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White supremacism is not nationalism

Summary:
If you spend any time at all talking to rightist immigration restrictionist types on Twitter or elsewhere, you'll notice that they've taken to calling themselves "nationalists." They contrast this with "globalism", which they associate with rootless cosmopolitans pushing open-borders policies on countries to which they have no allegiance. Lots of people on the left take these folks at their word - after all, weren't the Nazis nationalists? Didn't nationalism cause WW2? Etc. But I've always been suspicious of the "nationalist" label. American rightists have always seemed to me like part of an international, borderless white supremacist movement - a sort of global white-ist Ummah. They always seem to have much more allegiance to their co-racialists in other countries than they do to their own non-white countrymen.  Josh Barro notices this in a recent post: For members of a movement that purports to focus on putting American interests first, American nationalists seem to spend an awful lot of time obsessing about Europe.  Europe's birthrates are too low and Europe has Muslim minorities that it's not integrating well, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa complains, by way of defending his tweet that said, "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." Josh thinks that the nativist right's obsession with Europe is a rhetorical tactic.

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White supremacism is not nationalism

If you spend any time at all talking to rightist immigration restrictionist types on Twitter or elsewhere, you'll notice that they've taken to calling themselves "nationalists." They contrast this with "globalism", which they associate with rootless cosmopolitans pushing open-borders policies on countries to which they have no allegiance. Lots of people on the left take these folks at their word - after all, weren't the Nazis nationalists? Didn't nationalism cause WW2? Etc.

But I've always been suspicious of the "nationalist" label. American rightists have always seemed to me like part of an international, borderless white supremacist movement - a sort of global white-ist Ummah. They always seem to have much more allegiance to their co-racialists in other countries than they do to their own non-white countrymen. 

For members of a movement that purports to focus on putting American interests first, American nationalists seem to spend an awful lot of time obsessing about Europe. 
Europe's birthrates are too low and Europe has Muslim minorities that it's not integrating well, Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa complains, by way of defending his tweet that said, "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."
Josh thinks that the nativist right's obsession with Europe is a rhetorical tactic. He thinks that immigration works so well in the U.S. that the only way restrictionists can avoid saying the truth - that they just don't like nonwhite people - is to point at Europe, which is far worse at handling immigration. That's probably true. 

But I think it's more than that. I think America's white nationalists feel a natural kinship with Europe. They always speak not of American civilization, but of Western civilization. They erupt in outrage over stories of white people (supposedly) victimized by nonwhites in far-off countries, while expressing little or no outrage when nonwhite American citizens are attacked. They are just as likely to complain about immigration to the UK or Germany or Sweden as to the U.S. Pepe the Frog, the Celtic Cross, and old European paintings are replacing the American flag as online markers of rightist identity.

Rightists often claim that American Muslims won't be loyal to the United States, but to a global Muslim community. To me, this clearly seems like a case of psychological projection. White supremacists see themselves as part of an international borderless racial community first and foremost, rather than citizens of a nation-state, so they naturally imagine that everyone else sees themselves the same way.

That's a generalization. I'm sure some of our white nationalists really are just "restrictive nationalists" - the type of people who feel real American pride, but who also view whiteness as part of the essential definition of American-ness. I bet Steve King and many older people are like that. 

But I also think that the internet is breaking boundaries between national cultures, and forging trans-national loyalties. Twitter, Reddit, and forums like 4chan put European and American rightists in contact every day. Go on 4chan and check out the country flags on white supremacist posts - you'll notice that more than half are from outside of America. That constant contact with international fellow-travelers tends to erode national and local allegiances and create borderless identity groups defined by race, religion, and ideology. This was what happened with ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other global Islamist movements, and I think it's now happening with white-ist movements in Europe, America, and the Anglosphere countries.  

This is ironic; white supremacists embody the same thing they claim to be afraid of - an erosion of national loyalty. It's also scary, because it means that technology has fundamentally changed the game of politics in ways that few anticipated. When people spend most of their time online instead of engaged in their local communities, they naturally lose allegiance to the people near them and gain allegiance to the people on their screens. Whereas in past centuries, comrades-in-arms built loyalty fighting with guns and tanks for borders and land, now they build camaraderie fighting in meme wars and flame wars with comrades sitting in front of screens thousands of miles away. 

That worries me. Nation-states might have fought each other in wars, but they were incredibly effective in the 20th century in terms of providing public goods, improving social justice, and giving people a feeling of togetherness and commonality. International racial and religious movements will almost certainly be much worse at the first two of those tasks. A world defined not by borders but by online identity groups will be a deeply dysfunctional world, I predict. Whatever the sins of nationalism, I think history shows that militant trans-national movements are far more dangerous - they also commit mass violence, but they fail to provide the public goods and institutions that make life good in peacetime. 
Noah Smith
Noah has been a finance professor at SUNY Stony Brook, an economics PhD student at the University of Michigan, an academic editor in Japan, and a physics major at Stanford. He is currently hard at work on solving all the problems of the world. So don't be surprised when all your problems suddenly vanish.

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