The Surprising Internationalism of the Nationalists

Globalism is the ideology of the ruling class. It is the stuff of the World Economic Forum, Paris Climate Treaty, multinational banks pushing transsexuals, payment processors excluding conservative activists, social media giants deciding what is permissible speech, the movement of Third World peoples to the First World, the abolition of tariffs that protect local industries and traditions, and the elevation of global economic efficiency above all other concerns.

Until now, globalism had substantial support. For starters, rulers from diverse nations believed in it. They each allowed the logic of globalism to overrule parochial concerns for their particular nations in the name of the greater good. Globalism also benefited from substantial propaganda support in the news, movies, and television. Today the stodgiest banks and technology companies’ advertising looks like a Benetton ad from the early 1990s. And, finally, globalism’s support derived from its claim to raise the prosperity for people everywhere.

Nationalism Rising
Today, nationalism is on the rise. Nationalist parties have won in Italy, Hungary, Brazil, and in the United States, where Trump won largely through nationalist politics and rhetoric. Nearly one third of the seats in the European parliament were recently taken by nationalist parties.

We also see dissident nationalist movements in France, in the form of the Yellow Vests, and in the United Kingdom, where Theresa May lost the support of her Conservative Party by clinging to the European Union long after the will of the people and her party had been made manifest in the Brexit referendum.

While nationalism, by its nature, varies in its particulars based on the nation to which it is attached, nationalists everywhere emphasize common themes, all rooted in the elevation of culture and national unity above mere economic efficiency. Globalists support the strengthening of the United Nations and other global enterprises like the EU, because the rules these institutions promulgate are, by their nature, uniform and universal. By contrast nationalists seek to elevate the authority and rights of particular peoples and their respective states.

With nationalism, diversity is at the level of the group and includes a diversity of laws and policy approaches emphasizing the interests of the people in the nation, not the pseudo-diversity that would make Sweden, Brazil, Japan, and the United States all contain, essentially, the same disunited and diverse populations living under the same uniform rules. Thus, nationalists in many nations emphasize the importance of national independence, skepticism of mass immigration, the preservation of language and culture, and the subordination of global and financial institutions to local control.

Why the Controversy?
Nationalism has something of a bad rap. In addition to the economic arguments, the association of nationalism with the atrocities of the hypernationalist Nazi Germany has caused some to equate the term with other views deemed retrograde and illiberal, such as racism and sexism. For critics, it is a short road from nationalism, to racism, to eliminationist violence.

This view, however, is as uncharitable as it is selective of the historical record. German nationalism emerged from the ashes of World War I and the Weimar era to become an aggressive, imperialist, and racist ideology that ran roughshod over the competing nationalisms of Germany’s neighbors. Yet more prosaic national movements also emerged from World War I, including Czech, Hungarian, and Polish nationalism. The Polish nation re-emerged from World War I as a small nation-state made up largely of an ethnically homogeneous people living within its historical borders, along with various well-established national minorities. Where Germany sought to expand and to impose its will on its neighbors and rid itself of its minorities—in particular the Jews—Poland sought to reestablish its national rule in land previously ruled over by multinational empires and accommodated its large Jewish population with a strong degree of autonomy, as exemplified by the persistence of the Yiddish language.

While imperfect, the model of Polish nationalism was limited, historical, nonimperialist, and nonaggressive towards its neighbors. It was certainly less violent to minorities and neighbors than the German alternative. And this model is not so different from the model of nationalism prevalent today, which does not chiefly seek to create empires or fight wars against neighbors, but rather to create a flourishing nation-state where the national culture, leaders, language, and character of the rulers derive from and benefit a particular nation.

Both variants of nationalism, of course, create the potential for conflict and oppression of local, historical minorities, but the ambitions of ordinary nationalism are far less damaging than the alternatives, including the expansionist ideologies of the German and Soviet Empires of the mid-20th century. Nationalist ideologies are limited in scope precisely because they do not seek to impose a universal way on all mankind, and their territorial ambitions are limited by the historical land of a particular people.

Critics tend to group these two very different types of nationalism together in order to discredit all nationalism with the crimes of the Nazi regime, even though the more tragic, valiant, and just nationalism of the Polish style is predominant today. This type of nationalism is compatible with the mutual flourishing of various nations each expressing their own nationalist views, each within their respective boundaries, and each aiming not to expand or impose upon others, nor to acquire new territory.

Nationalism International
The defensive nationalism of today has fostered a surprisingly “international” movement whereby nationalist groups in various European nations, as well as Brazil, India, and Japan, find common cause in opposing globalism. Globalism, being a universalist and single ideology, has the same agenda for various nations, whether Sweden, Brazil, or the United States. Thus, nationalist movements in these various countries find much common ground for cooperation, as they face a common enemy with a common agenda.

The particular expressions of nationalism may vary from country to country, but the concern for sovereignty, preservation of one’s people and their culture, and the need to subordinate the economic power of multinational corporations is universal. Nigel Farage of the British Brexit movement, for example, was a prominent Trump supporter. Jair Bolsonaro and Viktor Orbán, in Brazil and Hungary, also each have many international and American admirers. Conferences of European nationalists, each seeking to foster their respective nations’ flourishing, are fairly common, and members of the American dissident nationalist movements have begun to forge ties with these groups, as well.

In this sense, the international movement of nationalists is analogous to movements for regional autonomy or federalism here at home. The content of federalism likely would differ widely from Texas to Florida to Vermont. But in each case a meta-principle of self-rule, regionalism, and ultimately freedom is at stake.

By contrast, a universal rule falls more heavily on some than on others, as it deviates more or less from the local traditions and preferences. This is as true for the one-size-fits-all decrees of the United Nations, the EU, or the American federal government with regard to their respective and subordinate political units. A strong preference for local control can unite Greek nationalists who seek to preserve their local olive farmers, Frenchman who value their language and Catholic religion, and Swedes who do not want to be set upon by angry hordes of Somalis.

The Failure of Globalism
Globalism is a failing ideology. The increasing turn to censorship and suppression of dissident movements is as much an indicator of this as any economic figures. The largest failure of globalism is that it has failed to deliver on its own terms. Globalism fundamentally elevates economic concerns above all others and promises to raise all boats. But mobile global capital has instead transformed the entire globe into winner-take-all competition, where the largest share of the dividends are delivered to the managerial class and investors rather than to ordinary workers, who must now compete with Chinese laborers working for a pittance. Economic security has not increased with global competition, particularly among nations that were already quite content, such as Sweden or the United States.

More important, globalism—and particular its feature of unsustainable mass immigration from extremely dissimilar populations—has done much to undermine various nations’ quality of life. As with other failed ideologies, it errs by misunderstanding human nature. People are not merely economic actors. They are also fathers, sons, mothers, neighbors, members of communities, and the like. The value of cohesion and communication are natural byproducts of homogenous communities. These fragile goods, however, are given little consideration by the globalists, who proclaim, contra all the evidence, that diversity is our strength.

In real life, diversity often leads, as often as not, to higher crime, lower trust, neighbors with whom one cannot communicate, and a vague sense of not being at home in the country of one’s birth. Very few people really like this, outside of the small, self-selected globalist managerial class. In our lives, we reveal our true preferences by substituting other goods—cohesion, trust, stability, closeness of friends and family—for mere efficiency. Even capitalism itself recognizes that market-based efficiency is not always everything, as competing organizations are not themselves organized on market principles, but instead on bonds of culture, trust, and command and control relationships of various kinds.

Nationalism is compatible with freedom, free markets, peace, alliances, and much else. It is in fact the most natural mode of political organization, as Yoram Hazony argues. It is not compatible, however, with the single-minded focus on efficiency and uniformity that characterizes globalism. Much of the nationalist resurgence is about the rights, not just of individuals, but of communities to live among the people they’ve always known, with whom they share blood and history, and to continue to live as they have in peace.

Nationalism is no more an aggressive threat to others than having one’s own home, own religion, and own family is hostile to the homes, religions, and families of others. But those who claim in Orwellian fashion than “diversity is our strength” would permit no such diversity. After all, there is a global GDP to worry about.

Normal people everywhere emphasize different priorities when given the choice. And nationalists, to their credit, have recognized that there is some value in cooperating and building truly international ties among one another—ties that are only possible in a community of real, vital, and distinct nations. The globalists may find that they unite the various nations of the world, just not in the manner they expected.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

Photo: HAVERFORDWEST, WALES - MAY 26: A Brexit Party supporter wears a Brexit Party rosette at the Pembrokeshire Archives building in Prendergast on May 26, 2019 in Haverfordwest, Wales. Voting has taken place across 28 member states over three days with 400 million people eligible to take part. Results are expected from 10pm UK time. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

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