The Shift: From Liberal-Conservative to Globalist-Nationalist

Last July, with Donald Trump on the verge of sealing up the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Ross Douthat authored a column in the New York Times about the new political battlefield.  "[P]erhaps we should speak no more of left and right, liberals and conservatives," the token trad wrote.  "From now on the great political battles will be fought between nationalists and internationalists, nativists and globalists."

Douthat's sentiment was echoed at the recent CPAC gathering, where President Trump's chief strategist, Steven Bannon, explained the difference between economic populists like himself and the jet-setting Davos crowd.  "[W]e're a nation with an economy," he preached to the crowd.  "Not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being."

It's true that we in the West are undergoing a political reorganization.  The past two years have seen an explosion of nationalist political parties and personalities.  The terms "liberal" and "conservative," in the popular context, are beginning to lose relevance.  What's replacing them isn't so much party difference, but class.

The lines of separation between the elites and provincials has never been clearer.  On big, nation-defining issues – trade agreements, wars, transnational partnerships, necessary credentials for high office – the divide cuts evenly.  Those moneyed, cloistered, and comfortable welcome globalization and all its attendant benefits.  Those who aren't so well off don't.

But class separation doesn't get to the heart of the difference between one end of the widening gulf and the other.  The nationalist-globalist frame stems from something different, something more epistemological.

Politics really comes down to a value judgement: how does society best organize its collective life?

For nationalists, love of country, its inhabitants, and its unique character guides law-making.  Government is formed solely for the benefit of citizens.  High-minded psalms to the brotherhood of man have little place in policy.

The globalists are devoted to the biggest community on Earth: worldwide humanity.  To the globally minded activist, there is no difference between the man next door and the man in a hut in Cambodia.  Each is due equal consideration when it comes to the law.

In his recent New York Times column, David Brooks hits on this difference by singing a dirge to the enlightened universalism he sees as the cornerstone of the West.  "The Enlightenment included thinkers like John Locke and Immanuel Kant who argued that people should stop deferring blindly to authority for how to live," he explains.  But the anti-enlightenment movements of today "don't think truth is to be found through skeptical inquiry and debate."

Who are these intellect-eschewing dunderheads?  Donald Trump, of course.  But also Nigel Farage and Brexit backers, Marine Le Pen of France, Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, and Viktor Orbán of Hungary.  Each has cultivated popular support by appealing not to passionless debate, but to deep love of country and, more pointedly, familiarity.

These decidedly anti-intellectual voters act based not on cool reasoning.  They go the polls not to impose their abstract philosophy on the world.  They protect what is theirs, what is close, what they identify with.

To contrast this limited view of life with the liberal is to compare soil with sky.  Wide open and infinite, the sky is spaceless.  It doesn't shift and sift like dirt through your fingers.  It can't be seen and felt like solid earth.

The nationalist is necessarily parochial, attached to his specific time and place.  The globalist takes the opposite approach.  Not starting from below but above, he takes an all-encompassing view of mankind and sets to reshape the world in its image.  The leftist global crusader is a firm believer in what Michael Brendan Dougherty calls "the idea of eternal human progress and moral arcs bending across the universe."

The idea of unstoppable progression demands much from its acolytes.  Do national borders impede immigrants looking for a better life?  Then all barriers must be eliminated.  Do some people prefer those who share their faith, culture, skin color, and history to those who don't?  Then they must be made to take a more universal view toward man and be shamed for their bigotry.  Does the preservation of national wealth deprive poorer countries of prosperity?  Then wealth must be redistributed, be it in the form of trade, military occupation, or direct financial transfer.

On and on the reduction goes until all human distinctions are replaced by the universal, homogeneous, and thus bland and uninteresting man.  When the liberal-globalist achieves this sterile paradise, he'll be left with mannequins for men, able to recite facile tropes about joyful togetherness.  This "thin view of man," to use the words of Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko, can be an anti-civilizing force if left unchecked.

What is the contra to thin humanity?  Thick, obviously.  And what does thick entail?  It means an acceptance of complexity, of the infinitudes of thought and emotion within every individual.  "Across a room," writes Ted McAllister, "a conservative might spy a sack of rapidly degenerating amino acids, but rather than thinking of the elements that make up the body he sees, he wonders about this creature's past, its network of relationships, its relationship with books."

Here's where the paradox sets in: while the nationalist-conservative takes a simple approach to living, his narrow vision accepts the inner complexity of the individual.  He doesn't purport to have a theory for how all should be governed.  Rather, the good he sees is best for his family, his community, his country.  Going any farther impedes on the right of another nation-dweller to determine his future path.

The political clash before the West has its basis in distance.  How far a man is willing to go to impose his will usually determines his political allegiance.  For those who would stop at their country's defined border, the influence is growing.  How far it grows will be determined by those who think of their persuasive power as limitless.

Last July, with Donald Trump on the verge of sealing up the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Ross Douthat authored a column in the New York Times about the new political battlefield.  "[P]erhaps we should speak no more of left and right, liberals and conservatives," the token trad wrote.  "From now on the great political battles will be fought between nationalists and internationalists, nativists and globalists."

Douthat's sentiment was echoed at the recent CPAC gathering, where President Trump's chief strategist, Steven Bannon, explained the difference between economic populists like himself and the jet-setting Davos crowd.  "[W]e're a nation with an economy," he preached to the crowd.  "Not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being."

It's true that we in the West are undergoing a political reorganization.  The past two years have seen an explosion of nationalist political parties and personalities.  The terms "liberal" and "conservative," in the popular context, are beginning to lose relevance.  What's replacing them isn't so much party difference, but class.

The lines of separation between the elites and provincials has never been clearer.  On big, nation-defining issues – trade agreements, wars, transnational partnerships, necessary credentials for high office – the divide cuts evenly.  Those moneyed, cloistered, and comfortable welcome globalization and all its attendant benefits.  Those who aren't so well off don't.

But class separation doesn't get to the heart of the difference between one end of the widening gulf and the other.  The nationalist-globalist frame stems from something different, something more epistemological.

Politics really comes down to a value judgement: how does society best organize its collective life?

For nationalists, love of country, its inhabitants, and its unique character guides law-making.  Government is formed solely for the benefit of citizens.  High-minded psalms to the brotherhood of man have little place in policy.

The globalists are devoted to the biggest community on Earth: worldwide humanity.  To the globally minded activist, there is no difference between the man next door and the man in a hut in Cambodia.  Each is due equal consideration when it comes to the law.

In his recent New York Times column, David Brooks hits on this difference by singing a dirge to the enlightened universalism he sees as the cornerstone of the West.  "The Enlightenment included thinkers like John Locke and Immanuel Kant who argued that people should stop deferring blindly to authority for how to live," he explains.  But the anti-enlightenment movements of today "don't think truth is to be found through skeptical inquiry and debate."

Who are these intellect-eschewing dunderheads?  Donald Trump, of course.  But also Nigel Farage and Brexit backers, Marine Le Pen of France, Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, and Viktor Orbán of Hungary.  Each has cultivated popular support by appealing not to passionless debate, but to deep love of country and, more pointedly, familiarity.

These decidedly anti-intellectual voters act based not on cool reasoning.  They go the polls not to impose their abstract philosophy on the world.  They protect what is theirs, what is close, what they identify with.

To contrast this limited view of life with the liberal is to compare soil with sky.  Wide open and infinite, the sky is spaceless.  It doesn't shift and sift like dirt through your fingers.  It can't be seen and felt like solid earth.

The nationalist is necessarily parochial, attached to his specific time and place.  The globalist takes the opposite approach.  Not starting from below but above, he takes an all-encompassing view of mankind and sets to reshape the world in its image.  The leftist global crusader is a firm believer in what Michael Brendan Dougherty calls "the idea of eternal human progress and moral arcs bending across the universe."

The idea of unstoppable progression demands much from its acolytes.  Do national borders impede immigrants looking for a better life?  Then all barriers must be eliminated.  Do some people prefer those who share their faith, culture, skin color, and history to those who don't?  Then they must be made to take a more universal view toward man and be shamed for their bigotry.  Does the preservation of national wealth deprive poorer countries of prosperity?  Then wealth must be redistributed, be it in the form of trade, military occupation, or direct financial transfer.

On and on the reduction goes until all human distinctions are replaced by the universal, homogeneous, and thus bland and uninteresting man.  When the liberal-globalist achieves this sterile paradise, he'll be left with mannequins for men, able to recite facile tropes about joyful togetherness.  This "thin view of man," to use the words of Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko, can be an anti-civilizing force if left unchecked.

What is the contra to thin humanity?  Thick, obviously.  And what does thick entail?  It means an acceptance of complexity, of the infinitudes of thought and emotion within every individual.  "Across a room," writes Ted McAllister, "a conservative might spy a sack of rapidly degenerating amino acids, but rather than thinking of the elements that make up the body he sees, he wonders about this creature's past, its network of relationships, its relationship with books."

Here's where the paradox sets in: while the nationalist-conservative takes a simple approach to living, his narrow vision accepts the inner complexity of the individual.  He doesn't purport to have a theory for how all should be governed.  Rather, the good he sees is best for his family, his community, his country.  Going any farther impedes on the right of another nation-dweller to determine his future path.

The political clash before the West has its basis in distance.  How far a man is willing to go to impose his will usually determines his political allegiance.  For those who would stop at their country's defined border, the influence is growing.  How far it grows will be determined by those who think of their persuasive power as limitless.