If you were of an intellectual after the Great War, you would have formed your thoughts and opinions in the shadow of what was the most horrific cataclysm to strike the civilized world since the collapse of the Roman Empire. J.R.R. Tolkien, for example, fought at the Somme in the Great War. The images of which were in his mind as he wrote his legendary work, The Lord of the Rings. Not only would the images of the war be always on your mind, the causes of the war would also be at the center of your thinking.
If you were an intellectual in France after the Second World War, you would have developed your moral philosophy in the shadow of two massive industrial wars that very nearly extinguished civilization. It is nearly impossible for modern people to imagine what life was like for Europeans, and to a lesser degree Americans, following two civilization wrecking wars. It was not the physical devastation that haunted the minds of Europeans. It was what caused it that haunted the people of the West.
After the Great War, people on both sides of the conflict blamed their leaders for the bloodbath. Germans soldiers thought their leaders had stabbed them in the back and brought shame on Germany. The French soldiers largely agreed with them, even though France came out as the victor. If you had fought in the war, it was hard to find a reason for it and benefit to it, regardless of which side you were on in the fight. Winning looked a lot like losing. Intellectuals blamed the people in charge for the disaster.
After the Second World War, it was no longer possible to just blame the leaders. The people in charge in the Second World War had lived through the Great War. Many had fought in the trenches. Many had dedicated their lives to preventing such a thing from happening again. Neville Chamberlain is vilified today, but he was not alone in thinking that any peace was better than war. Yet, within a generation, Europe was in rubble after another industrial war that killed millions. There had to be a reason.
The thinking classes settled upon nationalism. For the last half century the belief among the ruling classes is that national identity always ends in conflict. In a world with nuclear weapons, national conflict is annihilation. Therefore, blunting national identity and nationalism has been the the raison d’être of Western ruling classes for half a century. It is what has driven the integration of Europe into a single political entity. It is what is behind things like the World Bank, global trade deals and the IMF.
It has become an article of faith that open borders and unlimited migration are the ultimate solution to the problem of nationalism. If people are free to move around as they please and homogeneous communities are diluted by foreigners with no allegiance to local customs, there can be no national identity and therefore no threat of nationalism. It is why European leaders cling to mass migration in the face of local opposition. They see the opposition as the problem they are trying to solve.
It is why Western intellectuals are scrambling to figure out how to blunt the rising tide of discontent all over the West. Brexit was the first big jolt to the system. The election of Donald Trump is is the second. The next year is promising more body blows to the status quo. The Italians got to the polls next to vote on a referendum that is largely seen as a proxy vote on the European project. In France, Marie Le Pen is suddenly looking like a possibility. Then there are populist uprisings all over like the recent one in Catalan.
The thing is, there are two brands of nationalism The Germans and the French were not driven to slaughter one another because French truffle hunters hated German watch makers. The people of France did not care about the people of Germany until their leaders insisted they care. Millions of men were called to battle by leaders appealing to their sense of national duty and their patriotism. Europe was not dragged into two wars by populist movements. It was dragged into two wars by the greed of its rulers.
The nationalism that is sprouting up between the paving stones of globalism is nothing like the ruling classes imagine because it is organic. Human beings are tribal, clustering together with those who share a common biology, ancestry and heritage. The flood of migrants sponsored by the ruling classes looks like an invasion at the street level so people at the street level are responding. The fact that their leaders not only refuse to help, but actively aid the invading foreigners, is not going unnoticed but the public.
A century ago, the nationalism of the West was a top down phenomenon. National socialism was embraced by large swaths of the political and intellectual classes. Mussolini was celebrated in America as a model for Progressive rule. The virulent nationalism that is blamed for the great wars was always a ruling class phenomenon. It simply exploited the public’s sense of civic duty and national identity. Blaming low-church nationalism for the Nazis is blaming the the gun for the murderer.
National Populism is a bottom up phenomenon. The people organizing resistance to the globalists are doing so out of self-defense. AfD is not planning to invade Poland. The alt-right is not looking to invade Mexico and claim it for the United States. UKIP is not interested in rebuilding the Empire. The populist movements of the West are simply a response in self defense to global elites that no longer respect the people over whom they rule. They are the backlash to the relentless front lash of multiculturalism.
The logical end of these populist movements is that everyone goes back to where they belong to live in peace. Unlike the nationalism of a century ago, National Populism is not ambitious. It is mildly isolationist and inward looking. A century ago Western rulers were swollen by excessive pride. Today, populist dissenters are simply interested in crawling out from under a half century of shame, heaped upon them by people who claim to be their betters. National Populism is nothing more than the a return to normalcy.