Congress Theme

New Nationalisms in an Open World

With the beginning of the present millennium, varieties of a new type of nationalism spread through the world and this propagation engenders a paradox as its spectacular rising occurs in a period which is characterized by openness, globalization and interdependence. Historically, nationalism as an ideology has risen as a response to rapid change; the contemporary context of openness, globalization and interdependence therefore shapes the type of nationalisms in the present millennium. Besides, new nationalism rises in both the affluent and destitute societies which in turn shapes the way the new nationalism manifests itself. Hence, what we observe today can be rather referred to as new nationalisms. The rise of the varieties of new nationalism and its implications on international politics requires posing some key questions in order to attain a more sophisticated level of understanding. What is new nationalism, who are the new nationalist leaders and what are the similarities and differences between the new nationalisms and its predecessors? How can we interpret and classify new nationalisms taking populism, authoritarianism and ethnicism into consideration together with new nationalism? Finally, what are the potential ramifications of new nationalism on political mobilization, electoral behavior, political systems as well as on global governance and international relations?

The new nationalism has become a highly controversial issue by the consecutive electoral successes of new types of nationalist parties in various parts of the world. It should be acknowledged that the profile and discourse of the leaders of these parties played an important role in this increased interest. Politicians such as Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, and most recently Jair Bolsonaro display only partly similar profiles; however, develop an almost similar discourse, pointing to the rise of a complex and diversified phenomenon. They increasingly resort to national references in political rhetoric in an intensifying fashion over time, express distrust in globalization and regional integration with a renewed interest in sovereignty, distance their parties from the classic political ideologies, mobilize their supports on the basis of cultural specificities and ethnicity, display hostility against migration combined with a new commitment to borders or even walls, and magnify the already existing fear induced by rapid economic change and aggressive technological advances.

This new nationalism and its cluster of leaders diverge from the past forms of nationalisms despite some shared characteristics. The early form of nationalism in the modern period which emerged in Europe in the 19th century and spread towards the global South in the 20th century was dominated by a search for the acquisition of rights and a rejection of absolutist regimes. It took its momentum from the struggle against first the imperial and then the colonial rules. It aimed to redefine popular sovereignty while aspiring to construct a new political community. The new nationalism, on the contrary, aims for withdrawal, confinement, and even isolation. It does not target acquisition of new rights but rather calls for their being limited, their exclusiveness and their appropriation only by the original community of native-born people. For this reason, the new nationalist rhetoric is less political and more ethnicist, mobilizing culture, identity and religious references. In this sense, new nationalism is almost the opposite of the original forms of nationalism of the decolonized countries, conservative nationalism and leftist nationalism. The sources of frustration and fear shaped the aforementioned forms of nationalism; and hence, we should focus on the new dynamics that lead to new nationalisms.  

At the domestic sphere, as new nationalism promotes nativism, ethnicism and communitarianism along with dramatizing the increasing pressure of international migration, it poses challenges to nation-building processes and functions as a major instrument of electoral marketing. The new nationalism also endangers the democratic consensus which has been assumed to have consolidated in the last decades of the previous century by cultivating a reorientation towards authoritarianism and personalization of power. More broadly, it promotes the majoritarian aspect of populism that undermines representative government and its political institutions, weakening the role of intermediary actors and sometimes even excluding some social groups.

How different kinds of fear, humiliation and frustration can generate a new typology of nationalism is an exciting challenge which would enrich not only political theory but also comparative politics and international relations. Globalization with its connotations of openness and interdependence hence should be paid special attention to understand new nationalisms. We should then consider the multivarious impacts globalization has on various societies and their social strata. We must also compare how political culture, religion, ethnicity and levels of social integration shape social outcomes. Though they may not have the same meaning in every society; perceptions of fear, humiliation, decline and frustration seem to be the major factors for explaining this process. In this perspective, Durkheim’s vision of anomie within industrializing societies can be applied to the new globalized international arena. Globalization leads to a more sociological vision of IR that includes social behavior, political thought and studies of domestic conflicts, requiring a deeper analysis of the relations between its domestic and international dimensions. Contributing to the further development of this approach converges with the direction toward which the new international political theory is already advancing.
Two questions tend then to prevail at the IR level. First: is new nationalism a new (even simply renewed) diplomatic rhetoric or is it the starting step of a real new sovereigntism that will prevail in the new international order? If we stick to the first hypothesis, we move to a world in which international relations will give more and more space to protest, deviance and symbolic mobilizations. If we opt for the second, we will have to cautiously conceive this new sovereigntism which appears nowadays as a confusing blending of “conservative sovereigntism” grounded in international law and promoted by the old powers, a “neo-sovereigntism” defended by rising powers and combining territorial integrity, non-intervention and openness to globalization, and an “archeo-sovereigntism” comprising ethno-nationalism and rejection of any kind of globalization. How can we make these contradictory trends compatible or at least coexist in the international arena? What would the codes of this new anarchical and “apolar” system be?

The second question relates to the conflicts themselves. On the one hand, the new nationalism restores the classic conception of war as inter-state conflict and a confrontation of intensified nationalisms. On the other hand, it extols identity, religious and ethnic references and veers toward the recent conceptions of new wars the implications of which we were able to witness in the Yugoslavian experience. If NN gives a renewed importance to the traditional issues of territoriality, inter-state competition or assertive sovereigntism, it also bestows new attractiveness to culture and ethnic references and identity entrepreneurs. Is the new nationalism then a contemporary crisis of the new global world or a deep transformation toward a lasting new domestic and international order? The uncertain compatibility of this new nationalism with the international system and the global economy is probably one of the major challenges the present world is facing. The recent research on “competition states” or “market states” considers the new public policies as being embedded in a global market that is no longer compatible with protectionism. Are we now moving toward a new international political economy that would reinstate protectionism or even “Colbertism” and mercantilism? Equally of importance, how are we to reconcile this new nationalism with regional integrations already undergoing a deep crisis?