Skip to main content

The president, in his UN address, declared his opposition to globalism and affirmed nationalism instead. Indeed, he recommended it to the whole global community represented there. Of course, if all the world’s nations followed his advice, there would be no United Nations, which after all was established to counteract the excesses of nationalism that were on display in the two world wars.

trump united nations 450

Suppose (remember, this is an absurd, counterfactual supposition) every other country followed his advice. Nationalism means the affirmation of the unique merit and the special importance of one’s own nation, while (explicitly or implicitly) assigning other nations to an inferior rank. So if everybody buys into nationalism, everybody has to insist that their own nation is Number One; no one could be content with accepting the superiority of any other nation.

We don’t have to imagine how this would work. The twentieth century has of course the two world wars, plus regional conflicts and conflicts within multinational states, too numerous to mention. But let’s just take the multinational country that was named, with great hope, Yugoslavia, the land of the South Slavs, established after World War I.

The thinking in Versailles after the War was that the various small nations of the Balkans could be brought together under one sovereignty, rather than having the Croats, the Serbs, and other nationalities each establish its own state. This was contrary to the Wilsonian doctrine of national self-determination, but it seemed obvious that these nations were just too small to be viable. Even though the Serbs and Croats had good historical reasons to hate each other, the hope was that they could learn to live together.

And it seemed to work tolerably well for decades, first under an invented monarchy, then under the long dictatorship of independent Communist Josip Broz Tito, who astutely managed national rivalries while emphasizing Yugoslav national identity. But after Tito died in 1980, his successors had increasing difficulty holding the country together. The turmoil in the communist countries of eastern Europe in 1989 also affected Yugoslavia, leading to the dissolution of the country into its constituent national republics in 1991.

When Trump calls for nationalism for everyone, everywhere, he can’t be serious. What he really wants for the rest of the world is the fraudulent nationalism of Vichy France, or the South African bantustans, or Duvalier’s Haiti.

But 70 years of integration meant that members of each nation were to be found all over the former Yugoslavia. In a context of rising nationalism, national minorities (people belonging to one nation, but citizens of another) became security threats. This threat was frequently met by systematic ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide, for which Serb leaders in particular have been tried and punished in international courts. Attacks on ethnic Serbs in Croatia or Bosnia simply could not be tolerated by nationalistic Serbs. The Croats felt the same way. It took outside intervention led by the United States and NATO to impose a fragile peace.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

A world of nationalism leads inevitably to conflict and war, because of problems of national minorities and disputed borders. Even more, no nationalist can permanently accept the subordination of his or her nation, much less admit to its inferiority. Yet that must be precisely the point of a nationalist hegemonic power like the United States.

When Trump calls for nationalism for everyone, everywhere, he can’t be serious. What he really wants for the rest of the world is the fraudulent nationalism of Vichy France, or the South African bantustans, or Duvalier’s Haiti. Each of these examples used a truculent pseudo-nationalism to mask subservience to the hegemonic nation (Germany, South Africa, United States in these cases).

Countries that take seriously the claims of nationalism are the last thing Trump wants. We would face challenge after challenge from nations that cannot accept the subservience and inferiority we assign to them. We already see it with Russia, with China, with Iran, with North Korea. There would be no end to it.

It would be, in Thomas Hobbes’ memorable words, “a war of each against all.” America first? America would be first to be consumed in futile efforts to defend its supremacy.

impeachment unavoidable

“And the life of man: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

John Peeler