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Nationalism and Economic Life

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ITALIAN fascism has proclaimed national "sacred egoism" as the sole creative factor. After reducing the history of humanity to national history, German fascism proceeded to reduce nation to race, and race to blood. Moreover, in those countries which politically have not risen—or rather, descended—to fascism, the problems of economy are more and more being forced into national frameworks. Not all of them have the courage to inscribe "autarchy" openly upon their banners. But everywhere policy is being directed toward as hermetic a segregation as possible of national life away from world economy. Only twenty years ago all the school books taught that the mightiest factor in producing wealth and culture is the world-wide division of labor, lodged in the natural and historic conditions of the development of mankind. Now it turns out that world exchange is the source of all misfortunes and all dangers. Homeward ho! Back to the national hearth! Not only must we correct the mistake of Admiral Perry, who blasted the breach in Japan's "autarchy," but a correction must also be made of the much bigger mistake of Christopher Columbus, which resulted in so immoderately extending the arena of human culture.

The enduring value of the nation, discovered by Mussolini and Hitler, is now set off against the false values of the nineteenth century: democracy and socialism. Here too we come into an irreconcilable contradiction with the old primers, and worse yet, with the irrefutable facts of history. Only vicious ignorance can draw a sharp contrast between the nation and liberal democracy. As a matter of fact, all the movements of liberation in modern history, beginning, say, with Holland's struggle for independence, had both a national and a democratic character. The awakening of the oppressed and dismembered nations, their struggle to unite their severed parts and to throw off the foreign yoke, would have been impossible without a struggle for political liberty. The French nation was consolidated in the storms and tempests of democratic revolution at the close of the eighteenth century. The Italian and German nations emerged from a series of wars and revolutions in the nineteenth century. The powerful development of the American nation, which had received its baptism of freedom in its uprising in the eighteenth century, was finally guaranteed by the victory of the North over the South in the Civil War. Neither Mussolini nor Hitler is the discoverer of the nation. Patriotism in its modern sense—or more precisely its bourgeois sense—is the product of the nineteenth century. The national consciousness of the French people is perhaps the most conservative and the most stable of any; and to this very day it feeds from the springs of democratic traditions.

But the economic development of mankind which overthrew mediæval particularism did not stop within national boundaries. The growth of world exchange took place parallel with the formation of national economies. The tendency of this development—for advanced countries, at any rate—found its expression in the shift of the center of gravity from the domestic to the foreign market. The nineteenth century was marked by the fusion of the nation's fate with the fate of its economic life; but the basic tendency of our century is the growing contradiction between the nation and economic life. In Europe this contradiction has become intolerably acute.

The development of German capitalism was of the most dynamic character. In the middle of the nineteenth century the German people felt themselves stifled in the cages of several dozen feudal fatherlands. Less than four decades after the creation of the German Empire, German industry was suffocating within the framework of the national state. One of the main causes of the World War was the striving of German capital to break through into a wider arena. Hitler fought as a corporal in 1914-1918 not to unite the German nation but in the name of a supra-national imperialistic program that expressed itself in the famous formula "to organize Europe." Unified under the domination of German militarism Europe was to have become the drill-ground for a much bigger job—the organization of the entire planet.

But Germany was no exception. She only expressed in a more intense and aggressive form the tendency of every other national capitalist economy. The clash between these tendencies resulted in the war. The war, it is true, like all the grandiose upheavals of history, stirred up various historical questions and in passing gave the impulse to national revolutions in the more backward sections of Europe—Tsarist Russia and Austria-Hungary. But these were only the belated echoes of an epoch that had already passed away. Essentially the war was imperialist in character. With lethal and barbaric methods it attempted to solve a problem of progressive historic........

© Foreign Affairs

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