April 18, 2016

Nationalism, Globalism, Empire

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:59 pm

The alt-right is, as much as it is anything, a call to arms in defense of nationalism against globalism—or, more specifically, the “global elite,” the network of corporate executives, media owners, bankers, politicians, and others who form consensus and strategize through Davos and other formal and informal global institutions. The globalists seek to reduce the world to a single economic and political unit, and whatever their own country of origin, citizenship or residency, refuse to privilege the interests of one nation over any other. If this is indeed the aim and outlook of the global elites, it’s easy to see that, barring a rather extraordinary, even miraculous, success in creating a harmonic convergence of some very divergent interests, such a project dooms the elite to, in the end, become the enemy of all nations. A very formidable enemy, to be sure.

A degree of commitment to supra-national order is inevitable once there are enduring international relations and institutions. One could easily imagine that the diplomatic corps of the absolutist monarchs of early modern Europe felt a kind of comradely solidarity with one another regarding the peaceful relations they sought to construct and, even more, felt they had a broader and more insightful view of the demands of keeping the peace than those whose viewpoint was constrained by their narrow, national perspective. And they would certainly have been right, to some extent. The same is undoubtedly true of those scientists and scholars who forge international connections within a “republic of letters,” a tenuous construct continually under threat from the irrational passions of national publics and politicians. Businesses and corporations that do business in China, India, Ghana and Chile must take an interest in the internal politics within those sometimes unstable polities; and, insofar as these businesses and corporations are fortunate enough to originate in countries powerful enough to take an interest as well, they will endeavor to ensure that that is the case. It is easy to see why the President and Congress of the United States might take a greater interest in the domestic stability of some faraway country than in the suffering of some relatively marginal domestic constituency. And it is also easy to see how easily they will convince themselves that this set of priorities will ultimately benefit those domestic constituencies as well. And sometimes, according to some measures, they will be right.

Just as any nation has a kind of “core,” a particular group or set of groups with which the national impetus originated and which still holds most tightly to strictly national loyalties and values, any nation will have a kind of “epidermis,” an outer layer mediating its relations to the rest of the world. In a nationalist order, this outer layer is rooted in the nation through the perpetual competition among the most talented of the nation to enter the intellectual and political elites, and through the national pride invested in the triumphs of those elites on the global stage. The globalized outer layer of the nation will certainly have attenuated loyalties compared to the core, but something else seems necessary for a genuine global elite, at odds with the nation, to emerge. That something else is imperial responsibility for a global order, which the US undertook following World War II. A kind of national pride can be sustained in such imperial projects insofar as the imperial reach seems necessary to combat some clearly dangerous foe, such as the USSR, derives from military victories over despised enemies, or provides new outlets for domestic energies and constituencies. In the case of the Cold War, which itself resulted from American inheritance of a world broken by two world wars, symmetrical rivalry silenced questions regarding what was essentially US governance of Western Europe and much of East Asia. Nor is there any point to condemning imperialism as such—in any case, the question would have to be whether there was a better viable alternative to imperial rule.

Once the Soviet Union fell, though, the imperial architecture became pointless. The U.S. should really have dissolved NATO, withdrawn all troops from Europe and Southeast Asia, and renormalized itself as a nation. But what national leadership could possibly give up all that power and influence, especially given all the private interests invested in the global U.S. protectorate, and the linking of the U.S. economy to the advantages accruing to the role of the dollar as global currency? Only a crisis could precipitate such a change of course. In the meantime, profits for US multinationals, cheap goods for U.S. consumers, and cheap labor for domestic American employers are intertwined with the gradual liberalization of China and maintaining the stability of Mexico as purposes of U.S. policy. The crisis of the world today is the crisis of the informal U.S. empire, whose fall would have devastating, if also liberating, but above all incalculable effects throughout the world. If we want to grasp the terror of U.S. elites at the rise of Donald Trump, it may very well lie in the possibility that he will bring this crisis to a head, and make clear what has already been the case for some time: that the global elites organized under the increasingly pathetic leadership of the U.S. has completely lost control of developments.

Those who subvert the nation from above will do it from below, as well. There are good reasons, beyond a fear of bad publicity, why most major corporations participate vigorously in victimary politics. It’s easy to think of victimary politics in very local terms, but ultimately victimary politics is, in Carl Schmitt’s terms, “planetary”: international human rights, rules for a global social justice convergence, demolish democracy, privacy, property and all forms of local autonomy. Failure to convincingly repudiate your whiteness makes you an enemy of humanity, anytime, anywhere: the very model of the unprotected class, or what Agamben calls homo sacer, upon whom it is always open season. It is a levying of the mob for imperial ends, and a very effective way of creating a terrorized, and therefore pliable, workforce. Even more than the rapidly accumulating economic and safety regulations, “anti-discrimination” (i.e., victimary) rules make it extremely difficult for small businesses and individual contractors to survive on the market: a single lawsuit can destroy years of work. All this means that anti-victimary and anti-imperial politics are one and the same now.

The Journal of American Greatness, an online journal dedicated to developing the parameters of what we might call a kind of ideal Trumpism, capable of surviving Trump’s candidacy, has drawn upon James Burnham’s notion of the “managerial class” in order to account for specifically globalized interests. The managerial class would coincide with what, drawing upon the blogger “Archdruid,” I called the “salaried” class in an earlier post. Of course, the global ruling class would draw primarily upon the upper layers of the salaried, but making the point that global power derives from knowledge and expertise, in navigating the terms of global power if nothing else, makes the question an especially difficult one (as the writers at JAG are aware). Such power can’t simply be seized like land or other “means of production.” The only way to break up the global managerial class and repatriate its various national sections would be to break up the empire. So, how to do that?

Well, first of all direct opposition at all the international organizations—fire away indiscriminately at NATO, the UN, the EU, SEATO, the World Bank, the IMF, plus a half a dozen others that must be out there that I know nothing about. Oppose, unconditionally, all trade agreements, which are nothing more than a slicing up of the world for the benefits of the corporations. It would be better to just have tariffs tied directly to the tariffs other countries set for us. Start with 10% tariffs for all, and if a country sets a 15% tariff for us, raise it for them; if a country sets its tariff at 5%, lower it. At least everything will be transparent that way, which at this point is more important than efficiencies (not that I concede that the current approach maximizes efficiencies). If all these institutions and arrangements are abolished, tens of thousands of ruling class managers will have no choice but to find some gainful employment in their home countries. Oppose all military interventions that don’t explicitly have victory (i.e., surrender of the enemy, along with reparations for any injuries suffered in whatever violation led us to go to war in the first place—and if we can’t clearly state such an injury, perhaps we shouldn’t be at war) as its one and only goal. Start developing a discourse of resistance and disobedience to all interpretations of anti-discrimination law aside from the most commonsensical (i.e., I’m not hiring you because you’re black, give me oral sex for a promotion, etc.). Point out that these, by now insane, laws serve no purpose but to divide us a hundred different ways.

The truest resistance, though, is “spiritual,” or self-disciplining—or, to put it in grammatical terms, imperative, located in the sphere of habits. To be a true American (or Canadian, or Brit, etc.) to demonstrate what it means to be an American (or…) in the workplace, in family life, in addressing friends and enemies in the world, and so on. To embody and project national honor, in short. Both the Tea Party and Trump supporters have exhibited such a sense of honor, however limitedly (in different ways, for different reasons, in each case). Maybe that smarmy piety, “who we are,” can be retrieved: we are slow to start wars, but quick to finish them; we treat all nations fairly, exactly as they treat us; we look out for common interests and enterprises, but for ourselves and each other first of all; the more you respect our borders and sovereignty, the more welcome you will be. Etc. For Americans this will really be “nation building,” as it has been a long time since we have just been a nation among others, with our own borders, our own currency, our own classes, our own universities, and so on—not to serve the world, not to convert the world, just to co-exist with them like everyone else.

It might be helpful to keep in mind that the empire is collapsing anyway—US reliability was already questionable, going back to Vietnam, but Obama’s presidency has thoroughly demolished it. Simply ask yourself: as a leader of another country, would you trust any commitments made by the leaders of a nation capable of electing and re-electing Barack Obama? I can’t believe many will answer yes (and those who would answer yes may be too stupid or irresponsible to make agreements with).

A final word. The end of empire would mean the end of political universalism. Universalism is really the imagining of the world under a single empire—not necessarily under the rule of a single individual or institution (but maybe that as well), but certainly all subject to the same regime of rights and their enforcement. To contend for universalism is to make war on the particulars—that is, everyone less universal than you take yourself to be. There can be no value or, as I would prefer, imperative, that can be equally urgent, legitimate and viable for all people at the same time. To be a universalist is simply to insist that others determine urgency, legitimacy and viability as you have. Instead of the tiresome debate over “universalism vs. particularism” we could speak of various degrees and modalities of civilization. We could speak more simply about what makes any social order a model others might emulate or from which others might recoil. The civilizing forces within an order are those who defend those shared habits worthy of emulation, or constructed out of emulation of another order, and look for new habits worthy of emulation; at the same time, those civilizing forces will look suspiciously and even hostilely at those orders containing little or nothing worthy of emulation—nothing we would have to elevate ourselves in order to adopt. All of these judgments are, of course, debatable, and a civilized order is one in which they are freely debated and acted upon.

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