Michael S. Swisher
Michael S. Swisher is chairman of the board of Religion and Society, the foundation that publishes The St. Croix Review.
Bugaboos of the Chattering Class — Nationalism
Nationalism vies for top billing with populism (discussed in the last installment of “Animadversions”) among the bugaboos of the chattering class. Like populism, the chatterers deliberately define it vaguely, but almost always use the word in a pejorative sense. One favorite tactic is to associate it with authoritarianism.
Name-calling is a well-worn practice on the left. One of its oldest tropes is to call someone a fascist. Stalin himself initiated this comparison, when he called Trotsky a fascist. Trotsky might justly have been called many names (including mass murderer), but one thing he was not was a fascist.
Right on cue after the election of Donald Trump, who proudly identified himself as a nationalist, no less than the Washington Post carried an article by Michael Kinsley headed “Donald Trump is actually a fascist.” Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine:
“Never in my lifetime has the United States seen a period of darkness like the one that lies ahead of us. . . . The Trump years will be a horror. . . . Trumpism grows out of a decades-long trend toward authoritarianism as the dominant tendency of Republican politics. . . . His wall paid for by Mexico is not even a punch line — it is a symbol of his supporters’ fascistic willingness to subordinate all critical faculties and endorse an obvious absurdity.”
Numerous comparable examples could be listed. If “fascism” means anything, it must mean what Mussolini, its inventor, understood by it. He summarized it briefly as “Everything within the State; nothing outside the state: nothing against the state.” Does that sound like Trump, or any other politician currently active in this or any other country? To date during the Trump administration, the Congressional Review Act has been used seventeen times to rescind actions of the administrative state. The sphere of the state has been shrunk, not expanded.
Fascism and Nazism (Trump, and every other conservative politician for the past fifty-odd years has been compared to Hitler) are, moreover, forms of hegemonic nationalism. None of the current nationalisms propose world conquest.
But if one is not an aggressive imperialist in search of lebensraum, he can always be accused of isolationism. This Trump has also been; his lack of enthusiasm for overseas wars, and his suggestion that our NATO allies should make an effort to pay the two percent of GDP to which the alliance commits them, have been denounced as “isolationist.” Furthermore, his use of the slogan “America First” has been compared to that of the American isolationists of the pre-World War II period, with the insinuation that they, and therefore Trump (and his supporters), must be anti-Semitic.
This is not only a slur on Trump (who, with an Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, a daughter who converted to that faith, and grandchildren being brought up in it, was a most unlikely anti-Semite — even before he recognized Jerusalem and the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. embassy there). It is a slur on the 80 percent of American citizens who before the attack on Pearl Harbor opposed intervening in the war in Europe. Most of these people thought, with some justification, that American intervention in what was then called “The Great War” or “The World War” had been a huge waste of American lives and money without significant benefit to the United States or American citizens. They simply did not wish to repeat the experience.
It is true that a small minority of the so-called isolationists were extremists of one sort or another — including, from August 23, 1938 through June 22, 1941, members of the Communist Party of the United States of America, which obediently followed Stalin’s bidding for the duration of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Domestic opposition to entering World War II of course evaporated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, showing ultimately the lack of influence of foreign propaganda in the face of enemy action.
In any event, Trump’s criticism of the nation-building wars begun in Afghanistan and Iraq under the administration of George W. Bush and continued under that of Barack Obama is without reference to anything that happened in World War II. The weariness of the public with the inconclusive wars in the Middle East resembles, if anything, the widespread sentiment of Americans after World War I.
If we are to understand today’s nationalisms (they differ from nation to nation) we must abandon the dishonest and pejorative historical allusions used by their opponents, and examine their actual positions. Modern nationalism, in general, is not hegemonic — Trump hasn’t tried to annex Canada, Britain since Brexit has not tried to reconquer the British Empire. Neither is it isolationist. Nationalists have not stopped trying to engage with the rest of the world. They just want to engage with it in different ways. Their emphasis is on self-determination, which used to be considered an admirable goal. Opposed to modern nationalism is globalism.
Mark Hendrickson, writing in these pages, has made a useful distinction between globalism and globalization. Globalization is an economic phenomenon that has arisen spontaneously from a variety of modern technologies, particularly the development of rapid and widely accessible media of electronic communication, and of relatively inexpensive and swift air transportation both of goods and of people. Globalization is what makes it possible for a person to call his daughter at college in France, bid in an auction in England, order a part for his car from Germany, correspond with a friend in Australia, and pay his credit card bills, all from a cellular telephone or tablet — and to have the merchandise he ordered delivered to his door within less than a week. Naturally there are costs that come with these benefits, and they have brought about changes in the economic landscape — but such changes are as inevitable in economies as changes in weather, and complaint about one is as futile as the other.
Globalism, however, is a political phenomenon. It is associated with globalization, but is independent from it, and represents an expression of the will of policy-making elites around the world. Globalism prefers technocracy over democracy, and amorphous supranational governing bodies with unlimited authority and limited answerability to the people, instead of sovereign nations governed by elected legislatures and executives. It is the international counterpart to the domestic administrative state.
The inefficacy of a body like the United Nations somewhat makes up for the absurdity of such things as its Human Rights Council, which includes representatives of third-world dictatorships and Islamic theocracies. Of a more serious character are entities like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), and other similar multi-lateral bodies either now extant or proposed. To these multi-lateral bodies the government of the United States has willfully abdicated its Constitutional treaty-making powers in much the same way that Congress abandoned and delegated significant portions of its legislative authority to domestic alphabet agencies. In some respects the international administrative authorities are worse than the domestic administrative state, since many of their officials are foreigners, not only not answerable to American voters, but not even fellow Americans. Yet they exercise significant powers capable of affecting the lives of American citizens.
As an illustration of a multilateral supranational body, the European Union (EU) is an egregious example. The EU began as a simple customs union but has long since imposed regulations governing everything from the acceptable degree of curvature in bananas, to the units of weights and measures permitted to be used, to the definition of beer, and most recently to immigration. While there is a European Parliament, it is a largely powerless talking-shop, in that respect not unlike the UN General Assembly. Real power is centered in the arbitrary and opaque EU Commission, of which Jean-Claude Juncker is the current president.
The EU’s immigration policies have followed the lead of Germany, as indeed most EU policies do. They impose negligible barriers to the entry of so-called refugees who are in many cases really economic migrants seeking the benefits of Western Europe’s generous welfare states. These migrants are required to be distributed amongst the EU’s member states according to a formula prescribed by the EU Commission. Many of the affected countries have seen the rise of so-called nationalist parties or factions in response to this.
In France, the Netherlands, and Germany, among others, they have polled impressively; in Austria, Poland, Hungary, and most recently in Italy, voters have elected anti-immigration and/or “Euro-skeptic” governments. The EU’s response has been to lecture, to threaten financial penalties, and to generate through its journalistic allies defamatory portrayals of the upstart countries. This has spread even to some nominal conservatives in the United States. For example, Jay Nordlinger wrote of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in National Review:
“Back to Orbán’s proclamation that ‘the era of liberal democracy is over.’ On Twitter, Simon Schama, the British historian, said, ‘Well, no, Orbán, liberal democracy will see you and your nativists off because liberal democracy has John Milton, John Locke and J. S. Mill and you have Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Steve Bannon.’”
Nordlinger didn’t bother to note that what Mr. Orbán meant by “liberal democracy” might not be Milton, Locke, or Mill. Orbán was elected in good part because he had a reputation for standing up to the dictates of the EU, personified by EU Commission President Juncker. Juncker recently delivered a fawning speech on the occasion of the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, at which time a statue of the original Communist, donated by the People’s Republic of China, was unveiled at his birthplace in Trier, Germany.
Hungarians spent close to fifty years subjugated by the Soviet Union, which sent tanks in to crush their uprising against it in 1956. If “liberal democracy” is represented by Jean-Claude Juncker and his Marxist apologia, it is not hard to see why Hungarians reject it. They have enjoyed national self-determination now for less than thirty years and are not about to give it up to another overlord, especially one professing admiration for the founder of Communism. It is especially disheartening that a National Review columnist is taking the side of Juncker and Soros!
Closer to home, “nationalist” Americans see their government as having “given away the farm” in recent decades. The EU is itself a mercantilist cartel. As President Trump has pointed out, an American-made automobile entering the EU faces a tariff four times as great as the tariff levied on a car made in the EU entering the United States. Yet any complaint about this, much less a threat to retaliate, is stigmatized as “protectionism.” According to the global technocracy, American businesses and working people are obliged to accept such treatment without complaint.
Even worse is contending with China. The People’s Republic of China was, under Mao, an ideological totalitarian dictatorship. Richard Nixon sought to open diplomatic and trade relations with the PRC in an effort to play the Chinese off against the Soviet Union. As time passed, China shed much of its Marxist economic dogma and appeared to liberalize economically. Despite this, its Communist Party retained a political monopoly and rigid social control.
The Chinese government demonstrated that it had not given up repression by violent force as recently as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Western diplomats and technocrats nonetheless hoped to induce Chinese liberalization through expanded trade. China was first given temporary most-favored nation status during the administration of Bill Clinton, and this was made permanent under that of George W. Bush. The policy elite reasoned that when the Chinese became prosperous, even if at the expense of American industry, it would become a liberal democracy. Vain hope! What do we read from NR’s Nordlinger, quoted above deprecating Viktor Orbán and agreeing with Juncker and Soros? This:
“In the April 30 issue of this magazine, we published a piece about Jerome A. Cohen, a veteran American scholar of China. He told me that he was consumed, at present, by one thing above all: the mass incarceration of the Uyghur people, with no due process whatsoever. It reminded him of Austria and Germany, where some 40 of his relatives were murdered.
“For the Chinese government, this is standard operating procedure. They punish the families of journalists, critics, and human rights advocates abroad. Consider Rebiya Kadeer, the brave lady known as ‘the Mother of the Uyghurs.’ She has been in exile since 2005. Thirty-seven of her relatives have been rounded up: including her children, grandchildren, and siblings. When Uyghurs are rounded up — taken away — they are often ‘disappeared.’ Their loved ones don’t know where they are, or whether they are dead or alive.”
What would NR counsel that this country do about this latest round of totalitarian repression? Sanctions? Revoke China’s most-favored nation status? Heaven forbid! That might start a trade war. The world would end if American consumers couldn’t buy Chinese-made sneakers for half the price of a pair made in the United States.
In dealing with China, we have forgotten the good advice given long ago by the great American foreign-policy expert George F. Kennan:
“. . . we have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships that will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”
Because we did not pay attention to Kennan, where are we today? According to an essay, “Adapting to American Decline,” published by Christopher Preble in the New York Times:
“America’s share of global wealth is shrinking. By some estimates, the United States accounted for roughly 50 percent of global output at the end of World War II. . . . It has fallen to 15.1 percent today.”
It is true that the 50 percent of the world’s wealth that the United States enjoyed in 1948 was a figure that reflected the destruction of much of the rest of the world’s productive capacity in World War II. As this capacity was restored (some of it with American assistance through the Marshall Plan and other foreign aid), America’s percentage was bound to fall. However, the fall from 50 percent to 15 percent does not reflect just increases in the wealth of the rest of the world — it reflects the continuation of give-away policies (and the attitudes behind them) that are no longer appropriate to the world’s current situation, and which American citizens can no longer afford. Yet in spite of this, our policy-making intelligentsia have embraced rather than dispensed with sentimentality and daydreaming; they wallow in the luxury of altruism and world benefaction against which Kennan warned.
A minor but well-delineated character in Dickens’s novel Bleak House is Mrs. Jellyby. She is an enthusiastic philanthropist, her philanthropy focused exclusively on a remote African tribe. So devoted is she, and so generous to them with her resources, that her own family lives in neglect and privation.
American international policy for too long has been a sort of Jellybyism writ large. It is high time that America cease playing Lady Bountiful abroad with the resources of its citizens, out of some mistaken notion of noblesse oblige. This is, in the first place, inappropriate to a Constitutional republic that recognizes no nobility. If a self-governing nation-state has any legitimate purpose, it is to promote the interests of its citizens over those of foreigners. Uncle Sam should live up to his persona as a sharp Yankee trader, who drives a hard bargain with the rest of the world.
Further, America should support other self-governing nation-states that seek to retain their sovereignty and to promote the interests of their citizens. The so-called nationalist parties of Europe are truer friends and allies to the people of the United States than the technocrats of the European Union, which — in view of Juncker’s speech in Trier — bids well to be called a European Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. *
 For an interesting account of Communist propaganda during the period, see Hollywood Traitors: Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler (2015) by Allan H. Ryskind.