Magazines: Nationalist Review


From Sarajevo to Sri Lanka, Jerusalem to Djakarta, it seems that much of the world is engaged in a war pitting one ethnic group against its rivals. In fact, a very interesting magazine could be created to report on the different ethnic conflicts around the world, including who is fighting whom; newly rediscovered martyrs, epics, and sagas; reviews of current quarrels; and so forth. The New Republic suggests calling this magazine Modem Hate; a more apt title would be Nationalist Review.

It's hard to say precisely how many of these ethnic struggles are taking place, but the April Current History has a chart (adapted from The New York Times) that is as authoritative as any. It lists 47 countries involved in violent ethnic conflict, including eight in Europe (counting Russia and Cyprus), 10 in the Middle East (including four that used to be part of the Soviet Union), 15 in sub-Saharan Africa, 11 in Asia, and four in Latin America. Current History does not include democracies such as Belgium, Canada, and France, where separatist movements are peaceful and do not generally involve hatred or fascistic principles.

Most of the time, most of us have a hard time figuring out why a particular secessionist movement is resorting to war; in many cases, we have a hard time even finding out where the particular conflict is taking place. There can't be that many eighth-grade geography classes that tell the students where Abkhazia is, much less Chechenya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, or South Ossetia. Two recent reports help to explain the scope and ferocity of nationalism.

In the March Post-Soviet Prospects the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Janusz Bugajski reports that the current warfare in the nations that once made up Yugoslavia has "provided a happy hunting ground for several thousand mercenaries and adventure-seeking volunteers from all corners of the globe." These mercenaries, says Bugajski, have come to Zagreb or Belgrade for a variety of reasons. The Croats seem to have the most hard currency and have hired soldiers from Croat communities in Australia, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Some simply want jobs, others are Catholics wanting to fight Eastern Orthodox soldiers, while still others joined "the hyper-nationalist Party of Rights," a group whose chief purpose appears to be to kill as many Serbs as possible.

The Serbs acquire their mercenaries from such Orthodox Christian countries as Romania, Greece, and Russia. Some Serbian recruits find a fight against "Catholic fascists" and "Islamic militants" irresistible, but others simply want the money. Moscow News reports that at least 500 Russians have signed up to fight in Bosnia at a wage of $25 a month—far more than they could earn in Russia.

But the Muslims have attracted the most volunteers. There are nearly 4,000 Muslims fighting in Bosnia, including Iranians, Pakistanis, and Algerians, plus Albanians and Turks who were formerly guest workers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Even some Afghan mujahedeen have joined the conflict.

The April Harper's Magazine provides another suggestion of nationalism's appeal by reprinting a checklist from the German newspaper Bild about whether or not your child has become a neo-Nazi. The early warning signs: decorating a room with baseball bats (but no baseballs); subscribing to such journals as Kraft durch Freude (Strength Through Joy) and Der Kampftrinker (The Blood-Drinker), and buying a black bomber jacket and asking "you to sew new patches on the jacket (for example, the Iron Cross)."

Bild urges parents not to impose their values on their children. If your child brings home records with skulls and swastikas on the covers, Bild suggests talking about the lyrics. If he talks about "new friends" and develops a craving for martial-arts classes, a parent should invite these friends over for dinner. And if your son wants a crew cut and sneakers with steel toes, Bild suggests, "don't deny him anything—or he'll want it even more." (But what if the kid wants tickets to America on the Concorde?)

Fortunately, violent conflict is not the only side of nationalism. Independence movements spring, in part, from an improving global economy.

In an interview in the January /February Across the Board, Henry Wendt, CEO of the pharmaceutical firm SmithKline Beecham, observes that it is only in the past 20 years that much of the world could afford to be separatist. Freer trade and rising incomes ensure more markets willing to spend more money for more goods from new nations. In Canada, says Wendt, the Québecois for decades were told by the Anglophones in Ottawa that life would be rough if they seceded from Canada. But after the 1987 free-trade pact, falling tariffs enabled Quebec to sell to the Americans, making independence an economically viable option. "The lowering of tariffs and other mechanisms that inhibit global trade have made it possible for this new tribalism to flourish everywhere," Wendt says.

Nationalism has also become popular in the democracies as competing ideas have become discredited. Michael Barone observes in the Spring Public Interest that democratic nationalism is "not the nationalism of Hitler, of course, but the nationalism of Churchill, de Gaulle, and Roosevelt, nationalism that is open to various economic programs and compatible with cultural toleration."

Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News and World Report, says that most nations have four types of political parties: liberal, religious, socialist, and nationalist. Liberal parties believed in free minds and free markets but gradually lost their ability to defend their principles (and also lost their taste for free markets) in the wake of World War I and were crushed by nationalist and socialist rivals.

Religious and socialist parties are failing, says Barone, because socialism does not work and the citizens of the democracies are steadily becoming less religious. Germany's Christian Democrats, for example, have survived by becoming more of a nationalist party and less of a Christian one. And socialist parties win when they adopt policies, such as privatization and reducing the welfare state, that are anti-socialist.

"When they stand even for maintaining current levels of government, much less expanding" the state, says Barone, socialist parties lose, as the failures of the British Labour Party and the German Social Democratic Party show. Socialists victories, such as by the New Democrats in Ontario or the Lithuanian Communists, Barone observes, are usually flukes—the result of "odd electoral systems or local ruckuses."

Nationalist parties, as he defines them, stress the importance of one's country, "shared national pride," and national traditions that are old and lasting. These parties may tend toward corporatism or socialism and may (like the Republican Party) have religious components. But all nationalisms are grounded in patriotism and traditions, impulses that are "capable of holding a whole people together in a way that the impulses animating religious, liberal, and socialist parties usually cannot."

Of all the world's nationalisms, says Barone, American nationalism is the best because it is rooted in a set of political beliefs, not in hating other people. Barone argues that the oft-discredited notion of "the American century" is actually a good idea, if you redefine it to mean not American imperium or conquest but other nations' adoption of the nationalist capitalism that made America great. "We should be thankful now that we are lucky enough to live in the second half of this American century," Barone concludes, "and that nationalist parties based on the American model are on the rise here and all over the world."

A similar analysis is offered by historian David Fromkin in the Spring World Policy Journal. Fromkin foresees a world where America, because of its ability to peacefully assimilate minorities, will remain intact while the rest of the world divides into feuding statelets. This, he says, will ensure that "America will enjoy a security such as that with which it was blessed in the administration of William McKinley."

Fromkin differs with Barone in his vision of what America's role in the world should be. Fromkin calls for America to improve the Western Hemisphere, building the North American common market and working to develop the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean. He also suggests that the United States use much of the money it currently spends on national security to explore space and the oceans. Having disengaged from much of the world's affairs, Fromkin concludes, "America might find itself again as the country of the frontier, reconciling its past with its present in the quest for the only sort of future in which the New World has ever believed: the journey to the far side of the horizon."

Fromkin's and Barone's analyses are interesting but flawed. Barone's defense of American nationalism is better than most, because he does not want the world to resemble America but simply wants other countries to adopt American political principles for their own ends. But a world full of bellicose nationalist democracies could still cause a great deal of trouble. What if the world had a dozen middle powers as adventurist as de Gaulle's France?

Fromkin's dream is appealing, but America will still have to deal with other nations in the future, to work to remove nuclear weapons and to combat terrorism. He is, however, correct to argue that America cannot be the world's moral arbiter. There is an unfortunate tendency among neoconservatives and neoliberals to assume that America's foreign policy should be patterned after Quantum Leap; each week, the U.S. military will leap into a new country, bloodlessly solving its problems and moving on for next week's episode. This week we'll finish off the Serbs; next week, we'll save Sudan; and sometime next year, we'll occupy Johannesburg!

But unless weapons of mass destruction are involved (à la Saddam Hussein's nuclear program), most nationalist conflicts will be small and thus not affect American interests. Why should America rescue Bosnian Muslims and ignore Sudanese Christians? Why is Bosnia more important than Tibet, a nation oppressed by the tyranny of Chinese communism?

The wars resulting from nationalism will be bloody, brutal, and violent. But in judging whether or not to intervene, the American military should follow this rule: When in doubt, stay home.

Contributing Editor Martin Morse Wooster is a visiting fellow at the Capital Research Center.