June 3, 2019


Don't Let Trump Win All the Nationalists: Loyalty to a nation-state, especially when tempered by more universal values, is a force for good. (Tyler Cowen, May 30, 2019, Bloomberg)

Nationalism's reputation was already low among intellectuals when President Donald Trump claimed the label for himself. "You know what I am?" the president said at a political rally last year. "I'm a nationalist, OK? Nationalist. Use that word."

In response, Harvard historian Jill Lepore published a column titled "Don't Let Nationalists Speak for the Nation," in which she wrote: "Nationalism is an abdication of liberalism. It is also the opposite of patriotism." Both of those claims would probably confuse the American people (not to mention me), or seem outright objectionable.

All of which raises the question: What might a sane nationalism look like -- a nationalism broadly consistent with a centrist cosmopolitanism?

I start with a primary commitment to cosmopolitanism and the notion that borders are morally arbitrary. A person is no better or worse if he or she was born on one side or the other of the Rio Grande. For most of human history, of course, such borders either did not exist or were not enforced. If I see a bystander drowning in a lake, I feel an obligation to help; it would never occur to me to first ask about citizenship. And don't tell Donald Trump, but I don't even feel compelled to root for the U.S. in the Olympics.

The plot thickens, however, when considering more practical political issues. This is a world where just about all of the habitable territory has been carved up into nation-states. Regardless of whether that is your moral ideal, it is not a system likely to change anytime soon. Furthermore, at least since the end of World War II, this system has performed pretty well. Living standards have risen greatly, progress has spread and, for the most part, liberty and democracy have expanded. The recognition of these facts follows readily from a doctrine that I call practical nationalism.

As Jonah Goldberg often says, when you have to qualify your support by saying you mean the good kind of nationalism you're conceding that Nationalism is evil.

Posted by at June 3, 2019 7:32 PM