Liberalism vs. conservatism has been replaced by globalization vs. nationalism in America today. At least that is what George Friedman asserts in his Nov. 30, 2016, “Friedman’s Weekly” article entitled, “Nationalism, Internationalism and the New Politics.”
Before we examine Friedman’s claim, we need to define some terms from the fourth edition of “The American Heritage Dictionary.”
Liberalism: “A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.”
Conservatism: “A political philosophy or attitude emphasizing respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism, and opposition to sudden change in the established order.”
Globalism (Globalization): 1. “The process of going to a more interconnected world.” 2. “The process of making a world economy dominated by capitalist models.”
Nationalism: 1. “Devotion to the interests or culture of one’s nation.” 2. “The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.”
Nationalism was a major factor in both World War I and World War II. The Germans, the Japanese, and the Italians set out to conquer the world, with their emphasis on racial and national superiority. The results were catastrophic, with millions dying, cities and factories destroyed, and millions left homeless, facing death from starvation and disease.
The Great Depression of the 1930s that preceded and helped cause World War II saw the rise of protectionism and the collapse of international trade, deepening the depression and throwing millions out of work.
After World War II, the United States abandoned its nationalism and isolation. Its leaders set out to refashion the world into a globalist model where free trade, low tariffs and economic prosperity for the whole world became the new standard.
Alliances, both military and economic, became the order of the day to combat communism.
Since World War II, the world’s economies and politics have become more interconnected and interdependent. The creation of the Marshall Plan, the U.N., NATO, CENTO and ASEAN are examples of this move toward connecting the world in alliances.
The Soviet Union’s demise in 1991 seemed to validate the belief in globalism.
Communism had collapsed because it could not match the prosperity of Western economies. After 1991, even greater efforts were expended to open up more markets. Globalism became the new orthodoxy, according to Friedman. Out of this increased interdependence grew the European Union and NAFTA. This period of reduced regulations and unfettered capitalism lasted from 1991 to 2008.
Capitalism tends to go to excess. Eventually, its weaknesses became apparent as blue-collar jobs in America moved overseas in search of cheaper labor. The super-wealthy who benefited from globalism saw themselves as citizens of the world, rather than as Americans, British or Germans. Meanwhile, incomes and jobs of the middle class and the poor either stagnated or disappeared.
Globalism began to lose favor in Europe with the British citizens voting to leave the European Union and with the choice of Donald Trump as America’s president-elect in 2016. Those who voted for him had seen too many social changes: gay marriage, LGBT rights and immigrants’ welfare seemed more important to the government than the lives of rural Americans. Immigrants were seen as a threat, not only economically, but also culturally. With the increase in Muslims in America and fear of extreme Islam due to al-Qaeda and ISIS, many Americans turned away from globalism to nationalism and anti-immigration.
In the process, according to Friedman, the distinctions between liberalism and conservatism faded. Social issues have taken the place of economics. The financial crisis of 2008 clearly showed the weaknesses of interdependence. We are in the beginning phases of globalism being replaced by nationalism.
Today, both the Democrats and the Republicans are in disarray. Neither party quite knows how to deal with the changes and shifts in thinking. Although the Republicans will soon control the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court, they are divided between the ruling elites and the blue-collar and rural voters who propelled the Republicans into power. They are struggling to adapt. Meanwhile, the Democrats are criticizing each other for failing to care about their former base – blue-collar workers – and for being so out of touch with America’s changing mood.
We humans naturally tend toward extremes. For 70 or so years since the end of World War II, the world rejected nationalism and favored globalism. But 2008 marked the end of the expansion of globalization. Now we are witnessing the return of nationalism. As Friedman predicts, “Nationalism may not simply triumph, but internationalism (globalism) cannot stay the way it is.”
What we will look like, as a nation, in four years is anybody’s guess.
The times, they are a-changin’– again.