An “antidote to nationalism”?

This column by Fareed Zakaria is called “Democrats need an antidote to nationalism.” The most interesting thing about it is that Zakaria never describes such an antidote.

Instead, he seems to favor nationalism, but one that isn’t “populist” — one that’s “informed and influenced by other values such as liberty and equality.” We’ll get to this prescription in a moment.

For now, let’s consider what the alternatives to nationalism are. I can think of two: internationalism and sectionalism. A third, I suppose, is simple indifference to the interests of the nation. But, although there are those on the left who seem to display such indifference, it’s not an alternative that a reasonable person would publicly advocate.

Sectionalism isn’t really an alternative to nationalism either. Rather, it’s nationalism geared around a smaller unit. The Southern secessionists were either Southern nationalists or “nationalists” of their respective states. The Yugoslav secessionists were Croat, Serbian, or Slovenian nationalists. Those in Spain are Basque or Catalonian nationalists.

Thus, the only genuine, viable alternative to nationalism is internationalism. Not coincidentally, Donald Trump’s nationalism is, in part, a reaction to internationalism — to subordinating U.S. interests to the claims of the international community or to regional groupings (as with NAFTA and the TPP). Not coincidentally, Democrats have usually led the charge for such subordination.

Thus, logically speaking, the antidote to nationalism is persuading Americans that foreigners should have greater say in determining U.S. policy. But that’s a tough sell.

Democrats might argue that foreigners know better than Americans. Many seem to believe this, John Kerry being a good example. But it’s not an argument Democrats can make explicitly.

They might argue that, though participating in projects like the Paris Climate Accord, the TPP, and the United Nations entails some loss of control over decisionmaking, the benefits make it worth the loss. But this argument isn’t really a general critique of nationalism. It doesn’t sell a particular project on the grounds that resistance to it is nationalistic. It sells the project on the grounds that resistance to it is not in our national interest.

Finally, let’s consider Zakaria’s rejection of “populist nationalism” and his call for a nationalism tempered by values like liberty and equality. Zakaria’s position does not cohere.

Populist nationalism in the U.S. typically places a high value on liberty and equality for U.S. citizens. Our populist movements have almost always been leveling — seeking a better deal either for non-elite classes such as farmers or, more generally, for “forgotten Americans.” And our populist movements typically have sought liberty from what its adherents see as the stranglehold of powerful interests.

Focusing on recent years, the Tea Party was all about liberty from excessive government control (e.g., Obamacare). There’s some of this in Trumpianism, although his movement is less averse to big government (but much more averse to it than Democrats are).

Traditional non-populist nationalism is also committed to liberty and equality of opportunity. These are core national values.

Modern Democrats eschew them in favor of extensive government interference and an obsession with equality of outcomes. This, along with stealth internationalism and identity politics (an anti-nationalist ideology, come to think of it), is the unappealing “antidote” they offer America.


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