Heresies in the Mirror: Globalism and Nationalism, Part II: One World, One Government, One Ruling Class

Christians ought to be deeply suspicious of both nationalism and globalism, which developed in the course of the 18th century and which were both advocated by the bloody-handed leaders of the French Revolution who killed each other over whether the Revolution represented the revival of the French nation or the dawning of the brotherhood of man.  In the end, the nationalists won, and while Napoleon pretended to be liberating the captive nations of the Holy Roman Empire, he was really only replacing Austria with France, Hapsburgs with Bonapartes.  Stalin and Trotsky played out the same homicidal farce in their struggle for control of the Soviet Union.  Again, the nationalists won out, as they did in Germany, Italy, and the United States, each nation creating in the 1930’s (as James Burnham and John Flynn observed) its own form of national socialism, which became the dominant form of government in developed nations like the United States, Sweden, and Israel as well as in most third world countries, where a series of strong men--Peron, Nasser, Qadafi, Mobutu--combined welfare policies with aggressive nationalism.

My primary object in these essays is to distinguish the healthy love of one’s own land, people, and nation from the ideology of nationalism, but I would be remiss, if I failed to make a few observations on the development of globalism.

In our human beginning, so Genesis teaches us, men lived in families and clans that grew by propagation and accretion into tribes based on the reality—and the fiction—of kinship.  There are still peoples on this planet, whose world is circumscribed by village or tribe—the Bushmen of the Kalahari are among the best studied examples (though some of the studies are hilariously dishonest.) 

I do not intend to summarize the contents of my first book (The Politics of Human Nature) or anticipate the conclusions of my forthcoming book on friendship and kinship.  Avoiding all unnecessary (and even necessary) pedantry, we can stick for the moment to the remarkably perceptive account in Genesis.  After the Flood, the sons of Noah propagate the nations of the earth, and the descendants of Shem, still all speaking one language, make their way to the plain of Shinar (Sumer), where they decide to build a city with a high tower stretching up to heaven, saying among themselves: “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  Their creator is once again shocked by human presumption and imposes linguistic diversity that blocks, at least temporarily, mankind’s renewed campaign to be as gods.

Historians have always seen some reflection of Babylon in the story.  In the earlier period of Mesopotamian history, Babylon did not amount to much.  It was simply one of many cities inhabited by and ruled by people who spoke Akkadian, an Eastern Semitic language.  In the early days of the region, the city-states of Sumer and Akkad maintained a good deal of independence even when they acknowledged a symbolic overlord.  After centuries of conflict, the Akkadian Sargon created a sort of empire and his successors described themselves as Kings of the Four Regions (of the world).  

The reality of their power (and that of their Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, and Macedonian successors) fell rather short of their pretensions, but successful empires have always posed as legitimate rulers of the world—world being defined as including those who belong to my civilization.  The greatest of these empires was the Roman, and the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West (in the late 5th Century) not only plunged Europe into chaos, social and technological dissolution, and a Babel of competing dialects, but it left a gaping wound in the imagination.  To some extent the wound was plastered over by the claims of the Church in Rome and by the Kings in France and Germany who assumed the title of Emperor.  So, one important element of globalism—undoubtedly the least harmful—has been the yearning of European man to reconstitute the Empire.  It was the dream of Charlemagne and the Ottos, of the Bourbons as well as Napoleon, of the Hapsburgs and Romanovs, all of whom cobbled together ceremonies and customs reminiscent of ancient Rome and the New Rome called Constantinople.  Hitler’s dream of a European Order was partly fueled by the same imaginative energy.

The nation-states that emerged in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance--England, France, and Spain--had to contend with the twin claims of Church and Empire.  The challenge would have been more formidable, had emperors and popes not squandered much of their energies and resources on defeating each other and poaching on each other's prerogatives.  The end-result of these contests was the circumscription of imperial pretensions to largely Germanic lands and the Slavs they ruled and the disaggregation of Christendom into "two and seventy jarring sects."  Two and seventy?  Two hundred and seventy at least.  Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Catholic corruption and Protestant Reformation was to reduce the threat of Christian opposition to the re-paganization of Europe.  The Church, which (at least in the West) had once possessed the power to defy the great princes and their ambitions, became the handmaiden to power, blessing their wars and usurpations, condoning their vices, and demanding obedience from their subjects.

It was natural, in the period of constant wars between Catholics and Protestants, that some decent people should begin to pine for a pan-European government that would put an end to war.

I shall follow this baseball-card survey of world history with an equally simplistic intellectual history of cosmopolitan universalism. 

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

4 Responses

  1. Becky Calcutt says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    Yours is an excellent summation of the historical events leading up to this hour. As for a “base-ball card” survey of history, I am reminded of what Clyde Wilson once said regarding the popular attitude in which modern man (Americans, in particular) reduces world events to the category of sport. The good doctor said “A patriot loves his land, his people, his society because they are his. A nationalist glories in the power of his government over others. Nationalism is a defect of the spirit. It characterizes people who have no other identity other than their identification with the power in the government of the nation -state.”

    Not to worry, the young Marxists will “get it right” this time.

    Anxiously Awaiting Part III,


  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Jeff, as usual, the Sage of Columbia is exactly right. I hope to see you both before too long.

  3. James D. says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    If we don’t regard our civilization or culture as superior, then is it really something to die for? Why risk the lives of you and your family, if the invaders are no worse?

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Every normal person in the world regards his way of life as superior to others. Some of them are right. But that opinion does not entail plans for conquest or forced assimilation. But, by the way, to address your question directly, the answer is very simple: This is my house, my wife, my family, my country. “This land is my land, it’s not your land…”