Globalisation and nationalism have displaced the party conflicts of the 20th centuryby Colin Crouch / March 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Behind the intense conflict between globalisation and the new stirring of nationalism across much of the world stands that old, 18th century struggle between the values of the ancien régime and those of the Enlightenment. Donald Trump, Islamic State, Vladimir Putin, the Leave campaigners, Marine Le Pen and others do not all like each other, but they all have problems with globalisation—problems that go far beyond the economy.
Some of their concerns are widely shared. From being the process that simply seemed to be bringing us both cheaper imports and new export opportunities, globalisation has become a term of abuse. Although resistance to it comes from all parts of the political spectrum, its best organised opponents come from the political right. This makes sense, because the vehicle of much of the protest is nationalism, the most straightforward antagonist of globalisation and one which is historically associated with the right. On the other hand, globalisation was mainly the project of neoliberalism, which for several decades has been the dominant ideology of the right.
The gradual rise of globalisation
To understand this puzzle we need to grasp the complexity and history of globalisation. There was a major move to globalising trade in the late 19th century, but it was highly controlled by the western European empires, Great Britain in particular but also France, the Netherlands, Portugal and others. Being imperial, it was military as well as commercial, eventually including “the scramble for Africa,” and it became one of the causes of the First World War. The inter-war years saw a retreat from international trade and the rise of militarised nationalism, which was a principal cause of the Second World War.
That war over, international trade started again, but with the European colonial empires gradually disintegrating. Their control over the process was replaced by the global dominance of the United States. The division of most of the world into the blocs of the Cold War limited the extent of this next wave of globalisation, as two of the blocs, those dominated by the USSR and China, stayed outside the international market economy. In the US-dominated part of the world, trade barriers were very gradually relaxed in successive GATT rounds; and within the countries of European Economic Community (later the European Union) cross-national economic integration went further.