What Nationalism Means Today
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What Nationalism Means Today

An article I wrote last month on globalism and nationalism sparked a lively debate. some more comments may be helpful.

Journalists and commentators today use the word “nationalism” very broadly to refer to any resistance to globalization based on attachment to national identity. this usage aligns with ongoing disputes over the legitimacy and future role of the nation state, so it makes sense to accept it when discussing current affairs.

Reading: How does nationalism connect to today

One point that confuses the discussion is that Americans for the most part have not called themselves nationalists. they are more likely to call themselves patriots or simply Americans. the few who see nationalism as their basic political identity have often held views that the majority find profoundly wrong. They can be “national greatness” conservatives, who think America has a manifest destiny to set the world in order, or white nationalists, who don’t much like America and want to establish a new nation on the basis of racial separation. .

However, among ordinary Americans, the common form of what is now called nationalism is the belief that the first obligation of the American government is to look after the common good of the American people. this is generally understood as less immigration, fewer foreign wars, fewer social innovations such as multiculturalism and transgenderism that threaten the fabric of everyday human relationships, and measures, such as more advantageous terms of trade, to support well-paying jobs for the poor. Americans.

This type of nationalism aligns with standard popular conservatism. commentators sympathetic to it, some of whom have begun to use the term, generally think that it is important for societies with some historical and cultural coherence to maintain it, for example by resisting mass immigration, and determining their policy accordingly. your own understanding. for the common good of its people. they believe the alternative is to hand over their national destiny and the welfare of their people to bureaucrats and billionaires who answer to no one but themselves.

Another source of confusion is the various meanings that nationalism has had over the years. when many people hear the word, they think of arms races, the two world wars, the crackdown on dissent, etc. there is some basis for this association, but one could easily associate nationalism with democracy and resistance to foreign domination. it depends on the storytelling one believes.

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In general terms, a nation state is a state that represents a people that exists pre-politically. this means that it represents a people that is understood as such by historical and cultural ties that do not depend on the state, so it would continue to be a people even if the state were divided or absorbed by another state. thus, poland is a nation state, austria-hungary was not a nation state, the kurds are a nation without a state, and the extent to which the united states has been a nation state is debatable and has varied over the years .

nationalism has to do with support for the nation state as a political form. what that entails varies. It matters, for example, whether the aim is to support the supremacy of the nation, state or ethnic people over family, locality and religion, or to support one’s own nation against other nations, or simply to maintain the existence and distinctive character of nation-states in the face of the global order that is now emerging.

It also matters how intense the support is. Is loyalty supreme to the nation, so that the national interest trumps all other considerations? Or is it simply that the national community is legitimate and important and that the common good should normally guide the policies of its government?

The presence of regional variants and national minorities, and the attitude towards them, also make a difference. the idea of ​​the nation state, like the idea of ​​democracy, implies a state that basically represents the majority. then, if the majority is Catholic and Francophone, Catholicism and the French language and culture will permeate state institutions. something must permeate them as they are not going to be neutral on issues like language and the nature of man and reality so why not go along with what prevails in society unless there is something inherently wrong with it ?

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on the other hand, no people is totally united and justice requires respect for the rights and interests of minorities. how that develops always involves compromise. it seems wrong for the French to ban the Breton language, but it is acceptable for them to insist that Breton schools teach French, and it is right for them to resist the immigration of people who do not look much like the French and who do not seem likely to be . Time soon attempts to find perfect solutions to such problems fail. these include today’s multiculturalism, which seeks to equalize the status of all groups in all settings, and overreaching forms of nationalism that seek to do away with minority and regional cultures, languages, and religions.

how these things work changes over time. At first, nationalism was about making the territorial state stronger than the networks of local and international authorities that ordered medieval society. this usually meant increasing the king’s power over other political actors. the justification for this, apart from actual self-interest, was efficient government. the king did not want the church, nobles, or local authorities to disrupt politics.

Over time, better communications and the growth of cities and the market economy led to the decline of personal, local and religious ties in favor of general linguistic and cultural connections as a basis for social loyalty . as a result, the emphasis shifted from the unification of monarchies to the unification of peoples.

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People hoped that this trend would strengthen their position vis-à-vis the government. if the citizens of a state had a common history, culture and language, they could deliberate and act collectively and thus affect policy. and governments hoped that the nation state would be strengthened with a more united people.

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but as nationalism triumphed and europe became a continent of nation states, it had fewer constructive goals. he was less concerned with making the government effective and putting it in touch with the people than with asserting the nation against other nations. it also increasingly acted as a surrogate religion. These tendencies led to catastrophe, so that after World War II, nationalism was discredited in the West.

In the Third World, however, nationalism arose because it shaped the desire for independence from colonial powers. and in our own time it is returning to the west for similar reasons. what is called nationalism in the west today is not a struggle against local autonomy or the church, nor is it a question of competition between nations or suppression of minorities. instead, it is a fight against an emerging world order that destroys all borders and all authority other than global markets and transnational regulatory bureaucracies. it is a way of protecting the local and the particular across borders backed by sovereignty.

this was the point of brexit and trump’s election. The nationalism that these facts express has something in common with the regional nationalisms of Europe. it is basically defensive and represents what has evolved between people and defines them against larger groups built as a unified italy, the eu and world economic authorities.

The extent to which Catholics should favor one side or the other in such disputes is a matter of political prudence. church spokesmen today mostly favor global institutions over nationalism and free migration over restrictions. I have discussed the church’s social teaching on these issues and have argued that the teachings on government, immigration, and the nation do not fully support these views, in large part because they do not sufficiently take into account the basics of modern political life. .

however, too much can be said on both sides to resolve the issue here, so further discussion will have to wait for another occasion.

(photo credit: shutterstock)

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