March 06, 2014

The Lure of Nationalism

By Robert D. Kaplan

Source: Real Clear World

Journalist(s) Robert Kaplan

Nationalism is in the air. The scholars may talk about universal values and the need to combat all forms of determinism and essentialism. The media may see the world through the prism of universal human rights. The global elite may meet at Davos and proclaim the ability to engineer a liberal order that can defeat what it sees as primordial divisions. And yet nationalism -- as well as other exclusivist tendencies such as tribalism and sectarianism -- manages to survive and prosper.

Nationalism is alive and well throughout East Asia, where modern states united by race and ethnicity, such as ChinaJapanVietnam and thePhilippines, contest not lofty ideas but zero-sum geography -- that is, lines on the blue water map of the Pacific Basin. The advance of military technology (fighter jets, ballistic missiles, surveillance satellites, warships) has created a new geography of strategic competition between two great world civilizations, those of China and India. The Middle East has experienced less a democratic revolution than a crisis of central authority, in which ethnic, tribal, religious and sectarian identities have become more important than ever in modern times. In Europe, the steady decline of the European Union, originating in a half-decade-long economic crisis, has led gradually to the resurgence of national identities and right-wing, anti-immigrant movements. In the heart of Africa we see fighting and the fear of ethnic cleansing based on religious and tribal identities in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Clearly, the scholarly, journalistic and business elites are speaking a different language than large elements of the masses worldwide.

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  • Robert D. Kaplan

    Senior Fellow

    Robert D. Kaplan is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, originally joining the Center in March 2008. He is the bestselling author of fifteen books on fo...