Is a new “age of nationalism already upon us?” That premise will be debated in Washington, July 14-16, at the “kick-off event” of the Edmund Burke Foundation, a fledgling public affairs institute dedicated to “strengthening the principles of national conservatism in Western and other democratic countries.”
Appearing on stage will be dozens of conservative luminaries from government, think tanks, media and academia. A sampling: National Security Adviser John Bolton, Sen. Josh Hawley, former National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton, Peter Theil, J.D. Vance, Tucker Carlson, Rich Lowry, Christopher DeMuth, Michael Barone and Amity Shlaes. (Full disclosure: I’m on one panel.)
The impresario behind this extravaganza is Yoram Hazony, an Israeli political philosopher, author of “The Virtue of Nationalism,” which has caused quite a stir since its publication last year.
Libertarians, liberal internationalists and neo-conservatives are among those who have responded harshly to both the book and its author. Max Boot, a conservative who transmogrified into a progressive columnist for The Washington Post, recently denounced Mr. Hazony as a “Trumpian ideologue.”
It is true that President Trump has referred to himself as a nationalist. “We’re not supposed to use that word,” he added, making clear that he would persist in doing so.
A simple definition of nationalism: A world order based on independent, sovereign, self-ruling, nation-states. I surmise that Mr. Trump uses the term to mean patriotism combined with adamant opposition to globalism — a term that implies the surrender of sovereignty to supranational organizations.
Do not confuse globalism with globalization. If you purchase a pencil containing graphite from Brazil, softwood from South Africa and an eraser from Malaysia, you’ve got yourself a product of globalization. That’s not what anti-globalists object to.
Four years ago this month, President Obama audaciously attempted to further the globalist project. Unable to win congressional approval for his nuclear weapons deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, he approached the U.N. Security Council and accepted its endorsement instead. It is on this basis that the clerical regime now charges that Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement violated international law.
Globalism has meant empowering U.N. agencies and other transnational organizations to lead on significant issues. Take, for example, the U.N. Human Rights Council. Its members include many of the world’s worst human rights abusers, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan.
One more example just for giggles: This year, the executive board of U.N. Women, which is supposed to promote gender equality, elected Yemen as its vice president. It happens that Yemen last year ranked 149th out of 149 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report.
Globalists believe in multinationalism, which has come to mean not pluralism but moral relativism combined with a reluctance to defend one’s own culture. The logic is compelling: If no culture can be judged better than another, why should it matter which cultures live and which cultures die?
Multiculturalism is a unique historical experiment, one in which only Western nations are participating. In the Middle East, more and more nations (with the notable exception of Israel) are becoming “monocultural” as Christians and other minorities are persecuted, slaughtered and forced to flee. And I’m aware of no way in which the rulers of China, Russia or North Korea are practicing multiculturalism or surrendering sovereignty.
I suspect that contributing to nationalism’s appeal has been the rise of progressive anti-patriotism. Colin Kaepernick and his fans reject not just specific policies or politicians, but the American flag, symbol of the American nation, which they regard as undeserving of affection, loyalty or even respect.
Such people — one might call them neo-tribalists — seek to diminish individual rights, championing group rights instead. Favored racial, ethnic, gender and sexual-orientation communities are to have enhanced rights.
Disfavored demographic subdivisions — because they’re “privileged” they aren’t “communities” — are instructed to self-flagellate, repent, open their wallets and shut the hell up.
You might be thinking: Doesn’t history teach us that nationalism carries dangers; that it can be taken to fanatical extremes? It does. But if we reject tribalism and globalism, and if we’re not keen on imperialism, what is the preferable alternative? By the way, history also teaches us that religion carries dangers and can be taken to fanatical extremes. Yet, atheistic regimes, e.g. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and China, have hardly been paragons of virtue.
Among the new-age nationalists (neo-nationalists?) there is one area of sharp disagreement. Some (Tucker Carlson comes to mind) are isolationist. They oppose U.S. interference in the affairs of other nation-states, even those committing heinous crimes and intent on doing America damage.
A second group (John Bolton comes to mind) believe the United States must be strong enough to deter its enemies or defeat them should they persist in crossing America’s red lines.
I find myself in the anti-isolationist camp. I would go further. While I don’t think the United States should be the world’s policeman, I do think that America needs to be the sheriff. The difference: A sheriff doesn’t concern himself with penny-ante misdemeanors. But he may organize a posse to bring the worst outlaws to justice.
And, if he has to, he will go it alone. I’m reminded of “High Noon,” the classic 1952 Western, in which Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper, finds to his dismay that the townsfolk lack either the courage or the competence to stand up to the villainous gang riding into town. So the sheriff (OK, movie buffs, I know he was a marshal) waits in the deserted street under a midday sun for the final showdown. If your nationality is American, how can you not find that inspiring?
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.