By: Glen Paul Hammond
The culture of a nation is a multi-layered thing; it is like a many-sided diamond, or a delicate ecosystem with many working parts. Each and every culture has its own particular laws, customs, and social norms. These are parts of what make them distinct from one another and the basis of what is celebrated in their diversity. Nationalism too is a part of this equation, one of the facets of that many-sided diamond; it is, as Andrew Coyne puts it, a means through which individuals can identify themselves as “all members of the same nation.” Nationalism is a unifier that makes democratic self-government possible. At its worst, nationalism is an agent of division, yet, at its best, it is the necessary ingredient that allows for an espousal of diversity in the multicultural projects of liberal democracy.
One of the problems with the term nationalism, however, is that it means different things to different people. This highlights the need to preface any conversation on the topic with a working definition: A quick look at any dictionary will outline its essential features as “loyalty and devotion to a nation….a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” For many, this is distinguished from the strong feelings associated with patriotism, by an implication of an attitude of superiority. It is, perhaps, in this final implication that the current debate between nationalism and globalism is rooted.
The push for globalism with its post-modern sensibilities rebukes any national viewpoint which allows one culture to view itself as being superior to another. Yet, the globalist viewpoint, itself, can be viewed as a manifestation of what the Hungarian prime-minister, Viktor Orban, calls a new kind of imperialism, one that ironically asserts that a conglomeration of post-nation states, held together by a centralized appointed body, is superior to a partnership made up of diverse and sovereign nations. The globalist, Angela Merkel admitted to as much in reference to such issues as the United Nations agreement on migration, when she said, “In this day, nation states must today—should today, I say—be ready to give up sovereignty” (Nellist). The fact that these sovereign nations are led by governments answerable to the people does not figure into the globalist equation of democracy and is instead discounted as a form of nationalism they dub as populist in nature. Much like nationalism, populism, is also a term that demands definition: One modern dictionary states that a populist is 1. “A member of a political party claiming to represent the common people” and 2. “A believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people.”
In the ancient regime societies of Europe, assumptions of inequality were accepted and, consequently, the nations were governed by a minority elite. The structure was entirely top-down and characterized as a downward flow from God to the monarch and a ruling aristocracy, with its landed and military class acting as the system’s bulwark. The nation state that the French Revolution established shifted this to a bottom-up structure, where the power flowed from “the governed to the governors” (Killeen 125). This is the distinction between the nation and the royal state (Killeen 129). Such national solidarity could establish itself through ethnic-nationalism, where the sovereign people of a state were bound by ethnicity in a way that their more ethnically diverse royal rulers were not; yet, it could also manifest itself and in many cases evolved into what is commonly recognized as civic-nationalism, where the solidarity of a nation is not based on ethnicity but in an acculturation to shared political values and systems. The melting pot of the United States is a prime example of the latter and well characterized in the motto “Out of many, one.” Such nationalism best served the interests of the common people because it produced a form of government that was answerable to and invested in the interests of the governed that elected it. Through a representational government that, with checks and balances, was kept relatively close to its constituents, the rights, wisdom and virtues of the common people became the national project.
Support or investment in any project, however, is predicated on the fact that the model chosen is believed to be superior to other competitors. Thus, the English espouse a constitutional monarchy, while their American cousins prefer a republic. The evolved shared values of each population supports their preferred model and both would claim that their cultural and political system is, at least for them, superior. So, what is the problem?
The globalist post-modern ideology of inclusion does not allow for one culture to position itself as superior to another; as a result, any emphasis on integration is lost. A categorical value system that demands adoption must also secure its function by excluding those who will not or cannot adapt. Since this is not an option for the proponent of globalism, another tact is put into place. The value system of the parent culture, which ironically attracted those not native born to that culture in the first place, is either obscured to the point that it is only viewed as one of many cultures co-existing in a geographical space or the existence of it is denied all together. As Sarah Spencer, of the Centre on Migration and Policy and Society at Oxford, puts it, regarding Britain, “We are a diverse society of overlapping identities and are not bound, nor can we be bound, by universal values or single loyalties” (Strange 52). From this mindset, she states, “The days when holding British nationality rested on a notion of allegiance are over” (Strange 52). This is the essence of the post-nation state, which, depending on your perspective, either hijacked or developed out of multiculturalism.
The evolution from an integrated project of multiculturalism to the post-nation state can easily be seen in the Canadian project. Much like the American system of its neighbors to the south, in the early part of the twentieth-century, the immigration program in Canada revolved around the “melting-pot” expectation of cultural assimilation; immigrants to Anglophone regions of the country were expected to assimilate, for example, into the English majority. With the election of Pierre Eliot Trudeau in the late 1960s, however, the melting pot framework gave way to that of multiculturalism, as a means to “promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins” (Burnet). As a result, the Canadian identity was hyphenated, erasing any notion of ethnic-nationalism to promote one of civic solidarity. In this way, the central idea of being Canadian was affixed to the ethnicity of each member of the national project and expressed in such self-descriptors as individuals being either Portuguese-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Hungarian-Canadian, etc.
But the diversity of Canada revolved around the hyphenated end-point of each citizen being Canadian, and this end-point encapsulated those values that the nation held dear, preserved, and promoted. The post-modern sensibilities of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s son, by contrast, represent a step away from this kind of solidarity in order to promote a different kind of diversity altogether. To the New York Times Magazine, Justin Trudeau, the current prime minister, stated “there is no core identity, no mainstream Canada,” and he claimed, that his nation was the world’s “first post-national state” (Ivison). As a consequence, the hyphenated end-point of Canadian is replaced by an increasingly vague and abstract notion of rights and responsibilities.
Globalists argue that the positives of such a framework in a diverse continent like Europe negates the necessity for international borders, since the elimination of cultural distinctions across the entire geographical region diffuses any predispositions of a cultural majority; this, in turn, undermines the possibility for dispute between nations that are no longer distinct. The French President, Emanuel Macron, recently posited this, during his Remembrance Day speech, as the best means to avoid future conflicts, such as the World Wars. Contrary to this, however, Yoram Hazony, in his article The Liberty of Nations, points out that historically, the lack of borders in medieval Europe served to encourage and not discourage rulers to add to their territory whenever and wherever they were able. He goes on to say, that after the medieval period this root cause of war served to precipitate the establishment of borders among the imperial powers of Europe and that, by the 20th century, this concept was extended beyond the continent and served to end imperial expansionism around the globe by encouraging the dismantling of colonialism in favor of the establishment of sovereign independent states (Hazony).
Where the globalist blames borders for the two world wars, others claim that German militarism and a revitalization of an aggressive form of imperialism were the main catalysts. Additionally, nationalists argue that the countries that subscribed to the nationalistic framework created a kind of national cohesion, which provided the “secret ingredient that allows free institutions to exist,” and that this was, in essence, the necessary component in creating functioning democracies, which, Hazony adds, no multinational empire/regime has ever been able to accomplish. Instead of the mutual loyalty that national cohesion and a shared heritage provides in an individual’s investment in the collective nature of laws, value systems, and functional requisites, such empires/regimes require coercion as the only sustainable glue that binds.
For the globalist, diversity within an open or soft bordered region is superior to a world made up of diverse nations, surrounded by secure borders. To civic-nationalists, who view their perception of the world as a moderate extension of patriotism, the opposite is true. One example of the latter can be seen in the current case of a Christian Pakistani woman. The terrible ordeal of Asia Bibi can, on the surface, appear to promote all that globalists argue is wrong with nationalism: she is part of a minority group born on the wrong side of an international border; due to her religious beliefs, they might say, she is considered, “a foreign body in the state,” one that Hazony explains “is persecuted by the majority as it strives either to assimilate or expel.” Asia Bibi is a Christian woman who has been on death row in Pakistan for the past eight years due to an accusation of blasphemy. She has recently been released from jail and this has precipitated mass protests across Pakistan and repeated calls for her death. Asia Bibi’s husband has pleaded for asylum in the UK, yet, according to Douglas Murray, in his article How Immigration Changes Britain, “the British government has said it will not offer asylum” and the reason given was “security concerns.” A UK government report stated that offering asylum to Bibi could cause unrest in Britain “among certain sections of the community” (Immigration & Britain). To this, Murray sarcastically adds in his article, the communities that the British government is worried about are most probably not Anglicans or atheists.
This highlights both the major advantages that a world organizing itself in a “diversity of constitutional and religious arrangements in different states” provides, while illustrating the dire consequences of nations subverting their cultural identity to the extent that its core values, in this case, liberal ones, can no longer be asserted (Hazony). When one considers that the first English king to convert to Christianity was Aethelbert, who ruled from about 589 until his death in 616 AD, and that the thread of Christianity can be traced through the very fabric of the British Isles all the way from King Alfred the Great to the current monarch, Elizabeth II, who is both the head of state for the United Kingdom and the head of the Church of England, in and of itself, one of the world’s most established religious institutions, the following seems incredible: A nation with that kind of Christian heritage can no longer provide safe haven for someone that Murray describes as being one “impoverished and severely traumatized woman” (Immigration/Britain). It is shocking to think what an immigration policy of just 50 years can do to a national heritage that is over one thousand years old.
Seen in this light, one might at least consider the advantages that nationalism provides, since the existence of diverse sovereign nations can offer the most secure form of sanctuary for those minority members who are persecuted in distant lands. Without it, where will the refugee seeking asylum find hope? If such diversity ceases to exist across the globe, where will the persecuted go? Ironically, while globalists, on the one hand, give lip service to the promotion of diversity, they are, in fact, engaged in a process of promoting an agenda that would eradicate the very diversity that they say is most necessary. By rejecting the constitutional, religious and cultural diversity of independent nations, they seek to establish a universal order, one which Merkel says, involves “ceding power to a superstate…” (Nellist). For nationalists, this is imperialistic in nature and imperialistic agendas have historically ignored the interests of the common people who provide the means and resources for those agendas.
In the case of the immigration policies of the EU, the financial costs alone have been great. In his book The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray states that according to the completed findings of the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London [UCL], immigration over the 1995-2011 period cost the United Kingdom more than one hundred billion pounds (42). Furthermore, in addition to the financial cost, the citizen and taxpayer found that they were also expected to promote diversity by, in part, relinquishing the celebration of their own culture and even doing “themselves down,” by being made to only focus on their negative contributions to the world rather than their positive ones (Strange 101). It is, perhaps, in this last point that the current backlash to immigration moved from the fringe to a greater share of the population. Instead of encouraging citizens of diverse backgrounds to celebrate their ethnicity, the multicultural package began to demand that members of the core culture accept the fact that they were uniquely racist at the very moment that they were accepting large-scale migration into the country (Strange 101). While the common people were willing to open their borders to others and pay for it, they gradually began to resent having to sacrifice their own culture in a masochistic malaise of guilt and self-abnegation.
In addition to this, the multicultural project also began to require the media to spin the policies that the globalists were promoting. With regards to the completed UCL report mentioned above, it is worth noting that the UK media did not publicize it, preferring, instead, to focus on the results of the earlier incomplete report, which, due to it only focusing on European Economic Area migrants showed that “the UK’s foreign born population, had contributed far more in taxes than they received in benefits” (Strange 41). This, too, points to another factor in the current thrust toward nationalism. The UK media is now, according to the European Broadcasting Union, the least trusted in Europe and even the globalist Justin Trudeau can appreciate the danger to democracy that losing trust in its institutions, such as the media, can precipitate. But concerning this matter, the repeated dog-whistling of the current Canadian prime minister is not an admonishment for the media to improve but rather a condemnation of those individuals who dare point out the obvious bias and inadequacies of the media.
Whether it is in reference to No-Go Zones, grooming gangs or statistics, the common people are now losing trust in their institutions and in their leaders who, to them, appear consistently to avoid, engage in double-speak, purposely mislead and equivocate or else slander all those who dare broach topics that they deem too taboo for honest discussion. It was exactly this kind of disconnect between the common people and the elites who governed them that resulted in the overthrow of the royal state by the nation state. Consequently, it may be of some resource to attempt to view the present shift from Globalism to Nationalist Populism from just such a historical perspective: Through the lens of the common people.
Glen Paul Hammond has a Master of Arts in English Literature from the University of Toronto. His publication credits include the educational book, The Literary Detective, and a forthcoming collection of short stories, entitled, Even the Moon is Frightened of Me,from Political Animal’s sister imprint, Crowsnest Books. Satirical cartoons and more of his writing can be found on his blog, SCRATCH.
Image: Emmanuel Macron and Donald J. Trump in France, July 2017. From Wikimedia Commons.
Burnet, Jean & Leo Driedger. “Multiculturalism.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 27 June 2011.
Coyne, Andrew. “Yes, it has led the world to war, but there’s nothing wrong with the right kind of Nationalism. The National Post. 12 Nov 2018. www.nationalpost.com
Hazony, Yoram. “The Liberty of Nations.” The Wall Street Journal, 24 Aug 2018. www.wsj.com
Ivison, John. “Neither left nor right should politicize Canada’s immigration system.” The National Post, 13 Nov 2018. www.nationalpost.com.
Killeen, Richard. Ireland: Land, People, History. Running Press Book Publishers, 2012.
Murray, Douglas. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. Bloomsbury, 2017.
Murray, Douglas. “How Immigration Changes Britain.” The National Review, 11 Nov 2018. www.nationalreview.com.
“Nationalism.” Merriam-Webster, 2018, www.meriam-webster.com
Nellist, Tom. “’Give up Sovereignty to EU’ Merkel’s swipe at UK amid threat to Derail Brexit.” Express, 22 Nov 2018.
“Populist.” Merriam-Webster, 2018, www.meriam-webster.com