Friday, June 24, 2016
Brexit, Trump, And Populist Nationalism–The New World Order
The geopolitical world is being reconfigured. Vladimir Putin challenged the idea of the nation-state, stating that it was a Western construct, designed and applied to promote Western interests. Greater Russia, he went on, had a historical legitimacy assembling Russian-speaking peoples within a resurgent Orthodox, Slavic state. Crimea and Eastern Ukraine had only temporarily resided outside the Russian Empire. Ukraine was a a puppet of the United States and NATO, ruled by corrupt leaders with no historical or contemporary vision. It was a state that was neither here nor there, inchoate, powerless, and meaningless.
The non-Russian speaking Republics were indeed part of Russia but their sovereignty was only conditional, and they were subject if not indentured to the laws, culture, and social ethic of the Slavic majority. Putin has never conceived of a pluralistic, inclusive, diverse Russia. His empire, like the Soviet Union and Tsarist Russia before it covers a vast territory including many small minority cultures. Despite their militancy and rebellious defiance of Putin and ruling Russia, they have been subjugated and are allowed to express their ethnic and religious identity within very strictly controlled limits.
In other words Putin has rejected the idea of Western pluralism and democracy – the foundational pillars of the liberal European state. He has no intention of joining Europe, NATO, or any other alliance which insists on electoral representation, political, social, and ethnic diversity. His reach will extend as far as his hegemonic vision, will, and popular support will take him. It is with such a clear historical vision, a suppression of dissent, and a reward of a uniformly loyal populace that Russia will become great again.
There is no question that under his rule Muslim minorities will be marginalized and remain barely tolerated populations rather than full members of the polity. There is no moral imperative, says Putin, to inclusivity; but there is one in preserving, promoting, and defending the Slavic, Russian-speaking majority whose cultural and ethnic roots extend to the early medieval Rus.
China’s nationalism is similar that that of Russia. The Han Chinese politburo has the same sense of historical determinism, the same intent to preserve classical Chinese culture and tradition, and the same defiant rejection of Western liberalism. While the Uighur and other ethnic minorities are indeed targets of Han Chinese cultural imperialism, they can do little against the overwhelming political, social, and military power of the ruling party. Unlike the Russians who continue to tolerate ethnic minorities while subjugating them, Chinese leaders want to expunge all traces of minority culture and influence and encourage, by any means necessary, the progressive integration of these minorities into the majority culture.
Unlike Western critics who insist that diversity is an absolute good and most representative of the higher ethics of democracy which ensure pluralism and civil rights, the Chinese value the integrity of a traditional, millennia-old Han culture which remains the ideal not only for China but for the world.
France is a country with a fabled history. It was Roland and Charlemagne who held off the Muslim armies at Roncesvalles and saved Europe. For that feat alone France considers itself la fille aînée de l'Eglise; but through the Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance and the Enlightenment French culture, literature, philosophy, science, and art were supreme. Today’s ethnic French are heirs to more than a thousand years of cultural achievement, political and military power.
It is no surprise that such ethnic French are angry, hostile, and aggressively protective of their culture which they see as threatened by Muslim immigrants and residents who defiantly reject it. We are not all French, they say, obverting the classic French statement of laïcité.
Nationalism in France today is not the xenophobic racism depicted in the progressive press. It is a reaction to what is seen as the erosion if not destruction of the legacy of a storied past. French neo-nationalism is most definitely and unapologetically French, European, and Christian.
ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban share this same vision of cultural, ethnic, and religious hegemony. Nothing less than an Islamic Caliphate – a theocratic kingdom extending throughout the Middle East and beyond – will do; and, like Russia, they have rejected Western liberalism, secular democracy, and the civil rule of law. Such a Caliphate would not, unlike Russia, tolerate difference. Their belief in the absolute rightness of a Muslim Empire is such that it would only be their duty to oblige compliance to its rules.
The exit of Great Britain (Brexit) from the European Union has less to do with anger at a ponderous bureaucracy run by non-elected commissioners who set insufferable pan-European rules and regulations than it does with nationalism. There is a feeling in Britain that its sovereignty is being threatened by a supra-national authority and that its culture is being eroded by the massive influx of foreigners and refugees.
Great Britain, like France, China, and Russia has an imperial history which has influenced art, culture, politics, and civil society for over a thousand years. It was unmatched in global reach, military power, maritime supremacy, and universally admired for the intellectual achievements of philosophers, scientists, and poets. There is a cultural ethos to Great Britain as there is in other historically powerful countries. There are certain traditions – independence, sovereignty, justice, fair play, and enterprise – which continue in modern Britain. It is not simply a country defined as all others by a pluralistic mix of ethnicities, races, and religions; certainly not a European country with distinct historical and cultural roots, but a unique country, one with a shared ethos.
While it is certainly true that the Leave voters were predominantly older ethnic Britons with a clear recent memory of Britain’s heralded past; and that those who voted Remain were Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Jamaicans; such divisions cannot change the momentous vote for nationalism.
The United States has become more overtly nationalistic than ever. Donald Trump speaks for tens of millions of Americans who feel their traditional culture – Christian, fundamentalist, socially conservative, patriotic, entrepreneurial, and English-speaking – is being taken over by unwelcome newcomers. Despite our long history of immigration and polyglot society, there is something ‘American’ about the country. As a relatively young country none of us are far removed from Western expansionism, virile industrialism, frontier justice, and farm family values. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are living documents – often distorted and misinterpreted, but still revered as statements of national identity, purpose, and character.
The current angry nationalism has more to do with the aggressiveness of advocates of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’. It is not that Americans do not welcome foreigners or reject any but white bread culture. It is just that diversity, separatism, and ethnic, racial and gender identity have been militantly forced on a conservative, traditional base. Suddenly the Danes and the Dutch, traditionally the most tolerant and welcoming countries of Europe, are shocked by the cultural disruption provoked by massive refugee immigration, Muslim terrorism and Islamic militancy. Enough is enough, they say. We are all for pluralism but at a pace which ensures full assimilation into traditional culture.
The Trump and Brexit phenomena are not one-off events. Resurgent nationalism is here to stay. There must be years if not decades of social and political realignment before any resolution can come about. The EU is sure to disband and reorganize by nation, each of which will be more demanding and insistent on cultural hegemony and full social integration of all residents and newcomers. The nationalism sparked by Donald Trump will not go away if Hillary Clinton is elected. Her presidency will only be a bump in the road; but if she is not careful, her progressive policies will harden the resolve of those who opposed her and ensure a conservative victory in four years.
The world is now very, very different than it was five years ago before Russian imperialism, the Arab Spring, ISIS, the rise of the Far Right and Brexit. Nationalism is back, and the next president better get in step quickly and surely.