Yes, Nationalism is dead

Many people will ask if nationalism is dead because several observers are proclaiming nationalism’s demise.

For instance, Matej Palenik declares Nationalism is Dead in a recent Medium post. Meanwhile, philosopher Yuval Noah Harari expresses a similar sentiment in his recent book Homo Deus.

Conversely, I think nationalism is dead but the nation-state lives on. To elaborate, nationalism is no longer a primary focus of people’s lives and primary motivator of economic, political, and personal behavior. Moreover, nationalism has lost most of its potency as a moral force.

Yes, Nationalism is dead, but the Nation lives on

However, many of the institutions of nationalism; like states, governments, armies, the Boy Scouts, monarchies, the United Nations, Captain America comic books, etc., will linger on. On the other hand, those institutions will lose a lot of their meaning, power, and appeal.

Thus, the death of nationalism is like Friedrich Nietzsche’s infamous “God is dead” declaration. To explain, Nietzsche did not believe in God’s death, or that people had stopped believing in “God.” Instead, he concluded correctly, that God was no longer the primary focus of Western Civilization.

Tellingly, Israeli philosopher Yuval Noah Harari writes of Nietzsche’s statement: “God has become an abstract idea that some accept and others reject.”[1] That is exactly, how many modern people think of the nation-state.

For instance, globalists reject the entire concept of the nation-state while nationalists base their worldview on it. Interestingly, many nationalists now predict the collapse of civilization if we abandon the nation-state. Much as Christian intellectuals forecast a new Dark Age after God’s “death.”

Hence, Palenik is saying, nationalism is no longer a primary focus of global civilization as it was in the 20th Century. Indeed, most people no longer consider the nation as a primary institution in their lives as their grandparents did.

Yes, Nationalism is dead and so is God

Notably, the church survived and kept most of its power long after Nietzsche made his famous observation.

Indeed, the church grew in power and influence after the first Nietzsche revelation. However, history proved that growth was unsustainable, demonstrating that Nietzsche was right.

Therefore, we are likely to see an upsurge in nationalism because of statements like Palenik’s. However, that upsurge is likely to be shallow; focused on hollow symbolism, and short-lived.

Colin Kaepernick proves nationalism is dead

A perfect example of such a reaction is the attacks on American football player Colin Kaepernick. In detail, American nationalists are demonizing Kaepernick for his kneeling during the national anthem.

Some American nationalists believe his behavior is disrespectful. In contrast, Kaepernick claims he is fighting for social justice by protesting police shootings of African American men by kneeling.

Significantly, Kaepernick is not being attacked for his beliefs but for his refusal to respect nationalist symbolism. In essence, Kaepernick is being vilified and barred from football because he proved “nationalism is dead” in a very public manner.

Ultimately, Kaepernick will probably get the last laugh when some NFL team signs him to a big money contract. However, the point Kaepernick’s victory will prove is not what he set out to achieve.

Instead of proving “black lives matter,” Kaepernick will show America “nationalism is dead.” Thus, the results of his victory are as likely to appall Kaepernick himself as his critics.

Why Nationalism is dead

Pointless battles over symbolism prove nationalism is dead, but how and why did it die. Or as a mystery writer might ask “who killed nationalism?”

I conclude technology is the primary killer of nationalism. Importantly, advances in technology are rendering nationalism useless from a military standpoint.

To explain, today’s wars are being fought by drones, artillery, warplanes, malware, and small forces of highly trained military professionals or bands of mercenaries. Moreover, robots, algorithms, and possibly nanotechnology will fight future wars.

How Technology Killed Nationalism

Therefore, we no longer require large forces of soldiers to fight wars. Hence, mass armies are unnecessary for national defense or survival in today’s world.

Under those circumstances, nationalism is no longer necessary. In fact, governments invented nationalism in the late 19th Century to motivate men to join the army and people to support the war effort.

It is no coincidence nationalism reached its height in the mid-20th Century when the world’s elites need mass conscript armies for their survival. For instance, Wall Street investment bankers had good reason to encourage American nationalism in the 1940s and 1950s.

How Military Necessity Created Nationalism

In addition, Wall Street and the City of London needed a healthy and educated workforce to build all the weapons, vehicles, and munitions that the conscript army needed. Thus Wall Street and the City of London were willing to pay for schools and hospitals in the 1940s and 1950s.

America’s conscript army was protecting Wall Street from the vast conscript armies raised by Hitler, the Japanese Imperialists, Stalin, and Mao. Conversely, the apparatchiks in the Kremlin, Berlin, and the Forbidden City needed mass armies to protect their Communist and Nazi empires from the capitalist conscript armies.

In today’s world, however, a conscript army is militarily useless. In fact, we can make a good case that money spent on conscript armies jeopardizes national defense. For instance, basic training for infantrymen leaves less money for drones which kill terrorists.

Additionally, automation and robotics are making workers far less useful in manufacturing. In fact, the factory of the future is likely to employ only a few highly-skilled technicians and a janitor.

How the Elite killed Nationalism and the Welfare State

Thus, nationalism has no real value for today’s elite. In fact, nationalism and nationalists are now embarrassing acronyms for today’s venture capitalist, TV showrunner, software designer, or college professor.

The elite of the 1940s and 1950s was so willing to invest money and resources in national healthcare plans, Social Security, and government-financed college tuitions. Not coincidently, many conservatives of the mid-20th Century like Dwight D. Eisenhower and Winston S. Churchill were strong advocates of welfare state expansion.

In detail, the elite needed healthy and well-educated men to fill its armies and run its factories. However, in today’s world where conscript armies and large workforces are no longer needed, elite support for the welfare state has evaporated.

In addition, support for nationalism is likely to fall farther as it threatens free trade and other lynchpins of the elite’s economic system. For example, the American media is demonizing nationalists as fascists, ignorant louts, and racists.

Nationalism is dead and so is the welfare state

Notably, many modern elitists will pay taxes to finance military technology but oppose taxes for public education and healthcare expansion. To explain, the elites no longer need a large pool of healthy and literate army recruits and factory workers.

Thus an obvious conclusion is that the welfare state will die along with nationalism. Therefore, welfare advocates will need different arguments for their programs.

An obvious one is protecting the property and investments of the rich from angry mobs of the technologically unemployed. A drawback to that argument is that forces of mercenaries or drones will be far cheaper and more effective in protecting the elite‘s property, than single-payer healthcare programs or basic income schemes.

Nationalism is dead get used to it

Under these conditions, nationalism really is dead. Thus we must ask two important questions:

1.    What comes after nationalism?

2.    How long will it take the intelligentsia to realize nationalism is dead?

The answers to these questions will determine what the 21st Century will look like.


[1] [i] See Homo Deus page 236 for the full quote.