Nationalism Is Dead
A century and a half ago, Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared — God is dead. He argued that the ideals of the Enlightenment and the increasing importance of the natural sciences rendered a belief in God obsolete.
Today, it is my turn to follow Nietzsche’s lead with the following declaration — Nationalism is dead.
The Nationalist Wave in the United Kingdom
In the mid-2010s, the United States and Europe experienced a resurgence of nationalist sympathies among its citizens. The first critical moment came in the summer of 2016, when British citizens voted to leave the European Union. The Brexit referendum was seen as a triumph of anti-EU, nationalist parties, that experienced a resurgence across Europe. However, immediately after the referendum, the right-wing pro-leave United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) faded into obscurity. Its most prominent leader, Nigel Farage, retired from party leadership shortly after the Brexit referendum. During the 2017 General Elections, his party lost over 3.3 million voters (or roughly 10% of the vote).
A year and a half since, Brexit is dragging on with Prime Minister Theresa May struggling to find any sort of consensus, both among her own party members and across the aisle. A recent study by the Centre for European Reform shows that the total cost of Brexit so far amounts to £23 billion per year (or £440 million a week), with the UK economy being 2.1% smaller than it would have been if the UK had voted to remain in the EU.
With the economic costs mounting, there is still little clarity on what the position of the UK is going to be after 30th March 2019, the date when the UK officially leaves the European Union. Perhaps the best measure of the failure of Brexit is a recent poll conducted by Survation for Channel 4, where 54% of the 20,000 people surveyed (20x the sample size of average political polls) said they would have voted for Remain if the Brexit referendum was held today.
The reality is that Brexit was never really a rational decision. The various Leave campaigns leveraged people’s fear of immigrants, nationalist pride and dreams of restoring the UK to the status of world power that it enjoyed prior to the dissolution of the British Empire. It was simply an exercise in nationalist rhetoric and political chest pounding that did exactly the opposite. Brexit left a strong European country in economic stagnation and deep uncertainty over its future, severely damaging its relationship with its largest trade partner — the European Union. This is the price of nationalism.
The 45th President of the United States
Several months after the Brexit referendum, another nationalist victory shook the world. Arguably, the election of President Donald J. Trump was even more dangerous for the European Union than the Brexit referendum. President Trump is an outspoken critic of everything international — NATO, the World Bank, the European Union and even the United Nations.
President Trump hates globalism. It is telling that the term “globalist” seems to originate in the 1940s as a derisive term for the Jewish people used by groups like the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Semites like Henry Ford. President Trump uses the word to describe liberal international relations theory — it’s his way of criticizing liberal organizations like the EU or the UN. For many of his voters however, globalism very much means what the KKK thought it means. It is worth noting that America First is not only a policy that President Trump announced in his inauguration address. It is also a Klan rallying cry used most prominently by the notorious Grand Wizard David Duke.
In Europe, people that follow this strain of extreme nationalist rhetoric would be called far-right (I like to call them as I see them — Fascists). In the US, these people prefer to call themselves “the alt-right”, arguing that any accusation of anti-Semitism and racism is just globalist propaganda (Note: this argument is usually made by a guy parading a Confederate and / or a Nazi flag on the streets in his spare time).
While President Trump’s rhetoric portrays him as a mythical hero, the most successful U.S. President in the history, the best businessman on the planet and an excellent negotiator, his record is weak.
Currently, he presided over the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States (35 days). He is attempting to build a border wall that was supposed to be paid by Mexico (how did anyone ever believe that?), but is now going to be funded by the U.S. taxpayer. He repeatedly threatened to leave NATO, which united EU leaders that now push towards a European army — a move that is now criticized by President Trump (translation: “what are you doing guys? I was just flexing, please don’t leave NATO.”)
The only real accomplishments President Trump achieved so far are somewhat successful talks with North Korea, forcing EU leaders to spend more money on their defense budgets and filling two seats on the Supreme Court.
Despite these small victories, his image of a successful and confident world leader is shaky at best (he was literally laughed at during his speech in the UN). With Robert Mueller’s Russia probe looming over him, President Trump is doing his best to shift attention elsewhere by his frequent rants and feuds on Twitter. These may entrench the fascist part of his voter base firmly in his corner, but will certainly do him no favors in his 2020 re-election campaign. After all, not all of the people who voted for him in 2016 are fascists — most are honest, blue collar workers who were left behind by neo-liberal economic policies that prioritized free trade over domestic protectionism.
The reality is that President Trump will be facing an uphill battle in 2020, because he proved that nationalism is an empty shell — it’s rhetorical, it’s emotional and most of all, it’s no longer realistic. Unless the Democrats put Hillary Clinton as their front runner for the Presidency of the United States again, President Trump will have a hard time to justify his ever-changing policies that seem to gravitate solely around xenophobia and tax cuts.
The Death of Nationalism
There is no doubt that nationalism served a pivotal role in the development of 18th century Western society. As Enlightenment ideas spread throughout Europe, it was clear that the feudal system was crumbling. Monarchs struggled to retain their absolute power over their people, who now demanded reform and extended rights. Both the American and the French revolutions were based on a nationalist idea — the idea that the loyalty of the people does not belong to the monarch, but to the nation. In a time when countries was fully bound to emperors and kings, nationalism rallied the common people and allowed them to take their destiny into their own hands.
However, nationalism is hopelessly out of touch in the 21st century. We live in an age of smartphones and internet — an age when connecting with your loved ones who live on the other side of the globe is a matter of pushing a button. We live in an age of instantaneous communication. People can connect with each other across the world, without any limitations, without any borders. For the first time in the history of humanity, people can exchange ideas without any limitations (unless you live in China, of course).
For better or worse, globalization intertwined our economies so much that protectionism is no longer a rational option — it results in a net loss. Free trade allowed us to afford consumer products that would otherwise be outside our price range — laptops, iPhones, clothes or cars. Sure, there are problems with free trade as well — the election of President Trump showed us that blue collar workers suffered the most as a result of pursuing this policy. However, the solution is not to roll back on free trade, it is to adapt your economy (and your workforce) to meet the demands of new technologies.
As we move forwards, the world will be ever more united than before. With concepts like hypersonic passenger aircraft and hyperloop transport implemented, we will be able to reach our destinations within a fraction of the time it now takes us. The digital revolution will completely change the global economy — destroying many jobs we have today, but creating even more new, better jobs in the future. Dictatorships that base their power on selling oil will slowly wither and die out, as we move towards 100% reliance on renewable energy. For nationalists, the world is dangerous and the future is bleak. Progressives like me understand that the world we have today is the best one we ever had — and the future is even brighter.
Simply said, nationalism has nothing more to offer us. It’s time has passed. It no longer has a place in a 21st century society. The resurgence of nationalist parties and candidates in 2016 only serves to prove my words, as these people fumble through the job, failing to deliver what they promised. 2016 will be remembered as the year that favored nationalists. It will also be the last year when nationalism was a relevant political force. Humanity’s future lies in embracing what President Trump derisively calls “globalism”.
Nationalism is dead. Welcome to the future.