When French President Emmanuel Macron denounced populist nationalism this week and called on world leaders to back institutions such as the U.N. that defend “the common good of the world,” liberal elites cheered the speech as a rebuke of President Trump, whose opposition to “globalism” and support of “nationalism” are seen as signs of the decay of American conservatism and U.S. global leadership.

Sorry, but American conservatives opposed the globalist project long before Trump was on the scene.

In the early 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s liberal soon-to-be deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, said, “All countries are basically social arrangements … (that) are all artificial and temporary,” and declared that within a century, “nationhood as we know it will be obsolete; all states will recognize a single global authority.” Conservatives, however, don’t see America as a temporary social arrangement. They recognize the march toward supranational global authority as fundamentally undemocratic, because it represents a growing concentration of power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats presiding over unaccountable institutions further and further removed from those affected by their decisions.

As economist Milton Friedman explained in “Capitalism and Freedom”: “If government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington,” because “if I do not like what my state does, I can move to another. If I do not like what Washington imposes, I have few alternatives in this world of jealous nations.”

American conservatives believe in international cooperation to address common challenges. But they refuse to see America tied down with threads spun out of treaties and institutions that constrain her freedom of action. They understand that what stopped Nazism and Communism in the 20th century was not international law but the principled projection of power by the world’s democracies led by a sovereign United States. And what prevents China from invading Taiwan today is not fear of U.N. censure but fear of the U.S. military. A strong America is the only guarantor of world peace. That’s why President George W. Bush refused to join the International Criminal Court, and why President Trump is withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

There is also nothing inherently wrong with populism. American conservatives have always been populists, because we believe that millions of individuals can make better decisions about their own lives than a cadre of elite central planners ever could. As the founder of the modern conservative movement, William F. Buckley Jr., declared, “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory” than in a society governed by the Harvard faculty.

American conservatives have always been nationalists, but while European nationalism is based on “blood and soil,” ours is built on the idea of human freedom. That is why America can make the audacious claim that we are an “exceptional” nation. A family of immigrants can live in France for generations and still not be seen as “French,” but when immigrants jump into the Great American Melting Pot they become indistinguishable from any other American within a generation. European nationalism is inherently exclusive; American nationalism is inherently inclusive.

The problem we face today is that the bigots of the alt-right are seeking to foist European-style blood-and-soil nationalism onto the American body politic. It won’t work. The Declaration of Independence says that “all men” – not all “Americans” or all “citizens” – “are created equal.” The American body politic will reject the false nationalism of the alt-right like the foreign virus that it is.

But it does not follow that we must also reject American-style nationalism or embrace the globalist project. If that does not please, Monsieur Macron, tant pis!


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