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Nationalists of the World, Unite?

Though internationalism has been the preserve of the left at least since the French Revolution, it has now assumed a paradoxical role in modern right-wing populist and nationalist movements. And yet, because it is defined solely by what it opposes, nationalist internationalism can only ever be a destructive force.

WASHINGTON, DC – Steve Bannon’s extensive travels in Europe this year have not drawn as much attention as they should have, given that he is the key theoretician of US President Donald Trump’s signature brand of nationalism. Bannon now wants to build a federation of nationalist parties in Europe. And yet, one wonders how an “America First” ideologue can pursue his political project anywhere other than in America. By joining forces with the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen – herself an open supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin – Bannon seems to have in mind a new type of “neo-nationalist international.”

As more countries transform themselves into “nationalist autocracies” and “illiberal democracies” under strongman rule, nationalism has become an ideological common denominator. But the question is whether one should take seriously the oxymoron of nationalist internationalism.

Historically, internationalism has generally been the preserve of the left, starting with the French Revolutionaries’ attempts to export their political project across Europe. That effort was brought to an end by Napoleon’s Bonapartist dictatorship. But it is interesting to imagine what would have happened if Europe’s then-ideologically receptive states had also gone the way of imperial republicanism.

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