Mike Lind: Nationalism Isn't The Devil
In his new book, "Hell to Pay: How the Suppression of Wages is Destroying America," the historian argues that American workers need greater bargaining power and wealth
Nationalism is synonymous with fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism in many people’s minds. The ideology brought us World War II, Saddam Hussein, and Vladamir Putin.
But nationalism isn’t necessarily any of those things, argues historian Michael Lind. “Almost all of the states in the United Nations General Assembly are nation-states,” he notes in a new podcast he recorded with Public last week (above). “I think of nationalism as a nation-statism, as distinguished from, you know, dynastic empires like the Romanoffs and the Hapsburg or city-states like Athens and Sparta. It’s a neutral term.”
Without a doubt, nationalism goes wrong when it becomes evangelical, as it did in Europe in the mid-20th Century. Nations wrongly seek to impose their national culture on others by becoming imperialism. But nationalism is not the same as imperialism. Indeed, in the U.S., it has often been isolationist, not imperialist.
For Lind, the reason we need to revive economic nationalism is because globalism is tearing America apart. Nations exist in a world system where they compete, and failing to recognize this competition can lead to bad outcomes, such as the United States losing much of its manufacturing base to China.
“For people, who can’t get over economic nationalism,” Lind says, “another term is developmentalism or developmental capitalism. The difference between developmentalism and 19th-century economic laissez-faire liberalism is that in liberalism, the state is a neutral umpire. It doesn’t take sides between industries. It doesn’t take sides between firms. It doesn’t even take sides with its own nation’s firms versus foreign firms. It’s just an umpire or referee.
“In developmentalism, the state is the coach of a team, and the team includes industrialists, capitalists, universities, researchers, and workers. Or at least it should include workers.”
And it is American workers who are the subject of Lind’s new book, Hell To Pay: How the Suppression of Wages is Destroying America. In it, Lind describes how the bipartisan neoliberal economic consensus from the 1970s to the 2010s undermined the power of American workers to bargain for better wages, thereby contributing to a range of social ills, from political polarization to America’s declining birth rate.