In defense of nationalism

When you type “nationalism definition” into Google, you get the following answer:

Identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.

So what exactly is wrong with this? Well, nothing, really.

Obviously all nations seek to protect and advance their own interests: Secure borders, protection from enemies, economic growth, and beneficial relationships with other nations. In that very basic sense, every single member of Congress, every single Senator and the President should all be nationalists. In that way, being a nationalist is no different from being a patriot.

But the word “nationalist” became a dirty word after World War I, especially with the sense that it was nationalism that sparked the Central Powers and the Allied Powers to engage in a war that would promote their own interests. Nationalism has even become falsely attached to the horrific genocidal empires of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

But see, there is good nationalism and there is bad nationalism. When a nation seeks to conquer or subjugate other nations, that is bad nationalism. When a nation seeks to promote its own interests while also acting in good faith on the world stage, that is good nationalism. Nationalism itself is morally neutral, and can be used for good and productive ends, or for evil ends.

Consider this example: When two sides are debating whether a particular military action (say military intervention in the former Yugoslavia) is in the national interest, both sides are making a nationalist argument. When two sides are debating whether tariffs would be good or bad for our economy, both sides are making a nationalist argument. The debate is not whether we should pursue our national interest, but which path would best accomplish those goals.

Much of the disdain for nationalism, unfortunately, is a proxy war over President Donald Trump as a personality. That is a poor framing for this debate. What we should do is refocus the discussion over nationalism into a debate over to what extent we should protect our own interests and what we should do for the global community of nations. Forget about Trump, who will be president for a maximum of five and a half more years. The principle matters much more.

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