Globalism and Nationalism

Why Interconnectedness Does Not Threaten Sovereignty

Donald Trump, then U.S. president-elect, at a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, December 2016. Mike Segar / REUTERS

Speaking in Washington in April 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declared that “we will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.” Trump’s supporters on the American far right, such as the pseudonymous “Virgil,” who writes for the Breitbart website, similarly attack the “old globalist vision” as a “gospel,” a “new kind of religious faith” of “murky international enterprises” seeking to abolish national borders and undermine democracy.

These views caricature globalism as a liberal, capitalist, and anti-democratic alternative to nationalism. This understanding, however, is far from the historical meaning of the term. Indeed, as I explain in my book The Emergence of Globalism, the idea that globalism is fundamentally at odds with national sovereignty is a false and misleading narrative.

To understand the meaning of globalism today, we need to look back at the emergence of the idea in the 1940s. After World War II, American, British, and émigré intellectuals suggested that the rise of globalism would define the post-war world order. Thinkers such as Raymond Aron, David Mitrany, Owen Lattimore, Nicholas Spykman, Barbara Wootton, Lionel Curtis, Clarence Streit, Lionel Robbins, Friedrich Hayek, Charles E. Merriam, Michael Polanyi, Richard McKeon, Jacques Maritain, and Luigi Sturzo were among those who identified increasing interconnectedness throughout the world, including in technological, cultural, and economic terms. Globalism in the post-war period embodied their commitment to find an international political order to fit this newly interconnected world.

This growing international interconnectedness, however, did not signify a blanket rejection of all national political units and communities. What it meant was that polities of all scales—nations, empires, federal unions, non-state communities, and international organizations—were adjusted to fit the reality of new interdependencies.

An oil tanker near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, February 2014.
An oil tanker near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, February 2014.  Beck Diefenbach / REUTERS

Globalism, in this post-war definition, meant an awareness of the political implications of the interconnected globe. The recognition of the world’s “oneness” did not mean that political or cultural homogeneity

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