Debate | What Do We Need More Of—Nationalism or Globalism?

By | Mar 25, 2019
2019 March-April, Debate, Opinion

Which is better, globalism or nationalism? Which does the world need more of right now?

Since 1989, American and European elites have dreamed of a “globalist” political order: the rule of a single international law that would embrace all nations, by force if necessary. But the globalism to which they’re committed is in fact a form of imperialism, causing Western leaders to think constantly about how to impose their will on the entire world (hence the name “globalism”) and to think much less about how to care for and improve the particular nations that elected them. This has been reflected in the American and European efforts to impose liberal democracy by military means in countries such as Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia.

Nationalism stands for the opposite ideal: the idea that the world is governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, based on their own constitutional and religious traditions, and without interference from others. The West could use more nationalism right now. Giving up on the idea that every country on earth should be governed in accordance with American and European values would permit a diversity of different nations, each living in accordance with its own understanding.

The free competition among different national cultures has been the key to progress in politics, economics, technology and science for centuries. In fact, it was such competition among independent nations that gave us modern conceptions of limited government, balance of powers, individual liberties, the market economy, and much else.

What accounts for the rise of nationalist voices worldwide?

We’ve seen an upsurge of nationalism in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Eastern Europe and other democracies. This is overwhelmingly a consequence of the sense, in many cases correct, that elected officials of both the left and right have lost touch with the nations that elected them. Nationalism is a reaction to political leaders who appear to care mostly about the values and interests of the globalist elite and its dream of international order.

What are the dangers of a globalism that goes too far? Of a nationalism that goes too far?

The more entrenched globalism becomes, the less interest political leaders will have in democracy. As for nationalism, it certainly has its well-known weaknesses, often encouraging parochialism and belligerence toward neighboring peoples. But nationalism has the potential to give rise to democratic and free government, whereas globalism has no such potential.

Is globalism anti-democratic? Do globalist policies necessarily lose touch with voters?

Yes, exactly. This argument was first made by John Stuart Mill, who emphasized that the rulers of the British empire in London could not, even if they wanted to, understand the actual needs of people they governed in India. For government to be responsive to the needs of a given nation, its officials must be drawn from the people, speak their language, and be primarily concerned with this people and not others.

Do universalist norms, such as human rights and religious rights, conflict with nationalist aims? Are minority populations (such as Jews) safer under nationalist regimes or in a globally interdependent world?

You frequently hear globalists claim that by imposing their universalist political theories on all nations, they will safeguard human rights and religious rights. But this is an illusion. Every universal rights theory (including the different kinds of liberalism) will protect some and oppress others. In Western countries, for example, the greatest danger to Jewish observance today comes from liberal universalists who want to ban circumcision in the name of children’s rights and kosher slaughter in the name of animal rights. The best way to guarantee the well-being of minorities is to have a world of diverse national states, each with its own independent traditions of which rights should be protected. This means that when minorities are persecuted in one country, there is a good chance they will be offered support and a place of refuge in another. Under empire, by contrast, there is only one decision-maker, and there is no place of refuge when that decision-maker has ruled against you.

Is Zionism nationalism?

Zionism is another name for Jewish nationalism. Theodor Herzl’s Zionist organization was established in 1897 with the aim of attaining national independence for the Jewish people, as a nation among other independent nations.

Yoram Hazony is president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem and author of The Virtue of Nationalism.

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