The rise of Donald Trump, last year’s Brexit vote, or the rise of alternative Right parties (such as Germany’s Alternativ für Deutschland and France’s National Front parties) all represent nationalistic movements. They may take different forms, but the concept of globalism has taken a pretty serious hit these last few years. In this morass, the globalists in the West continue to warn against the dangers of returning to nationalism. But all of this talk is self-serving.
Looking at the way nationalism has taken hold throughout the world, the question arises: Did nationalism ever really go away?
While it is true that mass political movements can appear, at times, from out of nowhere (particularly when they are of the populist bent), the movement usually builds support from the fringes of polite society and then works its way to the center. During economically prosperous times and periods of security, such movements are held back by the ruling class. However, as economic, demographic, and security considerations change for the worst, these populist movements have the ability to surge forward.
The globalist critique of nationalism is that it embodies the worst aspects of the last century. It encourages parochialism, they claim. Nationalism inspires political violence, they assert. Oh, and, most importantly, nationalism encourages its adherents to place their own interests ahead of others (what a novel concept!). While some of these points may be objectively true, contextually, many of these fears are unfounded (particularly with the current strain of Western nationalism sweeping across Europe, Canada, and the United States).
Let’s just look at the form of nationalism that is popular among the “Trumpist” and the Tea Party wings of the Republican Party (we shall ignore the left-wing populism that Bernie Sanders represented, since that movement went nowhere electorally). Are these people white nationalists out to engage in pogroms directed against immigrants? No.
What do these American nationalists want?
A better economy, for starters. They want more sensible immigration laws (i.e. simple enforcement of existing laws). These individuals want better trade deals. Also, they’d like to see America’s young men and women in uniform go to war for real American interests and then return home, as our grandfathers and great-grandfathers did. As Mackubin T. Owens wrote recently, ours is a “civic nationalism,” not an ethnic one.
Europeans worry more about right-wing nationalism, because of Europe’s nasty history with fascism. Yet, what are Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party in France or the AfD in Germany calling for?
First, they’d like the mass rapes that Muslim immigrants are committing to stop. Second, they’d prefer their already bloated welfare systems to pay out benefits to their own people rather than to foreigners who probably shouldn’t even be in Europe. Third, they’d prefer their countries not become battlegrounds between the United States and Russia, as they were during the Cold War. Finally, these movements would prefer to see political decisions left to their own governments rather than in the hands of detached globalists in Brussels.
Of course, we cannot deny that there are racist elements within these right-wing movements. That’s unfortunate. But, is this wave of nationalism represented more by ethnicity or by simple civic nationalism, as in America? I’m not really hearing radical solutions being called for in places like the United States, France, or Germany. It sounds much more technocratic than anything else. President Trump insists upon better trade deals that benefit America. Le Pen’s National Front and Germany’s AfD want to protect their citizens by defending their nations’ borders. Trump, Le Pen, and the AfD all seem to have made their peace with the welfare state. They just say they’d “manage it better.”
How is this radical or revolutionary? How is this dangerous? As a conservative, I shudder at the thought of maintaining our bloated welfare state, but I also recognize that the taxpayers have been paying into these systems with the promise that they would have access to its benefits in return. These are sensible expectations on the part of the voters in each country. What’s more, the appreciation of leaders like Trump and Le Pen is a logical next step for those voters seeking to preserve their countries.
Globalists often claim that nationalism went extinct when the Cold War ended. They believe that the alphabet soup of international, multilateral institutions that were created represent the “end of history.” Much like the Communists of yore, who believed that they alone understood the scientific progression of history, the globalists concluded that the end of the Cold War marked their ascendancy to permanent power. Everything in our society (and other Western states) was tailored accordingly.
Yet, none of these global elites ever cared to ask for the consent of the governed. Indeed, they routinely ignored and mocked those they presumed to rule. When the globalist policies (whether it be the Iraq War or the inequitable response to the Great Recession of 2008) had clearly failed most people, the globalists changed the metrics for success. Under such circumstances, the majority of people who had been left behind and ignored for so long decided to exercise the one thing that would get the elites’ attention: they voted for open and avowed nationalists.
These nationalists are not like your grandfather’s nationalists, either. They are more technocratic than anything. Oh, sure, they want make some drastic changes here and there. But, for the most part, they just want to enforce laws already on the books and secure their countries in an increasingly unstable world. The nationalists were always among us, they were just kept silent during the “good” economic times. Now, however, there is no denying that times are as bad as they’ve ever been for a majority of people globally.
Nationalism never died. It is stronger now than it has ever been. That’s not a bad thing, either.