Conservative internationalism?

Liberals who offer advice to conservatives are best ignored. Almost invariably, they want to advance liberal interests, not conservative ones.

This rule of thumb applies to Anne Applebaum’s column called “Conservative intellectuals are at a turning point: Normalize Trump or resist him?” The title itself is nonsensical. The opposite of “resist” isn’t “normalize,” whatever that means. The opposite of “resist” is “support” or “embrace,” and conservatives also have options that fall in between these two. Thus, as Barack Obama might say, Applebaum presents conservative intellectuals with a “false choice.”

I want to focus, however, on the concluding lines of Applebaum’s column, in which she advises conservative intellectuals to abandon the word “nationalism.” On its face, this advice is about word choice, not doctrine. Applebaum isn’t saying conservative intellectuals shouldn’t be nationalists, only that they shouldn’t use the word.

Is this marketing advice or does Appelbaum believe there is something poisonous about the word “nationalism”? I assume, it’s the latter, though she doesn’t say.

In either case, if nationalism forms part of a conservative intellectual’s system of belief, he or she should use the word. Conservatives shouldn’t conceal what they believe, that’s the job (until recently) of American left-liberal polticians like Obama. And there is nothing poisonous about the word “nationalism.” Historically, nationalists have done at least as much good as they have done harm.

For me, the most interesting question prompted by Appelbaum’s column is whether conservatism can be other than nationalistic. In my view, the only genuine alternative to nationalism is internationalism of the kind the left favors. Thus, the question becomes can conservatives be internationalists.

The question is best answered by political scientists like Steve Hayward. For what it’s worth, though, here is what I think.

Conservatives can be internationalists in a limited sense. They can favor participation in certain international organizations. They can, and should, favor participation in alliances like NATO. They can, and should, favor paying close attention to international developments and, when prudent, trying to influence these developments.

But I don’t believe conservatives can be internationalists in the strong sense — the sense of giving foreigners a significantly greater say in determining U.S. policy than they have now. This is what the American left desires and what President Trump vigorously opposes.

American constitutional conservatives believe in upholding the American Constitution. That document vests the power to make policy with the president and Congress. Ceding even limited policymaking responsibility to foreign bodies is inconsistent with constitutional conservatism.

Some strands of conservatism focus less on formal documents like the Constitution and more on traditions and societal arrangements as they are. They see wisdom as embodied primarily in that which has been worked out, rather than that which was written.

Little, if anything, in the American tradition supports giving foreigners a substantial say in our governance or subordinating our interests to the claims of the “international community” or of regional groupings. Internationalism in that sense — the sense that the left has put on the table — is a profoundly radical notion, one that can’t be reconciled with any form of conservatism of which I’m aware.

Therefore, conservative intellectuals should eschew neither the word “nationalism” nor the concept.

STEVE comments: I have a long essay on nationalism coming out in September—along with several responses—at the LibertyLaw site. For the moment, I’ll pass along my concluding sentence, which accords with Paul’s argument here (with which I fully concur): “To paraphrase another Democratic president, it is time for America and Europe alike to get over their inordinate fear of nationalism.”

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