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posted on 28 June 2017

Globalists, Nationalists And Patriots

from STRATFOR

-- this post authored by Reva Goujon

In times of global angst, we tend to organize ourselves into rival camps and casually hurl political epithets at each other as a matter of practice and principle. A couple of similarly angst-ridden generations ago, identifying yourself as a communist or capitalist could provide you with a medal or land you in jail, depending on where you were in the world and the company you kept. Now, it is self-proclaimed globalists and nationalists who are pitted against each other in a battle to passionately defend or radically reconstruct the global order.

Previous columns have examined the underlying forces - from aging populations in the advanced industrial world, to technological change compensating for lagging productivity, to major evolutions in global trade - that have put this most recent global rebalancing in motion. This rebalancing will take generations to play out but is growing more visible by the day. Just watch the battle lines being drawn by the "globalists" and "nationalists" from within the tense corridors of the White House to the flag-lined stage of the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, where host German Chancellor Angela Merkel will once again face off against U.S. President Donald Trump.

Divided Camps

At the risk of oversimplifying, the so-called globalists celebrate deeper connectivity around the world. In global trade, complex supply chains have stretched from continent to continent, moving parts, ideas and technologies multiple times across borders to produce a single good. All of this raises the wealth of the developing world in the process. Globalists see the rapid pace of urbanization as both a threat and an opportunity. If roughly half of the world is currently urbanized, and two-thirds of the world's population is expected to live in cities by 2050, cities - and the politicians who govern them - will be expected to provide water, power, food, transportation infrastructure, affordable housing and jobs to the arriving masses. Or else, political upheaval will ensue. That looming stress on local and planet-wide resources drives technological progress - from vertical farming to modular construction to battery innovation - to find solutions, enhancing along the way the clout of more innovative corporations that can agilely fill voids left by the state.

Nationalism is a dirty word for most globalists. The mention of it conjures disturbing images of parades filled with high-kneed marches and stiff salutes, a blinding embrace of propaganda and the threat of losing a generation to war. Globalists subscribe to the postwar liberal order that argues for collective security arrangements, such as NATO, and ambitious political unions, like the European Union, to tame nationalist fervor. Moreover, many globalists, particularly in the West, regard the United States as a superpower, or least a first among equals. Indeed, it is a nation equipped with the resources and foundational values to play a leading role in governing the globe among other like-minded nations. That responsibility traces back to the Bretton Woods system set up in the postwar order, where the United States guaranteed secure access to markets through its overwhelming control of the seas and used that as a basis to construct a globe-spanning network of allies.

The current iteration of this globalist message tends to resonate with a more youthful demographic that embraces technology and seeks international exposure as a way of life. Advocates bristle at talk of nostalgia for 'simpler' times, regarding such rhetoric as a gross distortion of history. The globalists are more willing to project their minds decades into the future in an attempt to tackle problems that will impact future generations. We associate leaders such as Former U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Emmanuel Macron, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - and even powerful princelings further east like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - with a camp of contemporary globalist leaders. While there is a youthful face to this club, the globalist-nationalist divide is not simply a function of age or generational divide. Those who know and fear their history, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have risked their own political careers to defend a globalist agenda in an age of resurgent nationalism.

On the other hand, the older nationalists who lived through the chaos of the destruction of the Soviet Union in Russia regard the globalist-minded millennials protesting in the streets of Moscow as dangerously naive and blind to their own history.

Nationalists tend to see the globalists as spineless and misguided. A deep understanding of the past, and a vision toward the future, does little good if politicians are skipping over the problems festering before their eyes today. The nationalists preach a seductive message of taking back control of one's life, of one's nation. They minimize the consumer benefits of global trade and emphasize instead the tragedy that has befallen low-skilled workers who are ill prepared to keep pace with automation and free trade. Their mindset is entrenched in the present. Why spend time poring over demographic and climate charts when the solutions to those problems are wholly intangible to the common man and woman suffering today? An American farmer who has seen their livelihood go up in dust after years of drought does not want a lecture on climate change; they want a politician who will tell them that immediate relief has arrived and that the scientists other politicians are listening to are full of bunk. A prideful Frenchman would rather fixate on a message of preserving a modern French way of life imbedded in the country's revolutionary fabric than tolerate alien customs and job-seeking migrants coming across the Mediterranean from the war-torn Islamic world.

Even as nationalists make big - and often unrealistic - promises to their voters on short-term fixes to their long-term problems, setting the stage for further disappointment down the road, they are still able to feed off long-building disillusionment and distrust in political institutions to gain a voice and platform among the masses. Critically, certain powerful members of the elite are able to internalize that deep and confining sense of disillusionment. They are the ones who are ready to put their money and message behind those who they think can effect change. Take for example Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer - the wealthy backers behind White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon - who have collectively played a strong ideological role in shaping the Trump agenda. Writers Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the The Fourth Turning, have deeply influenced this group with their generational argument that prophesies the rebirth of an American identity.

They believe that the only way to save the republic from its current unraveling, and from its ossified public institutions, is to allow for the creative destruction of the state itself and rebuild from the ashes toward a more enlightened capitalist state based on Judeo-Christian values.

This mindset is naturally more risk-tolerant and less concerned with the very real consequences of injecting uncertainty into alliances and trade pacts around the world. For this class of nationalists, the system is so broken that the time for big risk and sacrifice has arrived. To carry their ambitious agenda forward, the nationalists weaponize populism to control the message to the masses. Thus, distrust toward public institutions is naturally channeled toward the mainstream media. "Fake news" becomes a mantra to drive people toward sources of information that conform to their worldview. And truth gets sacrificed along the way.

The nationalist mistrust toward political institutions plays out on a multinational levelas well. If the nation has reached such a level of crisis that it needs to be saved, why should a country like the United States needlessly tether itself to international bodies that require ever-greater sacrifices from the global superpower? The UN, NATO and newer arrangements such as the Paris Accord are seen as straitjackets to American power as opposed to the natural evolution of a postwar foundation to stabilize the world and guarantee U.S. supremacy through trade and security linkages across the globe.

This is why nationalists scoff at the fluffy notion of "global citizenship."


"There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag."

- U.S. President Donald Trump

"If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere."

- UK Prime Minister Theresa May

"Now, the dividing line is not between left and right, but globalists and patriots."

- French National Right Leader Marine Le Pen


Citizenship, after all, is a loaded word. The concept traces a history that stretches from the ancient Greek polis to the Roman Republic and the Italian city-states of the Renaissance, then fusing with the early Westphalian concept of a nation-state and the spawning of nationalism in the French Revolution and democracy in the New World. The European Union's experimentation with open borders and the forces of globalization in the modern era introduced a new and still unresolved dimension to the concept of citizenship. But the essence of what it means to be a citizen remains.

As Aristotle described centuries ago, man is a political animal and a virtuous and natural path to law and order is for citizens to live under a rule of law and to take an active part in the communities with which they share blood and common values. Citizenship is a collection of rights protected by political institutions and excluded to non-citizens. And the test of citizen loyalty is the willingness of man to die for those rights. Global citizenship, therefore, is a hollow concept if there is no legitimate entity with the capacity to protect the community it claims to represent. This is particularly so when that community is fundamentally divided by its national imperatives. How many people are willing to die for the Paris Accord, the United Nations charter or even the European Union? Globally engaged should not be conflated with global citizenship.

A Nuanced Debate

There are of course deep nuances when it comes to the globalist vs. nationalist debate. The developing world has largely benefited from decades of hyper-connected global trade, with nations gaining wealth by inserting themselves along nodes of a supply chain and ingesting ideas and technology along the way, gradually moving up the value chain. A country's need for open and growing markets, as well as the social risk they face from unrelenting and environmentally stressful industrial growth, has led some to lump leaders such as Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi with Merkel and Macron in a group of globalists defending free trade and investing in green technologies. But Xi and Modi are not cut from the same cloth of their Western counterparts. Rather than preaching universal Enlightenment values, they are using the global stage to pursue their fiercely nationalist agendas at home.

Modi's Make in India has the same ring as Trump's America First agenda in trying to drive manufacturing growth at home. Just as populism is fanned in the American rust belt toward a political end, Hindu nationalism is being used in India to centralize Modi's power in a highly decentralized state. There is much talk of China displacing America as the new global governor, but China's heft on the global stage is still directly tied to its national imperatives. China is not offering or defending a political or economic template for the world to emulate; it is extending its global presence through major initiatives such as Belt and Road to create redundancy in its own supply lines. This mitigates the risk of interdiction from more powerful adversaries such as the United States and further spreads the usage of the yuan. It is doing this all while trying to retain absolute control under a communist umbrella and function as a market economy.

Incongruous Thinking

Even within the Western camp of globalists there exist major contradictions. The new darling leader of the Europeanists, Macron, is using his honeymoon period to try and sell his European counterparts on the idea of opening a European protectionist umbrella over the Continent to shield the union from Chinese encroachment and American unpredictability. But the Germans, the Dutch and others know that "Buy European" can just as easily morph into "Buy French" under an untested French president who is bracing himself for union strikes and street protests. So the Europeans do what they do best at every summit: promise to discuss the matter at a later date while carrying on as though the Franco-German alignment is stronger than ever.

In fact, another wave of wishful thinking is pervading much of Europe. The murky future of the UK under Brexit, the polarizing Trump effect on the Continent, Macron's new mandate and Merkel's likely incumbency are feeding a narrative that the head of the nationalist monster has been cut off and the globalists have prevailed. Europe has bought itself valuable time, but is still prey to the deeper rebalancing taking place in the form of this globalist vs. nationalist battle. Even as nationalism may appear treacherous to many globalists, there is something very natural about individuals wanting to look after their own before focusing on others. The human condition is born of tribalistic tendencies. Even the mildest of nationalists will still cringe when they hear Obama speaking alongside Merkel at the Brandenburg gate arguing that "a child on the other side of the border is no less worthy of love and compassion than my own child."

In times of prolonged global stress, a love of one's own tends to trump the love of the other.

If today's debate over migrant flows is intense, imagine tomorrow's when robots detached from the human condition must make moral decisions. As New York University professor Regina Rini posits in a thought-provoking article entitled Raising Good Robots, imagine an autonomous car driving your two children to school and three other children suddenly appear on a street where the road is too slick to stop in time. The robocar, removed from biological considerations, makes the decision to swerve and run into a flooded ditch, calculating that it is best to avoid killing three children but puts the two in the car at risk of drowning. How then should society prepare for a time when intelligent machines are expected to make human choices? The globalist will tell you that this ethical dilemma is not reason alone to shun technological progress. The nationalist will tell you that the question itself is a waste of time and that we have to focus on the problems of the present day.

The globalist vs. nationalist debate is not a temporary phenomenon and neither side is in a position to declare victory over the other. So long as both sides regard the other as existing in opposing camps locked in a zero-sum game, the disappointments in our political institutions will mount and global angst will persist.

The reality is that there are global responsibilities as much as there are national ones and the two worlds are deeply intertwined. A globalist would be unwise to ignore the nationalist instincts of his own citizenry. A nationalist would be unwise to ignore the global dimensions to problems that impact the citizenry he claims to defend. Whether we dwell on the past, entrench ourselves in the present or fixate on the future, the social contract that exists between the state and its citizenry is a constant. Problems will merge across borders and power balances will shift among governments, corporations and individuals. But perhaps those who recognize the pitfalls of the globalist vs. nationalist divide may emerge as the strongest patriots in the end.

"Globalists, Nationalists and Patriots" is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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