t like the way I answered so many questions in class, that was violence because I didn’t have any choice about whether my bones broke. But when an antiracist progressive calls me by a racial slur, that is not violence, because it is entirely up to me whether I get hurt or not, and I choose not to be harmed. But I know racism still exists in this country. For the part directed at me, I choose to move on.
Likewise, my own experiences teach me that racism can be entrenched in institutions, not just individuals. “Stop Asian Hate,” progressives chanted in 2020 following allegations that the coronavirus may have leaked from a Chinese lab. Yet every high-achieving Asian American kid in this country remembers the day they learned that their race would be an obstacle when applying to elite colleges, remember the way they learned the American promise of equality is in some ways still only a promise. Because colleges like Harvard can’t legally admit that they’re rejecting high-scoring Asian applicants because of racial quota systems designed to help black and Hispanic students, they’re forced to say Asians fall short on “personality scores.” How progressive.
The racism I’ve experienced helps me understand the racism others experience. It’s not as if I only recognize racism when it’s directed at me, and it’s not as if anti-Asian discrimination at elite universities is the only form of institutional racism that exists in America. Black people experience it, and white people do too. I’ll discuss the racism that still exists today throughout this book.
But I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was right that though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice. America’s arc bends toward justice too. It has bent toward justice. And it has been a long road, one that King helped us travel. I know that the journey is not done, but we were headed in the right direction. We were making progress.
The right way to make further progress as a country isn’t to eradicate every last remnant of racism at all costs, constructing ever-more-elaborate linguistic purification rituals to do so. Rather, we should allow those final remnants to gradually atrophy to irrelevance. By contrast, the antiracist movement in America instead throws kerosene on those final burning embers of racism—inflaming the very problem that it supposedly addresses. Antiracism often speaks racism into existence by demanding that we view and treat people differently on the basis of their skin color.
Yes, there were moments in American history when racism was so rampant that it demanded a comprehensive societal response. But that moment has passed. Now trying to mount a comprehensive societal response against a problem that was already diminishing at present raises new costs of its own. Even worse, it risks exacerbating the very problem it purports to solve—much like an overactive immune system fighting a virus that has already cleared, only to kill the host in the process.
Principles of human psychology reinforce this point. According to the woke movement, racism is part of America’s self, or ego. In Freudian terms, that makes the modern “don’t be racist” mantra the equivalent of America’s superego. Psychologists know that treating patients’ low-level anxiety by saying “don’t be anxious” often makes these patients’ anxiety even worse. Similarly, saying “don’t be racist” to someone who may harbor some microscopic racist attitudes are likely to inflame the underlying problem or create a problem where none existed at all.
We’re a nation of victims now. It’s one of the few things we’ve all got left in common. Black victims, white victims, liberal victims, conservative victims, Indian victims… Victims, ultimately, of each other, and sometimes ourselves. In this book I’ll tell you how it happened and how we can move forward.
Ours is a culture riddled with contradictions, always trying to purify itself, so obsessed with its flaws that it can no longer recognize its own virtues. A dying civilization inhabiting the plains of North America, collapsing under the weight of its insecurities. A strange people, a familiar one. The Nacirema; the Americans.
NATION OF UNDERDOGS
Everyone loves a good underdog story.
I was reminded of how true that cliché is when I watched King Richard last year, a movie about how Richard Williams took his daughters Venus and Serena from the streets of Compton to the top of the tennis world.
I used to play competitive tennis myself and watched the sisters play in person countless times, so I was fascinated by the tale the movie told. Venus and Serena overcame long odds, but their dad is the original underdog of the story. He starts off the movie penniless, coming up with a seventy-eight-page plan to turn his yet-to-be-born children into tennis stars to carry the entire family out of poverty. Then he starts training them each once they turn four, having them practice long hours, rain or shine, sometimes rallying back and forth to the sound of gunshots.
The Williams sisters served as executive producers for the film, so the movie understandably takes care to leave out some complicating details. For instance, although Richard frequently tells his kids that he’ll “always be there” for them, the movie doesn’t mention that he abandoned five children from his first family when the oldest was only eight.1 The fairy-tale underdog can have minor character flaws, but only ones that arise from the very virtues that make him succeed. The only faults the Will Smith version of Richard has are that he’s too driven, too demanding.
The movie presents a heartwarming tale of a father determined to keep his daughters off the streets so they can get out of the ghetto. But what it doesn’t say is that the family already had the money to live in a better neighborhood. “The ghetto will make you rough, it’ll make you tough, it’ll make you strong,” Richard told CNN. “And so that’s why I went to Compton with them.”2 His plan worked out perfectly for Venus and Serena, but their half-sister Yetunde Price was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2003.
I found the true story even more intriguing than the sanitized one. Just as the movie itself cleaned up Richard’s life to distill it into a story for the big screen, he consciously designed his own daughter’s lives to raise them to see themselves as underdogs. He engineered them that way, right down to hiding his wife’s birth-control pills after she was reluctant to agree to his plan to turn their future children into tennis stars.3 Richard Williams knew that everyone loves a good underdog story, so he made one out of his girls’ lives. Then they made one out of his.
Narratives about one’s identity hold great power—not just the power to understand a life in hindsight, but the power to create it, the power to give it meaning and direction. At its core, the appeal of the underdog story comes from its promise that we can create something from nothing, imposing our will on an unforgiving universe. The narrative promises that we can choose our own destinies, no matter how humble our starting points. It offers the hope that if we work hard and attempt great things, we can succeed. It may be easier for a favorite to win, but that only makes the dark horse’s victory sweeter. In the process of working hard to overcome our disadvantages, we gain not only glory, but character. The underdog who has to claw their way to the top understands things the favorite will never know.
The United States of America began as a nation of underdogs. Our founding fathers stood up to the most powerful empire in the world, declared their independence, and then somehow turned assertion into reality. Then, a little over 150 years later, we ourselves became the most powerful country in the world. We went from a loosely affiliated collection of backwater farmers to an empire in the blink of an eye, in the eyes of history.
Ever since claiming our independence, Americans have had a special fondness for underdog stories. It’s our national DNA. Every politician knows this. It’s why they all have their own version of the “born in a log cabin” story. We even have a name for the American take on the trope: Horatio Alger stories. Horatio Alger made a name for himself in the 1800s writing rags-to-riches young adult novels, publishing a hundred before his death. His books were almost always about impoverished boys who made comfortable lives for themselves through hard work, honesty, charity, and a healthy dose of luck. After Alger’s publisher gently suggested he tour the Western United States to inspire him to write something new, he kept writing the same stories but set them in California. His books remained the bestsellers of the era.
“Vivek Ramaswamy’s first book solved one of the strangest riddles of our time: how corporate America went woke. His new book addresses an even bigger question: how a nation that once celebrated heroism turned into a nation that celebrates victimhood. Compelling, persuasive, and deeply needed.”—Douglas Murray, Bestselling author and associate editor of The Spectator
“This book shows why Vivek Ramaswamy is one of the most original thinkers—and doers—of our time. Instead of wallowing in the left’s cult of victimhood and its recipe for mediocrity, Vivek challenges all of us to return to the path of achievement and excellence.”—Ben Shapiro, Bestselling author and host of The Ben Shapiro Show
“If you want an intellectually honest book that spares no side from their hypocrisies, Vivek Ramaswamy’s NATION OF VICTIMS is it. He delivers thought-provoking anecdotes about the foundation of our country and what has shaped his independent worldview in a way that encourages substantive dialogue, understanding, and respect.”—Tulsi Gabbard, Former congresswoman and Democratic candidate for president in 2020
“Vivek Ramaswamy presents a challenging alternative to a nation caught in a maelstrom of victimhood, calling on Americans to embrace the challenge of excellence instead. Along the way, he wrestles with the very real challenges of history as he slays the arguments of the woke. NATION OF VICTIMS takes on the strongest version of the modern left’s argument about who we are, and wins.”—Ben Domenech, Editor at large of The Spectator
“Life is difficult; often, tragically so, rife with suffering and betrayal. Thus, the temptations of victimhood eternally beckon. Why not adopt that identity, and reap the benefits that hypothetically follow? Because doing so makes everything worse, including the suffering that justified the decision in the first place. As Vivek Ramaswamy takes pains to explain in his new, necessary, and salutary book, NATION OF VICTIMS.”—Jordan Peterson, Bestselling author and host of The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast
“America should be a nation of underdogs striving for excellence, not a nation of victims embracing mediocrity—the thesis of Vivek Ramaswamy’s latest brilliant book. Brave and bracing with a panoramic historical sweep, NATION OF VICTIMS is impossible to put down.”—Amy Chua, Yale Law professor and bestselling author
- On Sale
- Sep 12, 2023
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Center Street