The Danger of Nationalism to the Development of a New Humanism
In an increasingly globalized world, the last thing we need is a resurgence of nationalism
Ours is an increasingly globalized world. This is, potentially, a good thing. Increasingly, old prejudices and fears based on which side of an imaginary line one happens to be born on are suspect. Expansion of global communication networks and relatively easy and safe travel all over the world are generating a small world consciousness. Human beings living in one section of the world find that they have a lot more in common with human beings living in another section of the world. Our worldview is becoming more multi-cultural. The strange rituals performed in other lands seem less strange, and our own customs subject to scrutiny. As we increase our contact with other peoples our sense of global community increases and our understanding of what it means to be human becomes more expansive and more inclusive. The development of a global culture could, ultimately, be the greatest gift to humanity and the surest road to world peace.
We see this in the Ukrainian conflict. Obama’s dismissal of Russian seizure of the Crimea as a regional problem holds little sway. After all, at the height of the Nation State Era, a regional conflict in Serbia resulted in the first global war. Now, however, mobilizing armies is considered by most to be unnecessary and ill advised. Our economic interdependence is a far more efficient and effective deterrent. Instead of a devastating war, Putin has, under economic and cultural pressure from the international community, abandoned his expansionist rhetoric and has accepted the election of a pro-western president in Ukraine.
This is especially true in Europe. A hundred years ago, Europe punctuated a forty year period of relative peace and prosperity with what was, up to that point, the most devastating war in the history of the world. This bloody record, however, was outdone just twenty years later. Nationalism was the common thread of two world wars that tarnished the twentieth century as the most bloody in human history. A rather centrist nationalism in the early 20th century created the militarism and patriotic zeal that conned young men into dying in the trenches. A generation later, a more extremist nationalism in the form of Fascism and Nazism thrust Europe into World War II. Since then, however, Europe emerged from a period of ideological, Cold War division relatively unscathed for more than seventy years. Yes, nationalist disruptions have emerged here and there, but with far less destructive consequence.
That’s why yesterday’s European Union elections were not good news for human progress. A retrenchment of nationalism is the last thing we need in the face of the progress that the world, especially Europe, has made in the last few generations. The European Union is not a perfect entity. Indeed, it’s imbued with serious flaws as those who designed it were not ready to let go of their nationalist aspirations. Just like all institutions, however, the EU is a work in progress. Despite this, its accomplishments have been significant. The political and economic norms put into place by the EU constitute the greatest unification of diverse cultures in history. That being said, it’s more than disturbing that those the least invested in a European union should win so big in yesterday’s elections.
There was a time when nationalism served the purpose of liberation for oppressed people. Such opportunities are rare, today. Our world is characterized by globalization of human institutions and interests. A global political economy is well under way. A global culture is almost a certainty. More significantly, the most pressing problems facing humanity today are not confined between national borders. A globalized economy means that disruptions taking place in one country have negative ramifications throughout the world. The quest for human rights and freedom in an age when the corporate elite can assert power from anywhere in the world will require great communication, cultural empathy and understanding and organization among all peoples throughout the world. Unstable governments, reeling from the impact of colonialism and exploitation from generations ago are of human interest and global sympathy. Human travel has always been a vector of disease, requiring greater cooperation among all nations if we are to avoid a future scourge. Most pressing, the specter of global climate change requires a global effort, with each nation doing its part not just for the sake of national interest, but the very preservation of humanity.
All of these human endeavors are threatened by a rising tide of nationalism.
The elections in the European Union are the result of the uncertainties inherent in our current world. In the face of the Great Recession, the mis-steps of the European Central Bank and regressive national fiscal policies through much of Europe played no small part in creating this uncertainty. Migrations of brown skinned people from the south and former colonies into relatively more prosperous regions of the north are another crucial factor. If there is anything that right-wing nationalists know how to do, it’s exploiting a moment of instability by scapegoating outsiders to frame their false narratives and draw a following. Watch for appeals to retrenching national boundaries, persecution of minority groups and patriotic exposition in the very near future.
In the end, the European Union weathered its currency crisis better than expected. I’ll let the economists elaborate on that. Can the EU now weather the cultural crisis wrought by instability. This may be the ultimate test of this grand experiment. Those invested in a future for humanity should shake at the prospects.