Following my analysis of the 16 Points of the Alt. Right, I’ve been exploring the issue of nationalism and its relationship with libertarian principles. Left libertarians typically hold the view that nationalism is wholly antithetical to the notion of freedom or liberty, and leads to unnecessary conflict and strife.
On the other hand, right-wing libertarians tend to regard nationalism as a naturally-occurring phenomenon and a way in which people socially organize and is a fundamental basis for association; from the family is the extended family, from the extended family is the community; from the community is the region, and from the region is the nation.
What’s curious are the views of the great Austrian economist, Ludwig Von Mises. While he critiqued nationalism under certain circumstances, we discover that he also found forms of it perfectly compatible with classical liberalism.
In his book Nation, State, and Economy, Mises discusses the notion of “Liberal or Pacifistic Nationalism,” in the chapter “The Nationality Principle in Politics.”
He writes (bold emphasis added)
The idea of freedom is both national and cosmopolitan. It is revolutionary, for it wants to abolish all rule incompatible with its principles, but it is also pacifistic.What basis for war could there still be, once all peoples had been set free? Political liberalism concurs on that point with economic liberalism, which proclaims the solidarity of interests among peoples.
One must also keep that in mind if one wants to understand the original internationalism of the socialist parties since Marx. Liberalism, too, is cosmopolitan in its struggle against the absolutism of the princely state. Just as the princes stand together to defend themselves against the advance of the new spirit, so the peoples also hold together against the princes. If the Communist Manifesto calls on the proletarians of all countries to unite in the struggle against capitalism, then that slogan is consistently derived from the asserted fact of the identity of capitalistic exploitation in all countries. It is no antithesis, however, to the liberal demand for the national state. It is no antithesis to the program of the bourgeoisie, for the bourgeoisie, too, is in this sense international. The emphasis lies not on the words “all countries” but on the word “proletarians.” That like-thinking classes in the same position in all countries must combine is presupposed as a matter of course. If any point at all can be perceived in this exhortation, it is only the point made against pseudo-national strivings that fight every change in traditional arrangements as an infringement on warranted national individuality.
The new political ideas of freedom and equality triumphed first in the West. England and France thus became the political model countries for the rest of Europe. If, however, the liberals called for adoption of foreign institutions, then it was only natural that the resistance mounted by the old forces also made use of the age-old device of xenophobia. German and Russian conservatives also fought against the ideas of freedom with the argument that they were foreign things not suitable for their peoples. Here national values are misused for political purposes. But there is no question of opposition to the foreign nation as a whole or to its individual members.
So far as relations among peoples are concerned, therefore, the national principle is above all thoroughly peaceful. As a political ideal it is just as compatible with the peaceful coexistence of peoples as Herder’s nationalism as a cultural ideal was compatible with his cosmopolitanism. Only in the course of time does peaceful nationalism, which is hostile only to princes but not to peoples also, change into a militaristic nationalism. This change takes place, however, only at the moment when the modern principles of the state, in their triumphant march from West to East, reach the territories of mixed population.
The significance of the nationality principle in its older peaceful form becomes especially clear to us when we observe the development of its second postulate. First of all, the nationality principle includes only the rejection of every overlordship and so also of every foreign overlordship; it demands self-determination, autonomy. Then, however, its content expands; not only freedom but also unity is the watchword. But the desire for national unity, too, is above all thoroughly peaceful.
It would seem that the term “nationalism” is a broad term and can refer to many manifestations of the same concept; the divide between Stalin and Trotsky was whether their variation of communism should be confined to the Soviet Union (nationalism) or be spread throughout the entire world (globalism). Independence movements are generally nationalistic in nature, just as movements to forcibly unite independent federations into a single central state, as was done in Germany, are done under a nationalist banner.
Nationalism, then, is an amoral idea; it is neither good nor bad in and of itself. What makes it admirable or detestable is the intent behind those who promote it; do they seek peaceful independence or coercive unity?