by Rod D. Martin
January 20, 2020

National self-determination has been the policy of this country since the Declaration of Independence. That’s a fact.

We call that idea “Nationalism”. It’s the proposition that discrete groups of people have the right to rule themselves, and not be ruled over by someone else. And to be clear, those are your options. There are no other.

The American Revolution was in part a nationalist revolution, asserting the right of Americans not to be ruled by distant strangers. Every Latin American revolution against Spain was the same.

Not all of those revolutions resulted in new governments of which you or I would approve. But America defended them all from recolonization through the Monroe Doctrine. Why? Because America has always believed in nations, not empires.

Nationalism does not require a particular form of government. Those are different isms. Nationalism simply requires that one nation not be ruled by another. But that “simple” idea transformed the world for the (mostly) better.

Unless, of course, you think Kenya and Kansas should be ruled without their consent from Westminster.

The common mistake is that since some nations may govern themselves poorly, nations are therefore bad. But the form of government is not at issue. Generally speaking, it is better for Kenya to be ruled by Kenyans, and Czechia by Czechs.

It would also be nice if they were republics. But that’s mostly their business and only in rare cases ours, so long as they respect the nationhood, the self-determination, of their neighbors.

Most of those opposed to this idea seem intent on a new empire, led by the unelected from Brussels to the Beltway (or possibly Beijing). They don’t hate nationalism because nations sometimes go awry. They hate nationalism because nation-states are in their way.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the EU. It’s why Brexit won. Britons did not wish to be ruled by unelected bureaucrats (which would be bad enough) who, being mostly Germans and French, hold British customs and British norms in contempt.

Those conservatives claiming “nationalism” is in opposition to “patriotism” miss the point. To what are you supposed to be patriotic if not your nation? And to the degree that some wish to be patriotic toward “Europe”, they are admitting they’re building a superstate: an empire.

Of course, in the American context, such conservatives are mostly #NeverTrumpers. They don’t hate nationalism: they hate anything Trump likes. Many of them will forget their made-up distinction as soon as Trump is gone, which is to say, in 2025.

They claim “nationalism” means things it does not for the same reason they absurdly claimed that the slogan “America First”, used by plenty of Presidential candidates over the years, was somehow a dogwhistle to supporters of Charles Lindbergh. Because there are so many of those running around these days.

Did I mention this was absurd?

The thing is, you either believe in the Westphalian system or you don’t. (And for those of you from Rio Linda, here’s a quick primer on that.) If you jettison Westphalia (and self-determination) what would be left for which to be patriotic? Only whatever empire replaces it.

I get the whole “some nationalists are bad people thing” but that’s like saying “some air breathers are bad people”. Even if America has a bad government, I’m still in favor of Americans ruling America, and opposed to other people ruling us.

This, of course, is the point at which Bill Kristol or AOC will say that Hitler was a nationalist. But that’s not true. Not really.

Hitler wasn’t a nationalist at all: he was an imperialist, who invoked the word “nationalism” to play off of German grievances coming out of the Great War. He did not believe in any nation-state whatsoever other than whichever one he happened to control.

WWII-era German “nationalism” was just a revival of WWI-era German imperialism, with a particularly nasty, evil bent. It was no more nationalist than British imperialism. Both sought the extinguishment of nations and subjection of them to foreign rule.

The British weren’t evil. But still, there’s a reason we had a revolution. And there’s a reason for the nationalist movements that destroyed the British empire, from Kenya to India, from Belize to Burma, from Aden to Australia. Imperialism is not nationalism.

Let me say that again. Imperialism is not nationalism. Nationalism is the destruction of empires. That’s why the EU, and their elitist friends here, hate it.

One more point to those who prefer “patriotic” (a perfectly good word) in place of “nationalist” (also a perfectly good word):

“Nationalist” is useful in a way “patriotic” is not, in a time in which the very idea of the nation-state is under active assault.

I am only using the term in its simplest (and I believe correct) sense: the assertion of the right of discrete groups of people to self-determination, which is to say, to national sovereignty.

Those who assert that nationalism is opposed to classical liberal ideas have forgotten the history of classical liberalism. Whether today or in 1848, nationalism is the only way available to assert classical liberal ideas, since everything else intentionally abolishes them.

No doubt, some nations choose to govern themselves poorly, and some have no choice in who governs them.

But you will never get anything resembling liberty if you are governed from a distant capital by a foreign people. The idea is just absurd. And all of the people squawking about this now understood that point perfectly when the Soviet Empire fell, or any of the other empires.

The right of self-determination — which in international affairs means nationalism, or the Westphalian nation-state — is the foundation of liberty. And anyone trying to subvert that is trying to take away your freedom. They are imperialists. Americans are not.

Rod on Nationalism originally appeared as a thread on Twitter.