By MRUNMAYI JOSHI, political columnist
In recent years, there has been a resurgence in nationalistic politics, specifically the far-right populism that swept leaders like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Vladimir Putin into office. This sort of nationalism often manifests itself in policies that are anti-immigration and anti-trade—in short, modern nationalism tends to isolate countries. Most educated people tend to decry nationalism as a narrow-minded, backward ideology that prioritizes blind loyalty to one’s country over basic ideals like human rights and justice. However, despite its bad reputation, nationalism is not necessarily a movement in support of suffering and short-sightedness. In fact, the core principles of nationalism are almost universally admirable: economic strength, welfare of the people, and promotion of freedom. When harnessed and kept true to its ideals, nationalism can increase support for necessary actions and raise national morale
The divisive rhetoric prior to the First World War and the outright fascism and genocide that led to the Second World War has put a bad taste in the mouths of most regarding nationalism. Before WWI, most European countries had built up a sense of rabid nationalism and militarism, leading to a war sparked by just one assassination. Around fifteen years later, fascist and military leaders in countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, and Japan pledged to lift their respective nations out of the Great Depression and swore that, once rebuilt, the countries would be powerful enough to take control of others. In the case of Germany, the extreme nationalism led to a horrific genocide. This hateful nationalism alienated most from the concept.
However, these forms of nationalism were just that: extreme. Nationalism does not have to elevate a country at the expense of others. In fact, it can instead be a force for integrity. If the Axis Powers used nationalism to their advantage, so did the Allies. The nationalism exhibited during World War II was one of the Allies’ greatest successes, as this nationalism propelled the United States out of its isolationist state after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 and led the nation to take its place on the national stage. Without the immense support for the war, victory would have been unlikely. Another example of positive American nationalism was the moon landing in 1969. In 1961, John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, and the nation delivered. NASA poured more than $25 billion into the project, according to the NASA History Office. On the fateful day of July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped down, the United States was awed by its own courage and capability. Every person living in the United States, no matter their differences, was brought together by this incredible event. Collective nationalism can often spur development and encourage justice by increasing people’s love for and pride in their country’s values.
Economic nationalism is oftentimes considered the least problematic aspect of nationalism. Its agenda, which involves high protective tariffs and promotion of domestic businesses, has become a conservative pillar. Many argue that increasing trade barriers can decrease national trade and lead to trade wars, like the current battle between the United States and China. However, raising trade barriers and enacting other nationalistic policies can actually benefit the economy. For example, Trump is wellknown for his economic nationalism, and many of his critics complain that the numerous trade conflicts incited by his administration are rendering the American economy vulnerable. Yet the bull market is now in its tenth year and is showing no signs of slowing down. According to Bloomberg, the GDP is projected to grow by 2.4% this year. Therefore, although Trump’s trade tactics are controversial, they are successful. And what’s more, economic nationalism is not limited to conservatives or Republicans, nor is it universally unpopular. During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt also engaged in economic nationalism. At the London Economic Conference in 1933, Roosevelt took the country off the international gold standard, therefore artificially inflating the dollar and putting more currency into American pockets. In addition, all of Roosevelt’s welfare initiatives, with price tags in the billions of dollars, were examples of economic nationalism. Roosevelt’s welfare initiatives promoted domestic business and improvement over over trade with other countries. Because of these initiatives, the economy started to recover slowly but steadily until the advent of World War II, after which unemployment decreased rapidly. Economic nationalism does not have to mean isolation. Rather, it supports focusing on one’s own country. Not only can economic nationalism strengthen the economy when it is doing well, but it can also build up the economy when it is weak.
Whether one supports it or not, nationalism is a growing force in the current day. After all, the main unit of modern political power is the nation-state, and nationalism is therefore inevitable. What is important to recognize is that not all forms of nationalism are the extremist, supremacist, and exclusive forms that are given the most attention. There is a middle ground on every issue, and on nationalism it is this: inclusive nationalism. Coined by Dartmouth College, this phrase refers to a form of nationalism that most countries practice today: a system in which people are brought together by values, not identity, and in which being loyal to one’s country is more about pride and respect than about resentment for other countries. Instead of trying to pretend nationalism will go away, or making it extremism, both politicians and citizens alike should be embracing its best forms.