Globalists vs. Nationalists? It's not that simple.
How does globalisation affect the political landscape and democracy?

In the aftermath of the US presidential election there is increased discussion surrounding a new political confrontation between globalists and nationalists.

The argument owes its origin to Jonathan Haidt—a social psychologist who is more popular among conservative actors. In his argument Haidt provides a reflective and meaningful analysis of “sacred values” by comparing liberals and conservatives within the American context. However, while many see merit in his views, understanding the politics of globalization and nationalism is complex and to generalize globalists and nationalists on a ideological binary is both narrow and irresponsible. In reality, attitudes for and against globalization and nationalism appear across party lines based on specific policy issues and national identity.

There are several reasons to question this narrative. One such issue is its limited geographic scope. The view that a political battle is occurring globally is challenged by the notion that the narrative itself is limited to the experiences of North America and Europe. This narrative is thereby “Western” as does not consider the impact of growth in large parts of Africa, Asia, or South America. One explanation is that both the USA and the EU are more exposed to the processes of globalization and regional integration. In times of different crises, aspects such as identity, culture and migration are being regarded by larger numbers of people as more important than socioeconomic or environmental issues.

Struggle for the right path

During the early period of modern globalization in the 1990’s most arguments relating to the phenomenon centered on the political struggle between the pro-globalization and anti-globalization actors. However, those who were often labeled as anti-globalists were in many cases not against globalization but rather had alternative views on how globalization should be achieved. This can be observed today in the changed political spectrum, thus making it harder to divide them into two ideological camps as Haidt suggests. For example, in Europe the socialists are often in favor of the sociopolitical integration aspects of globalization while being against liberalist economic globalization. Liberla conservative polticians, on the other hand, are often in favour of the more economic globalization but against sociopolitical integration. The divide between globalist and anti-globalist is therefore neither left nor right. Instead, the differences are policy-specific.

Authoritanian globalization

In addition to not being directly correlated to the two major political ideological groups, the degree of support for globalization also appears to not be linked to whether one is libertarian or authoritarian. Even authoritarian, nationalist politicians who claim to oppose globalism—such as Putin, Erdogan and Trump—and their parties are to a great degree still interested in the economic globalist initiatives. For example, many Russian nationalists are in favor of the Eurasian Economic Union and a free economic zone from “Vancouver to Vladivostok”. 

At the same time, however, while being partly in favor of economic integration, authoritarian politicians aspire for greater control over identities and view other aspects of globalization, such as the expansion of human rights, liberal democracy and multiculturalism, as a threat to their own monopolistic views on national identity based on nativism and myths. Therefore, they are both in favor of globalist policies while also supporting nationalist policies, voiding the divide globalism and nationalism.

If both ends of the political spectrum favour aspects of globalization, then why is there a sudden rise of dissatisfaction for products of globalization in the EU and the United States? This can be traced to the fact that both societies are post-democratic in the sense that economy is more global while democracy and sovereignty is primarily national. In the West there is a popular view among parts of populations that globalization is a zero-sum game. They see the loss of individual influence as equal to being weak—thus, they believe things were better before the adoption of globalist policies, which shifted individual control out of state control.
As a result, there is a widespread call to reform supranational, liberal institutions across political ideology. Such views, however, disregard the fact that American-inspired globalization during the 90’s and European supranationalism had numerous positive outcomes, including a rapid growth of living standards both at home and around the world. Additionally, the EU is often presented as a paradox—a democracy without a demos and governance without a government, but still legitimized by a majority of citizens.

National governments remain the primary point of reference for the public

Despite more than twenty years of benefits from global and regional integration, the national state is still regarded as the main institution people are turning towards in the time of crisis, even if the challenges of the crises are of a supranational, regional or global character. In political communication, national states are often described as independent, free and sovereign. In reality this is more complicated since the modern states, such as the EU-member-states, are more depending on each other by sharing freedoms and sovereignty for different purposes. The absolute majority of these states today are members of the organizations described as international, regional or supranational.

It is increasingly common for contemporary arguments to suggest that supranational projects like EU require reform—however, it is uncommon to argue that the states themselves require reform. After all, both EU and UN are results of the social contracts between the states and interests of national governments. Sociologist Ulrich Beck has argued that the states, even the nation-states, should become cosmopolitan in the future. Becks argument is that nations can still exist and that the identification of an individual with a nation is personal, just as a religious identity. The state needs to function in favor of all its residents and connect people through central aspects such as rule of law, human rights and democracy.

Democractic clarity as a solution?

In order to handle mounting regional and global challenges, states will need to cooperate, integrate and develop common institutions—however, in many cases, as a result of the crisis, there is a clear lack of popular or political will to further share sovereignty and resources or to create new institutions. A viable way to reduce widespread political dissatisfaction and regain popular trust in supranational governance is to make the process more democratic and increase awareness. A higher degree of knowledge and understanding about supranational institutions is necessary in order to connect with citizens and to motivate eventual reforms in the coming decade.