Nationalism vs Globalism - A False Dichotomy Part IV

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I have written at some length about this subject already, covering some basic thoughts I have on this matter as well as the pre-modern and modern genealogies of Romanian nationalisms and their paradoxes. Parts I, II and III can be accessed here, here, and here. This is Part IV.

Last time I asked if we are to choose between a subjectivity based on some kind of ill-defined internationalist, cosmopolitan monoculture emanated by the global capitalist infrastructure of consumption and degrading instant-gratification, or a racialised, religious-mystic, reactionary-collectivist, ressentiment-laden and ascetic idea of exclusionary nationhood. The question is poorly-posed, since it takes as granted certain unwarranted assumptions, such as i) we have a choice and ii) the two alternatives are actually distinct.

I would argue there is no credible “globalist” (supra-)national identitarian profile on offer at all, at least not anymore – there used to be one, proletarian internationalism, discussed briefly here, but it is not present in the discourse anymore. It is confused in reactionary discourse with a call for the creation of a “world state” and is taken in liberal discourse to be solely some kind of archaic rabble-rousing slogan, and surely we are well past all that, no?

But the “globalist” pole is not an identitarian category – it is simply an alliance of convenience (or, more precisely, a status of co-belligerence) demanded by the logic of capital. It has no independent political or state-bound existence, and demands no allegiance – the tendrils it uses are intrinsically intertwined with how we obtain the necessities of life. The reactionaries can thus rest assured – there is no point to a “world state” or world-empire. Colonialism and imperialism work way better (and are far cheaper!) with weak and corrupt local governments enabling the exploitation of the periphery, rather than direct imperial rule.

Also, the supersession of national identity with a supra-national one, for instance to be able to say one is European instead of French or Romanian, is not appealing when that supra-national identitarian category is i) perceived as not authentic, as manufactured, as transparently ideological; ii) associated with a supra-national entity that contains heterogenous economic interest groups whose interests are at odds with the perceived interests of the nation in question; iii) the value system is alien and unsympathetic to the greater share of the population; and iv) that value system is not argued for or taught, but rather tactlessly imposed in order to “civilise”.

For European identity to become appealing at any rate, there must be increased pluralism not only at the symbolic level (language, inclusion, freedom of movement) but also at the level of economic development. Talking about Europe is all good and well – but it will fall on deaf ears if the core continues to ruthlessly exploit the periphery. Here I see a complicity from certain left-like movements in the core as well – focusing on protecting their own and looking the other way when it is the Gastarbeiter who is abused [1]. Inequalities such as these have become even more visible during times of crisis such as during the current pandemic, when the pernicious consequences of this arrangement affected semi-peripheral countries such as Romania the worst, while Western countries are almost back to a state approximating a kind of “normal”.

Here, G.M. Tamas' critique of the uneven development tendency within the EU is prescient:

The propensity of the European Union to weaken the nation-state and strengthen regionalism ethnicises rivalry and territorial inequality (…) [c]lass conflict, too, is being ethnicised and racialised, between the established and secure working class and lower middle class of the metropolis, and the new immigrant of the periphery, also construed as a problem of security and crime. The growing de-politicisation of the concept of a nation (the shift to a cultural definition) leads to the acceptance of discrimination as “natural”.


What is striking to me about this specific formulation is that Romanians are in different contexts both the “established class” and the “new immigrant of the periphery”, both discriminated against as precarious guest workers and perpetrators of this discrimination at home against minorities (also often framed as “a problem of security and crime”), because immigration to Romania is very low. Likewise, there is widespread acceptance of a “natural” hierarchy (though one’s own subservient status is probably not so readily accepted).

The EU in its current form is not a valid base for such an identity because it is, first and foremost, an economic construct rather than an identitarian one. Its purpose is to create a credible economic pole of the former colonising powers to compete against upstart Eastern rivals and the US, or at least keep themselves afloat while trying. It was never designed to get Eastern Europe out of the ditch – only to help them enough to get them going on the path towards neoliberal economic domination.

The alternative we have left is, then, the exclusionary ethnic nationalism of AUR and other “right-populist” movements. But as I have written elsewhere, the hard-nationalist post-1989 identity does not, in actuality, reflect Romania as it is today. Where one would be inclined to see live culture, the nationalists see a corruption of tradition. Where there is a popular support and potential for change and emancipation, they adopt a superficial anti-colonial discourse and accuse innovators or reformers of being foreign agents. Its positive assertion of adhesion to the imagined utopian national community is only possible via a disavowal of one’s actual community. It is an affirmation of adhesion to something that does not exist, yet it entails the destruction of something that does.

It is often affirmed that the “right-populist” parties are somehow anti-capitalist. This is not quite correct. While it is true that they do not fetishise capitalism like the liberals and sometimes criticise it or even appear to oppose it, they do not do so on coherent economic or political grounds. Far from it – instead of seeing the deterritorialising tendency they feel mercilessly ripping into their narrow conception of national culture as a feature intrinsic to capitalism, they tend to blame it on supposedly inclusive or even politically-correct or “cultural Marxist” agendas of certain specific corporations (perhaps run as fronts by shadowy cabals of… other people). Just as a demonstration of their poor understanding of capitalism, they often whine about “crony capitalism”, not understanding the relationship of capital and the state – or they point to monopolies or the rule of finance as evidence that what we have today is not capitalism at all – as if the tendency towards monopoly or rent-seeking weren’t features (more like contradictions, in fact) of capitalism!

No, with their “criticism”, they in fact do something significantly more insidious, consciously or not – they point to a narrow and naive liberal definition of capitalism, compare it with the monstrosity we actually have, then ridicule the left – how could capitalism be the cause of all this if it doesn’t even exist in reality? Thus they discredit criticism of capitalism because they do not fundamentally oppose it – they see it as natural, but corrupted in its current state by other forces they are up against.

The reactionary right is predominantly emotional and cultural – they are not equipped to critique capitalism except vaguely, and even that not by judging it on its own terms or contrasting it to what it could become, but rather by comparing it to something that has never existed, an idealised, ahistorical, cartoon version of feudalism, primitivism, or even slavery (!). Because their critique is incoherent and it presupposes bourgeois relations (even if some of them vehemently disavow them in discourse, like Evola) as “natural” or “God-given”, in reality, what they can realistically come up with is still capitalism, only with its contradictions mystified by heavy-handed state interference. But it is still capitalism, with the caveat that now, in addition to the class war, there are entire sections of the population excluded from the very precondition of class society – citizenship or even participation in universal humanity. This can temporarily improve the material standing of certain sections of the working class, as well as pander to prevailing cultural biases or traditional privileges, and thus has the potential to silence an apathetic public into accepting a state-mediated “settlement” of class conflict for a time.

So the reactionary right is not precisely anti-capitalist. It does not affirm capitalism as a central programmatic totem like the liberals do, but it treats it as a given and does not challenge it at a radical level. Why is this corporatist economic approach gaining popularity? Because the sad truth is, most people do not have a problem with capitalism either. They have a problem with their own station within it. Left parties have to teach a lot of theory to people to even make themselves understood – no wonder the fascists have an easier time. “See, there’s these other people who are ruining it all for all of us. Let’s get rid of them and everything will be great! And you get to keep your toys too!”

In this focus on the exclusionary power of the nation, Tamas recognises a common project that Trumpist movements such as AUR have in common with advanced neoliberalism:

(…) we have to recognize the common element here. There is a common project: the exclusion of masses of people from the benefit of citizenship. And all these people cooperate in bringing this about.


Thus, he sees a continuity between the neoliberal “end of history” phase and the current crisis of “right-populism”, as they share the anti-Enlightenment stance of a rejection of universalism, of the institution of systems whose very point is to selectively exclude and impose “natural” hierarchies. While 20th century Fascism killed with trains and camps and gas chambers, what Tamas terms “post-fascism” kills with intentional criminal neglect.

Bringing it all together, there is an axiological shift occurring in the EU’s periphery. It seems that the split into regionalism occasioned by 30 years of uneven development has borne a fruit of a culturally bitterly divided nation. Yet there is a remarkable sameness to these two political projects. Whichever nationalist identitarian profile we pick, they both fundamentally converge politically on the same exclusionary project. Of course we are not yet there – unfortunately the same cannot be said of Poland, Hungary, Brazil, etc. – but that seems to be the way we are headed. Of course who exactly will be excluded differs, the language differs, the policy proposals differ – but these are aesthetics. What matters is that the political-economic project of neoliberalism has been slowly mutating since 2008 into post-fascism. While there are many flavours of it, all of them continue the reactionary project of slowly rolling back the emancipatory project of the Enlightenment, in this case citizenship rights. On other fronts, such as the shift to the gig economy (greatly accelerated during the pandemic), hard-won labour rights are being bypassed, while the aftermath of the pandemic risks fundamentally altering the nature of our medical systems.

It is crucial to point out that these “Romantics” and “Visionaries”, to whom people now look up to in search of meaning, leadership and a renewed, proud identity, are simply a different manifestation of the age-old class war. What needs to be recognised is that the world does not need any more heroes or saviours – it needs a conscious people who can think beyond narrow, invented identities, working together on the common project of universal interest.

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  1. And here we get to another sensitive topic – the limits of social democracy. The memory of the trente glorieuses is so often nostalgically evoked in current liberal-ish-leftist discourse – but can we confuse the Fordist post-war consensus with any kind of genuine emancipatory project? Has it not routinely meant a cushy welfare state at home, and merciless colonialism abroad?
  2. Tamas, G.M, “What is Post-fascism?”, 13 September 2001,