The Attack on Nationalism

Globalization has led to great economic losses for the national proletariats, as well as political disorganization. Several European states have watched their union densities decline, including in the most powerful nation-states (Germany, France, and the UK), as well as in the United States, and the march towards socialism halted. After falling substantially between 1930 and 1970, income inequality has sharply risen in both Europe and the United States. The reversal of fortune for working families begins a decade later in Europe, and is not quite as severe, but its effect is acutely felt for a people who have, thanks to social democracy, enjoyed a high standard of living.

Piketty and Saez, Inequality in the long run, Science, 23 May 2014

At the same time it has hammered the working class, globalization has led to a vast accumulation of wealth for a small number of families. This is especially true for the United States, but since 1980, Europe has see growing concentration of wealth among the very rich, even in Scandinavian countries. In fact, the share of wealth held by the superrich in Scandinavia is above the European average.

Source: Business Insider, September 13, 2017

Growing consciousness of how globalization has affected the working class has led to a backlash against globalist ambitions and invigorated nationalist sentiment. The reaction has been exacerbated by immigration. In the United States, the foreign-born proportion of the population has grown from less than 5% in the mid-1960s to over 13% today. In Europe, the 2015 migrant crisis punctuated the problems immigration was already presenting to the proletariats of Europe. Moreover, large-scale Muslim immigration threatens the secularism that is largely responsible for the high standard of living and progressive social attitudes of the West; Islam seeks to subordinate all things to the recorded hallucinations of its prophet, an illiterate warlord named Muhammad. The left has failed to defend secularism against the regressive forces of religious medievalism, and so working men and women of Europe are turning to those who are willing to talk about this threat.

Frightened by the populist turn, transnational elites have embarked on a propaganda plan to sell the public a patriotism disconnected from national sentiments; more than this, in fact, often condemning nationalism as contrary to patriotism. The attitude they wish to convert is that working people should not feel patriotic about their nation, but rather they should feel patriotic about the values of globalism and multiculturalism, ideas that just happen to benefit the capitalist class. Thus we have arrived at a legitimation crisis where the ideology of globalism is not longer working to conceal the decadent affairs of the rich, the lavish parties at Davos and elsewhere to which working people are persona non grata.

Recently, in the context of the West’s commemoration of the horrors of WWI (the one hundredth anniversary of “the war to end all wars”), French president Emmanuel Macron, with world leaders in this audience, declared, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.” He warned Europe about “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death.” He portrayed nationalism as the selfishness of a petulant child: “Our interest first! Who cares about others?” When we do this, he admonished, “we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential: its moral values.” The moral values of the bourgeoisie!

Nationalism in a republic founded on secular values of rule of law, free speech, religious liberty, political equality, and democratic participation is the progressive belief that the people are sovereign and that the political-legal machinery of the nation-state serves the collective interests, not just the narrow interests of elites. To be sure, this is not historically what the rich see as the real purpose of the modern national republic. As Marx and Engels note in context of the nakedness of mid-ninetieth century industrial capitalism:

In the condition of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped. The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations; modern industry labour, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests. 

The idea of nationalism for the bourgeoisie has always been about a legal framework for the realization of profit, a means of labor control that emancipates property and business activities from the state. Emancipating humanity from property and business activities is the next step, the revolutionary step socialism must make. But without the developed machinery of the bourgeoisie state, not just the coercive pieces, but the means to secure the legitimacy of the workers state through education, the proletariats lack the governmental tools to transform society. Moreover, fighting for democracy means establishing the conditions that make liberal ideals socialist reality not abolishing them. 

The threat of socialism and pressure from various social movements has led capitalists to improve the bleak conditions described in The Communist Manifesto, in some cases even by adopting bits of its platform. It also causes the United States and European states to sharply reduce immigration, which led to a sharp increase in the standards of living. At the same time, assimilation strengthened working class solidarity, erasing ethnic differences and focusing consciousness on economic conditions. This and the crisis of late capitalism forced capitalists to make war on labor and the left and devolve the welfare state in order to sustain the bourgeoise life of luxury. 

Explicitly, Macron was rebuking Trump. At a political rally in October 22, Trump had said, “A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly not caring about our country so much, and you know what, we can’t have that.” He went on to say: “I’m a nationalist.” But Trump is wrong, as well. A globalist is not a person who wants the globe to do well. A globalist is a person who wants the transnationalism capitalist elite to do well. That may involve improving the condition of some of the world’s population in order to manufacture consent around the globalist agenda, but in the end it leaves hundreds of millions to economic uncertainty.

In an op-ed piece on Fox News, Steve Hilton argued that Trump was right and Macron was wrong, writing, “Macron’s attack on President Trump was highly revealing. It lays bare the astonishing arrogance of the globalist ruling class who think it’s their moral duty to ignore democracy and instead run the world according to whatever makes life easier for the rootless and heartless global corporations that Macron and his gang of Davos elitists cravenly serve.” It is a sad day for the left when the plain truths its supposed to emphasize are instead noted by a British conservative pundit who used to advise Tory leader David Cameron. It would be nice if it went without saying at all that the leaders of a democratic republic should put the interests of their population first. But the struggle is two-fold: the nation-state must be preserved in order to make it about the interests of the working class. 

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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