Early one recent rainy morning as I sat enjoying my coffee to the patter of the rain at my window, I came across Sir Roger Scruton’s latest offering for the Wall Street Journal. In this article he makes the case for the importance of the nation-state in a world increasingly given to globalization. Even were the recent international wave of nationalist movements never to have transpired, this would still be an important matter to consider.
Sir Scruton, in a most Scrutonian way, lays out in very clear terms the rationale of the educated and wealthy who so ardently espouse the globalist cause. He writes:
“We live in an interconnected world. Globalization and the internet have created new networks of belonging and new forms of social trust, by which borders are erased and old attachments vaporized. Yes, we have seen the growth of nationalism in Europe, the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of the populist Donald Trump, but these are signs of reactionary sentiments that we should all have outgrown. The nation-state was useful while it lasted and gave us a handle on our social and political obligations. But it was dangerous too, when inflamed against real or imaginary enemies.
In any case, the nation-state belongs in the past, to a society in which family, job, religion and way of life stay put in a single place and are insulated against global developments. Our world is no longer like that, and we must change in step with it if we wish to belong.”
Scruton goes on to point out that what is needed if the water carrying members of the international community are truly committed to democratic rule, is a demos – a people; and this hurtling ever onward towards a future sans national identities, enforced not least of which by identifiable boundaries, is a move toward something that is simply and obviously undemocratic.
Globalism is very popular among the cultural elite, and it should be clear why. Those atop their respective professions, be they political, financial, or academic (the three high towers of cultural elitism), are not only those from a given society most likely to be exposed to the international system, but also those who are readily able to take advantage of it, and therefore most easily benefit therefrom.
The allure of the globalist system is that it opens up opportunities for the free exchange of trade and labor, as well as cultural ideas and beliefs, unhindered by borders. Having built their wealth or power through international financial, political, or educational opportunities (and often through all three), these elites are granted unofficial membership to the global system, and thus benefit from its further expansion. Networks expand past ones place of birth and with such expanding networks come expanding opportunities to build upon that which they have already gained. In such a system, one’s education serves as the linchpin of the system, the fulcrum upon which are balanced the myriad divisions of globalist advantage. Here, though, it is less what one knows than it is where one went to school.
However, as Scruton points out, the success of such elites is built less on their own work than it is upon the time and energy of those least likely to benefit from such a system:
“Farmers, manufacturers, factory workers, builders, clothiers, mechanics, nurses, cleaners, cooks, police officers, and soldiers for whom attachment to a place and to customs is implicit in all that they do.”
Hence the divide between the new Left and the new Right, which is increasingly founded upon where one believes they belong. As Scruton says, a nation’s stability and its economic growth are certainly linked. Yet, the modern belief has become that a nation’s economic health is the sole factor in determining the success and viability of said nation, while ignoring the spiritual aspect that accompanies the rest. This view suggests that material success is the only measure, and completely discounts the importance of social trust or cohesion, which is the glue that holds the economic system together.
What is it that holds a family together, or a book club, or a sports team? It isn’t economic growth or success, though those do help; rather it is a shared sense of purpose, shared values, mutual love, admiration, and respect.
Part of the allure of globalism, or at least a driving factor, is that so many, and many more every day, have given up on investing in social trust at home. As a result of the ideological explosion, the politicization of everything, Western Civilization is in the midst of its own great schism. There are now two competing views of the West – one that considers its roots and another that looks to sever itself from them. As the two wrestle over the banner of the West, there will either be a winner and a loser, or else the banner will rip in two. Neither of these outcomes are particularly encouraging.
We have become so inwardly focused that we no longer possess the very basic humane sight to see the redeemable and the relatable in our neighbors with whom we disagree. It has instead become easier to try to identify with societies half a world away because we have given up on those who live right next door.
So often one hears the complaint of one’s own national government that it is far too leviathan in size and scope to adequately respond to the needs of its citizens. When it manages to respond at all the response is often uniform and unhelpful for all but a few. This is because the needs of so great an expanse of geography, with so diverse a population as ours, cannot possibly be the same throughout; this one-side-fits-all solution ends up fitting no one very well at all. How much greater, then, will be the discomfort when Europeans begin imposing solutions for American problems? Or Americans for Asian problems? Or Asian for Europeans and Americans both?
The answer to what ails society will not be found by diving further into that which has caused us so much division. The answer is never found in the problem itself. What is causing our division is the belief that the nation-state has outlived its use, that there is no longer more value to be found locally than globally. There is a great but little noticed irony to this. In a time languishing under the tyranny of identity politics, the most popular political and economic idea, indeed the trending direction in which the governments of the world and the societies they govern seem to be headed, is one wherein any semblance of one of our most fundamental identities, namely our national identity, is disregarded entirely.
The further into the globalized society we drift, the less it means to be from anywhere. And there’s the rub. In globalization so many believe they have found the sense of belonging that, for whatever reason, was lacking in their smaller, more localized lives. Perhaps it is a matter of social conditioning, or perhaps it is a true sense of nostalgia (the longing for home), but there is something other that attracts so many to the international community. Their values are not shared at home, or perhaps they seek the sort of wealth and prestige that is not readily offered in a smaller life. The reasons themselves are beyond the scope of this essay, but nonetheless worth considering.
What remains is that the larger a system, any system, grows, the more prone to disorder and chaos it becomes. Our time is marked by a lack of order. Some will see this as a necessary transition period between the way the world was and the way it soon will be. Yet, transition without a defined end point promises only further disorder. As Scruton has said elsewhere, our traditions are answers to enduring questions. We have bought into the lie that these answers are inadequate, but we are finding that the further we remove ourselves from them, the further from order, peace, identity, and security we drift. It is only a matter of time until we see this.
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