Thursday, 11 January 2018

Disappreciating Nationalism
I love America and am grateful to be a citizen. However, I’m really more of a globalist than a nationalist. This is largely due to the progressive culture I’ve been immersed in most of my life, which tends to view nationalism and patriotism as slightly embarrassing, and even somewhat suspect.
                       - Steve McIntosh, "Appreciating the Upside of Nationalism"
Steve McIntosh is co-founder and president of the Institute for Cultural Evolution and a proponent of Integral Theory.  He recently posted an essay titled "Appreciating the Upside of Nationalism" (click here to read the full text).  The following is an expanded version of my response to his piece.
I usually find SM's take on cultural issues enlightening.  Not this time.  The essay, which compares and contrasts nationalism and globalism, is disappointing in its vague use of the terms and lack of rigor.  It offers no definition of 'nationalism' or 'globalism,' rendering the comparison of the two just about useless. 
To be blunt, I can think of almost nothing good to say about nationalism, usually understood as an attitude of positive regard towards one's own nation-state to the exclusion of others.  Expressed in a fan's rooting for a country's team in the Olympics, nationalism is harmless enough, I suppose.  But except as a rallying cry for overthrowing or preventing domination by another country, nationalism is irrational.  It is a form of ethnocentrism, by definition narrow and exclusive, too easily given to hostility towards other nations and ethnicities, often tainted by racism and/or religious bias.  Wars, ethnic cleansing, or genocide are too often the results, as in the horrors suffered by the Rohingya in Myanmar as I write, not to mention the horrors already perpetrated and more to come from Trump's "America First" project.
Despite the ascendancy of a xenophobic, extreme nationalist to the presidency and the white nationalism Trump has unleashed onto the streets of the nation's cities, McIntosh professes reluctance to give up "nationalistic patriotism,".  Both nationalism and globalism, McIntosh thinks, can be embraced if one understands them as an "interdependent polarity."  He means by this that nationalism requires globalism and vice-versa.  Healthy versions of both work interactively to produce optimal conditions for human life in the 21st century.  This is almost certainly wrong. 
Where is a healthy version of nationalism to be found today that is not at the same time naive about the historical reality of the nation-state?  Certainly not in the upsurge of right-wing populism, neo-Nazism, and various separatist movements around the world. Nor in the historically ignorant appeals of liberals to "the real values on which our nation was founded." The nation McIntosh loves was discovered by thieves and murderers, and founded by slaveowners. The US has never been totally honest about its history and has never come to terms with it, as Germany mostly has, for example.
Nationalism today is particularly irrational since most nation states are multicultural.  What exactly is the national identity of a Caucasian citizen of the United States, a Muslim immigrant, a Latino undocumented worker, a Member of the (black) Nation of Islam, a football player who takes a knee in protest about racist police, or a Trump voter who yearns for the return of the Confederacy?  What is a Canadian in an officially multicultural country that recognizes Quebec and aboriginal peoples as "distinct nations?"  National identity is a dangerous delusion, especially in a globalizing world that is making national boundaries irrelevant to economic activities and cultural interactions. 
If globalism means more than global integration of communication, transportation, banking systems, and trade deals - what is usually called 'globalization' - if it means instead a postmodern embrace of the entire planet and its inhabitants as the ultimate locus of ethical concern, then nationalism and globalism are not an "interdependent polarity."  Their relationship is hierarchical, as any integralist* of SM's stature should realize. Globalism in this sense transcends nationalism but also includes it in the way all postmodern phenomena include the modern.  That is not interdependence.  Nationalism can thrive quite nicely without globalism, as the current upsurge in right-wing populism worldwide demonstrates.  But the reverse is not true.  Globalism requires nationalism as the earlier stage out of which it has itself developed.  It includes it by accepting the stage structure of the nation state as a political necessity, but rejects the exclusionary, ethnocentric psychology and culture that it inevitably produces in the populations of less mature countries. 
At its worst, nationalism is a political ideology that, as philosopher A.C. Grayling observes, "is a recipe for disaster.....of more use to demagogues and separatists than anyone else" …. as evidenced by the current state of the world.
* For information on Integral Theory, click here. 


  1. You are liable to get hate mail for this.

  2. Transcend and include. The nation state is an improvement on what went before. Having the protection of an independent judiciary, an executive and a legislative allowed cultural flourishing. In its fledgling state, the nation state was the vehicle through which the people evolved and flourished. It seems only right and proper that this evolution should be acknowledged and celebrated. When the nationalism then moves away from its roots and becomes an excuse for " different and so better than", then it has been hijacked for less than helpful purposes.