The Volokh Conspiracy

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My New Dispatch Article on Why Nationalism is a Bigger Menace than Wokeness

Both ideologies are bad. But one is a much greater danger than the other.



Today, The Dispatch published my article entitled "Wokeness is Awful. Nationalism is Far Worse."  Many of my center-right and libertarian friends and acquaintances fear wokeness more than any other current ideological trend. I have long wanted to do a piece on why that prioritization is misguided. This is it. Here is an excerpt:

Many conservatives and libertarians today lament the rise of "wokeness," even to the point of believing it to be the greatest political danger facing America. Some of these fears are well-taken.

But concerns about wokeness have distracted many on the center-right from a more serious danger, one far more likely to gain widespread support and cause great harm: nationalism. Terrible woke ideas should be criticized. However, their impact is limited by the smaller numbers of their proponents. Nationalists are far more numerous. And if nationalists acquire the power they seek, they would implement an agenda that does great harm to the lives, freedom, and well-being of millions of people.

Wokeness should neither be neglected nor treated as harmless. But when comparing the two, the nationalist threat should take priority. It's long past time for right-leaning critics of both ideologies to treat nationalism for what it is: the greatest threat to liberal democratic institutions today….

For all their mutual hostility, right-wing nationalists and left-wing wokeists actually have much in common. Both groups treat racial and ethnic identity as fundamental and largely immutable. Both want the government to actively promote the interests of some ethnic or cultural groups relative to others. And most of all, both assume a zero-sum world where gains for one group can only come at the expense of others.

But though wokeists and nationalists engage in a similar identity politics, the latter are far more  dangerous. Why? In large part, because an identity politics movement promoting the supposed interests of the ethnic majority has a much greater chance of political success in a democratic society than one focused on minority groups….

History also shows nationalist movements are a menace to liberal political institutions. Whether in 1930s Germany or present-day Russia, nationalist movements have subverted liberal democracy and installed brutal dictatorships in its place. By contrast, not a single wokeist egalitarian movement has achieved such a result….

The rest of the article substantiates these points in greater detail.

Worth noting, perhaps, that communists did, of course, install horrific dictatorships in many countries. But communism isn't a woke ideology focused on racial and ethnic grievances. It's a universalist ideology, one that routinely repressed ethnic minorities where it comes to power.