A Compelling Summary of the Case Against Nationalism
In my last post, I highlighted Cato Institute scholar Alex Nowrasteh’s excellent critique of claims that immigration causes harm by reducing social trust. Rarely do I devote two posts in a row to writings by the same person. But I could not pass up his compelling summary of the evils of nationalism, drawn from his opening statement in a recent debate with Rich Lowry of National Review.
Nationalism is a major force in both the US and around the world, and the major point of divergence between libertarians and the “New Right.” I tried my own hand at summarizing the dangers of nationalism back in 2009, including some of the parallels between it and communism. But, frankly, Nowrasteh’s is way better.
“Nationalism,” like “conservatism,” and “liberalism,” is a fuzzy term that different people use in different ways. But Nowrasteh captures the main focus of most nationalist movements and thinkers, when he describes it as an ideology based on loyalty to a “nation” based on a “group of genetically similar individuals with a common language, culture, religion, and ethnicity.” As he explains, “[n]ationalism is to the right wing what communism is to the left wing, poorly reasoned utopianism that often leads to some of the worst crimes against humanity.”
Here are some excerpts from his summary of its dangers, with commentary by me:
The first downside of nationalism is that it increases centralized state power. In nationalism, the state representing a nation (known as a nation-state) is the only organization that counts because it represents the entire nation. Individualism is not important, individual rights don’t matter, and a nation’s government does and should determine everything regardless of the desires of dissenters….
Nationalism movements do indeed have a long history suppressing dissent and undermining liberal democracy. The ethnic and cultural homogeneity nationalists seek is usually impossible to achieve without it.
The second effect of nationalism is that it tends to concentrate state power in a single person, the leader. Nationalists often conflate the nation with that of an individual political leader who is a nationalist, frequently a strong man, sometimes a dictator, and other times a king, probably because the nation is just an abstraction that requires a totem of some kind to be real in the minds of men….
Nationalism isn’t the only political ideology that tends to promote strongmen. But it has a particularly powerful tendency towards leader-worship. Recall such figures as Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. In our own day, we have examples like Putin, Erdogan, and Xi Jinping, among others. Even nationalist movements in liberal-democratic nations have a tendency to this. Consider, for example, the worship of Donald Trump by his core supporters, which exceeds that of any other modern US president. The kinds of people who become nationalist strongmen tend to be unscrupulous, ruthless and cruel. Thus not does nationalism concentrate power. It often does so in worst possible hands.
The third common effect of nationalism is more state control over the economy. After all, the nation knows best and its government will do whatever it thinks is in the national interest (or, more accurately, whatever is in the best interests of nationalist politicians). It’s no mistake that National Conservatives, as they call themselves today in the United States, favor industrial policy, protectionism, high taxes, closed borders, pro-union policies, a large welfare state, praise the New Deal, and desire more state control over the economy. Increasing state control over the economy is partly ideological and partly just a byproduct of the increasingly centralized state that nationalists demand.
Very true. I would add that the types of statist economic policies nationalists advocate tend to be among the most harmful, condemned by most economists across the political spectrum. In addition, this concentration of economic power becomes even more dangerous when combined with nationalists’ disdain for individual rights and elevation of brutal strongmen leaders.
The fourth effect of nationalism is more government control over the private lives of citizens and central planning of culture. From the French Revolution originating the term “nation building” in France and their central planning of language to Vladimir Putin in Russia and dozens of nationalis
Article from Reason.com