Nationalism is roaring back with a vengeance throughout the Western world. So-called populist governments have come to power in the United States, Austria, and Italy. Hungary and Poland are turning increasingly authoritarian under their populist, nationalist governments.
Western politics has been rocked since the Islamist terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and has blundered through the crisis of the so-called War on Terror, the Iraq War, the Great Recession, and now the tribulations of Brexit and the migration crisis caused by the Libyan and Syrian civil wars. It has led some to compare our political moment to the troubled times of post-World War I Europe. One thing is for certain, it is looking less and less likely like the “end of history” where liberal democracy triumphed over the entire world after the Cold War as predicted by Francis Fukuyama.
For those of who believe that liberty is the greatest political ideal, these have been some dark times. Indeed instead of ushering the libertarian moment, the past two decades have ushered the authoritarian moment.
The rise in nationalism leads to the question, can nationalism or patriotism, in general, co-exist with liberty? Is there a place for classical liberals in this time of resurgent populism and nationalism?
Before we get started, let’s define some terms. Ethnonationalism is nationalism based on race or ethnicity. In America, that would be the nationalism of David Duke, Richard Spencer, the alt-right, and groups such as the Black Panthers and those who agree with them.
“Civic” nationalism is more inclusive, requiring only respect for a country’s institutions and laws for belonging. This perspective is more global, and is a view open to minorities or immigrants, at least in principle.
As for the patriotism vs nationalism discussion, here’s how George Orwell defined it:
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
Clearly, ethnonationalism of any kind is incompatible with liberty because it seeks to deny rights to those not of that ethnic group. Taken to its worst logical conclusions, it could result in genocide.
Now, should we write off civic nationalists? Not yet. Joseph Salerno of the Mises Institute at Auburn University points out that Ludwig von Mises, one of the founders of the libertarian “Austrian school of economics”, embraced civic nationalism.
For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked. The primary goal of the liberal nationalist movements (Italian, Polish, Greek, German, Serbian, etc.) was the liberation of their peoples from the despotic rule of kings and princes. Liberal revolution against despotism necessarily took on a nationalist character for two reasons. First, many of the royal despots were foreign, for example, the Austrian Hapsburgs and French Bourbons who ruled the Italians, and the Prussian king and Russian Czar who subjugated the Poles. Second, and more important, political realism dictated “the necessity of setting the alliance of the oppressed against the alliance of the oppressors in order to achieve freedom at all, but also the necessity of holding together in order to find in unity the strength to preserve freedom”. This alliance of the oppressed was founded on national unity based on a common language, culture, and modes of thinking and acting.
Ludwig von Mises himself wrote:
[T]he nationality principle includes only the rejection of every overlordship; it demands self-determination, autonomy. Then, however, its content expands; not only freedom but also unity is the watchword. But the desire for national unity, too, is above all thoroughly peaceful. . . . [N]ationalism does not clash with cosmopolitanism, for the unified nation does not want discord with neighboring peoples, but peace and friendship.
Another example of civic nationalism is many of the WWII resistance movements in Western Europe which opposed Nazi German occupation. The French, Belgians, Dutch, Italians, Norwegians, Greeks, and Danes who took up arms against the invader were fighting for their liberation from despotism.
On the other hand, Orwell would likely argue that Mises was describing patriotism. He would likely also describe the resistance fighters as patriots as well.
Interestingly, Orwell wrote that his definition of nationalism extended to more than just the nation-state.
He states that his definition of nationalism includes “such movements and tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism.”
I would add globalism to that list. Globalists believe in destroying the sovereignty of nations and making the subordinate to some superior transnational entity such as the United Nations or the European Union.
Sure we laugh at the EU when it does things like ban memes but the EU already has wrought destruction on the liberties of the people of Europe. For example, although there are no occupation armies in Athens, Greece is a sovereign nation in name only. It has become a de facto EU and German protectorate
There is no pro-liberty case for the European Union. In the guise of a common market and preventing another great European war, it has become a nationalism of its own. This is why Brexit and any other attempt to free the nations of Europe from the EU’s velvet fist should be celebrated.
Now back to the question at hand, can patriotism and nationalism coexist with liberty?
Patriotism is certainly compatible with liberty. After all, patriotism is just love of country and its way of life without the desire to force it upon others. Civic nationalism is compatible with liberty, as long as it is defensive and not coerced upon others. But when civic nationalism embraces xenophobia, it is incompatible with liberty.
In American politics, it is my experience that many who call themselves civic nationalists are really just patriots. They often do not have a problem with immigrants who come to the country legally. When they do question immigration policy, it is because they worry about the culture’s ability to assimilate immigrants at current rates or believe in a merit-based immigration policy. Those people can certainly embrace liberty.
On the other hand, many other civic nationalists do embrace xenophobia when discussing immigration and other issues and object to immigration because “ew Mexicans”, “ew Arabs”, or something along those lines. Those people should be rejected by anyone who loves liberty. Liberty belongs to everyone who lives legally in America, not just to those who were lucky enough to have an American birth certificate.
Republished from my blog