Manifestations of ‘globalisation’ and ‘multiculturalism’ that began to peak from the 1990s, were expected to erode the idea of nationalism.

Multiculturalism posited that, in an increasingly globalised world, diverse communities could co-exist in a single society without its citizens having to adopt an overriding nationalist ethos. To multiculturalism, nation-states were becoming micro-expressions of a globalised community, in which citizens were only required to interact as an economic collective with a meshed global economy. Multiculturalism thus, can also be seen as an off-shoot of civic-nationalism, in which a nation is defined by ‘universal’ liberal values, instead of a dominant language, ethnicity or religion. 

Read: Multiculturalism — An idea gone sour

After World War II, nationalism began to be censured for being myopic and violent in its bid to create a homogenous whole. Yet, nationalism’s original intentions were largely progressive. It had first emerged in England in the 17th century after the gradual erosion of the so-called ‘blue-blooded’ elites of society. The erosion was the result of multiple internal and external wars fought on the basis of religion and territory. These created room for the upward mobility of segments existing just below the elites. 

In England, as ‘red-blooded’ men began to replace the blue-blooded nobles as the new elites, they declared that English people were a nation. It didn’t matter if one was a noble, a merchant or a peasant. They were now part of a nation and could move up and down the ladder according to their individual abilities. These abilities were now to serve the nation, instead of the Church and the monarch alone. 

The idea of nationalism began to spread across Europe. It became tied to the ideas of the ‘Enlightenment’ — an epoch in Europe during which science, industrialisation and the demystification of religion were greatly encouraged. Reason was to be used as a tool to understand the world and one’s place in it. Nationalism also appeared in non-Western regions that had been colonised by European powers. Ironically, this triggered a decolonisation process, because colonised people formed their own nationalisms and nation-states. 

The German sociologist Max Weber (d.1920) understood nations as societies driven by ‘rationalisation’ (the replacement of emotions and old traditions with ideas based on reason). Weber, however, worried that rationalisation was creating bureaucratic societies that curbed individualism.

As multiculturalism gets diluted in the West, immigrant communities are exporting their mindsets, assets and identity markers to their home countries which are often co-opted by exclusivist nationalisms

But it wasn’t really this that set off a sterner onslaught against nationalism. It was how nationalism began to evolve: i.e. from being a source of rational communities (nations) advancing by making rational choices, to becoming a source of collective emotionalism shaped by ethnic, religious and racial superiority complexes.

This mutation of nationalism is often criticised for causing the carnage witnessed during the two world wars. It was censured for becoming overtly emotional, exclusivist and rigid for a world that was being reshaped by the economics of globalisation. Therefore, Western societies, in a bid to safeguard their civic-nationalist values, began adopting multiculturalism as an alternative.

New 20th century nation-states had also adopted the original ‘rational’ and modernist dimensions of nationalism. But since democratic institutions in these countries were either weak or non-existent, the darker mutations of nationalism were used to consolidate authoritarian set-ups. These manoeuvres were justified as being ‘anti-colonial’ and later, ‘post-colonial.’

In the early 2000s, Western nation-states began to witness pockets of rebellion against multiculturalism. Critics of multiculturalism blamed it for encouraging the ‘ghettoisation’ of immigrant communities, allowing them to refuse adopting ‘national values’ of the majority community.

Globalisation, on the other hand, was mostly denounced by countries where nationalism had mutated into becoming ethnic and/or religious nationalism. They saw globalisation as a tool to overwhelm the ethnic/ religious traditions of their countries. But the angst towards globalisation was also brewing in Western countries. Here it was seen to have birthed multiculturalism. 

This triggered the resurgence of nationalism in the West. Populist regimes emerged, denouncing multiculturalism and globalisation. Again, this was not the nationalism that had envisioned the creation of rational nations. This nationalism was closer to religious/ ethnic nationalism.

According to the political scientist Florian Bieber, the current trend of nationalism with populist overtones in established democracies is a result of the 2008 global economic crisis. These crises were blamed on the economics of globalisation. But Bieber concludes that this myopic strand of nationalism in developed democracies will gradually burn out. It will be defused by its own successes, because it did not emerge as a structured movement. It was an impulsive reaction, which will be neutralised by the recovery of the economy. 

It is next to impossible to reverse the overwhelming presence of the globalised economy. However, multiculturalism is clearly being readjusted in developed Western democracies. Multiculturalism had made sense in the West, where nation-states were protecting their civic-nationalist ethos from the more illiberal mutations of nationalism. But a reaction against multiculturalism is now forcing them to dilute it.

Prominent social expressions of immigrant communities encouraged by multiculturalism are also seeing a gradual retreat. Consequently, the immigrants have begun to export (to their mother countries) expressions of the so-called ‘ghettoised’ mindset that they had adopted during the years of peak multiculturalism.

The exports in this regard also include remittance monies. This has provided them influence in their home countries. Exaggerated identity symbols of their home cultures that they flaunted in the West, are now accompanying the money that they are sending to their countries of origin. So how does this impact their mother countries, a majority of which are still in the grip of ethnic/ religious nationalism? 

Examples include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Turkey, India, etc. A spike in social conservatism and emotive nationalism among the urban middle-classes in such countries can be linked to what these countries have been receiving as returning citizens and/or their money. Regimes in mother countries use religious/ ethnic nationalism to shore up legitimacy, especially when economies fail to perform. Thus, remittances and their sources are important assets to these regimes. 

But these assets largely include people who, because of multiculturalism in their adopted countries, had managed to only accept Western economic liberalism, and not liberalism’s political and social expressions. Therefore, the economic and social influences of the assets are clearly deepening the ethnic/ religious nationalism in their home countries.

The presence of identity symbols of immigrants within the paradigm of Western multiculturalism was a variation of inclusive Western liberalism. But such symbols, when put in the context of ethnic/ religious nationalism of home countries, become contributors to exclusivist nationalism.

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 3rd, 2021

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