When Britain voted to leave the EU back in June of this year, it confirmed a reality international liberalism seemed daunted to face: nationalism is back, and it’s in full swing.
The phenomenon continued in the US’s Presidential election, where Donald Trump rode the populist wave to beat “status-quo candidate” Hillary Clinton. While the popular vote favored Clinton, it nevertheless showed a new, albeit unanticipated direction in the world’s order and stability.
For those on the side of nationalism, it’s a hurrah against a system that it says has forgotten its citizens in favor of international world order. An order bent on weakening motherlands and strengthening central government. For those on the opposite side, it’s a sign of regression, and a bridge to xenophobia, racism and bigotry.
With talks of closing borders, ending free trade agreements and pulling out of old military alliances, perhaps the Economist had a point when they noted politics no longer comes down to left and right, but between open and closed. Rather, it comes down to an ideology that embraces the world, regardless of flaw, and another that looks to protect and defend from its dangers.
Whether or not that is true, one thing is certain; trends in international politics are changing. Cullen Hendrix, a former political science professor at UNT and a current assistant professor at the University of Denver, said two factors are at play in the rise of global nationalism.
The first is globalization and de-industrialization. Something he said has had a “profoundly negative” effect on the working class, namely white populations in advanced industrial economies.
“The days of plentiful, high school (or not)-to-grave jobs on factory floors are gone,” Hendrix said. “Having been replaced by a service-based economy that doesn’t offer anywhere near the same status of living.”
The second is the change in immigration. A factor Hendrix said in some cases has changed the demographics of countries “rather rapidly.” In Europe it can be largely contributed to the migrant crisis. The Stanford Political Journal says this has led to the “misconception” that migrants are to blame for the economic issues (such as the 2008 economic crisis). This in turn has “bred anger, confusion and fear among Europeans.”
The Next Test for Nationalism
With sharp rises of nationalism in Britain, the US, Turkey, Russia and several European countries, the world looks to the next potential domino: France. In 2017, France will elect a new President to replace socialist François Hollande, who according to Foreign Policy has an approval rating of four percent.
Enter Marine le Pen, president of France’s conservative National Front party and presidential candidate. She has often been compared to Donald Trump, and several pundits see his victory as a positive sign for her chances in France.
This idea has some merit. France has been hit with several terrorist attacks in recent years, as well as an influx of migrants from the Middle East, leading to a frustrated populous. Le Pen has been vocal about an “Islamic crackdown” and wanting to leave the EU (aka Frexit). Something that several analysts, including Hendrix, say would more than likely lead to the EU’s demise, another flagship for globalism.
Then there’s the alternative right, better known as the alt-right, a group that spent years lurking the evaded corners of the internet. The alt-right has been a focus of the media recently due to their white nationalist views.
If this group has a face, it belongs to Richard B. Spencer, a white nationalist and founder of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank. Spencer has recently gained attention for his role in the alt-right, as well as leading a conference earlier this month where attendees were seen in a video saying “Hail Trump!” Trump has denounced the group. However, it is a group Hendrix said isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“The further demographic decline of white Americans, as well as perceived declines in status for white Americans relative to other Americans, suggest that white nationalism may be on the upswing for the foreseeable future,” Hendrix said.
The Future of Nationalism
If this wave of nationalism is anything like it was in the 1930’s, Hendrix said it may create conflicts between major powers. He does note however that it could also lead to the weakening of multilateral institutions (organizations formed between three or more nations).
But while historic trends suggest conflict could be around the corner, it’s hard to say what direction this trend will take. Without knowing the goals of other nations, predictions are difficult. If it works out the way nationalists suggest, it will lead to harmony with everyone minding their own business and being mostly self-contained. If they’re wrong, it could escalate into conflict and interventionist politics. This leaves internationalists with only hope that history is wrong this time.