When and why nationalism beats globalism

And how moral psychology can help explain and reduce tensions between the two.

What on earth is going on in the Western democracies? From the rise of Donald Trump in the United States and an assortment of right-wing parties across Europe through the June 23 Brexit vote, many on the Left have the sense that something dangerous and ugly is spreading: right-wing populism, seen as the Zika virus of politics. Something has gotten into “those people” that makes them vote in ways that seem—to their critics—likely to harm their own material interests, at least if their leaders follow through in implementing isolationist policies that slow economic growth.

Most analyses published since the Brexit vote focus on economic factors and some version of the “left behind” thesis—globalization has raised prosperity all over the world, with the striking exception of the working classes in Western societies. These less educated members of the richest countries lost access to well-paid but relatively low-skilled jobs, which were shipped overseas or given to immigrants willing to work for less. In communities where wages have stagnated or declined, the ever-rising opulence, rents, and confidence of London and other super-cities has bred resentment.

A smaller set of analyses, particularly in the United States, has focused on the psychological trait of authoritarianism to explain why these populist movements are often so hostile to immigration, and why they usually have an outright racist fringe.

Globalization and authoritarianism are both essential parts of the story, but in this essay I will put them together in a new way. I’ll tell a story with four chapters that begins by endorsing the distinction made by the intellectual historian Michael Lind, and other commentators, between globalists and nationalists—these are good descriptions of the two teams of combatants emerging in so many Western nations. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, pointed to the same dividing line last December when she portrayed the battle in France as one between “globalists” and “patriots.”

But rather than focusing on the nationalists as the people who need to be explained by experts, I’ll begin the story with the globalists. I’ll show how globalization and rising prosperity have changed the values and behavior of the urban elite, leading them to talk and act in ways that unwittingly activate authoritarian tendencies in a subset of the nationalists. I’ll show why immigration has been so central in nearly all right-wing populist movements. It’s not just the spark, it’s the explosive material, and those who dismiss anti-immigrant sentiment as mere racism have missed several important aspects of moral psychology related to the general human need to live in a stable and coherent moral order. Once moral psychology is brought into the story and added on to the economic and authoritarianism explanations, it becomes possible to offer some advice for reducing the intensity of the recent wave of conflicts.

Lees dit essay van Jonathan Haidt verder op The American Interest

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