Roots of Modern Nationalism

In essence, and as E.H. Carr argued, there are three crises which underlie the basic crisis of nativism, populism, and religious extremism, the antidote for which is a kind of “globalist socialism” which does not obstruct the free movement of capital, goods, people, and services, but in turn regulates the movement. For one, there is the crisis of ‘liberal democracy’ given the rise of nativism, populism, and religious extremism. Second, there is the crisis of ‘national self-determination’ and the difficulty of adjusting to a kind of globalization which entails economic and social interdependence with people outside of one’s national framework. And third, there is the crisis of ‘laissez-faire economics’ which has to be addressed by some sort of regulation of the “four freedoms” which we have just mentioned. 

There are now “fundamental problems” to borrow from Hans Morgenthau which “transcend the interests and the ability to solve of any single nation, however powerful.” Nativism, populism, and religious extremism all stem from a sense of insecurity, both of a physical and economic nature. As Morgenthau argued: “The greater the stability of society and the sense of security of its members, the smaller are the chances for collective emotions to seek an outlet in aggressive nationalism, and vice versa.” There is an interplay between “social disintegration, personal insecurity, and the ferocity of modern nationalistic power” to borrow from Morgenthau. 

Personal insecurity in both a physical and economic sense is thus “transformed into anxiety for the nation.” In turn: “Identification with the nation thus serves the dual function of satisfying individual power drives and alleviating individual fears by projecting both onto the international scene.” At its roots and at its core, and to borrow from Francis Fukuyama, extremism, nationalism, and populism are “born out of the acute anxieties bred by industrialization.” The majority of the world’s population over the course of the last couple of centuries had to adjust from “village life” to “urban society” as a result of industrialization and technology, and in turn, nationalism and populism are modern phenomena which are born out of economic and social evolutions which are particular to a modern age. 

And on balance, nationalism and nativism are much more powerful than liberalism or any “globalist socialism” which can arise in the coming years. As John Mearsheimer argued, liberalism and globalism with a socialist leaning “invariably loses when it clashes with nationalism.” Liberal democracies “have never made up a majority of states in the international system” as Mearsheimer noted. The “nation” is “almost always” the “highest loyalty” for an individual. The general idea is that “national identity is not the only identity an individual possesses, but it is generally the most powerful.” 

The best that liberals and globalists can hope for is to coexist with nationalism and populism, given that nationalism and populism can never go away as long as the world is organized based on the nation-state, as Mearsheimer argued. The basic assumption of a nation-state is nationalism. Since we are not governed by a global state, what we are left with is the nation-state. The nation-state is the form of a nation and society, and nationalism is the essence within the form of the nation and society based on the nation-state. Moreover, the “nation” is the immediate “collective” which an individual serves outside of his or her own selfish interests. All of this can give us somewhat of an idea of where things are headed in the United States in the next couple of years, although no one knows for certain where things will end up as political and social developments continue taking shape. 

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