Posted on February 11, 2017


Nationalism is complicated. One dictionary has seven different meanings, from “spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation” to “a movement, as in the arts, based upon the folk idioms, history, aspirations, etc. of a nation.” Sometimes patriotism and chauvinism are associated with nationalism.

Perhaps the best definition is #5: “the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.”

Today there is a trend towards nationalism and away from globalism in the actions and goals of nations. Or, to be more precise, people—as expressed by their leaders—are tending to look more to the care and feeding of their own gardens and people than to those all around the world, or the globe in today’s argot.

Nationalism is an old animal. Formal students of the phenomenon say the modern iteration began sometime in the nineteenth century. But you can go back easily to Biblical times and ancient history to find the Greeks battling the Persians, the Hebrews battling every people around them it seemed, and on up through the centuries. And they didn’t like each other for a lot of reasons, including culture, language and religion for starters. Modern expressions of nationalism bear a remarkable resemblance.

We have a recurrence of nationalism with the recent inauguration of Donald Trump who promised to “make America great again” and do it by putting America first and recovering our sovereignty from a gaggle of global—what we used to call international, but it’s the same thing—institutions and interests, from those governing tariffs and trade to the environment.

The United Nations is perhaps the best expression of modern globalism. It was preceded by the now defunct League of Nations. Both were born in the 20th century.

The U. N. took on special significance with the advent of the atomic age when it became possible after mid-century for either the United States or the Soviet Union to annihilate each other in a nuclear conflagration.

An international body to settle disputes between nations—the League of Nations, and later, the United Nations—seemed like a good idea to keep the world from going up in a nuclear holocaust.

In fact, the policy of “mutual deterrence” is what kept the Soviet Union and the United States from launching a nuclear strike during the Cold War, roughly late 1940s through the early 1990s. It wasn’t the U. N.

Both nations understood that it was not in their best interests—starting with survival as a people and nation—to start a nuclear war. Neither side would win since even a first strike would be answered almost instantly with a devastating counter attack. It was the age of nuclear deterrence.

The recent exit of Great Britain from the European Union is another expression of contemporary nationalism. Pundits and Cassandras are prophesizing a disaster in the making, claiming Brexit will be tantamount to the beginning of the end of the world, but the Brits got along quite well for centuries on their own. And no doubt they will navigate the perilous waters of nationalism and independence just fine.

Communists, especially in the age of the Soviet Union, roughly in the half century from the 1940s through the 1990s, created an empire of socialism by forcing many people and nationalities into their empire. But the strength of nationalism broke it up, the Ukrainians and dozens of other peoples wanting to go it alone without the suffocating and threatening hand of Moscow on them.

Empires have a way of finally failing, although the Roman Empire lasted for many centuries under different names and forms of control and domination. The old empires of the Bible, like the Assyrians and Babylonians, rose and then fell, usually victims of their pride and arrogance which comes with power. The Hebrews, as a people and a nation, are still with us, testament to both nationalism and, if you are a believer, to the hand of God in the entire matter.

Some expressions of nationalism, like the Nazis in Germany from the 1920s through 1945, can be cruel, racist, deadly and immensely self-centered, marked by ugly expressions of patriotism. Millions were immolated in the Holocaust. Nationalist slogans and sentiments drove a lot of that human disaster.

Nationalism, in fact, is a potent force that can be expressed in both positive and negative fashions, both for good and evil to be perfectly clear. How our new nationalism works out remains to be seen.

Published as “Nationalism Take Hold: Will it Be for Good or Evil” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Jan. 22, 2017






Posted in: History, Politics