Skip to main content

chemnitz Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The Disruptive Power of Ethnic Nationalism

The backlash against globalization has brought a resurgence of the old-fashioned politics of blood and belonging. Unless countries devise a new way to balance liberal democratic values and people’s craving for a sense of belonging, they will end up paving a path to disaster.

TEL AVIV – This summer, Israel passed a controversial new “nation-state law” that asserted that “the right [to exercise] national self-determination” is “unique to the Jewish people” and established Hebrew as Israel’s official language, downgrading Arabic to a “special status.” But the drive to impose a homogeneous identity on a diverse society is hardly unique to Israel. On the contrary, it can be seen across the Western world – and it does not bode well for peace.

In the last few decades of rapid globalization, nationalism never really left, but it did take a backseat to hopes of greater economic prosperity. Yet the recent backlash against globalization – triggered not only by economic insecurity and inequality, but also by fears of social and demographic change – has brought a resurgence of old-fashioned ethnic nationalism.

This trend is reflected in and reinforced by what some experts call a “memory boom” or “commemorative fever”: the proliferation of museums, memorials, heritage sites, and other features of public space emphasizing links with local identities and history. Rather than celebrating diversity, people are increasingly eager to embrace a particular and exclusive identity.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.;
  1. drew47_Drew AngererGetty Images_trumpgiulianasmiling Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    Will Trump Be Removed from Office?

    Elizabeth Drew

    Assuming the US House of Representatives votes to impeach President Donald Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct is now truly in question.

  2. rudd9_Darrian TraynorGetty Images_climateprotestburningaustralia Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

    Unsustainable Australia

    Kevin Rudd

    Before the current conservative government came to power in 2013, Australia was well-positioned to make the necessary transition to a low-carbon economy. But now, the country is heading in reverse, and has already fallen behind most developed countries, and even China, on reducing emissions and building resilience against climate change.


Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions