“Those who ignore history are doomed to listen to lectures from those who study history.”
~ Alan Poirier
As the scholars and politicians on the Left bemoan the resurgence of nationalism in the United States, Europe, India and Russia and are driven into fits of rage over the election President Donald Trump, they would do well to reflect on the forces that drive history.
In this respect, R.R. Palmer’s The Age of Democratic Revolution is a much unappreciated tome in comparison to the renowned essay by Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the book The End of History and the Last Man.
I remember reading Palmer’s award winning study of the American and French Revolutions back in my last year of high school in 1967 and thinking how incredibly well he had managed to pull together the disparate themes of the great exercises in popular will.
The late ’60s, of course, were a tumultuous time. There had been race riots in the United States and violent demonstrations worldwide against American involvement in the Vietnamese civil war. It seemed the people were once again on the move, restless and demanding change on all fronts – economic, social and political.
What Palmer showed was the American and French Revolutions were essentially outgrowths on the historic drive for individual liberty founded on a belief in natural rights.
That, of course, is the driving force of all Western civilization and, by extension, a driving force of countries which came under the control of the West in one form or another.
Those revolutions established the mold for the modern nation state and, by definition, nationalism. They established the rights of the individual and that the state existed to protect those rights.
That was truly revolutionary thinking and the world has been reeling from its effects for hundreds of years as peoples seek liberty and self-determination around the globe.
Of course, there were a few great thinkers like Fukuyama who argued History was essentially over because in the aftermath of World War II capitalism and socialism had merged into a synthetic, neo-liberalism embraced by the entire world. Communism was dead. The United Nations was in ascendance. The New World Order had arrived.
Well, history is back with a vengeance and nationalism is resurgent.
In the United States, Trump road to victory on the back of nationalism. It was nationalism that saw the British voted to leave the European Union. It is nationalism that is fueling Marine LePen’s march to victory in France. It is nationalism that brought Narendra Modi to power in India.
This resurgence of nationalism leaves some people filled with dread. In the U.S., for example, Democrats and their allies on the Left see nothing less than the reincarnation of Nazi Germany, whose toxic nationalism nearly enslaved an entire world. And those who believe globalism is the answer to all our problems are sickened by the thought the EU and the UN will crumble.
That nationalism can be a force for evil is true, but nationalism at its foundation is a force for good.
It is founded on the idea that the state exists to protect the rights of individuals, that liberty and equality are fundamental rights.
That is why Brexit succeeded in Britain and why Trump succeeded in the U.S. , because both campaigns vowed to put national interests first. For voters rightfully aggrieved by policies and institutions that took away rights, that took away economic and political liberties, that message rang true.
The campaigns succeeded too because individuals understand that all relationships are based on reciprocity, be they personal, social, economic or political. A person entering into any relationship has an expectation that that he or she will get as well as give. And if all you do is give and get nothing in return, then the relationship will fail.
Those days are gone and History lives on.