Since the election of Donald Trump, nationalism has become the new boogeyman. Somehow it is supposed to represent a dangerous far-right ideology. However, it’s simply defined as patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts – though on the extreme end, it can manifest as a feeling of superiority to all others.
Mahatma Gandhi was a firm nationalist, as was Nelson Mandela, not to mention Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, all of whom were solidly left wing. On the other hand, classical liberals such as Winston Churchill and the American founding fathers were also very patriotic to their respective countries.
So, how did nationalism become a bad word? In short, the Nazis are to blame. Something did go disastrously wrong in Germany in the 20th century, and socialists did everything possible to place all the blame on the nationalist aspect of Nazism.
Empires versus nations
One way to increase the clarity of a debate is to distinguish between empires and nations. The latter is based on a common language, culture, ethnicity, and tribe, whereas empires are multicultural, encompassing a multitude of conquered peoples.
Nations can be peaceful and stay within their geographic domain, but often they become more ambitious and transform themselves into empires. This happened with European countries during the colonial era.
A toxic combination
The typical empire is interested in subjugating people, but the case of Nazi Germany was different. They combined aggressive expansionism with a racially based form of nationalism. They didn’t just want to subjugate other people and expand the empire; they wanted to exterminate the “inferior” folk and replace them with German stock.
This is unquestionably a bad form of nationalism. It is also the exception, not the norm in modern times. Thousands of books have been written on the causes of the rise of the Nazi regime, and while they differ in their explanations, most tend to agree that the aggressive expansionism was birthed from exceptional historical circumstances and not from generic patriotism or even just a feeling of superiority.
Globalism – modern day imperialism
Today anti-nationalists think of themselves as the good guys, failing to recognize that imperialists are also opposed to nationalism. In fact, modern-day globalism can be thought of as a continuation of the European colonialism of the 19th century.
Notice that globalism is not the same as global free trade. Globalism means no countries and no borders. That was very much the project of the emperors of yesteryear.
Healthy nationalism and the global village
There is a healthy middle ground, which recognizes that imperialism is bad, while at the same time keeping xenophobia in check. We may call it the global village.
Interestingly, this metaphor has been employed mostly by globalists in the past, but it is far more congruent with healthy nationalism. Think about the village: do all families live under the same roof? No, each family has their own private home – their own sanctuary where they can retreat from the communal space and enjoy some privacy.
In the global village, each country represents a family with its own homeland that lives as good and peaceful neighbors to the others. Yes, there is a marketplace where everyone trades, but at night they all go back home. That’s the image of healthy nationalism in a global village.
Locking the doors at night
In the global village, it makes sense for people to visit each other on mutual invitation, but it should also be possible for people to lock their doors at night without being called xenophobic racists who yearn for genocide and racial supremacy.
Most folks are nationalists, whether they would admit it today or not, and any rule of law must necessarily be based on a form of national unity. Rather than being ashamed of this, people should be talking more about the good side of it. The way to do that is to start talking about the global village – with lots of diverse groups living harmoniously and respectfully together.