Britain votes to leave the European Union. The United States elects a president who says he’ll put “America First.”
Around the world, nationalism is winning elections. Many see this nationalist revival as the great danger of our time, fearing that nationalism will take us back to a more primitive and racist past.
But it wasn’t long ago that great political figures such as Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, David Ben-Gurion and Mahatma Gandhi, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher recognized what I call the virtue of nationalism.
So, what is this virtue?
A nationalist believes that the world is governed best when nations are free to chart their own independent course, cultivating their traditions and pursuing their interests without interference. Nationalism is not about racism. All nations are internally diverse. And it isn’t about isolationism.
Of course, nations can a pursue a variety of different policies in diplomacy and trade. Nationalism is the opposite of imperialism—or globalism or transnationalism—which are all names for the attempt to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind under a single political authority.
The debate between nationalists and globalists, then, is over whether we should aspire to a world of many independent nations—or to be one unified super-state, like the enlightened “Federation” of the Star Trek movies. A case can be made for both sides of the argument. But for the last 30 years—really, since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union—the “one world“ side has been dominant.
Today, this is changing. Maybe not among elites, but among ordinary citizens—or, as they are known in America, “the deplorables.” It turns out that a lot of people still think good borders make good neighbors.
It’s hardly surprising that people want to preserve the way of life they and their ancestors built up over centuries, the way of life they believe is best. It’s human nature. Our strongest loyalties are to those who are closest to us: to our family; then the larger community or “tribe”, and finally, to the nation.