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07 August 2016

Recent events show nationalism on the rise again

2016 will be known around the world as the year of nationalism’s revival

Whether it be the massive demonstrations in Poland, the United Kingdom’s recent exit from the European Union or even the possibility of Japan amending its constitution for the first time ever, developed countries around the world are turning back to nationalism and are becoming increasingly skeptical of liberal democracy. Though this may cause some left-leaning media outlets to become alarmed, the rise of far-right movements  around the world, and especially in Europe, provide a helpful basis upon which we can evaluate recent social crises and the merits of liberalism.

These recent geopolitical events call into question the veracity of Francis Fukuyama’s thesis found in his 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man.” Fukuyama predicted that with the fall of communism, all nations around world will become liberal democracies, characterized by globalism, free elections, political representation and the Western European theory of universal human rights. By the time current UCLA students graduate in the next few years, we will have entered into a completely redefined era of American and European politics.

We will continue to witness even more radical changes because nationalist trends show no signs of slowing down. Contrary to Fukuyama’s predictions, the reason why the resurgence of nationalism in the United States, Europe and Japan is not a fad that will soon succumb again to globalist liberal democracy is because these far-right movements are rooted in cultural identity. Nationalism is not a mere fluctuation of a bad economy, but a reaction against perceived hostile forces that threaten one’s safety and culture. These forces often come in the form of mass immigration, terrorism and radical changes in demographics. 

For instance, within a week there were four deadly attacks committed against Germans, all of which were perpetrated by supposed Syrian refugees, ethnic foreigners and those claiming allegiance to the Islamic State. In the same span of time, two Islamists murdered a Roman Catholic priest in France during Mass by cutting his throat, taking place less than two weeks after a man killed 84 people in Nice. These events are just the latest sample of what Europe has had to endure for the past few years.

A common tendency among political parties and citizens throughout these countries is their return to unapologetic self-determination. Rather than catering to foreigners or global perception, they desire to put their people first, maintain their own unique traditions and establish laws reflecting popular sentiment. No longer will these groups concede national guilt from previous generations, but are instead seeking to reassert themselves in the face of cultural opposition.

For instance, Hakubun Shimomura, a member of a Japanese nationalist organization called Nippon Kaigi, wants Japan to reject its supposed “masochistic view of history” and to instead view its citizens as victims of World War II, not as evil aggressors. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a member of Nippon Kaigi, agrees with Shimomura, along with most other Liberal Democratic Party politicians. In addition to their rejection of Western European historical narratives and natural human rights, many want to reinstitute state Shintoism and emperor worship.

On the other side of the world, Nigel Farage, Brexit extraordinaire and leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, persuaded the majority of his fellow British citizens to leave the European Union after decades of membership. The manner in which he and his party accomplished this feat was largely through promises of restored national honor and negative portrayals of immigration.

The story is no different in our own country. Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, delivered a powerful speech at the Republican National Convention, promising to put America first if elected president. He said Americanism, not globalism, will be our nation’s credo.

As these examples demonstrate, in contrast to liberalism, nationalism is characterized by an immediate concern for one’s nation and people, not the entire world. Leaders of nations place their people first. Only when their people are taken care of will they consider foreign concerns.

Talk of universal human rights or vague abstractions about “the common humanity of all people” is easy when people are not subjected to terrorist shootings, suicide bombings or being hacked to death on a train. Abstractions like these do little more than cause benevolent wars in the name of “freedom,” give preferential treatment to some and not others in the name of “equality” and allow politicians to harm their electorate in the name of “human rights.”

Liberalism is on the decline. Instead of adhering to general platitudes that harm themselves culturally and sometimes economically, justifying everything from mass immigration to the rape of one’s own citizens, people increasingly want the state to preserve their own best interests instead.

Opponents associate these movements with “hatred,” “racism” or “xenophobia.” But these labels belie the fact that nationalism is fueled by a series of political judgments, not just emotion. The reason opponents castigate nationalism in such odious terms is to portray it as nothing more than a dangerous pathology and thus unworthy of any real evaluation.

Given our current trajectory, such criticisms no longer work and in fact even bolster opposition. Nothing else can account for the success of Trump, or conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos for that matter. The more people who dismiss Trump or European far-right movements around the world by calling them racist, the more people will jokingly embrace the label or otherwise chalk it up to some pernicious notion of political correctness.

In the long run, these recent events both at home and abroad pose new and interesting developments and unexpected challenges. Fukuyama’s prediction was wrong; radical changes in culture and demographics have now caught up with his overly hopeful post-communist expectations. Hopefully, the newly emerging sociopolitical milieu will avoid excesses on all sides of the spectrum. Whatever the outcome, we should embrace these changes and use them as a tool to reevaluate the direction of our political evolution.