‘Globalism’ is imperfect, but ‘nationalism’ is delusional. Here’s why.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of ‘nationalism’ — more accurately, ‘nationalistic isolation’ — as a counter to ‘globalism’. Globalism, which here is the exchange of goods and labor across borders, is considered bad because it allows markets to interact in less-than-favorable conditions. Post-NAFTA, Mexican corn farmers got hit by the monoculture glut from the US, while factories have been moving south of the border in order to leverage cheaper labor, with visible costs to some industries. Of course, the possibility that the situation would have been even worse without the agreement should also be considered. (1)

Nationalism, on the other hand, is the idea that a country is strongest within its own borders, relying on its own people.

Yet there has never been a case study of nationalism. The closest we get — excluding isolated indigenous groups — is probably Ming Dynasty policies, and those weren’t fully restrictive anyway. Some even dispute the existence of a ban on trade. (2)

We can’t even clearly define a ‘nation.’ Many countries’ borders were fixed post-WWI, and often post-WWII. (3) Are the residents of Alsace-Lorraine German or French? Italy wasn’t a unified country until the late 1800s, and various regions — all geographically distinct — still have their own dialects and customs, which are of course mocked by people from either side. Does someone from the Italian Alps have more in common with a Sicilian than his neighbor in the Swiss Alps? And, given that the European Union is simply a peaceful opening of borders following centuries of invasions and property swaps as one landowning family intermarried another, how meaningful has it ever been to discuss borders in Europe? Not to mention that African and Middle Eastern boundaries were defined in part by colonial and post-colonial spheres of influence, rather than through conflict among leaders as in the European system.

Especially when referring to ‘white nationalism,’ Irish, Italian, and Eastern European nationals — and of course Jews — were systematically excluded from the definition of ‘white’ into the 20th century. (4) Hitler’s Nazi regime solidified the concept of the ‘Aryan’ race…which, along with his bastardization of the swastika and a whole host of other Hindu ideologies, was borrowed from India. (5) And, realistically, Hitler was never arguing for the end of globalization, but instead a eugenicist model (imported from the US 6) in which the ‘superior’ races had, by virtue of birth, the right to exploit and/or eradicate the ‘inferior’ ones.

Aside from reading ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ a wonderfully biological perspective, and then After Tamerlane to fill in the political science — its central argument doubting the inherent ascendancy of Europe is not to be missed — the perceived inventiveness of Western minds has to be placed in the context of colonialism and mercantilism, which are after all only variants of globalism, and as such led to the exchange of ideas and people as well as goods. (By shifting the production of raw materials abroad, colonialism allowed inhabitants of the colonizing state to focus their attention elsewhere.) The Age of Enlightment was a direct product of ideas developed in the Middle East, themselves developed from ancient texts which had been preserved while Europe was dealing with the fallout of plague and internecine conflict. (7)

History textbooks fail us by not challenging the assumption that all players involved in the success of a state happened to have been of a particular race or locale, or by making it sound as if minority involvement was the exception rather than the rule. White supremacists take this a step further by consciously erasing contributions by foreigners, minorities, and women.

It isn’t always easy to tease these elements out of surviving records, but it’s still pretty damn obvious that the failings of globalism stem from how broad it is — and ignore its myriad successes. Yes, we should question free trade agreements. Yes, we can be patriots and take pride in our various heritages.

But claiming that nationalism is the way forward makes no sense, because it has never existed.

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