20th Century Critiques of Populist Nationalism Remain True

Pope Francis recently cautioned the world about the rise of populism and nationalism, comparing this development to the interwar period. We see it in the xenophobic backlash to the refugee crisis, as well as rising antisemitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and other forms of bigotry. We see it in the rise of far right parties (often with neo-fascist roots) and Donald Trump, whose former chief strategist Steve Bannon (an alt-Catholic admirer of the integralist Charles Maurras) is working to undermine Catholic social teaching and the great achievements of the 20th century that were (mostly) achieved through the leadership of the Christian Democratic leaders the pope has repeatedly praised. None of these reactionary ideas are new. Thus, old critiques of populist nationalism remain just as true today as they were in the 20th century.

In The Fate of Man in the Modern World, Nicolas Berdyaev offers one such critique:

Nationalism turns nationality into a supreme and absolute value to which all life is subordinated. This is idolatry. The nation replaces God. Thus Nationalism cannot but come into conflict with Christian universalism, with the Christian revelation that there is neither Greek nor Jew, and that every man has absolute value.

He adds:

Nationalism preaches either seclusion, isolation, blindness to other nations and culture, self-satisfaction and particularism, or else expansion at the expense of others, conquest, subjection, imperialism. And in both cases it denies Christian conscience, contraverts the principle and the habits of the brotherhood of man. Nationalism is in complete contradiction to a personal ethic; it denies the supreme value of human personality.

The Christian response to a globalization that is excessively materialistic, individualistic, and libertarian is not supporting the return of nationalism but embracing a globalism shaped by solidarity, the recognition of both rights and responsibilities, respect for the dignity and worth of every person on the planet, social justice and authentic freedom, and a commitment to the global common good.