Monday, March 14, 2016

Reports Of The Nation State's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

In 1913 world trade was at an all time high and Germany exported to the world. It also completed this massive nationalist monument. Globalization and nationalism coexisted then, and appear to still coexist now

I've spent a lot of time talking about Donald Trump in historical terms, but it's probably better to ground him in a present day, international context.  As I have been saying on repeat, Donald Trump's rise has to do with the power of American nationalism. I will add today that his appeal to nationalism is indicative of a rise in nationalism's impact worldwide. This I feel has caught a lot of people off guard, since globalization seemed to be bringing about the weakening of nation states. Of course, as any student of the past well knows, history does not move in a straight line. In 1913 the world looked as if it were globalizing, but after the bloody events spawned by 1914 levels of world trade would not return to 1913 levels until the late 20th century. Nothing guarantees that a similar shift is impossible today.

It already seems to be happening. Nationalism is on the march all over the world. In Europe anti-immigrant parties have gone from fringe elements to major political forces. Witness the National Front in France, UKIP in Britain, and Alternative for Germany, which won big in local elections recently. In Eastern Europe full on nationalists have won in Hungary and Poland, and Vladimir Putin has pitched his appeal in terms of national renewal. In India the Hindu nationalist BJP is in power. In China Xi Jinping has made nationalism a hallmark of his time in power. Even the famous non-state actors like Islamist terrorists have gotten in on the act, as ISIS strives (as its name suggests) to build a new nation-state.

We should not be surprised, then, that a politician like Trump has come around to exploit American nationalism, in yet another riposte to the silly notion that America is an exceptional nation. Based on what's happening in Europe, we should also not be surprised by who supports him. In both Europe and America nationalist politicians draw from working and lower-middle class voters anxious about their status. In Europe the traditional parties of the working class, like the SPD in Germany and the Socialists in France, were successful in setting up a robust welfare state, union recognition, and hybrid economy. Those ideas are now the political consensus, meaning that it is hard for those parties of the left to have much political ground to stand on. The nationalists offer a new scapegoat for their uneasy voters, and profit. In America the dynamics are a little different, as a combination of racist resentment by whites and the Democratic party's adherence to pro-corporate policies makes it hard for them to appeal to the white working class.

The nationalist wave in the West at least has everything to do with the consequences of the last four decades of neoliberal globalization. It created a new global elite, but also a system that shut out a lot of people who had been conditioned to prosperity in the immediate postwar period. The nationalists in Europe and America are not neoliberals in economics. They want to maintain a robust social state, but to do it for people "like us." The Left is in tatters and the progressive parties are often run by privileged members of the global elite, making so many voters easy pickings for nationalists. Part of the reason that Bernie Sanders has energized so many despite being a 74 year old with one real issue is that he is actually speaking to the discontents of globalization from the Left side.

The rise is nationalism is disturbing because I find it to be such a noxious, anti-humanist ideology. You could argue that it is the "ism" that killed to most people in the 20th century, responsible for the First World War and countless others, and the biggest ingredient in Fascism. It is crucial for the Left to reconstitute itself, because it is the one force capable of breaking the nationalist wave. Instead of hate and tribalism, the Left needs to once again preach the message of solidarity and humanity. Failing to do so will have disastrous consequences, I fear. Nationalists are never happy until they destroy the "enemies within" and start invading other peoples' countries.

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