What’s Causing the Global Rise in Nationalism?

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August 21st, 2016

Jody Neathery-Castro is the Associate Professor and Department Chair of UNO's Political Science Department. (Photo Courtesy of University of Nebraska at Omaha)

Jody Neathery-Castro is the Associate Professor and Department Chair of UNO’s Political Science Department. (Photo Courtesy of University of Nebraska at Omaha)

Whether you’re talking about the British exit from the EU, European countries like Switzerland shifting to the right, or our own Presidential candidates deriding international trade agreements, the rise of nationalism in the world simply can’t be ignored.


Over the last decade or so, a growing number of people from around the world have urged a step-back from globalism, instead favoring more of a nationalistic approach to dealing with other countries. Nationalism is the belief one’s own country is better and more important than other countries.

Sometimes the term nationalism is confused with fascism. But Jody Neathery-Castro, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha said the two are not the same, but one could lead to the other.

“The bottom line is that nationalism can be problematic when it becomes hyper-nationalism and something that is exclusionary to other groups and other societies,” Neathery-Castro said.

Both the American and French Revolutions were nationalist risings, liberal revolutions against multinational empires.

But in today’s world, Neathery-Castro said nationalists aren’t really revolting against empires, but against globalism in general.

“Some of it can be traced to the global economic down-turn, probably most of it can be traced to that, and the uneven impact of globalization’s promised benefits,” Neathery-Castro said. “A lot of people were told ‘this is going to be a good thing for you when we globalize and all of our economies get closer together and you’re going to see all these great benefits’. Not everyone has realized the benefits of that.”

Neathery-Castro said much of the benefits of globalization went to the economic elites, leaving many people feeling disenfranchised.

“Who do they blame? They blame the economic elites who do seem to be profiting from the system. They blame foreigners, and I’ll put that in air-quotes, who they often times blame for getting the wages or the benefits that maybe they feel shouldn’t be going to those who aren’t from that system, you know when we talk about things like immigration rules and what not.” Neathery-Castro said.

Neathery-Castro said she’s alarmed by the current nationalistic trend sweeping the globe, because it’s creating an “us versus them” mentality in many countries, and in extreme cases, leading to a rise of xenophobia.

Some examples of nationalism around the globe include the British exit from the European Union, almost half of Austrians voted for the far-right Freedom Party presidential candidate, Virginia Raggi, an anti-establishment candidate, was elected mayor of Rome, even in Switzerland, a historically neutral country, the far-right Swiss People’s Party won 29 percent of the vote in a recent election.

Neathery-Castro said the recent rise in nationalism is in large part a direct result of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, which has forced thousands of people, mostly Muslims, to flee their homeland.

“Yes, the role of Islam and Muslims is definitely an identity issue playing out in Europe, and beyond Europe it’s playing out more broadly. You’re seeing the implications in the rhetoric in [the United States] about how do we deal with issues of immigration and the strong linkage that you’re seeing with questions of the Islamic religion and can we trust people and are they potentially terrorists? Despite the fact that we know these are separate issues, there is in the minds of much of the population a generalized fear of the unknown. And for many of the people who’ve grown up in Europe and the United States, I would argue that if this is not the norm for you, it’s fundamentally threatening,” Neathery-Castro said.

The rise in nationalism across the world isn’t going unchallenged. Neathery-Castro said there is a definite backlash against the isolationist stance for which nationalism calls. However, she also said nationalism and globalism don’t necessarily fit into the standard Republican or Democrat set of political beliefs. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have spoken out against the Trans Pacific Partnership, a global trade agreement between the U.S and some Asian countries. And with the presidential election less than 80 days away, Neathery-Castro said it’s hard to say for sure how the U.S. will ride out the current wave of nationalism.

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