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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