Obama’s Warning Against ‘Nationalism’ Clanks Against July 4

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/07/11/obamas-warning-against-nationalism-clanks-against-july-4/

Leave it to Barack Obama. As the rest of us were getting ready for the July 4 holiday that celebrates the birth of the United States of America, our former president fetched up on foreign soil, in Indonesia, to warn against what he described as “an aggressive kind of nationalism.”

If anyone’s being unduly “aggressive” here, it’s Mr. Obama, throwing what sure looks like shade at his elected successor, from beyond the water’s edge, and for some as-yet-unreported but almost certainly lucrative speaking fee.

Mr. Obama’s timing — attacking nationalism on the eve of our national holiday — may seem awkward. But perhaps it’s actually apt, in that it might force some reckoning with the reality of America’s origin.

The Declaration of Independence, issued 241 years this month, is a nationalist document. But it is also a universal, or “globalist” one. 

The universal part comes in the best-known line:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 All men have those rights, according to the Declaration’s view — not just those who happen to live in one country or another. When President Obama went on in his speech from the purported perils of nationalism to warning of “more intolerance, more tribal divisions, more ethnic divisions, and religious divisions,” he was faithfully carrying the Declaration’s “all men are created equal” message, a message that these days also includes women.

But what’s missing from Mr. Obama’s confused conflation of nationalism with racism or xenophobia or isolationism is any acknowledgement of the rest of the Declaration of Independence. That remainder is largely a complaint about powers that properly rest at the national level being usurped instead by a distant tyrant.

The Declaration of Independence complains that King George III is interfering, from afar, with America’s ability to set its own immigration policy. It accuses the king of having “combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.” It accuses the king of “imposing taxes on us without our consent.”

The American Revolution itself, while it eventually had far-reaching global consequences, began with limited aims. The American colonists did not set out to eliminate the monarchy in the British Isles. They did not launch a war to establish representative republican democracy worldwide, or even throughout the entire United Kingdom. The Americans merely wanted to run their own affairs in the new United States, with “full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

Mr. Obama, in his Indonesia speech, reportedly said, “The challenges of our times, whether it’s economic inequality, changing climate, terrorism, mass migration — these are real challenges, and we’re going to have to confront them together.”

As the founders realized (though George Washington eventually developed some severe skepticism), sometimes “alliances” are warranted. But other times, challenges are best confronted — and rights secured — not “together” in some transatlantic or global “pretended legislation,” but in a “together” that starts and stops with the 13, now 50, states.

At least some particular, individual nations — the United States, say, or Israel, or even Canada or Great Britain — turn out to be more effective at securing the rights of their own citizens than the United Nations or the European Union ever will be.

Had Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin shared Mr. Obama’s aversion to “aggressive nationalism,” they’d all have been a lot less likely to pledge their own lives, fortunes, and sacred honors to what was, after all, a war for the cause of starting a new country.

So continue to celebrate July 4 without any guilt about American nationalism, aggressive or otherwise. As a set-up for securing the unalienable rights of individuals, it may not be perfect, but it sure stacks up pretty well against the available alternatives.



Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative