The Globalization of Nationalism and Conservatism

April 18, 2019 § 2 Comments

The current issue of Foreign Affairs is about nationalism, and its resurgence around the world.  The base assumption of all the authors in this edition is that nationalism is a conservative movement, tied to white supremacy, racism, and strongmen like Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin.  The basic argument is that the resurgence of nationalism, and all it entails, is a response to globalism and the rise of a class of cosmopolitans who, the argument alleges, feel at home anywhere.  Thus, everyone else, the ‘somewheres’, who have a sense of connection to place are mad.

First, this is a ridiculous dichotomy.  The actual real cosmopolitans, the ones who are at home in Istabul, Mumbai, and Tokyo, are the 1% of the world.  The bulk of people who are alleged cosmopolitans actually tend to have deep connections to place as well.  They are connected to where they live, their neighbourhoods, their towns and so on.

But this discussion of cosmopolitans vs. the non-cosmopolitans actually obscures more than it clarifies.   Like all theories that attempt to put human behaviour into neat little boxes, it fails.

And this is because the basic assumption of this argument is that the non-cosmopolitan nationalist is not connected to a wider community, one beyond the borders of her nation.  And it also assumes that the leaders of these movements are not in constant contact with each other.  That Donald Trump and Nigel Farage don’t have a connection, that Steven Bannon isn’t globe-trotting, trying to convince Italian conservatives that the biggest evil in the world is Pope Francis.

Of course men like Trump, Farage and Bannon have international communities.  One is the president of the most powerful nation in the world, one is the former leader of a major British political party, and the last is the man who stands behind their ilk, helping them get elected.

But the argument presumes that Trump’s supporters, Farage’s voters, and Viktor Orbán’s fans are not also connected in a globalist sense.  The internet and social media have seen to this.  There are linkages across international boundaries between nationalist and conservative movements in Europe and North America.

In other words, these reactionary movements are just as internationalist as the liberal world order they’re attempting to take down.  They can’t not be, this is a co-ordinated attack on what these nationalists and conservatives (because they are often the same thing) distrust, dislike, and fear in the liberal internationalist order.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a globalized era, and even if we wrap ourselves up in the Union Jack and talk about bringing jobs back to Bristol, or we prefer our government to open our border for more refugees, we live in this world.  The ideological struggle for the soul of the world reflects this as much as it did during the Cold War.

During that era, from 1945-91, two opposing, internationalist, camps fought for global supremacy.  We all know that American-backed liberalism won.  And despite Francis Fukuyama’s embarrassing claim that this saw the end of history, the conservative backlash was in motion by the mid-90s, though its articulation took longer to develop, into the 2010s, our current decade.

And so now, the two opposing, internationalist camps fight for a world that is either liberal, cosmopolitan, and internationalist in nature, or one that is illiberal, nationalist, and just as internationalist in nature.

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The Myth of World War II

July 30, 2018 § 2 Comments

In this month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, there is a provocative essay from Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Entitled, ‘The Myth of the Liberal Order: From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom,’ Allison provides a much needed corrective to the history of American foreign policy since the Second World War.

Allison argues, correctly, that American foreign policy was never about maintaining a liberal world order.  Rather, she argues, the world as we know it globally arose out of the Cold War, a bipolar world where the United States and its allies confronted the Soviet Union and its allies in a battle of the hearts and minds of the global populace.  In essence, the two core belligerent nations cancelled each other out in terms of nuclear arms, so they were left to forge and uneasy co-existence.  And then, the USSR collapsed in 1991 and, the US was victorious in the Cold War.  And, of course, Francis Fukuyama made his now infamous, laughable, and ridiculous claim:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

How Fukuyama has any credibility after this colossal statement of Western hubris is beyond me.

Anyway, Allison notes that aftermath of this particular moment in time was that the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists made common cause and managed to convince both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that the best way to spread the gospel of capitalism and liberal democracy was by dropping bombs.  Only during the Bush II era did the idea of liberal democracy get tied up with American foreign policy, and here Allison quotes former National Security Advisor (and later Secretary of State), Condoleeza Rice, speaking of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: ‘Iraq and Afghanistan are vanguards of this effort to spread democracy and tolerance and freedom throughout the Greater Middle East.’

Thus, we had a unipolar world, and now, with the resurgence of a belligerent Russia and a growing China, we are in a multi-polar world.  And then she goes onto note larger American problems centring around democracy at home.

But what struck me about her argument was where she lays out her argument about the bipolar Cold War world, she notes that ‘the United States and its allies had just fought against Nazi Germany.’ but that the burgeoning Cold War with the USSR required new tactics.

The United States and its allies.  There are several ways that this is problematic.  The first is that the main Allied powers of the Second World War were the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union.  I don’t count France here in that it fell in 1940 and whilst Free French troops and the French Résistance were central to the Allied cause, they were not represented by a government in Paris.  But those Big 3 of the US, UK, and the USSR were worth the equal billing.  The UK held on and maintained a free Europe from the 1940 until the Americans got going on the Western front in 1942.  And British troops (to say nothing of the Empire and Commonwealth) were central to the ultimate victory.

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And then there’s the USSR.  The Soviets were absolutely and essentially central to the Allied cause in World War II.  It was the Soviets that took the brunt of Hitler’s fury on the Eastern front and absorbed the invading Nazi forces before expelling them, absorbing essential German attention as the US and UK dithered about opening a Western front, something that didn’t happen until 1944.  And then the USSR, all by itself, defeated the Nazis on the Eastern front and ‘liberated’ the Eastern European nations before closing in on Germany and Berlin itself.

In the US, Americans like to pronounce themselves as ‘Back To Back World War Champs,’ as the t-shirt says.  This is bunk.  The USSR did more to win World War II in Europe than any other nation, including the United States.

Allison’s argument is made even more peculiar given that she is talking about the outbreak of the Cold War here.  She makes no mention of the fact that the United States’ allies in the Second World War included the Soviet Union.  Hell, Time magazine even called Josef Stalin its 1943 Man of the Year.  That part of the story is essential to understanding the outbreak of the Cold War, the hostility that was festering between the USSR on one side and the US and UK on the other was an important and central story to the last years of World War II.

Thus, better argued, Allison could’ve, and should’ve, argued that in the immediate post-World War II era, c. 1947-48, that the United States was fatigued from World War II, where the Allies, of which it was one, along with the Soviet Union, defeated German Nazism.  To write it differently is to elide an important part of history and the Second World War.  And frankly, Allison should know better.

 

On Chronology in History

November 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

In last month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, there is a review of what looks a fascinating book, Henry Petroski’s The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s InfrastructureThe review, however, is plagued by an inability to keep a historical chronology.  I always remind my students that chronology matters, especially in a history class. And when grading exams and essays, I find myself over and over again writing “Chronology?” in the margins.

The review, by Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, is plagued by such problems.  For example, he recounts Alexander Hamilton’s 1791 ‘Report on the Subject of Manufactures,’ wherein he argued that the federal government had the constitutional authority to spend on internal infrastructure.  But then, in the next sentence: “Hamilton’s view was rejected by President James Madison and his successor, James Monroe, who both vetoed major infrastructure legislation passed by Congress” for constitutional reasons.  Problem is, in 1791, George Washington was President.  Madison was elected president in 1809, 18 years after Hamilton’s ‘Report,’ and 5 years after Hamilton was murdered in a duel by Aaron Burr.

On the next page, Klein recounts the creation of the interstate highway system in the US.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the key here, as almost anyone knows (you know, those signs on the interstates that note they are part of the Eisenhower Interstate System.  The key legislation here came in 1956.  Klein writes:

Eisenhower’s highways were part of a series of great infrastructure projects that helped usher in unprecedented prosperity.  Government investment and private entrepreneurship laid railroads across the continent; built huge power plants, such as the Hoover Dam; and provided universal phone coverage. Those projects generated economic growth and united the nation.

Factually, this is true. Infrastructure did aid in national growth and unity. But. The railroads were built in the late 19th century.  The Hoover Dam was built from 1931-33.  In other words, looooong before the interstate system.  And while Klein is making a larger point about the need for government investment in the US’s ailing infrastructure, his inability to maintain a chronological reality here undercuts his argument about the importance of the Eisenhower system, given it was the last of these infrastructural developments and nearly a generation after the other examples he provides.

In short, kids, chronology matters.

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