Debate | What Do We Need More Of—Nationalism or Globalism?

March, 25 2019

Which is better, globalism or nationalism? Which does the world need more of right now?

Everything else being equal, globalism is better—globalism coupled with policies within each country that deal with its negative effects on national economies. Globalism has two effects: It increases wealth and makes it more unequal. Nationalism looks better to a lot of people because it doesn’t cause the problems of income inequality that globalism does, but globalism with appropriate policies to deal with its tendency to exacerbate inequality would be better overall. It’s also better from a moral standpoint. If you’re going to fix the worst kinds of disease and poverty worldwide, you need the growth that comes with globalism.

What accounts for the rise of nationalist voices worldwide?

It’s a backlash against the economic inequality produced by globalization. This is the second time in 90 years that the inability of capitalism to satisfy the needs of the entire population has threatened democracy. In the 1930s, in Europe, it led to the rise of anti-democratic regimes and to fascism. It affected the United States too, in the populism represented by Huey Long. Then the West adopted Keynesian economic policies, which produced growth. For 50 years, growth was good for everybody in society, and democracy flourished. But after the 1970s wealth became more and more unequally distributed, so you see the rise of anti-globalist sentiments again. Immigration is also a factor, particularly in Europe. But the Yellow Vests in France, for instance, are more concerned with economics than with immigration.

What are the dangers of a globalism that goes too far? Of a nationalism that goes too far?

Globalism taken too far, without policies to mitigate its effects, is unfair to a lot of hard-working people who don’t have the skills, education or simply the luck to be in the sectors that benefit from globalization. They suffer harm, and the reaction to that harm undermines people’s belief in democracy. The danger of nationalism taken too far is first of all the mistreatment of many in the society. Nationalism always poses a terrible danger to anyone who is not part of the ethnic majority. It also retards efforts to alleviate poverty throughout the world. Of course, if you think only the people in your country count, that’s less of a problem, but I wouldn’t consider that an acceptable moral view. And third, nationalism is bad for your economy, because openness helps efficiency, and immigration helps the workforce. Much of the economic success of the United States comes from its nature as a country of immigrants, because immigrants are the most industrious people in any society. Lazy people don’t immigrate. So both openness to immigration and competitive exposure to the rest of the world are helpful for prosperity. Nationalism as it’s been practiced is defined by opposition to both.

Is globalism anti-democratic? Do globalist policies necessarily lose touch with voters?

Not at all. The negative economic impact of globalization on some people leads to a rejection of democracy: They blame democracy, as we’ve seen in many places, but that’s an indirect rather than a direct effect. Globalism supported by the right economic policies should have no conflict with democracy.

Do universalist norms such as human rights and religious rights conflict with nationalist aims? Are minority populations (such as Jews) safer under nationalist regimes or in a globally interdependent world?

Globalist regimes certainly enforce human rights norms better. Theoretically, you could provide protection for any group under any system, but statistically there’s a high correlation between nationalist sentiment and mistreatment of minorities. There are also some logical links. Nationalism devalues anyone who doesn’t live in your country. Though most people are somewhere in between, extreme globalists care about people in all countries equally, and extreme nationalists don’t pay any attention to anyone outside their own country. So obviously that means less concern for the rights of people different from yourself.

Is Zionism nationalism?

Yes. Zionism shows how nationalism can also be global. It’s an inherently more globalized form of nationalism because it’s not about the physical borders but about the people, who are scattered geographically. Nationalism when you’re under threat is likely to be more benign than when you’re dominant. It’s one thing to protect your own people against threat; it’s another to disregard the needs of other peoples. The Netanyahu strain of Zionism has become more assertive even as the threat to Jews has somewhat decreased. There is still some threat. Israel is still the only national group surrounded by people officially pledged to its destruction. That’s one thing that distinguishes Zionism from other nationalisms. I don’t recall any attempt to wipe out all the French people in the world.

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