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The Vices of Nationalism – AEI

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ne common narrative about the West’s ongoing predicament is that the current revival of nationalism is a foreseeable and potentially helpful corrective to liberalism’s overreach. Pushing the Euro, gay marriage, permissive immigration policies, and the climate change agenda down the throats of reluctant electorates was bound to provoke a reaction. Among conservatives seeking find a positive path forward from the current situation, Yoram Hazony calls for “conservative democracy” as an alternative to liberal democracy, in order to restore “a balance between the principles of limited government and individual liberties, on the one hand; and the principles of religion, nationalism, and historical empiricism [on the other].”

Perhaps it would be facile to question the wisdom of this narrative on the grounds that it is music to the ears of aspiring autocrats such as Viktor Orbán. Leaders of his ilk rally against liberal democracy and “globalism” under nationalist and socially conservative banners not as a high-minded balancing act but simply to entrench their power and line the pockets of their cronies. Yet a more salient question lingers: What does correcting previous liberal overreach mean in concrete terms? And how far is the correction supposed to go?

In areas such as migration the answer may seem obvious. Yet more restrictive asylum and immigration policy do little to distinguish nationalists from centrist political leaders who have internalized the lesson of the 2015 refugee crisis, such as Emmanuel Macron or Mark Rutte. In other policy domains, the “conservative democratic” agenda simply seems dead in the water, for better and for worse. Good luck using government policies to change the secular outlook of Western societies or to scale back the new social norms regarding gender and sexuality in the era of #MeToo and the Women’s March. Even in Catholic Poland efforts by the Law and Justice Party to outlaw abortion were met with an unprecedented wave of protests and subsequently abandoned.

Perhaps most consequential is the idea of scaling back participation in transnational institutions. For a long time, conservatives have harbored a deep distrust of bureaucracies such as the EU and UN. As Hazony puts it, “international organizations possess no sound governing traditions and no loyalty to particular national populations that might restrain their spurious theorizing about universal rights. They therefore see such bodies as inevitably tending toward arbitrariness and autocracy.” Now is the time to fix the problem.

Keep reading at The American Interest

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