Whether nationalism is really the fever and liberalism the normal condition

Benjamin Wallace-Wells at the New Yorker raises the possibility that has me clutching the blankets in fear.

The question this ultimately raises is whether nationalism is really the fever and liberalism the normal condition, or whether it might be the other way around. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy’s party of the center-right and Marine Le Pen’s party of the nationalist far-right are leading early polling for next year’s Presidential election, with the parties of the left and center-left trailing well behind. In the U.K., the majority of voters now appear to be more nationalist than David Cameron’s Tories were. The Tories have become Boris Johnson’s party, and even further to the right there is the ascendant United Kingdom Independence Party. The worry is that liberalism may be winning the ideas festivals and losing the elections. The left still exists, at least in some form, but liberals seem endangered. Not long ago, we thought the reverse was true.

We think of fascism as the derangement and liberal democracy as the steady state…but as Wallace-Wells says, maybe it’s the opposite.

I talked about that yesterday in my column for The Freethinker.

We know from history that people can take inspiration from demagogues like Trump, and we know what kind of horrors ensue.

I try to derive some consolation from the thought that we’re all getting a Living History lesson – hey girls and boys, this is what it was like in Germany around 1929 or so! Now do you get a sense of how an advanced country like Germany, with a famous philosopher on every corner, managed to let itself be seduced by a screaming mediocrity like Hitler?

Now do you see how in just a few short years they were looking hard in the other direction while the SS pushed most of the Jews in Europe into gas chambers? Now does it seem less baffling to you that Yugoslavia could collapse into a genocidal nightmare practically overnight? Now do you feel with your own fingers how very thin and weak the barrier is between a functioning society and a howling wilderness of murder and torture?

I know I do.


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