The Contradiction Between the Nativist Right and Western Capitalism Must Be Addressed
There have always been nativist, nationalist elements in the thought of the political Right. Although they were often dormant within the conservative movement during the second half of the twentieth century, these elements have now yet again taken centre stage. Across the Western world, those who are ideologically opposed to immigration and those who seek to defend their own ‘national’ culture against multiculturalism have become increasingly influential among electorates. Within the corridors of power, they have successfully pushed for policies privileging the nation-state at the expense of multilateral institutions and the international order. The British electorate chose Brexit at least in part due to a popular nativist sentiment. The vote has, moreover, emboldened and empowered those within the Conservative Party, most especially the European Research Group, who seek to comprehensively reassert Britain’s status as an independent nation-state. In the United States, a nativist tide was critically important in the election of President Donald Trump. The nativism and nationalism of Trump’s administration is well known: the US government has pursued aggressive deportation policies at home while also withdrawing from international agreements and engaging in trade conflict abroad. Suspicion of foreigners and foreign cultures, in addition to opposition to the EU, have also become entrenched in Eastern Europe, with the most prominent examples being the Fidesz government in Hungary and the PiS in Poland.
Though they differ in many respects, a common theme unites these resurgent nativist, nationalist groups. Most do not limit themselves to support of their own national or ethnic identities, but also claim to be defending Western culture and even Western civilization itself. In Poland last year, Trump spoke of seeking to “preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert or destroy it”. A similar message is promoted by many popular conservative thinkers, from the likes of Jordan Peterson and Brendan O’Neil to Roger Scruton and Peter Hitchens. Simultaneously, although some, such as PiS in Poland, advocate for redistributionist welfare policies, most of the nativist Right also express unwavering support for the capitalist system. Thus, a deep contradiction in the ideology of the nativist and nationalist Right is exposed.
Nativism and nationalism are in fact fundamentally at odds with the essence of Western civilization and with the dictates of capitalism, as they oppose the modern capitalist empire that Western civilization has borne. Of course, our empire is presently decentralized; more Holy Roman Empire than Ming China, but its existence cannot be doubted. Transnational corporations are breaking down the world’s commercial barriers even as organisations such as the UN and the EU have undermined political borders. Immigration is breaking down the ethnic identities of regions around the world. The steady erosion of nations and of ethnic and cultural identities is the apotheosis of Western civilization and globalized finance capitalism. No state today can act as independently as they could only fifty years ago, evidently to the horror of the supporters of nativist projects who espouse the ideals of sovereignty and a defined national identity. The irony of pursuing these ideals whilst prostrating before the life blood of the global empire is conveniently glossed over.
To understand this contradiction, it is necessary to understand the nature and history of empires themselves. Throughout history, the overwhelming majority of humans have lived in empires. Empires have provided security and order to societies and have thus maintained the optimum conditions for the development of culture and civilization. To be the subject of an empire is no bad thing. Indeed, even the conquered eventually learn to identify themselves with the principles and culture of their conquerors. How else can we explain the fact that the Egyptians, who were conquered by the Arabs, now call themselves Arabs, or the fact that the Indians, once subjugated by the British, now cherish British traditions such as cricket? Today, we all live in the same empire. Thus, to understand our present - that is to say, the empire of globalized financed capitalism - we must understand how it has developed.
All empires pass through a typical history: The Imperial Cycle. First, a conquering people subjugates other peoples. An imperial civilization develops from the conquerors, which over generations is adopted by the vanquished. The subject peoples eventually demand equal status with the conquerors on the basis of the shared imperial civilization. Eventually, a multi-ethnic elite controlling the empire emerges, descended from both the conquerors and the conquered, and united not by blood, but by their common adherence to the imperial values and beliefs. The rest of the population follows suit, and the empire becomes culturally monolithic. This transcendence of the imperial civilization is the basic benchmark for measuring the success of an empire. The Imperial Cycle has held true for all major empires of history, as in the case of the Roman Empire, which was born through the subjugation of millions by Rome. The conquerors established an imperial Graeco-Roman culture which was steadily adopted by the vanquished. The subjects came to demand equal status in the name of common Roman values. Eventually, this led to the disappearance of the Romans as a distinct ethnic group and the creation of a new, multi-ethnic imperial elite. Indeed, from the 2nd century AD onwards it became common for Roman emperors to trace their ancestries to lands outside of Italy. Steadily, the disparate peoples of the empire came to see themselves as Romans first and foremost. Therefore, the Roman civilization ultimately drew its strength and longevity from its willingness to accept outsiders. It was only through its rejection of nativism that Roman civilization was able to transcend the collapse of the Roman state and develop into the Western civilization of today. The same holds true for all the great and lasting empires of history, from the Islamic Empire to the Chinese Empire.
The similarities with our current empire, the empire of Western globalized finance capitalism, are clear. The European empires and the Industrial Revolution led to the development of Western culture and its core beliefs: nationalism, human rights, capitalism, and so on. Increasingly, the subjugated peoples of the world adopted Western concepts such as nationalism and self-determination, and progressively identified themselves with Western civilization. In an ongoing process, they have demanded and been accepted as having equal status with those of European ancestry. Thus, today, while our multi-ethnic elite do not all share the same skin colour or speak the same language, they do share many of the same worldviews and values. Our modern, global empire is young, yet already it is developing the multi-lateral institutions that are slowly dissolving the boundaries between nations, states, and cultures. The new global Western civilization can only make a lasting historical impact through this process. To embrace Western civilization and global capitalism, one must prioritise the ideal of global citizenship over national, ethnic, racial and religious identities.
The Left has long had a strong internationalist dimension. Even as it opposes the globalisation of capitalism, it has nevertheless accepted our increasingly global, multi-ethnic world. It is the nativists and the nationalists of the Right who are undermining the institutions of the modern capitalist, Western empire today. The Brexit vote, America’s new economic nationalism, and Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate mechanism are prime examples of this. Those on the Right who uphold Western civilization and global capitalism even as they denounce the multi-lateral institutions and multiculturalism that are the core of Western capitalism must face the contradiction in their ideology sooner or later. They must ask themselves: What is more important? Is it national, ethnic, racial, and cultural identity? Or is it our civilizational and extra-cultural identity – the core identity of Western capitalist civilization? If it is the latter, then they must accept that there can be no distinctions between nations, or cultures, or ethnicities, or races, for all are ultimately equal before the world’s first truly universal empire: the empire of global capitalism.