The Baloney of 'Unchecked Nationalism'

Guess what. Jonah Goldberg is worried about the “Dangers of Unchecked Nationalism.” Well, yes, I suppose it could get to be a problem.

It could get to be a problem if our ruling class bankrupts the country by funking the urgent task of reforming entitlements. Because in the aftermath, the people might easily vote for a “strong leader” who promised to solve the problem by taxing and expropriating the rich.

Unchecked nationalism could also be a problem if the ruling class ran the country into a big financial crash by subsidizing home mortgages so that, when people started to lose their overleveraged homes, the whole financial system came crashing down. Then a leader might appear to teach the “greedy bankers” a lesson.

Unchecked nationalism could also be a problem if the ruling class got into a losing war and hyperinflation occurred.

Unchecked nationalism could also be a problem if the ruling class got into the habit of siccing the “intelligence community” on political candidates it didn’t like, and a nationalist leader arose that promised to “lock ’em up” -- the intelligence community, not the candidates.

Unchecked nationalism could also become a problem if the people observed that the little darlings of the ruling class, such as gay-black actors with connections to the Obama machine, could get off scot-free after staging a fake hate crime. Ditto kids of rich parents bribing their way into college. A nationalist leader might arise declaring that “the system is rigged!”

See what I am saying here? I am saying that if the ruling class did a minimum job of keeping the economy on an even keel, of avoiding foreign wars, of keeping the shenanigans of its “Chicago Way” political operatives down to a dull roar, then there would never be a danger of “unchecked nationalism” because everyone would be busy either checking their Vanguard accounts or buying their dream house.

Never forget: Trump is the idiot you get when the usual idiots have screwed up.

In any case, Trump is a very mild instance of “unchecked nationalist.” Remember the unchecked nationalist that came to power after his country’s rulers got it into a losing war, after they wrecked the savings of the middle class with hyperinflation, after the economy was wrecked again by a Depression deepened by an incompetent central bank beyond the seas.

We are Americans: if our rulers had committed the screw-ups under which the Germans suffered in the 20th century, we’d have given the world an unchecked nationalism to beat all unchecked nationalisms.

The problem with “unchecked nationalism” is the problem with all politics. When the going gets rough the politician needs to rally his supporters with a scapegoat. As Nietzsche wrote in 1878, of nationalism,

in almost every nation… there is gaining ground the literary indecency of leading the Jews to the sacrificial slaughter as scapegoats for every possible public or private misfortune.

Well, Fritzi, things went a bit beyond “literary indecency” on the Jewish sacrificial front, but I get your point.

But folks are hard at work on the unchecked front. In “unchecked multiculturalism” we are leading the white males to the slaughter as scapegoats. In “unchecked collusion” the deep state is making ordinary campaign hangers-on into scapegoats.

Here’s is my Unchecked 101. Humans need government to provide protection from dangers, natural and human. When things are going well people only look for a little bit of protection from their politicians. But when all hell breaks loose then humans reckon they need a strong leader to give them a lot of protection. Of course they do.

In a better world we wouldn’t need those strong leaders.

It is a mistake to call “nationalism” good or bad. Nationalism is simply one of the fake-tribalisms by which we moderns adapt the social instincts buried deep in the unconscious to our modern needs for social solidarity. If we hadn’t invented nationalism, we would have had to come up with something else. And we have. But if you ask me the alt-fake-tribalisms -- the globalisms, socialisms, classisms, racisms, non-gender-binaryisms -- in which the opponents of nationalism have tried to bury nationalism are all cures that are worse than the disease.

I tell you what: the more I read the scribblings of the "nationalism ankle-biters" the more I appreciate the genius of Trump and his Make America Great Again. Politics is division, between “us” and “them;” it must be. But why not make the divide between Americans and the non-American illegals taking “our jobs,” between our noble American manufacturers and the Chinese cheaters? Then the question immediately arises about why the Democrats are taking the side of furriners.

Churchill said that “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Nationalism is the same. It stinks, but not as much as all the other -isms.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.