Neoliberalism and its discontents (2)

What follows is notes for the second part of a talk for the Rochester Russell Forum scheduled at Writers & Books Literary Center, 740 University Ave., Rochester, NY, at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13.

Neoliberalism has generated an antithesis—blood and soil nationalism, which holds that the supreme human value consists of the ties of loyalty and customs among people of common ancestry who live in the same place.

Blood and soil nationalism is not fascism, although it can fit very well with fascism.  It is not racism, although it can fit very well with racism.

The difference is that fascism and racism are international movements.  They are disconnected from the culture and heritage of any particular place.

Loyalty to a heritage and a way of life, to kindred who live in a particular place, is the most natural feeling in the world.   It is wrong to devalue this feeling.

The problem is that, for many people, local cultures and heritages have already been hollowed out by the consumer culture promoted by the mass media of entertainment and advertising.  What is left is a hollowed-out version of patriotism consisting of loyalty to your own group and hatred of some other group you see as a threat.

People embrace this hollow nationalism as a way of giving a meaning to their lives that the neoliberal consumer and advertising culture does not provide.

The appeal of blood and soil nationalism is greatest among the losers in the neoliberal economy—who live in rural areas, who are tied to a particular place, who work with their hands, who lack college educations.  These are the one who are harmed or threatened by immigration and globalization.

The ones at the top, the billionaires and oligarchs who meet at places like Davos, Switzerland, have more in common with each other than with the common people of their own countries.

We see this in the rise to power of nationalists in Hungary and Poland and gaining strength in France, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries.  We see them in the America First wing of the Trump administration, and the Brexit supporters in the United Kingdom.

Vladimir Putin is both an example of blood and soil nationalism and one of its main promoters, although nationalism would still be a strong movement, both in Russia and worldwide, if Putin did not exist.

The nationalist movements differ, but they all want to stop or drastically reduce immigration.  They see a nation as being like your home.  You might invite guests into your home, but they don’t have a right to come in if you don’t want them.

The neoliberal philosophy, on the other hand, sees a nation as a public space, like a shopping mall.  Everybody has a right to visit the mall unless there is a specific reason to keep them out.

I agree with the nationalists to this degree—that you can’t have a sovereign nation without borders.

All the nationalist movements defend national sovereignty against the authority of international institutions.  In this respect, I agree with them.

I think a pro-democracy movement in our time has to be, to a certain extent, a nationalist movement, because national governments are the highest level of organization that citizens can hold accountable.

All the international organizations that have real power—the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank—serve the interests of the international banking system, whose executives and managers are committed to the neoliberal philosophy.

The only entities capable of reducing their power are national governments.  The largest entities subject to any kind of democratic control are national governments.   Power must be wrested away from the neoliberal international institutions and returned to national governments.

If there were international organizations with the power to enforce human rights or labor and environmental standards, and if they were accountable to the public, I might take a different stance.

One of the problems with nationalism is that the real world does not consist of people of the same heritage exclusively occupying the same territory.   For most of the world, people of different heritages are all mixed up together, and, in those parts of the world, extreme nationalism means civil war.  Even where one ethnic group predominates, there are minorities whose rights are likely to be disregarded—or worse.

Another is that nationalism is a not in itself an answer to the world’s  economic and social problems.   It offers scapegoats, not solutions.  In fact, avowedly nationalist governments are often very accommodating to exploitative international corporations.

What’s lacking in both neoliberal internationalism and blood-and-soil nationalism is a vision of a democratic future.


For Love of Country by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru for National Review.

Anywheres vs. Somewheres: the split that made Brexit inevitable by Andrew Marr for New Statesman

Right-Wing Populism Permeates French Presidential Elections, an interview of Renaud Lambert of Le Monde Diplomatique for the Real News Network.

Welcome to European Union B by Norbert Maleszewksi for POLITICO.

Hungary and Europe’s Crisis: Unelected Elites vs. People by Viktor Orban for National Review.

League of Nationalists by The Economist.

Illustrations via The Last American Vagabond; The Economist

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One Response to “Neoliberalism and its discontents (2)”

  1. Hank Stone Says:

    I hadn’t heard of blood and soil nationalism, but it makes good sense.

    Now that the world is facing climate meltdown, one of the predictable results is starvation from failure of agriculture, leading to very large numbers of refugees. All sorts of people may be unhappy about this, but neither nationalism nor globalism seems to have any sense of responsibility to protect the human future (or life on Earth).

    I’m a democratic world federalist, myself- the point being to have freedom for individuals, communities, nations, and the world. Of course, this has never been tried. But is there any alternative is human civilization is to continue?

    MANY THANKS for your work on this presentation!


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