Nationalism in on the rise in every region of the earth. In the face of an increasingly globalized world, the banners of tribe, tradition, and particularism are being unfolded in unabashed defiance. From Paris to Peoria the battle-cry is heard: Preserve our sovereignty!
Nationalism has had a bad reputation ever since the 1930s, when it was associated with colored- shirt-wearing thugs, militarism, and war: raging across Europe, it ignited a horrific conflagration. The pan-European idea was created largely in reaction to this bloody history, and yet the result has been a counter-backlash of nationalism, a new sort that has little if anything to do with its historical antecedents.
In the West, this current wave of nationalism, for the most part, is relatively pacific: instead of promoting aggression across borders it is intent on making those borders impenetrable. The old Bismarckian nationalism was statist and super-centralist as well as expansionist; the new nationalism is often (though not always) libertarian, decentralist, and uninterested in foreign adventurism (i.e. “isolationist”).
The best example of this is the new nation of Catalonia, which is seeking to part peaceably with Spain. With their own language, a long tradition going back to medieval times, and a relatively healthy economy compared to the rest of the Iberian peninsula, the Catalonians long to break free. The Spanish central authorities have reacted with all-too-predictable hostility, threatening to send in the tanks – and the European Union (EU) has taken Madrid’s side, declaring that an independent Catalonia will be isolated both economically and diplomatically.
Here is a classic case of the new nationalism in its purest form: arrayed against it are not only the centralists in Madrid but the super-centralists in Brussels.
If the Catalonians exemplify the new nationalism, then the EU represents the hyper-centralist and imperialist character of globalism –an open conspiracy by the transnational elites to crush all particularities beneath the iron heel of homogeneity. Indeed, one of the EU’s intellectual architects, Alexandre Kojeve, longed for a “universal homogenous state,” which he believed was inevitable. (Kojeve, by the way, inspired Francis Fukuyama’s vision of the “end of history,” which the neocons took to heart.) In the wake of World War II, as the nations of Europe heaved themselves up out of the rubble, European intellectuals and policymakers sought out a program that would make the rise of nationalism impossible. The “family of Europe” fit the bill.
The irony of this is that the German National Socialists predated Kojeve and his intellectual comrades in pursuing this vision of a united Europe, utilizing the memory of Charlemagne and his Holy Roman Empire in their propaganda. One division of the Waffen SS was dubbed the “Charlemagne Division,” the idea being that this would recruit Frenchmen to the Nazi cause. The British Union of Fascists, founded by Sir Oswald Mosley, fully embraced the “European idea”: the Mosleyites founded the first activist organization for European unity, “Europe a Nation.”
On the left, the idea of a federalized Europe has a long history: the Marxists have long called for a “Socialist United States of Europe,” the abstract propaganda of the various Trotskyist sects being the prime contemporary example. The center-left Social Democrats took this idea from the Marxist arsenal of slogans and gave it concrete form in the shape of the European Movement International, which embraced a wide spectrum of politicians and cultural figures: EMI agitated for a single European entity, including especially a European central bank. This agitation, which occurred almost exclusively among the elites, resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Rome by West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Luxembourg, and creation of the European Economic Community, in 1957.
The process of economic and political integration was mostly completed by 1993, with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, the creation of the euro, and subsequently the first sessions of the European parliament. Gradually, the chiefly economic character of what was formerly called the European Community gave way to a more explicitly political and federalist structure, as the huge EU bureaucracy began to take shape and proposals for a pan-European diplomatic and military apparatus were concretized.
As NATO was born as the West’s answer to the Warsaw Pact, so the European Community was conceived as the answer to Comecon, created by the Soviets to consolidate the economies of their East European empire. And when the Soviet Union fell, the EU and NATO moved to expand eastward, until today they have absorbed most of the former Warsaw Pact countries and are aggressively moving to extend their influence even deeper into Eurasia. The EU is, essentially, Europe without Russia, and Washington certainly wants to keep it that way: the freezing of Euro-Russian relations over the Ukrainian civil unrest, and the war preparations engaged in by the NATO leadership, have renewed the bad old days of the cold war. Once again the specter of a continent-wide conflict hangs over Europe – ironic, since the creation of the EU was supposedly premised on preventing this very outcome.
Yet all is not well within the borders of this new European Empire: in England, the people chafe under edicts issued from Brussels. In the southern European states, which aren’t in the best of shape economically, demands for austerity are met with sullen (if impotent) defiance. And separatist movements, from Catalonia to Flanders to Transdniester are rising up all over the place, centrifugal forces that threaten to tear down the lofty visionary schemes of the Pan-Europeanist elites.
The arrogance and spendthrift policies of the EU bureaucracy have spawned a backlash on the left and the right. In Greece and Spain, left-wing anti-EU parties have arisen and gained popular support. In France, Britain, Germany, and throughout Eastern Europe, Euro-skeptic right-wing populist parties threaten to displace the traditional center-right.
In Britain, the pro-EU Tory party leadership was forced to promise a referendum on EU membership, or else lose masses of voters to the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose leader, Nigel Farage, advocates leaving the EU. In a bid to ameliorate the rebellion within the ranks of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister David Cameron negotiated with the Brussels bureaucracy in an effort to gain concessions meant to preserve British sovereignty. He did not succeed, however, and now the Euro-skeptics are rising up, with popular London mayor Boris Johnson coming out for “Brexit.”
On the British left, Jeremy Corbyn, the elected leader of the Labor Party, has vowed to fight to keep Britain in the EU, but there is a coalition of hard left types who want out. The Euro-skeptics are split into three groups, one associated with UKIP, another one leftist, and yet another one that preaches “unity.” Polls so far show the pro-EU forces have the upper hand, but this could change as more Conservative Party figures come out for leaving and the hard left galvanizes its forces in spite of Corbyn’s position.
The EU is an attempt by the European elites to forge a “nation” out of nothing: that is, out of a concept that is not shared by ordinary Europeans. The campaign to create a “European” patriotism has fallen flat on its face, and instead the EU is widely reviled as a self-perpetuating gaggle of bureaucrats intent on bailing out the banks, fattening their own expense accounts, and imposing unworkable edicts from on high.
Just as the sea erodes the hardest rock, so the worldwide nationalist tide threatens to erode supra-national institutions like the EU at their very foundations. Indeed, all empires are coming under threat from the populist uprisings that are springing up from Paris to Peoria: they, and not the carefully constructed artifices of globalist elites, are the wave of the future.
And it isn’t just Europe that’s rising up: here in America, a populist movement against globalism is on the march. On the left, activists are beginning to challenge the "centrist" Establishment of the Democratic party, challenging our interventionist foreign policy. On the right, there’s a real rebellion, with the frontrunner going so far as to declare that the Bush administration lied us into war!
No matter what party you support, or what you think of the candidates, it can’t be denied that change is in the air. People are questioning long-held assumptions, and our foreign policy of global intervention is being scrutinized – and criticized. And we here at Antiwar.com are not only covering this tumult, we are working day and night to turn it to the advantage of the cause of peace.
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.