Sunday, August 14, 2016

Finding the Middle Ground

One of the key debates of the present moment is the role of the nation-state.  Two recent pieces suggest that there's a way of reconciling the nation-state with a proactive role in international affairs.

The first is by James Poulos, who argues that we don't have to choose between "nationalism" and "globalism":
It was the Cold War that first made this clear. Right-wing critics of the patriotic internationalist vision of William F. Buckley and his allies saw deep and insidious costs to the U.S. defining itself as the great all-or-nothing adversary of worldwide communism. Beyond the evident risks and burdens, they saw the Cold War as one more step down the road that changed the U.S. from a national republic to a global quasi-empire, one whose unaccountable, cosmopolitan regime would inevitably infect every aspect of life here at home, not just in the far-flung imperium.
Fatally, that change wouldn't defeat the progressive left, but rather give it untrammeled power in the homeland. After all, it was Woodrow Wilson who first proposed that American nationalism demanded globalism — a doctrine designed to fundamentally transform America into an all-but-anti-nationalist country, a proving ground and laboratory for the global regime envisioned by the post-Wilsonian progressive elite.
To be sure, for Buckley and Co., there was a risk that elements of the left could push such an agenda. But there was a certainty that neither radical globalism nor reactionary nationalism were acceptable doctrines — because neither squared with the dual identity that has always been in America's cultural and political DNA. For traditional mainstream conservatives, American exceptionalism is defined as much by our nationality as by our unique and indispensable role in the world — however its contours and character may be colored over time.
The second is by Andrew A. Michta.  Michta notes some of the broader disruptive tendencies currently working their way through Western political systems.  Many advocates of globalization have also called for a transnationalism, but an anti-transnationalist backlash seems to be building.  Contrary to the assumptions of some transnationalists, Michta argues that the nation-state actually helps reinforce the broader global order:
Notwithstanding the many volumes written on the alleged arrival of a post-Westphalian era, globalization and the persistence of strong nation-states are in fact not contradictory: The former defines the current stage of capitalist development, while the latter is the territorial political unit that organizes land and population. The past three decades have been marked not only by the opening of national markets but also by fierce competition between nation-states. If anything, strong states ensure the stability that is critical to the smooth functioning of the global market, and perhaps here the globalists and the nationalists could actually find room to compromise. Yet part of the problem is that our elites seem unable to divorce the idea of nationalism from the historical narrative of fascism. Though seemingly counterintuitive, this accounts for their inability to recognize that the current wave could in fact be a positive restorative force reasserting the unity of Western democratic nations, provided we begin to seek a genuine consensus on the importance of common reference points in society. To do so would invalidate the most established and often cherished narratives about the direction of global change that envision and celebrate a world in which nation-states continue to surrender sovereignty to international norm-enforcing institutions and supranational projects. Simply put, the vision of a postmodern Europe in particular, as defined over the past three decades, cannot be reconciled with the experience of 21st-century nationalism, for the former envisions societies where national identities rooted in a shared culture and history are replaced by a generic concept of citizenship bridging between multiethnic and multicultural societal enclaves. A compromise would require some affirmation of a larger national culture, and most importantly a movement away from ethnic group politics in order to arrest the centrifugal forces that have balkanized Western societies for decades.
The point he makes about the role of national fellowship as a way of countering "ethnic group politics" is especially worth considering.

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