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Nationalists are far more concerned with self-determination than with conquest. Nationalists believe that their own bloodlines, ideologies, faiths, laws, customs, or cultures have forged them into an extended family or tribe — a nation. Nationalists believe that their defining national traits are right for them. They’re content assuming that other nations’ defining traits may be fine for others. Nationalists don’t particularly want to conquer other nations — they wouldn’t quite know what to do with them if they did. That’s not to say that nationalists are inherently benevolent or pacifist; they’re simply uninterested in imposing their mores on others. When nationalists wage offensive wars, it’s typically because they want land or resources that some other nation possesses. Victorious nationalists may then become fairly nasty to any people they acquire along with those resources.

Many empires, as Hazony notes, tout their contributions to peace and prosperity — as beneficial for the welfare of the conquered as it is for the conquerors. They even develop catchy slogans, like Pax Romana or White Man’s Burden, to emphasise their benign goal of taming and civilising the savage barbarians they conquer.

Some empires take that argument to an extreme. They begin with a universalist ideology — a set of beliefs designed to improve the world. Christianity, Islam, liberalism, and socialism are all examples of such universal ideologies. Adherents of these philosophies believe that they embody universal truths applicable everywhere and to everyone. Most readers are likely to be far more sympathetic to Woodrow Wilson’s call to “make the world safe for democracy” than to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration of a global caliphate, , but both stem equally from the belief that a single, universal approach is best for everyone.

Following Hazony’s distinction between nationalism and imperialism, the two world wars should serve as a caution against imperialism — not nationalism. WWI pitted two peaking imperial powers (England and France) and one empire on its last legs (Russia) against two dying empires (Ottoman and Austrian) and one ascendant power with imperial objectives (Germany). The US joined when Wilson’s progressive imperial impulse permitted the country to abandon the anti-imperial nationalism that had governed its thinking from James Monroe until William McKinley. (Significantly, Warren Harding won the first post-WWI election promising “a return to normalcy”.) WWII was even clearer: Hitler’s combination of racial science and national socialism made for a toxic universalist ideology. His Third Reich was organised as an explicit imperial hierarchy.

In today’s world, Hazony identifies the EU as a stealth empire. Though the EU doesn’t see itself in such terms, its battles against the rising nationalist sentiment in its midst are revealing its imperial character. The EU’s governing class consists of sophisticated globalists who have imbibed a French view of rights and a German view of economics. They impose their will on people and businesses through an impenetrable permanent bureaucracy. They impose their will on national governments through courts and tribunals. They are unaccountable to anyone other than themselves. They consider themselves liberal, progressive, enlightened, and benign, and they may well be — but they are far from democratic.
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Lawrence James
August 31st, 2018
9:08 AM
The suggestion that 'imperialism' was and is a deadly sin is at best naif and at worst ridiculous. It would have astonished Spanish Catholics and British Protestants who warmly endorsed their countries' empires as instruments for conversion. Modern imperialism grew out of European and American nationalism. America's 'Manifest Destiny' and France's 'mission civilatrice' were expressions of national identity and virtue. As for the nature of empires,the most recent did spread the European scientific and intellectual enlightenment, established civil peace and stability and raised standards of living. In 1880 life expectancy in Africa was about 30 and in 1960 it nearing 60. There were of course cruel and exploitative empires - the Japanese and the Italian - but there were also the generous and benevolent - the British and French. The former has produced Canada, Australia, New Zealand,and, dare one say it, India. Failed'Nation states' such as Burma, Somalia and the Sudan would benefit from a revival of imperial government. As for nationalism, its offshoots are fear and loathing of the other and a mean insularity - emotions which sadly broke surface during the Brexit campaign.

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