“GOOD” NATIONALISM—SAVING DEMOCRACY THROUGH NATIONAL COMMUNITY BUILDING
Democratic governments, from the US to Israel, from Hungary to Venezuela, from Turkey to Indonesia are in crisis—although some are much more challenged than others. If democracy is to be saved, more will be required than political actions such as changing the agendas of the parties (e.g., making them more “populist”) or forming new parties or coalitions.1 A major social transformation is called for—the rebuilding of the national community on which all democracies rely. This book spells out the reasons this transformation is essential and the ways it can be brought about. Polarization involves people who are divided from one another by more than whom they vote for. They also are divided by whom they socialize, talk, and work with, by whom they befriend and even marry.2
In the US, 77 percent of self-identified Republicans and Democrats are married to or living with someone who identifies as a member of the same political party. Fewer than 10 percent of people who identify as either a Republican or a Democrat have spouses or partners from the opposing political party.3 Fifty-five percent of Republicans say they have just a few or no friends who are Democrats, while 65 percent of Democrats say they have just a few or no Republican friends.4 One out of five millennials (22 percent) has broken up with someone over political differences.5 Michael Bloomberg reports: “In 1960, only 4 to 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they would be upset if a member of their family married someone from the opposing party. In 2010, one in three Democrats and one in two Republicans said they would disapprove of such a marriage.”6 In other democracies polarization is also rising.7
Because polarization has become so widespread and encompassing,8 it is no longer contained by a shared understanding of the common good, which could limit the paralyzing effects of social polarization on politics and provide the underpinning for shared action among opposing parties. A major social development that bedevils democracies is the loss of the commitment to the common good, a commitment that can help to balance particularistic interests, needs, and values.
I am often asked, How can one have a major effect on society, indeed on history? When I respond by suggesting that this is a rather easy question because there is only one answer, this tends to surprise people. As I see it, the one and only way to achieve truly transformative social change is to launch or join a social movement.9
Key examples include movements on behalf of civil rights, gender equality, economic fairness, environmental protection, national liberation, and religious freedom. These movements differ greatly from one another, especially in their values and strategies for achieving their goals. They share, however, an underlying sociological feature: they withdraw legitimacy and support from a declining regime while laying foundations for a new one. To give but one illustration: The American civil rights movement challenged the legitimacy of discriminatory laws in such basic social practices as voting, working, education, and housing. It provided for de jure and de facto voting rights, made racial discrimination illegal and uncouth, elected thousands of African American officials, and increased interracial marriages. (The percentage of African Americans married to people of other races has increased dramatically since 1980. In 1980, only 5 percent of African Americans were in interracial marriages; that figure climbed to 18 percent by 2015.)10 To be sure, the movement has far from eliminated racism, but it did introduce major social and political changes.
Many Americans, as well as citizens of other democracies, are concerned that the guardrails of democracy—the institutions and laws on which it relies—are being weakened. To restore them requires a new social mandate. A mere change in the composition of the legislature will not suffice. One should recall that even when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, from 2009 to 2011, the GOP and Red State Democrats blocked major reforms.
For the kind of sweeping changes now called for to save democratic regimes and make governments functional again, a major social movement will have to provide a mandate that will cut across party lines and force both sides to work together. This is what the environmental movement achieved when it led President Richard Nixon to form the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress to pass a whole list of environmental protection laws. This is what the civil rights movement achieved in the early 1960s. No such mandate is now available. Only a sweeping patriotic movement can bring about a wide-reaching democratic rebuilding.
The Model of Marital Conflict
To argue that democracies now need a social movement that formulates core values that a strong majority can embrace is a call not to eradicate differences and divisions but, rather, to contain them. An analogy from family life may help. Studies show that stable and happy marriages are not strangers to conflict. Couples fight, seeking changes (e.g., in the division of labor between the spouses) but also to maintain the union. There are rules for such contained conflicts, those that seek to maintain the common good, that include not demonizing the other side, validated communication, not going for the “pound of flesh,” and focusing on the future rather than recriminating the past. In politics, these rules have sometimes been described as those followed by the “loyal opposition.”
“Loyal opposition” refers to a minority party whose opposition to the party in power is constrained by loyalty to the fundamental interests and values governing the state11 while continuing to offer plans and policies that claim to better serve the interests of the state and the people.12 The US Senate used to be such a “club” but has largely lost its common ground as partisanship, reflecting swelling social divisions, carries the day. To move forward, we need new social formations—chapters of a patriotic movement yet to be fashioned—that will include people of different political persuasions, backgrounds, and parties all committed to consenting on and advancing the common good. For a more extensive discussion on the marital conflict model, please refer to chapter 2.
Incorporating the White Minority
In recent years many whites in the US have come to see themselves as a persecuted, excluded minority.13 This sentiment has arisen in the wake of large demographic changes. Reports claim that the nation will have a majority of minorities by 2044. Increases in minority populations and a decline in the white majority in the US have driven several African American leaders, including Jesse Jackson and former New York City mayor David Dinkins, along with a few Hispanics, such as Fernando Ferrer, a candidate for the 2002 mayoral election in New York City, and some on the white left to champion a coalition of minorities to unseat the “white establishment” and become the power-holders and shapers of America’s future.14 When Jesse Jackson launched his Rainbow Coalition, I teased him a bit, pointing out that the colors of the rainbow do not include white. He shrugged his shoulders, suggesting that leaving out whites was not necessarily detrimental. Calls for minority governing coalitions that exclude white Americans—intentionally or otherwise—have resulted in many whites seeing themselves as a persecuted minority group.15
Arlie Russell Hochschild spent five years interviewing and living with whites in Louisiana, most of whom later voted for Trump, documenting their perception shift. She found that many of them felt abused by a world in which they see themselves as climbing a steep hill only for “others” (minorities and immigrants, most of whom are not white) to cut ahead of them in line.
Both sides are allowing one identity to trump all others rather than building on the fact that we all have multiple identities.16 Many vote their race, and their race affects their views on most issues, overriding other identities.17 Above all, they ignore that whatever their race, they are also Americans, or French, or Danes, and so on—in essence “they are citizens of somewhere.”18
Minorities and whites can come together under the big tent of the patriotic movement if they come to see that they often suffer from common maladies, such as the actions of narrowly based interest groups. Thus, when banks sold millions of Americans mortgages that the banks knew people could not afford and hence were able to evict many people from their homes, both whites and black suffered, not equally, but all to great personal loss. When Americans pay many times more for medications, a major source of health expenditures, than people pay in other countries, because lobbyists got Congress to enact laws that prohibit Americans from purchasing medications overseas, the pocketbooks of people of all colors are squeezed. When millions of Americans consume vitamins that have not been tested for safety—because the industry pressured Congress to exempt vitamins from FDA regulations—people of all backgrounds are endangered. When Chlorpyrifos, a common insecticide, continues to be used in agriculture across the globe even though it has been clearly linked to defective alterations in brain structure and in the cognition of children, all kinds of children are hurt.19
A major example: Purdue Pharma—the company that invented the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin—claimed until 2007 that it was not addictive, although a Department of Justice report shows Purdue’s awareness of significant OxyContin abuse shortly after the drug was introduced to the market in 1996 and that this information was intentionally concealed.20 Moreover, Purdue employed an aggressive marketing campaign that paid substantial bonuses to sales representatives who worked with physicians prescribing high volumes of OxyContin, as well as a promotional campaign that included providing health-care professionals with all-expenses-paid trips to Purdue Pharma symposia at luxury resorts and widely distributing OxyContin-branded gifts.21 The campaign led many physicians to prescribe OxyContin even when it was not needed.22 As a result, 52,000 Americans died of opiate-related causes in 2016,23 a number five times greater than in 1999.24
Narrowly based special interest groups (more about them in chapter 9) have become so powerful that they pose a great threat to people of all backgrounds. This is particularly evident when observing what happens after their wrongdoings are uncovered—in most cases, no substantial penalty or reform follows.
We learned that if one citizen forges one check, he may well end up in jail for ten years. When banks hired staff to forge signatures on thousands of mortgages, not a single banker went to jail. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, nineteen major Wall Street firms were found to have committed fifty-one cases of antifraud law violations. The SEC got them to promise not to violate the law in the future—and when they did violate it again, the SEC asked them again to behave better.25 No wonder they were not impressed. Indeed, some violated the law time and again and again.
When 60 Minutes reported that a hospital chain automatically orders a whole slew of tests for anybody who walks into its ER rooms, whether they need them or not, and pressures its doctors to admit at least half of these visitors to fill hospital beds, the chain suffered no pain. These and countless other examples make clear that people from all walks of life have much to gain if they join together to curb special interests.
The fact that times call for a social movement that will rebuild the common ground, the bonds that contain conflict, and the foundations on which public policies with strong majorities’ support will rest is the central thesis of the book. One may well ask, But what about overcoming inequality, eliminating poverty, protecting the environment, providing affordable health care, and many other such worthy social goals? I suggest that making major progress on any and all of these fronts presumes a strong sense of community without which it will not be possible to form the kind of strong majorities that support major reforms.
And, it is worth reiterating, there is no reason for various groups fighting for progress on any of these fronts to cease promoting their agendas—as long as they do so while supporting rather than undermining the communal bonds. Last, many books and articles have been written on how to tackle the various specific policy issues that challenge democracies. This book need not add to these volumes other than to stress that their agendas will not be advanced far unless people are willing to make sacrifices for each other and the common good, find middle ground, and yes, even compromise. To advance specific agendas, people must see each other as members of one overarching community, one with shared values and, for better or worse, a shared destiny.
No Ending of Identity Politics
When I refer to community, I am not thinking about some kind of “kumbaya,” a love fest in which all differences disappear, but about the realization that we are members of one overarching community with a shared set of core values and interests and, ultimately, a shared future. For the same reason, the quest to redefine and recommit to the common good is not a quest to end identity politics; rather, it’s a call to those who see one particularistic identity as defining them to make room for a more complex combination of shared and particularistic identities.26
This is not a case of being against individual or group rights but a recognition that rights need to be accompanied by a strong sense of social responsibility to the other, and above all to the common good. Preparing for my classes at the Harvard Business School, I read a report showing that though young Americans felt strongly about their right to be tried by a jury of their peers, they were exceedingly reluctant to serve on a jury. I argued in class and later in my book The Spirit of Community that it is morally obscene to take and not to give, that strong rights presumed strong responsibilities, and that if young people did not serve on juries, then there would obviously be no juries of their peers.27 Many Americans demand more government services while raging against raising taxes, or advocate a stronger army while counseling their children against military service. In line with a popular sentiment expressed by President John F. Kennedy, the times call for asking what you are willing to do for the common good, to protect the environment, to help those unable to help themselves, to secure us from terrorist attacks.
To put it differently, all societies experience centrifugal forces that pull them apart. In many societies these have been especially strong in recent years. We cannot, and need not, eradicate these forces, though they can be mitigated. What is needed are centripetal forces to balance the centrifugal ones, that is, nation building. To use a still different metaphor, we do not need a melting pot but a mosaic, in which the pieces—though different in color and size—are held together by a framework.
The Nation Is a Community Invested in a State
The term “community” applies to many different kinds of sociological entities, including groups defining their common life around ethnicity and culture (e.g., Jewish community), sexual orientation (e.g., gay community), religion (e.g., Muslim community), vocation (e.g., scientific community), international security and cooperation (international community), among many others. This book is focused on a particular one, a community that is invested in a state, the proper definition of a nation. Summoning loyalties to a nation evokes intense passions. I realize when I call for renewed patriotism, when I write about commitment to the good of one’s nation, about love of country, that patriotism is a highly contentious idea. Many associate it with xenophobia and jingoism.
At its core, patriotism points to passionate concern for one’s fellow citizens and the community they share, a resolve to love one’s nation despite its defects and to work for its flourishing. This is what I mean by “good” nationalism.28 Several political commentators have mentioned the need to distinguish between “bad” and “good” nationalism (without going into the weeds to sort out what this entails), including Lawrence Summers, who has issued a call to “responsible nationalism,”29 and David Brooks, who has extolled “civic nationalism.”30 These conceptions of nationalism are offered in contrast to toxic forms of ethnonationalism, blood-and-soil nationalism, or outright tribalism. Yascha Mounk is reported to have suggested that “liberals can counter Trump’s ‘ethnocentric’ nationalism with a nationalism of their own. The trouble, as he puts it, is that American liberals are ‘increasingly directed toward a radical rejection of the nation and all its trappings.’”31 Patriots do not overlook their country’s flaws and darker periods but seek to address them rather than allow them to undermine their commitment to the country’s common fate, history, and future. And they do not diminish other communities, let alone seek to lord over them, but appreciate that those in those communities, too, love their country.
William Galston distinguishes between patriotism and nationalism in the following terms: “Patriotism denotes a special attachment to a particular political community, although not necessarily to its existing form of government. Nationalism, with which patriotism is often confused, stands for a very different phenomenon—the fusion, actual or aspirational, between shared ethnicity and state sovereignty.” He adds, “It is perfectly possible to love one’s own without becoming morally narrow, or unreasonable, let alone irrational.”32 George Orwell differentiates nationalism, as a position “inseparable from the desire for power,” from patriotism, which is “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people.”33
Devotion to one’s country can be fully separated from aggressive foreign policies, a mark of nationalism, and can be fully reconciled with commitment to foreign aid and humanitarian contributions and providing peace-keeping forces. No country maintains this distinction perfectly, though Canada, the Scandinavian countries, Costa Rica, and Uruguay come close. Germany and Japan paid a very heavy price before they learned the difference but showed in the decades that followed World War II that a nation can forego nationalism and still exhibit patriotism.
The Communitarian Bases of Democracy
The following discussion applies to all democracies. They all need to contend with populism, polarization, alienation, dysfunctional governments, and pernicious forms of nationalism. Democratic societies differ in the extent to which they are challenged, but not in the basic nature of these challenges. While many of the examples in the following chapters are drawn from the American experience, readers will have no trouble finding parallels in their nation, with one notable exception. The intrusion of private interest groups into the public realm is much more severe in the US than in most democracies.
Some view democracy as based on free and open elections, a political system that requires a free press, contending parties, and a civic-minded citizenship.34 All this is true, but one should not ignore that ultimately democracy presumes a set of communal commitments. Citizens are willing to abide by decisions of the majority not merely because they believe in the legitimacy of the democratic process but also because they see others as members of the same community and hence are willing to make some sacrifices for them and for maintaining the community.
Above all, they share the values of the community that provide the normative criteria upon which elected officials need to draw if their decisions are to be accepted by the populace. Émile Durkheim pointed out that all contracts are based on precontractual commitments. Democracy is a contract that assumes communal commitments, and when those are lacking, democracy suffers. Charles Taylor observed, along the same lines: “A citizen democracy can only work if most of its members are convinced that their political society is a common venture of considerable moment, and believe it to be of vital importance that they participate in the ways they must to keep it functioning as a democracy. This means not only a commitment to the common project, but also a special sense of bonding among people working together in this project.”35 (I return to this point in chapter 7, in which I explore which values new members of a national community, immigrants, must embrace—and which they must not—and how these values may be transformed to accommodate the newcomers and other historical changes. See especially the discussion of national ethos.)
The core of shared values and bonds that nations need has been weakening in democratic societies under the impact of globalization, sluggish economic growth, polarization, concentration of power, and reaction to large-scale immigration. In some countries, such as Poland and Hungary, the response has been nationalistic rather than patriotic. In some, the polity has nearly unraveled, as in Turkey and Venezuela. One can see most clearly the results of very weak national loyalties in many nondemocratic countries, in which national bonds and shared values are even weaker, much weaker, than in democracies. The result is often civil war. Thus in Afghanistan, in which the primary loyalty is to one’s tribe and not nation, the war is not so much between the government and some insurgents, as the war is often depicted, but to a considerable extent between Pashtuns and other tribes. In Iraq, it is between Shia and Sunnis, among other groups. These are countries in which the model of marriage conflict was not followed; in effect the various sides are fighting as if they are seeking divorce or to kill the other partner. Lacking patriotism, they developed instead aggressive forms of tribalism. This is what happens when national loyalties weaken beyond the level one finds in democracies, a warning to all of them.
The Outline of the Book
I turn next to outline the processes through which the members of the patriotic movement can form new shared moral understandings—the values to which they are going to dedicate themselves—by studying the ways other social movements have achieved such shared understandings. The historical examples in chapter 1 provide “how-to guidelines” for national moral dialogues of the patriotic movement.
Both libertarians and liberals—many on the right and on the left—view individuals as the key actors who shape history.36 I cite evidence that in order to be effective actors, most individuals need to be members of communities and hence that communities play a cardinal role in shaping history. Communities, we shall see in chapter 2, provide the best antidote not just to polarization but also to the populism that appeals to people who lose their communities and to those who feel that their communities are being threatened. For reasons spelled out below, the most relevant community for the issues at hand is the nation, not local nor global ones.
I next explore topics on which moral dialogues, led by the patriotic movement, may focus. These dialogues may well reveal that there is more common ground, or at least overlapping policy consensus, than is widely believed. (Overlapping policy consensus refers to agreements among people who have profound value differences but agree on one or more policies. For instance, pro-life and pro-choice groups worked together in St. Louis for better childcare.) Topics for moral dialogues—trade, immigration, and rights—are discussed in chapter 3.
A key concept that underlies much of the following discussion is the thesis that people have moral commitments and obligations to take action not only for themselves and their loved ones but also to advance the common good, often that of their country.37 Given that this is an often maligned concept, I try to show in chapter 4 what it entails and argue that it is well grounded. In the same vein, I point out that a good society cannot be centered only on liberty and individual rights but also must attend to the common good, expressed in terms of social responsibilities to others and to one’s communities.
The tensions between individual rights and the common good, and the ways they may be worked out, are examined in two case studies. The first, in chapter 5, deals with new regulations that seek to treat personal information as private property, hence requiring an individual’s consent for all usages of personal information. I show that such a conception conflicts with the common good and ask how these two may be reconciled. In chapter 6, the second case study provides a key example of where the needed balance between rights and responsibilities has not been reached and details the dire consequences for national security that follow.
Chapter 7 offers a sociological design that defines the grounds and scope for social diversity and clarifies boundaries that must be respected if the national community is to thrive. Chapter 8 examines a particular form of fighting with one hand tied behind one’s back and how to advance the agenda of various groups without undermining the national community. It illustrates a way for members of communities to vie with one another.
Any narrative of our condition has to answer the question, Who are the “bad” players who undermine democracy, prevent effective governing, and stand in the way of progress? It is widely agreed that polarization has led various communities to view other communities as the enemy. Often these divisions fall along racial lines or between immigrants and old-timers. Actually, the main enemy lies elsewhere; chapter 9 identifies the greatest threat to the common good and the national community as the capture of shared assets by special interests. How to curb these interests without running afoul of the Supreme Court rulings that, in the name of protecting free speech, have allowed those with deep pockets to funnel large amounts of money to politicians is the subject of chapter 9.
For a social movement to be able to redesign society, the local communities and chapters of the movement must be combined into a community of communities, which makes for the national community. The reasons the community of local communities needs to be, for the foreseeable future, national rather than global are spelled out in chapter 10. It reveals that while nationalism is to be condemned, patriotism ought to be rehabilitated and reembraced. On the international level, we need global governance backed up by a global community, because many of our problems are global. However, the sociological conditions for extending national communities into a global one (or even regional ones) or adding a global layer on top of the national ones are not in place. Hence much trouble arises when international organizations and their champions try to advance various forms of postnational government without first forging the essential communal foundations.
The closing chapter of the book suggests that a patriotic movement will need to challenge the legitimacy of affluence and points to core values that serve best to shore up democracy and provide for human flourishing.
The ideas laid out in the following pages apply to all democracies. Granted, they are not all equally challenged. However, globalization, automation, populism, dysfunctional government, polarization, and the rising inequity of assets and power are evident in varying degrees in all of them. Although most of my examples are drawn from the American experience (and the EU), I believe readers will have no difficulty in applying the ideas to their particular society and government.