After Its Timely Book on Populism, Columbia Global Reports Explores Nationalism

October 10, 2018
John Judis

John Judis’s last book was beyond prescient. The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics explored the nativist and nationalistic forces on the right and the left that are “beginning a long running and highly consequential readjustment,” according to a description of the book on the website of its publisher, Columbia Global Reports.

Two months after it was published in September 2016, Donald J. Trump won the presidency.

Now, with just weeks to go before the midterms, the author and journalist is surveying the aftermath of that election, as well as Brexit and the ascendancy of numerous leaders around the world with authoritarian or at least nativist tendencies. His new book, The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration and the Revolt against Globalization, is once again published by Columbia Global Reports, a University imprint that releases a half dozen books each year on under-covered topics.

Q. What is globalization?

A. There is globalization with a small “g” referring to the spread of capitalism globally, a process that started in the 16th century, with occasional interruptions for war. Big “G” Globalization began in the 1970s with the collapse of the post-World War II monetary system, which accommodated limits on trade and movement of money and investments. The U.S. and the International Monetary Fund promoted a global capitalist system modelled on a laissez-faire national system, with reduced national controls over trade, currency and capital, and it was pushed forward by the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. But particularly with China’s entry into the WTO in 2001, the result was an unstable hybrid rather than capitalism ruled by an international invisible hand. Since then there have been huge trade imbalances, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and Europe, greater inequality within nations, including China and India, and financial instability. Those factors culminated in the crash of 2008 and continue to this day.

Q. Why is nationalism coming back now?

A. Nationalism, too, has been with us for centuries, but what has surfaced recently is an explicit version that frames politics as a choice between us (Americans, true Poles, French, Danes, Hungarians) and them (Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, Roma, refugees). Globalization, the formation of the European Union and Eurozone are certainly factors in this revival. Add to that the combination of increased immigration of unskilled workers from less to more developed countries and within the EU with the rise of Islamist terrorism. Those parts of the population most unfavorably affected by globalization or the euro’s adoption are often the same parts that take exception to immigrants and to the threat from refugees. These people, the “left-behinds,” have formed the political base of nationalist and populist parties and in the U.S. are ardent supporters of Trump.

Q. Is nationalism always right-wing?

A. A common national sentiment is a prerequisite for democracy, which is based on an acceptance of political equality among citizens, and of the modern welfare state, which is based on the willingness of citizens to pay taxes to support other citizens whom they may never have laid eyes upon. Nationalism by itself is neither right wing nor left wing. Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were ardent nationalists, as were Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill. And so were Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini, George Wallace and now, Donald Trump.

Q. What has changed in the two years since The Populist Explosion came out?

A. The main change, besides Trump’s election, has been the continued rise in Europe of a populist right wing. In addition to the countries I covered in that book, I would cite the success of nationalist parties in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Germany and, of course, Italy. A leading left wing populist party, Podemos in Spain, has lost ground.  Social Democratic parties in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy continue to founder.  And making good on his campaign promises, Trump has challenged China’s command economy and renegotiated NAFTA, while continuing to foster a political division between the nationalists of middle America and the cosmopolitans of the great coastal metro areas.

Q. What comes next?

A. I have more questions than answers right now. What will come of the rivalry between the United States and China, which has economic and military dimensions? And what of the arc of political instability running from South Asia through the Middle East and up through the countries on the periphery of Russia and bordering Eastern Europe? Wars have erupted in this area for centuries, and could do so again with strong repercussions in Europe. In Europe there are signs that the left—typified by Labor Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., Left Party founder Jean-Luc Melenchon in France, and the new movement Aufstehen in Germany—is trying to come to terms with the appeal of nationalism. In the U.S., there are indications that the Democratic Party has learned from Trump’s success and Clinton’s failure in 2016 and that it must speak to the “left-behinds” on economic issues, but Trump’s conduct as president has led the Democrats to focus on his most egregious words and deeds. It is still too early to say whether these new political formations will be able to displace the decaying center in American and European politics, or whether politics and party allegiance will continue to fragment.