Over the last five years of watching international politics, I cannot help but note the rise of nationalism as a force. It might be ultranationalism coming out in countries like France, England and Germany as a result of decades of failure to plan for and integrate large numbers of immigrants. Or it could be the revival of centrist politics as people not wanting to go hard right or hard left look for an alternative from increasingly tired mainstream parties. Whatever the case, nationalism is on the move as a force and it is going to affect New Zealand, so let us have a look at how and why.
In the last year or so, nationalist rhetoric from political parties around the western world suggests that people have tired of “the establishment” politicians who in their eyes do not seem to be advancing their needs, whilst at the same time undermining their rights. Although only a couple of countries have truly nationalist parties, the far right (and far left in a few causes)parties have begun to surge in the polls as the crisis caused by decades of not planning for immigration, begin to take their toll.
The very nature of a nationalist party is to promote the needs of the native population first and foremost. Rhetoric will involve sloganeering such as “Put ______ (insert nation name) and _______ (people of the nation)first”. In many nations it will involve more overt displays of nationalism, such as more flags showing, people wearing clothes with nationalist messages or giving preference to businesses that are local. Debates may become more heated as people pointing out their nations strengths – economic, social, political and so forth start to give voice to their opinions.
Unfortunately, nationalism can have a really ugly side to it, most frequently expressed in xenophobic, bigotted or otherwise outright intolerant attitudes and behaviours towards minorities. Such behaviours can include negative comments about skin colour, nationality and religion through to attacks on homes and businesses operated by people of particular minorities. Their social view is often highly aggressive, including deporting people not born in that country, vigilante style justice and people being able to use lethal force to defend themselves. Usually these types also see nothing wrong with putting down other nations and deliberately ignoring certain sections of history.
I think nationalism can be broken down into two strains:
- Hard nationalism – this is the part of the nationalist spectrum occupied by ultranationalists, far right parties (Front Nationale/National Front, Britain First, Greek Golden Dawn, etc)
- Soft nationalism – often centrist parties, but sometimes also mainstream parties briefly departing from their normal philosophical standpoint
Few cannot notice the nationalist tone of Donald Trump, saying he wants to make America great again. His rhetoric has largely been hard, with promises to build a wall on the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it; block Muslim immigration from countries that sponsor terrorism. His supporters have been just as overt – wearing t-shirts proclaiming “Make America great again”and sometimes showing intolerance of others. This is leaning toward hard nationalist in standpoint, which I describe later.
However, New Zealanders will well know that there is a nationalist party here called New Zealand First. Its leader Winston Peters, a former National Party Member of Parliament and Minister of the Crown in the Bolger/Shipley and Clark Governments formed the party on 18 July 1993. From its inception to this very day it has had as its first and foremost principle “To put New Zealanders and New Zealand first”. Although the party has certainly at times during its first stint in Parliament been linked to nonsensical comments by Members of Parliament about “too many Asians” or “that Somali taxi driver”, if one looks at the ethnic diversity of its Parliamentarians that case certainly does not exist now. It could be classed more as a soft nationalist party.
I consider myself to be a bit of a nationalist, but I am definitely of the second type. The hard nationalist strain I believe can be very damaging and nations should take steps to address soci0-economic issues and their causes before circumstances reach a point where discontent may be expressed as violence. As a soft nationalist I certainly believe that the needs of New Zealand and New Zealanders should be put first, but New Zealand has legal and moral obligations to the international community and the upholding of those over the decades has improved our standing immensely. Finding a balance between their needs and the needs of the international community is something all nations need to do, but some do it much better than others.
With an election next year, it will be interesting to see how New Zealand First shapes up. But before then the hard nationalist bombast of Donald Trump will grate on our ears. He might not be the last.