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America’s Nationalist Awakening and, Nationalism Doesn’t Fit the American Nation

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

A recent article in the New York Times points to what appears to be a Nationalism with a Fascist twist that seems to be emerging in the US, represented in leaders across all three branches: Administrative ( in several Agency heads, Cabinet members, the President, too), Legislative (several Nationalists seem to have been sent to congress by constituents), and Judicial. It seems the US is evolving a Nationalist Party, perhaps with some Fascist tendencies, to join the ranks with the more traditional Conservative (Republican) and Progressive (Democrats, albeit historically, there were also Progressive Republicans. And, the Libertarians seem to be spread around a bit, although some also seem to be joining with the new Nationalist Party. Also, the left end of what used to be the Democratic Party has developed a social twist, as in a Social Democracy? Perhaps that end needs its own party, too. So, we get 4-parties: National, Conservative, Progressive, Social, all based in principles of democracy? What think?

At the same time, opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal by DeMuth (2019) and Galston (2019) suggest the lack of much common ground on the current tendencies to Nationalism (a kind of primal Tribalism, and, again, some with a Fascist tone) at work here in the US and in many other places on this Spaceship Earth. A National Conservatism, which appears to be evolving, which ironically would use Progressive approaches (e.g. Government formed Industrial Policy, due to Market-failure to support Culture in the kind of Nationalism they seem to want) is in the making (see Schuessler, 2019).

On the Conservative Political Isle, DeMuth (2019) points to, in an excerpt from a paper delivered at the National Conservatism Conference in mid-July, 2019, which proposed to integrate Conservatism under the Nationalism banner (while claiming it is failure in the Progressive Political Isle that is leading to Nationalism):

...the mood has moved through the stages of grief from denial to anger to acceptance—acceptance that the nation-state is alive and well, not about to die and make way for global progressivism. To wit:

• The race card and the Nazi card have been played so promiscuously against nationalism proponents that they have lost most of their power. The accusers keep flailing away, but at this point they are only complicating efforts to isolate and condemn the actual white supremacists and anti-Semites in our midst.

• Some liberals acknowledge—or even insist—that fraternal affections and group loyalties are natural and potentially even worthy. Some even show hints of recognizing that social customs and national traditions are a firmer foundation for political order than the ideology of atomized, free-floating individual autonomy.

• Beyond the world of political activists and intellectuals, these propositions have wide appeal, grounded in everyday experience. Even in the midst of all the scare talk, pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that a substantial majority of Americans—yes, even suburban women—have a favorable view of “nationalism” and “America nationalism.”

So we political conservatives, who have been aroused in our own way by the nationalist awakening, have a great opportunity to recast, enlarge and proselytize our ideas. It’s time to move beyond dueling litanies of the nation-state’s past glories on the one hand and horrors on the other.

DeMuth (2019) continues, again, this is the fault of the Progressives:

The ideas conservative nationalists are developing have broad transcultural potential. Modern progressivism has turned against essential precepts of the American liberal tradition, such as equal opportunity and freedom of inquiry, religion and enterprise. We are assimilating them into conservatism, and old-fashioned liberals cannot help but notice.

Regarding the claim that Conservatives are now doing things the Progressives no longer do, he provides no empirical evidence, albeit it is intriguing that Conservatives might now find traditional Progressive ideas more productive of good outcomes. Intriguingly, another item from the Progressive playbook was also a move over to the Progressive side during this same Conference by Fox News Tucker Carlson (quote from Schuessler, 2019):

"The main threat to your ability to live your life as you choose, does not come from the government, it comes from the private sector,” he declared. “I can’t believe I’m saying that!"

It seems the Market has fallen out of favor with many Conservatives. Part of the reason for this is the need for two workers to make ends meet in a family: Two income families contribute to disintegration of the family, a growing theme in Conservative circles (also see Will, 2019, on this point of family disintegration). Carlson continued, ironically citing a 2003 book by Senator Elizabeth Warren: “The single biggest change to our society, and it got almost no press, was the moment where it became impossible for the average person to support a family on one income...”

Yet, DeMuth claims, due to an inordinate influence of Progressive Federal Government, as it is the Progressives that put more trust and emphasis in Government, there has not been enough attention paid Conservative Principles (and, with due credit, DeMuth does admit that Conservatives have also often been complicit) like:

  • In America, the nationalist claim is that the federal government has abdicated basic responsibilities and broken trust with large numbers of citizens:

  • It has failed to secure the national borders and provide regular procedures for immigration and assimilation.

  • It has delegated lawmaking to foreign and international bodies, and domestic bureaucracies, that have scant regard for the interests and values of many of our fellow citizens.

  • It has acquiesced in, or actively promoted, the splintering of the nation into contending racial, religious and other groups and has favored some at the expense of others.

  • It has neglected core American principles and traditions—separation of powers, due process, the presumption of innocence, local prerogative, freedom of association—allowing them to atrophy or be subjected to political conditions.

So, according to DeMuth (2019), there has been massive Government-failure, and it is Progressive Government that is at fault? Maybe. Seems there is also substantive failure in Conservative Government as well, e.g., in the current Administration being very willing to cause further splintering of groups, and failure to deal with the excessive, overloading of the Spaceship Earth Systems atmosphere with greenhouse gases, in part because of an unwillingness to work with lawmaking of international bodies and denial of empirical evidence from science? Severe storms (extreme winds, rain and snowfall events, drought all reflect failure of Conservative Government (i.e. failure to install the Trade&Cap system for greenhouse gas emissions as proposed by the Progressives), as well as massive Market-failure, to deal with the essential need to move to lower carbon economy, less load on the strained capacity of the atmosphere to hold and process greenhouse gases.

Just what are we dealing with here? What is Nationalism, afterall? Galston (2019) helps:

Nationalism, proponents argue, has nothing to do with aggression against others. Instead it points inward, to the desire of every nation to be left alone and govern itself in accordance with its own traditions... is often conflated with patriotism, which simply means love of country. But nationalism rests on the idea of the “nation,” a term derived from the Latin word for “birth.” A nation is a distinctive collection of human beings connected by shared characteristics and mutual sympathies, and often by their belief—however doubtful—in common descent.

So, it is about shared Other-interest in a common Culture. Galston (2019) goes on to argue we need to be careful with this move to American Nationalism:

In today’s America, no ethnic or religious group, whether a majority or a minority, can hope to impose its understanding of American identity on everyone else. The effort to do so will yield only endless strife. But a purely civic, principle-based understanding won’t suffice. Being fully American takes more than endorsing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It means accepting our history, with all its burdens, as one’s own, and it requires special regard for the well-being of those with whom we share a national fate.

If you want to call this requirement “Americans First,” I won’t object, so long as you don’t mean “Americans Only.” Our shared membership in the human race matters too...

As Metaeconomics would also suggest, while a Good Nationalism can play a substantive, positive role, we are also Travelers with everyone else on this Spaceship Earth, the ultimate in a kind of inclusive "Spaceship 'nationalism writ large' for all Spaceship Earth Travelers."

So, how do we make sense of all this? Metaeconomics helps. First, it clarifies that Nationalism is all about our Other-interest, shared with others in this context, Culture writ large, in this situation. Second, it clarifies that the way in which we can express our Self-interest is greatly affected by the content of the resident Other-interest in the background. That is, the autonomy of Self-interest needs to be tempered by the homonomy of Other(shared with others in a variety of mainly local communities, agreed to Culture, the Moral Community)-interest, and by heteronomy of Other(again shared with others, but perhaps more controlling, as in local, state, and federal regulations and laws)-interest. (for meanings of autonomy, homonomy, and heteronomy see What Inspired Metaeconomics?... on this site).

Intriguingly, Metaeconomics makes it clear that a liberal democracy based capitalism tends to see only autonomy, i.e. full freedom and liberty to pursue Self-interest only outcomes. As DeMuth (2019) says it, from the quote above, "...(both Conservatives and Progressives ) show hints of recognizing that social customs and national traditions are a firmer foundation for political order than the ideology of atomized, free-floating individual autonomy." That is, as Metaeconomics clarifies, Self-interest only (DeMuth's "atomized, free-floating individual autonomy") does not generally work, due to the primal drive within individuals (Egoism-Hedonism) to go to extremes; it needs to be tempered and bounded by the Other-interest (the Empathy, manifested in Community). This is also the main theme in Deneen (2019), that classical liberalism (self-interest only) has failed, i.e. essentially unlimited, unbounded, not tempered freedom and liberty fails to lead to Happiness for individuals and all manner of social problems writ large.

Conservative framing would add the homonomy of an Other-interest representing family, sometimes adding religion, and always including local community. Progressive framing keeps the homonomy in play, with many of the same elements, but generally viewing it from a wider lens, perhaps even out to the Spaceship Earth scale, while adding the possibility of heteronomy, i.e. a shared Other-interest using Government mandates and regulation.

Metaeconomics also clearly points to how nationalism could be counterproductive, e.g. as noted earlier, in failing to deal with the Spaceship Earth level problem of excessive loading of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, the carbon (and related climate change) problem. Nationalism is not a panacea for pragmatic solution of all problems.

Metaeconomics also points to the empirical, pragmatic reality that solving real problems generally requires balance in Market&Government, and within Government, balance which sees the jointness in Conservative&Progressive principles. It is intriguing how the recent National Conservative Conference is suddenly seeing that too much reliance on the Market is resulting in failures to keep a kind of Culture that contributes to a kind of America many believe unique, and in someways better than many if not most (as Nationalists believe) other places, on this Spaceship Earth. Metaeconomics, due to being based in empirical reality, looking for a reality based economy, would suggest that, yes, we likely will always need to look on both sides of the Political Isle, and build Conservative&Progressive approaches, to get to what truly works. As Schuessler (2019) highlights, referring to how many at the Conference were seeing the need for Government involvement, like in forming an Industrial Policy, to temper and condition the Market:

Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of “The Once and Future Worker,” argued the affirmative. “Market economies are not going to give us what they want on their own,” he said.

His opponent was Richard Reinsch, the editor of Law & Liberty, a website dedicated to the classical liberal tradition.

The debate unfolded in a dense blizzard of references to economic indicators and quotes from the Federalist papers. In his summation, Mr. Reinsch gave a flash of irritated incredulity at the idea, increasingly expressed by conservatives, that “the market doesn’t work.”

“Why do you think the administrative state is going to deliver, given the way it functions now?” he said. “I thought we were conservatives.”

In a vote, Mr. Cass’s side won handily, 99 in favor and 51 against.

Like Metaeconomics makes clear, pure Market-only, i.e. Self-interest only driven Markets, generally fail, as in the notion of the Tragedy of Excessive Greed (Tragedy of the Commons notion). Just like there can be Government-failure (Progressives take note!), there can also be Market-failure (Conservatives take note!). Metaeconomics finds the evolving, best balance in Market&Government.

Metaeconomics also makes it clear that Nationalism is about what is in our shared Other-interest, and it is not always good: The Other-interest can have a dark side, be very counterproductive, as in cases where it turns into a narrowly shared white supremacist kind of nationalism. In fact, like the theme in Galston (2019), it can be fundamentally un-American, as we have known America as being open to all sundry of races, ethnicities, religions and frames of reference. The Other-interest shared by Americans has always been an evolving mix, a dynamic and arguably a quite progressive mix. A move to return to some earlier time and claim that period represented some best, conservative (don't change it) mix could be very questionable, based on the need to deal with empirical reality as we move through time, as Metaeconomics suggests.

Most importantly, we need to be mindful that the content of that Other-interest greatly influences what we need to, and can, pursue in our Self-interest. The Nationalist Conservative suggests a quite different content to that Other-interest than Conservatives traditionally considered. A Nationalist Progressive might see it even more differently, especially in seeing more of the dynamic of any form of Nationalism. The important question, in this move to Nationalism or not, is whether that new content is truly an American Other(shared widely among all Americans)-interest, one that works in a joint Conservative&Progressive frame which is America. Such jointness is the key feature of an Ego`N`Empathy economy.

See the "Conservative and Progressive Sensibilities?" page on this Website.

Deneen, Patrick J. Why Liberalism Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018 (Kindle ed., 2019).

Will, George F. The Conservative Sensibility. Kindle ed. New York: Hatchette Books, 2019. For a brief review, see Deneen, P.J. A Defense of Conservatism that Veers Toward Liberalism. Washington Post, June 21, 2019 and a Summary in Table Form on this Website

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