The phenomena of nationalism and globalism are ever evolving, and we can embrace or recoil from either political philosophy depending where on the political gestalt spectrum they reside at any point in time.
Surely, nationalism, as it refers to loyalty and devotion to a nation, is something most rational people can embrace. But nationalism has a long history of morphing into excessive or undiscriminating devotion to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state, and always, the belief that nations are better off acting independently rather than in concert with other nations.
Likewise, we are all globalists to the extent we understand that the world is interconnected and that we enjoy the benefits of trade between nations as well as international cooperation on a wide range of issues such as law enforcement, the sharing of water resources that bathe the coasts or traverse the borders of multiple nations, or when we work together in defeating disease, or when the rampages of nature cause devastation across neighboring countries.
But today, like in the not-very-distant past, these terms take on weightier meaning and in the gestalt of the day, “nationalism” has little to do with simple love of country, and “globalism” is, today, often defined as loyalty to the universal collective of nations rather than to one’s own country. In the gestalt of the day only a nationalist can be a patriot, and those advocating global cooperation are viewed with suspicion, their loyalty suspect. How sad that we have come to this, and how sad it is that the most tragic lessons of history have been lost to so many.
Some degree of nationalism, and certainly patriotism, have been embraced by most every newcomer to new lands of opportunity and freedom. Men and women who left behind everything and everyone they knew to build a new life in America invariably became, by any reasonable definition, true patriots and, in a somewhat narrow sense, nationalists.
They loved the America that welcomed them. But, then again, not everyone welcomed them. Many saw them as “the other,” aliens from another culture, with a strange accent and, sometimes, a different appearance. The self-styled nationalists who were here didn’t like those neophyte nationalists who had recently arrived or for that matter those who had arrived generations earlier. They still don’t.
So, in reality, nationalism takes on many faces. Nationalism was a prominent factor in early 20th century Europe as it is becoming in early 21st century Europe. It was a significant cause of the bloodletting of World War I, followed by the continued blood-letting of World War II, making the 20th century the bloodiest century in history.
In the name of nationalism, masquerading as security and patriotism, America imprisoned 110,000 fellow Americans who were of Japanese descent when the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. So-called nationalism masquerading as patriotism resulted in the greatest mass murder in history less than eight decades ago in Nazi Germany. It was nothing more than a perverse nationalism that resulted in the grotesqueries of the Spanish Inquisition. So, nationalism can be seen as a well-intentioned phenomenon that can be, and often has been, easily highjacked for the worst of motives. The philosopher, George Santayana, was indeed prescient when he warned that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.
If one believes that, by and large, robust trade between nations inures to the benefit of importing and exporting nations alike, and that international cooperation on a wide range of issues is good for mankind, and that every nation can benefit from what there is to learn from other nations and other peoples, he or she can rightly be described as a globalist. In this context, only the most provincial or politically devious individuals see such globalists as a threat to their national identity or wellbeing.
As the late celebrated journalist, Sydney J. Harris of the Chicago Sun-Times once wrote, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility while the second a feeling of blind arrogance often leading to war.”
So, the British have been hectored into Brexit, and we Americans have been promised a restoration of American greatness to mythical greatness of the past as compared, we presume, to the greatness we have apparently frittered away. Marine Le Pen now leads the largest party in France and Viktor Orban, the dictator-in-waiting of Hungary, and recent guest of President Trump at the White House, and a gaggle of other European leaders are all riding the same wave of nationalism and anti-globalism. We are all witnessing a dramatic historical phenomenon. A new wave of potentially malignant nationalism is playing out throughout the western world. Anti-establishment populism coupled with nationalism is on the move.
We’ve seen this flirtation, this fixation, with excessive nationalism before. It has seldom ended well. Hopefully, this time it will be different. Hopefully, we’ve learned from history.