At the height of globalization in the 1990s and early 2000s, many political economists—including Susan Strange, Philip G. Cerny, and Nita Rudra—argued that forces of economic and cultural neoliberalism were steadily eroding traditional nation-states and welfare societies. In developed countries, backlash against globalism often manifested as labor protectionism, trade barriers, and nationalism. Meanwhile, in developing nations, economic integration forced vulnerable governments to engage in a race to the bottom, lowering social protections in order to attract foreign investment. In the cultural realm, the erosion of global capitalism means exporting a Western way of life, a consumerist culture, and hyper-individualism.
Other scholars of more pragmatic or neorealist persuasions counter this view with the compensation thesis, adopting an eclectic stance that global forces of neoliberalism and nation-states are mutually constitutive. Under this view, national and subnational polities expand social safety nets and promote certain norms to mitigate harsh effects of economic openness and cultural degradation. Embedded liberalism is a leading theory in this camp, accounting for the necessity of traditional governments to promote domestic stability through sensible public policies, such that they compensate for rising demands of multilateralism and interdependence. Culturally, the norm-setting function of the nation-state is theorized as an implicit bargain to fend off the ideological onslaught of liberal fundamentalism. Scholars Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum touched upon the idea of the American formula for prosperity, rooted in our founding constitutional principles, the American Dream, and American pragmatism:
America is not defined by its gaps. Our greatness as a country- what truly defines us- is and always has been our never-ending effort to close these gaps, our constant struggle to form a more perfect union.
Some twenty years later, the debate on globalization and nation-states has not faded away. The discussion seems to have been renewed to investigate new cultural strife, competing narratives, and cross-cutting social relationships. On the far-left end of the political spectrum, a group of cultural nihilists, ideologues, and opportunists, who are overrepresented in academia, the media, and government, perpetuate the erosive view by abandoning the entirety of Western cultural norms and adopting an antagonist, revolutionary value system. In the United States, this new ideology is a hodgepodge of imported neo-Marxism, homegrown critical legal studies, and new-age critical race pedagogy. For the sake of argument, let’s call it Racial Marxism.
The adherents of Racial Marxism, a growing majority of American academics, are “religious” zealots, not reformers. Their radical orientation is both substantive and methodological. Arbitrary group grievances take over constructive understanding of historical and cultural nuances at the center of policy deliberations. In order to overthrow the Western or American system that is allegedly irredeemably racist, all actors and processes must atone for the unforgivable sin of racism through a radical embrace of anti-racism, racial equity, social justice, and the like. Past injustices are “corrected” by present injustices in the name of equity—a rather Marxist concept.
Aside from philosophical and moral arguments against this new ideology, a common rebuttal to Racial Marxism is that it simply does not work. Collectivist social engineering failed disastrously in socialist China, the former Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba, Venezuela under the Fifth Republic, and, arguably, North Korea. Third International was more of a historic relic than a practical regime blueprint. Unprecedented international economic growth and integration have only been achieved after the end of the Cold War, when former socialist economies joined the global market. Even Vladimir Putin is warning the West against the dogmatic adoption of Bolshevik values through cancel culture, anti-racism, group think, and racial spoils.
This is not to water down or dismiss the negative consequences of economic openness, such as inequality, job insecurity, capital flight, and cultural homogenization. But none of those challenges can be solved through a simplistic opposition to Racial Marxism. Rather, we ought to pursue a reiterative process of policy reforms that mitigate social harms without damaging the host society. In other words, one would be a fool to believe that endless diversity trainings can spur innovation in our colleges and universities, or that dumbing down K-12 standards in pursuit of “racial equity” and “restorative justice” will increase our global competitiveness. According to the American formula of public-private partnerships prescribed by Friedman and Mandelbaum, we instead need to provide quality public education to the next generation, continue attracting global talent to enrich our cultural and economic life, modernize American infrastructure, support basic research and development, and implement sound government regulations to address market externalities. All of these proposals require unity among Americans who have been polarized on the wrong issues. We need a common belief in the American Dream: “The American dream is the glue that has held together a diverse, highly competitive, and often fractious society.”
After the Euro crisis, Brexit, and Trump, observers of international and domestic affairs should abandon the erosive view of nation-states versus globalization. More than ever, nation-states are relevant and necessary to embed and ground neoliberalism. They create social policies to reduce disruptions of global exchanges, consolidate redistributive and security mechanisms, raise literacy levels, and promulgate a national identity for social cohesion and shared belonging. This last point is crucial in our current culture war. To that, James Lindsay proposes Americanism:
It’s the belief that all people are individuals who share a common humanity and who have inalienable rights that shall not be infringed by any centralization of power.
From both experience and common-sense judgement, we should see that Americanism expands on the American formula for prosperity to provide a much more viable alternative to Racial Marxism.
Image: Aaron Burden, Public Domain