Globalism and nationalism have become the ideological divide of the 21st century. Although these two competing divides are alarming to say the least; they are not unique to this century. In late 18th century, President George Washington in his first address to the US Congress said that “A free people…should promote such manufactures as tend to make them independent on others for essential…” Another US Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, wrote, “Every nation ought to endeavor to possess within itself all the essentials of national supply. These comprise the means of subsistence, habitat, clothing and defense.”
This was an articulation of nationalism. By the close of that century, the United States of America had grown insular. Its people were militant in defense of their national interests. It is the existential threat of World War II that jostled them to bother about the rest of the world.
Across the Atlantic, around mid 19th Century, another worldview emerged in Britain. In Free Trade Hall in Manchester, January 15, 1846, a manufacturer, a radical and liberal statesman, Richard Cobden, marveled: “I look farther; I see in the Free Trade principle that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe—drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonisms of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace.”
There is no doubt that Cobden’s speech was articulation of globalism. Not long after this speech, Britain threw open its market systems to the world. Buoyed, the British left for new territories in droves to conquer and establish the British Empire.
What does the foregoing, tell us about human nature? A nation can be compared to a human being. In one sense, humans exist as individuals with individual goals and desires to satisfy. Nevertheless, something happens to the individuals, and instinctively builds up a desire to team up into a group which is far more than a sum of its part. This phenomenon of individual’s self seeming to melt away, and the instinctive propensity to come together, sometimes around ideas, and fighting for the propagation of those ideas is naturally human. Therefore, human beings are both inward and outward looking. They are self-interested and other concerned. They are both global and local.
This duality is natural to humans. The nineteenth Century French Sociologist Emile Durkheim referred to man as ‘Homo Duplex.’ Durkheim believed that man had two levels, the ordinary that seeks the satisfaction of an individual’s bodily desires and the extraordinary that gravitates towards bigger shared ideas. The political and sacred nature of ideas that humans hold have created nationalism and globalism.
The 19th century English libertarian, John Stuart Mill, exhorted that he who knows only his side of the case knows very little. Nationalism is a strong feeling that one’s own country is of primary importance and its interests come first. Nationalists believe that people should be organized at the nation level. They hold that nations should be sovereign, independent and determine their destiny as they see fit. They believe that nationalism can be undermined by the infiltration of other cultural values and beliefs. They are opposed to immigration and multilateral institutions such as NATO, World Bank, IMF and even entities like the European Union.
On the other hand, globalism places the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations. Globalists seek to create a borderless world, where culture, goods, investment and migrations have a free flow. They demand that national governments should make decisions that morally weigh the needs of everyone on the planet earth equally.
What is sacred to globalists is diversity and inclusivity. That is why globalists view nation-state as an arbitrary set up, and imagine a borderless world. They welcome refugees and immigrants; and urge them not to abandon their culture and language; but to integrate so as to form a multicultural society. They champion humane treatment, extension of social welfare and granting of citizenship to refugees and illegal immigrants.
The process of connecting the world and welcoming migrants has disenchanted a large group of nationalists in Europe and the United States. Their resistance is born out of the fear that refugees and migrants are a threat to their space. They argue that the citizens of a country should have the last say on who is admitted into their nation, who becomes their neighbor and share their public goods.
According to the 2018 Pew Research, between 2010 and 2017, migrations from Sub-Saharan Africa have increased tremendously. These migrations target countries that are prosperous and have very strong nationalism such as Sweden, Germany, and Netherlands, among others. The rise in migration is blamed on conflict and pursuit of economic opportunities. While globalists agitate for refugees to be welcomed resettled, nationalists have argued that this stance poses a security threat to destination countries, likelihood of spread of diseases, a strain on public goods, pressure on job opportunities and the likelihood of fueling racism.
One way to understand the resistance to globalism is captured by American socio-psychologist Jonathan Haidt who argues that human nature is badly suited for survival in large communities. Nationalists thus fear a world government. They are scared of a gigantic bureaucracy that is so powerful and pervasive and at the same time removed from individual reach and influence. Their protests may also be informed by the fact that as in the biblical tower of Babel, social engineering may be an existential threat to the sovereignty, independence and identity of the countries as presently constituted.
By George Nyongesa