June 23, 2019

Nationalism, Globalism and the Forgotten Lessons of History

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

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.


All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

Invite friends, family, and colleagues to receive “Of Thee I Sing 1776” online commentaries. Simply copy, paste, and email them this link— www.oftheeising1776.substack.com/subscribe  –and they can begin receiving these weekly essays every Sunday morning.

7 responses to “Nationalism, Globalism and the Forgotten Lessons of History”

  1. susan duman says:

    We can only hope that Trump’s definition of nationalism will not be embraced by a majority of voters or the electoral college.
    Too soon to know, in my estimation, how solid his base is, how the many democrats will flesh out, and……………….
    do the elites, in his words, continue to enrage the middle class as they did in 2016?

  2. Steve Hardy says:

    Fantastic essay Hal! I would make one small change. In the 10th paragraph, you say “robust trade between nations…” Since nations don’t trade with one another, rather people and companies do, I would change that to read “robust trade between people and companies of different nations..” I know this sounds trivial but I believe that adding to today’s anti-trade sentiments is the forgotten notion that people have a right to enter into voluntary transactions with others whether they are across the street, across the country or across the ocean. I find it strange that so many conservatives who want less government regulation and interference in their business dealings don’t mind, and actually support having the government restrict their buying and selling activities with foreigners.

  3. susan duman says:

    Steve Hardy makes a very interesting point. Thank you, Steve.

  4. Paul Silverstein says:

    As Reagan so aptly said to Carter in the Presidential debate of 1980, “Here you go again!” Yes, the authors continue their tongue lashing of Trump, presenting only one side of the story.
    Chancellor Merkel’s popularity has plummeted to the degree she is no longer seeking reelection as a consequence of her reviled open-door refugee policy. She even recently acknowledged her misjudgment saying that if she could she would turn the clock back. So much for her one world thesis.
    Yes Trump negotiated with Mexico to dampen down the deluge of undocumented immigrants flowing through our southern border from Honduras and San Salvatore. Most were good people but some unquestionably were violent M 13 gang members. Be honest and introspective, do you want them in your community? Your implication is that a country even without secure borders still has territorial sanctity. Oh, and yes tariffs are not “fair”, but how about Huawei’s backdoor espionage on both military and technology targets? Do you understand China’s policy on technology transfers? Do the disparate tariffs imposed on US goods sold in China, or even the tariffs imposed by Germany on US cars sold in Germany matter not? Although you don’t touch upon it, it follows from your comments that you may be advocates of Sanctuary cities/ states. In this vein, perhaps some person’s with this view feel that cities and states can pick and choose what Federal laws they follow and obey. Even my liberal state of Minnesota is experiencing lash back over the government funded staggering number Somali immigrants flowing into Minnesota. Go Ilhan Omar!

    • Huh?
      The writer apparently construes our essay as a “tongue lashing” of Trump. Our only reference to Trump was rather parenthetical when
      we reference the President’s hosting of Viktor Orban at the White House, and the context referred to the rise of the Le Pen’s, Orbans and “the gaggle of others riding a wave of “potentially malignant nationalism.” The essay is a retrospective of our historical experience with “excessive” nationalism
      and the fear of global cooperation. Well as the writer notes, “there you go again.”

  5. Paul Silverstein says:

    Hal I know you as a person of great integrity and perhaps your essay did not intentionally mean to hector Trump, however your paragraph, “ 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,” certainly suggests you are taking aim at the President. I think it’s common knowledge that his current campaign slogan is, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. I’ll have to see that you get one of his red MAGA caps!

  6. Hal Gershowitz says:

    ???? Actually, someone already sent me one. I always appreciate your comments., Paul.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *