Against the new nationalism

Lowry acknowledges that “an extreme or authoritarian nationalism (usually the same thing), as well as a nationalism of unquenchable grievance (also often associated with authoritarianism), is dangerous.” Still, he thinks a world of proud and independent nation-states is better than what came before. “Tribalism tends to be red in tooth and claw,” he writes.

He doesn’t appear to consider that nationalism is a species of tribalism, which is why it so often itself turns bloody.

This is in keeping with the habit of today’s nationalists to define away one of the most widespread fears inspired by the word. By insisting that authentic nationalism respects the right of other peoples to rule themselves, they’re able to tidily conclude, as Lowry does, that the “constant source of war throughout history isn’t nationalism but its opposite: the quest for dominion.” If nationalism does go wrong, it must be because it was “tainted with malign influences.”

A simpler explanation is that nationalism is unstable: It easily decays into something hazardous, marked by military aggression abroad, an obsession with purity at home, or—as with the Third Reich—a toxic combination of the two. Even if such a transmutation doesn’t happen in 100 percent of cases, the history as Lowry himself presents it should hardly assure readers that a nationalist revival would be a beneficent force in the world.

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