by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Nationalism has a bad odor even among some conservatives. Perhaps this should not be surprising, since nationalism is in tension with two powerful strains of conservatism. Economic conservatism, particularly as influenced by libertarianism, can come to see borders as barriers to free markets. Businessmen with interests abroad, an important part of the conservative coalition, can acclimate to that way of thinking even if they have no philosophical inclinations. Religious conservatism often emphasizes the God-given dignity of all people, which transcends national borders. Thus former president George W. Bush’s declaration, in the context of immigration policy, that “family values do not stop at the Rio Grande river.”
And American conservatives of many kinds, like liberals and libertarians, have been influenced by the notion that America is an “idea” or a “proposition nation.” The expression of this view is itself often a manifestation of patriotism, because it is self-flattering: “Our country, unlike all the world’s ethno-states, is founded on high-minded ideals.” …
… There’s no doubt that there are aggressive and noxious forms of nationalism. John Fonte of the Hudson Institute makes a useful distinction between authoritarian and democratic nationalism. Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are examples of the former (although Putin leads a multinational empire with designs for more territorial acquisitions). Democratic nationalism is a category that encompasses Lincoln, Churchill, de Gaulle, Reagan, and Thatcher, all of whom were champions of national sovereignty and solidarity.
The outlines of a benign nationalism are not hard to discern. It includes loyalty to one’s country: a sense of belonging, allegiance, and gratitude to it. And this sense attaches to the country’s people and culture, not just to its political institutions and laws. Such nationalism includes solidarity with one’s countrymen, whose welfare comes before, albeit not to the complete exclusion of, that of foreigners. When this nationalism finds political expression, it supports a federal government that is jealous of its sovereignty, forthright and unapologetic about advancing its people’s interests, and mindful of the need for national cohesion.