As described in the previous two parts of this series,[i] nationalism and imperialism are separable, nationalism is conducive of societal cohesion (which is a good thing), and nationalism does not necessarily lead to imperialism (contrary to popular belief, and, as we shall see, what imperialists want the public to believe). That they are different, however, does not mean that they cannot go hand in hand. Let’s sort out how the two can be connected by focusing on imperialism.
Imperialism is the “state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas... Imperialism results from a complex of causes in which in varying degrees economic pressures, human aggressiveness, and greed, search for security, drive for power and prestige, nationalist emotions, humanitarianism, and many other factors are effective.”[ii] Encyclopedia Britannica.
As the Encyclopedia Britannica reveals, imperialism is caused by many and varied factors (too many to be listed by the Britannica, much less to be sorted out in this blog). “Nationalist emotions” is included near the end of the list of causal factors. Accurately, the Britannica does not suggest that nationalism is an essential precondition for imperialism to blossom, and because imperialism takes a complex of factors to bloom, there is no suggestion that nationalism in the absence of a complex of other factors is sufficient to cause imperialism. Nationalistic citizenries can and sometimes do rally around tyrants who want to force a nation’s ideals on other nations, but nationalism is not the cause of tyrants wanting to impose their wills on others. It is their belief in imperialism that does that.
To further sort out the differences between imperialism and nationalism, let’s focus on imperialism and nationalism as political philosophies. That is to say, let’s sort out the difference between nationalistic and imperialistic as approaches to governance.
The ultimate imperialistic approach to governance would be a one-world government that sets and enforces the rules for all humans.[iii] The ideal nationalistic approach to governance would be many nations whose values, ways, means, and other cultural characteristics (“ideals”) are self-determined and self-enforced by individual nations. Each has strengths and weaknesses. On balance, however, one is better than the other.
To achieve and maintain an ideal imperialistic government, national, cultural, ethnic, tribal, and clan identity, ideals, patriotism, and pride must be suppressed. Inculcating and promoting national ideals and patriotism is essential to a successful independent nation. Realistic nationalism does not promise perpetual peace, prosperity, dignity, and justice to everyone all the time, far from it. Idealistic imperialism does. My contention (and I am not alone)[iv] is that imperialism delivers even less peace, prosperity, dignity, and justice than does nationalism—despite the imperialists claims to the contrary.
Imperialist philosophers (mostly members of the intelligencia)[v] assert that the existence of independent nations that are free to determine their ideals inevitably results in nations adopting ideals that are antithetical to the ideals of other states. (They are, of course, right about that.) They also believe that the most successful nations (powerful enough to impose their will on others) will inculcate their citizens with respect for what is good about their cultures, i.e., do what they can to cause their citizens to be patriotic about the nation’s chosen ideals. (They are, of course, right about that.) Nations that revere ideals that are antithetical to the ideals of other nations all too often go to war. (Right again.) All of those things, however, are considered by imperialists to be minor compared to the offensive fact that nations left to their own devices do not uniformly adopt and inculcate the ideals that imperialists believe are best. (Right yet again!)
The fact that independent nations have these shortfalls from perfection, however, does not mean that a better option is available. Nevertheless, in the fertile minds of the intelligencia, such shortfalls from perfection (barbarity) call for a “solution”[vi] (whether or not one exists). Not surprisingly, the intelligencia just happens to have a “solution” to the tribal squabbling of nations.[vii] That “solution” is to put the intelligencia in charge of a one-world government that can impose its supposedly superior ideals on everyone in the world.[viii] The end of this fairy tale is that all humans will then become “citizens of the world” with no (or, at least, vastly less) squabbling, i.e., everyone in the world will become cosmopolitan. The more apocalyptic among the intelligencia claim that a one-world government is the only way to prevent an Earth-ending nuclear conflagration.[ix]
History is replete with examples of nationalism and imperialism. Neither has ever been fully implemented. The current state of affairs concerning world governance is, for the most part, nationalist, though attacks on nationalism and advocacy of international organization with enforcement power appear to be growing.
In the 20th century, the U.S.S.R., Nazi Germany, and Hirohito’s Japan were outcroppings of imperialist aspirations and endeavors. Beginning in the 15th century, the Spanish were high on imperialism. In later centuries, the Dutch, Brits Germany, and France got in on the act. Long before any of that, other notable empires included the Chinese, Mongols, Romans (the Roman Catholic Church, with its Holy Roman Empire, and the Byzantines picked up the imperialistic baton from the Romans). From the inception of Islam, most Muslims have believed the best thing for the world would be an Islamic Caliphate imposing Sharia law universally.[x] These are just a few of the many examples of imperialism that demonstrate that imperialism actually solves very little and creates many negative consequences. Imperialism has a vast and deep history of failure. (Interestingly, the Jews have traditionally been loath to imperialism.)
Imperialism, it is argued, is justified, necessary, and moral because independent, self-determining, patriotic nations will often engage in wars, and the only hope for world peace is to have a world government (a.k.a, “One-World Government”) with sufficient power to impose a perpetual peace under a single set of laws (or as close to that as is possible). Wilson’s “League of Nations,” FDR’s “United Nations,” and the European Union are examples of peaceable attempts to achieve governmental organizations to pursue the imperialist approach to world peace. Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Lenin’s, Stalin’s, and Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (collectivists all) were examples of forcible infliction of one nation’s ideas on other nations and fellow citizens. What was wrong with these empires was not their nationalism, it was their imperialism, which is often coupled with totalitarianism, which is also terrible.
Note that none of these empires produced permanent peace or prosperity. On the contrary, each was mostly tyrannical and produced some good and many horrors. Non-imperialistic nationalism has a similar track record. Consequently, being a non-nationalist is not “the” moral option, and nationalist countries can be extraordinarily moral. (Yet, globalists in general and leftist globalists, in particular, typically demonize anyone who does not believe the opposite. We’ll sort out why that is and why they are wrong in future posts.)
By contrast, after its “Manifest Destiny” phase, America has, for the most part, supported and advanced the idea of national self-determination and nationalism. A good case can be made that no country in world history has had as large a military and economic superiority over all other nations than that obtained by America.
Consequently, no nation has ever had more capability to impose its laws and customs on others and taking over or subjugating their governments. Since its conquest and subjugation of Native Americans, however, America has been extraordinarily non-imperialistic given its capabilities (though, of course, members of the intelligencia whose raison d’etre is to demonize America pass their time focusing exclusively on the exceptions to this general rule[xi]). As a result, America has become the most successful nation (on many dimensions) that the world has ever produced, and has been more instrumental in improving the standards of living of the poor in the world than any other nation ever.
In short, imperialism has been oversold, and nationalism has gotten a bum rap.
[i] See “Nationalism—PART I” and “Nationalism—PART II, False Premise.”
[ii] See “Imperialism.”
[iii] For a glimpse of a nascent effort toward this end, see “Ron Paul explains the Council on Foreign Relations and the New World Order,” “The UN Wants to be Our World Government By 2030” and “One World Governance and the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘We Shall have World Government… by Conquest or Consent.’”
[iv] See “Jordan Peterson: Why Globalism Fails and Nationalism is Relatable,” “The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony, and “Yoram Hazony on the Virtue of Nationalism”
[v] Not a good thing. Nassim Taleb, who dubbed them “Intellectual Yet Idiots,” described them thus: “So we end up populating what we call the intelligentsia with people who are delusional, literally mentally deranged, simply because they never have to pay for the consequences of their actions, repeating modernist slogans stripped of all depth.” Elsewhere he said, “But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them.”
[vii] See “Opening remarks at the World Government Summit.” “We live today in a world that is no longer bipolar, no longer unipolar but it is not yet multipolar. [When was the world really bipolar or unipolar?]… there is a deep mistrust between countries and groups of countries that, of course, facilitates the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulty to solve them. We need a surge of diplomacy for peace. We need to be able to have honest brokers trying to bring together those countries that are essential for the solution of those conflicts we face in different parts of the world…. But we need to able to address the root causes of conflict and to have the international community organized to address the root causes of conflict.” [Emphasis added.]
[viii] See “WORLD GOVERNMENT – Bob Brown wants a ‘Global Parliament’” and “”According to the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, ‘states must be prepared to cede some sovereignty to world bodies id the international system is to function.'” [Note: THIS ARTICLE contains a link to the page of Haass’s essay that was originally published on the CFR website. As you can see here, that essay has been removed from the CFR website.]
[ix] See “One World Government and the War of Tomorrow,” and “The case for a World State to wipe out war and nuclear weapons and bring global peace and prosperity.”
[x] See “Imperialism.”
[xi] See “The imperialist lie that won’t die: America is making the planet safer.” Note how the article infused with myriad slanders (e.g., being imperialistic is expensive and counterproductive—which has nothing to do with whether America is imperialistic).
2 thoughts on “Nationalism PART III, Imperialism”
Perhaps we are dealing in semantics, but it seems there is anecdotal evidence of the potential benefits of imperialism as well as nationalism. For example, a case could be made that Haiti would be better off as a member of the French empire (if it still existed) with its cultural and civil influences as opposed to Haiti’s independent status. Same argument could made as to Zimbabwe versus its previous status as Rhodesia.
You raise more than a semantic difference. This series of posts are in response to French President Macron’s condemnation of nationalism in an attempt to embarrass Trump following Trump proudly claiming to be a “nationalist” and encouraged people to embrace the word (and, implicitly, the idea). He made clear that he believed nationalism was a terrible idea. Believing he was wrong about that, this series is about the benefits of nationalism and the detriments of imperialism.
You raise the very valid point that some people are better off by being colonized. Surely some places are so dysfunctional and/or have cultures that inhibit, if not prohibit, human flourishing that almost any new form of government (e.g., colonization) is an improvement (at least for those who survive the new order). In particular, one would be hard pressed to make a case that Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, and other former English colonies would be as prosperous as they are today absent having been former colonies of England.
I’m not familiar enough with the French colonization of Haiti or Zimbabwe to discuss your comment directly, but I have no reason to doubt them.
It is not surprising, however, that the former French colonies have not thrived to the extent that English colonies have—”Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” is an inferior founding principle than is “Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness.”