What’s Better Than Nationalism? Internationalist Nationalism

Can “internationalist nationalism” appeal to those who wish to protect what they have and also demonstrate the benefits of others succeeding? It would probably depend on understanding what internationalist nationalism is.

First, the word “liberal” gets thrown around a lot, to the point that someone who is described as “a” liberal in U.S. politics is not the same as someone who holds classical liberal principles. That’s a belief system generally held by “conservatives” in America. But when speaking of a liberal democracy, both sides agree that the blend of two contributing political philosophies has managed to achieve the most success for the most people.

So it gets particularly disheartening when the political spectrum starts to curve into a circle, and liberal democracy begins to falter.

This happens when populations move toward authoritarian — closed — forms of government. This usually occurs in times of extreme uncertainty and takes the form of ultra-nationalism, both on the political left and the political right. On the far left, it means communism and socialism, support for government equalizing everything regardless of whether it means everyone ends up with less with no one having a stake in their success. On the far right, it means support for government intervention to guarantee the security of outcomes for those who already “arrived” and staked their claim, and everyone else be damned.

It’s a proclivity in Europe, though the trend has been gaining ground recently in the United States.

Dalibar Rohac, a Czech-born economist who focuses on Europe and the backsliding of Russia toward communism, notes that in Europe (and to a lesser extent in the U.S.), the backlash against liberal democracy comes after a series of literal and figurative firefights in Europe, including Brexit, attacks in Nice, a coup in Turkey, and an Italian constitutional referendum to give government more authority.

Rohac warns that the closer Europe moves toward authoritarianism, the less likely Europe will be able to deal with coming problems. But don’t expect Europe to fall in a blaze of smoke and gunfire.

“The EU does not have to implode dramatically in order to become irrelevant,” Rohac writes in the European edition of Politico. He suggests proponents of liberal democracy, start extolling its traditional virtues in a way that resonates in this new and modern era — “internationalist nationalism.”

A genuine commitment to prosperity and success of one’s own country, they must argue, goes hand in hand with the embrace of openness, economic dynamism and globalization. … visceral, zero-sum nationalism … offers only a nostalgia for a past that never really existed. Its chimeric proposals — of industrial jobs that are never displaced by foreign competition or technological change, stable social hierarchies, ethnic homogeneity — are the fastest route to economic stagnation and backwardness.

Internationalist nationalism, by contrast, has a strong track record. It has been at heart of the success of open societies, and it is much more powerful than the variety offered by Europe’s far-right movements. Instead of trying to project fear, it encourages other countries to emulate it by embracing the rule of law, government accountability, economic dynamism, innovation.

The effects of this brand of nationalism can been seen in how the allure of the West helped transform the transitional economies of Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Today, we can still see it at work in places such as Ukraine or Georgia. With some luck and the right political choices, the West still has an opportunity to be “a shining city on a hill” for many other aspiring liberal democracies around the world.

Read the rest of Rohac’s article on “internationalist nationalism.”