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Understanding the New Nationalism

While undoubtedly yielding large benefits, the post-Cold War project of globalization also created the conditions for resurgent nationalism around the world. With their international credibility at low ebb, Western policymakers will need to rethink how they engage economically and politically with countries that have embraced it.

CAMBRIDGE – The euphoria after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was not just about what Francis Fukuyama called an “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.” It was also about the decline of nationalism. With the world economy rapidly becoming more integrated, it was assumed that people would leave their national identities behind. The project of European integration – embraced enthusiastically by well-educated, upwardly mobile young people – was not just supranational, but post-national.

But nationalism is back, and it is playing a central role in global politics. The trend is not confined to the United States or France, where former President Donald Trump and the far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, respectively, lead new nationalist coalitions. Nationalism is also driving populist movements in Hungary, India, Turkey, and many other countries. China has embraced a new nationalist authoritarianism, and Russia has launched a nationalist war aimed at eradicating the Ukrainian nation.

There are at least three factors fueling the new nationalism. First, many of the affected countries have historical grievances. India was systematically exploited by the British under colonialism, and the Chinese Empire was weakened, humiliated, and subjugated during the nineteenth-century Opium Wars. Modern Turkish nationalism is animated by memories of Western occupation of large parts of the country after World War I.

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