“When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism” by Jonathan Haidt, NYU


The scholarly conservative periodical “American Interest” has published a book-length article by NYU social psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, “When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism”, in four chapters, which deserves a book review.  It’s dated July 10 and comes as the one free article per month in a stiff subscription paywall.  So I went out to a Barnes and Noble store and bought a hard copy for Jlu-August 2016, and did not find the printed article there!  But there were a couple other articles that supplement it, which I will get to.

The four chapters are “The Rise of the Globalists”, “Globalists and Nationalists Grow Further Apart on Immigration”, “Muslim Immigration Triggers the Authoritarian Alarm”, and “What Now?”

Haidt makes the valuable point, in Chapter 1, that as living standards rise  and a sense of “existential” personal security grows enough with ”democratic capitalism” familiar in the west, people tend to place a high moral value on personal expression (even “emancipation”) and on outreach to a whole world, and a sense of equality relative to a whole world, at least as a goal. Old fashioned values regarding religious tradition, and reverence for bloodline and patriotism, tend to be pushed behind, even shunned. However, as living standards for many people rise, patterns of greater efficiency tend to hollow out the jobs of many, and there is a tendency for some parts of lower and middle classes to become poorer.  All of this has been particularly true after the growth of the Internet.

Immigrants sometimes take the manual labor jobs that at first many people don’t want, but in time higher paying jobs may be outsourced overseas or be taken by more talented immigrants.  In time, some groups find that their way of life is threatened, and in some cases their sense of “meaning” is trampled by secularism or permissiveness.  In time, some immigrant groups do not assimilate well in some countries and create conflict, even threats. That is most obvious today with some Muslim communities, especially in Europe.

Haidt disputes the idea that a turn to nationalism and patriotism is necessarily “racist”. He does explain the idea the appeal of strong authoritarian figures as a desire by people to protect their own “group”.  But in some groups, the stricture on behavior or values of individual members of the group can be troubling, even extreme.  In some groups, homosexuals are outcast because in part they represent a possible threat to the group’s ability to maintain strength through procreation and extended family social cohesion.

I learned about this piece from an op-ed in the New York Times by David Brooks, “We Take Care of Our Own”.  I think there is a context that can get quite personal.  If you want individuals to be effective in reaching out to others (whether our own poor or in missions and projects overseas), they have to learn the social cohesion of “taking care of their own” in the family first.  To an extent, it is helpful (maybe even essential) that the “less developed” world (and poor in our own countries) see this process take place, so that others feel that there is some personal hope and some point in behaving peacefully. That may indeed provide a logical backdrop for “family values” the way social conservatives usually argue for them, even though most social conservatives (such as those writing the GOP’s platform this week) seem lost in naïve religious platitudes.

I experience competing tugs in my own journalism and activities.  Groups want me to be “loyal” to them (as if they picked up that wearing a group victimization sign or shouting in a demonstration were “beneath me”), and it’s logically impossible to be simultaneously loyal to more than one.

The “American Interest” issue did contain at least two other essays that seem pertinent. One is “Globalization and Political Instability”, by David W. Brady (p. 33), which seems higher level than Haidt’s piece and less potentially “personal” but makes similar points.  A more disturbing piece is “Pragmatic Engagement” (p. 22), by Stephen D. Krasner and Amy B. Zegart. This essay discusses China and Russia, sandwiching all that around a section called “Unconventional Threats” including cyberterror and possible attacks on the power grids, all as low probability but catastrophic impact events. The authors use the term “Black Swan” for such an event, borrowed from Sarron Aronofsky’s film for Fox of that name based on performing Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake”.  But this discussion amplifies the idea that the US should make more of its infrastructure hardware at home (a point that Donald Trump could make constructively without race or religion baiting).  It also potentially can feed right-wing ideas about “doomsday prepperism” or survivalism (another prod toward “take care of your own first) and self-defense and gun ownership.

Along these lines, Newsweek has an issue, dated July 1, 2016, with a yellow scare-cover, “Can ISIS Take Down Washington?” with an article by Jeff Stein on p. 26, “You Can’t Stop ’em All” with reference to an April Washington Post piece on soft targets in bars and restaurants. .

Haidt refers to several other important articles, including a Politco piece on Donald Trump and authoritarianism, another Politico piece on the “future of American politics”, and a Bloomberg piece warning about the losers of globalization.

(Published: Sunday, May 17, 2016 at 5:15 PM EDT)

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