The International Writers Magazine: Politics
Nationalism and Democracy
Nationalism has received a bad press in recent years, particularly in the British media. UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, receives daily treatment in the press with tales of individual member’s misbehaviour or verbal gaffe, or readers are offered some other crumb of news, such as the revelation that UKIP is now supported by the ex-leader of the English Defence League.
While the press does not label UKIP as fascist, simply ‘far right’, many private individuals are less inhibited. It is not uncommon to see self-professed liberals using the offensive term in the social media or on blog-sites. When considering foreign nationalist parties, such as the Front National in France, these ‘liberals’ are happily joined in their rhetoric by some newspapers.
It appears to matter little to these people that 'fascism' is an ill-defined term, but perhaps that is why it is a handy stick with which to beat the nationalists. It has always been thus. As Zeev Sternhell remarked in his essay on fascist ideology “…the ‘fascist’ epithet is used, and particularly by left-wingers of various hue, as the term of abuse par excellence, conclusive and unanswerable.” (In ‘Fascism’, Penguin 1976. A collection of essays edited by Walter Laqueur.)
Even without the fascist appendage, the term ‘national’ is treated with open disapproval by many. Historically, nationalism has been a unifying force, invariably used following a civil war to repair a society, yet bizarrely it is seen today by many nominal liberals as divisive. It is widely regarded as a threat to parliamentary democracy, while the real threat lies elsewhere. In France, the threat comes not from Marine Le Pen so much as from the ideological idiocy of President Hollande and his Socialist misgovernment. In Britain it comes arguably from the display of ‘posh power’ in Westminster baring its private parts.
Oddly too, a false distinction is drawn between nationalism, nasty, and patriotism, good, by people who are ideologically opposed to what they see as an exclusive creed. It appears fine to speak of a national hero, a national team or characteristic with approval, but not of a party whose focus is national. It is as if ‘nationalism’, uniquely among political labels, had a single, definable approach, and this in a country where other political party labels are almost satirically opposite to what their title proclaims. Modern British liberalism has promoted the most illiberal environment in which people can lose their job or even be prosecuted for giving offence verbally. The Conservative Party is anything but, having embraced the most radical form of capitalism, and the idea that the Labour Party champions the working-class is a travesty of the truth.
Despite the widespread denigration of nationalistic political parties their emergence and support is growing in many countries as ordinary, apolitical people see them as offering a change of direction from the steady erosion of national identity favoured by established parties. A growing number of people weary of seeing their ‘leaders’ more interested in strutting the world stage, displaying their statesmanship, than in attending to the problems by which the ‘man in the street’ is bedevilled.
One has to ask why the established parties are united in their willingness to promote the erosion of national identity and the elimination of national frontiers. As ever in our society, one may have to ‘follow the money’ for an answer. Not to put too fine a point on it, our political parties appear to be up for sale. This is particularly so in Anglo-American society where parties are entirely privately financed. In France, political parties receive aid from the state if they contest a sufficient number of seats.
This is not to say that everyone who stands for election is corrupt, that is patently untrue, but it is undeniable that the established political parties depend on financial support from external sources. Most of that funding comes from business interests. It is worth noting that while trade union funding of the Labour Party arouses accusations of ‘buying influence’, no such fears are raised about funding from commercial interests. One does not have to be an irredeemable cynic to believe that captains of industry and commerce are not giving altruistically to political parties, in the main at least.
Unfortunately, the corruption of political integrity is not confined to the funding of election campaigns, but extends to compromising individual parliamentarians with appointments as ‘consultants’ or directors. In truth, despite relative silence on the subject, or perhaps because of it, business interests are ‘buying influence’. In both London and Washington the relationship between professional politician and business executive is far too cosy. Lobbying has become a major industry, and expensive.
Where is this process taking us? There can be little doubt that as national frontiers disappear, or become increasingly porous, and politicians remain the handmaidens of international corporations, we shall lose all but a fig-leaf of democracy. Our national identities and cultural links will lose their meaning and corporations will be running our lives by proxy, if they do not already. If we continue in this direction our wellbeing will be at the mercy of commercial whim and power will rest with corporations that, under the system adopted by conventional parties, have ‘no social responsibilities’, as proclaimed by Milton Friedman. Political parties will lose relevance and election to Parliament will be little more than an opportunity for the professional politician to ‘fill his or her boots’.
I suggest that hope of changing direction lies with nationalism, and with those parties that focus on national wellbeing. It would be naïve to believe that nationalistic parties would not shift their position once in power, but a heightened national identity among the electorate would be a deterrent, even though imperfect. We certainly cannot rely on the ‘liberal’ parties to change direction. They are either complicit, or unwitting dupes, in the corporate takeover.
Does all this matter? I believe it does. I believe that those young people who are willing to fight and die for their country will be increasingly risking their lives on behalf of the geopolitical interests of Megacorp. I suggest that our health will be increasingly determined by the financial interest of ‘big pharma’ and that our society will be driven back to Hobbes’s state of nature before being abandoned as of no further use to the corporations. Those of talent will depart, while the rest try to scrape survival from the wreckage. That is why a resurgence of nationalism matters, and should be encouraged.
© Tom Kilcourse 19.12.2014
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