Why the Pope is Wrong About Nationalism

Pope Francis gave his annual talk to the Vatican diplomatic corps this week. Once more he denounced “nationalism” and promoted multilateralism and international institutions. Like many others, the pope seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of both nationalism and globalism.

But let’s take this seriously for a moment and consider that we live in a world where decisions are made by international institutions like the United Nations. So, quick, tell me the name of your representative to the UN Economic and Social Council?

Maybe you did a Google search, and you came up with Ambassador Kelley Currie. How do you get in touch with her? It’s not easy.

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First, form a registered non-profit organization, which is not an inexpensive process, and get involved in UN issues. After a few years, you will qualify to apply for official UN recognition. The application process will take years, and you may get turned down. Let’s say you get approved. You can then go to the UN and try to speak to Currie in the hallway as she hurries between meetings, or you might be able to see her at the US Mission to the UN. Keep in mind, during your trips to New York, you can expect to pay upwards of $400 a night for a hotel room.

After several years and thousands of dollars, perhaps you get to Currie, and she agrees with you, and she advances your cause along with those in the other 192 countries at the UN. What are you going to do then? You will need to keep coming back to New York to lobby the other ambassadors. Do you know their names and how to get to them? Do you have the capacity to lobby the representatives of dozens of UN member states over months and even years?

But what if she refuses to see you or she opposes your issue? What are your options? You can’t vote her out of office, but you can complain to the U.S. president who appointed her. That’s pretty much it. You could keep lobbying her—with more trips to New York and more $400 a night hotel rooms. On and on it goes.

What if your issue is being handled at the Human Rights Council in Geneva? Your costs just quadrupled, at least.

In our own country, we prefer the ability to see our congressman when we redress our grievances and to vote him out of office if he resists. This is clearly not possible in a world of international institutions.

Yet this is the international institutional model Pope Francis seems to favor over “nationalism.”

Nationalism is not a form of government but a way of looking at the human person, the nation-state, and the world. Nationalism presumes a people brought together through a common language and a common religion—though other religions may be accepted—along with a shared history and an agreement to accept the laws of the nation as well as a common defense. Nationalism does not presume isolationism in foreign affairs, as many believe, but does presume not to meddle in the affairs of other peoples.

Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony posits this view in his new book The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books, 2018). Hazony argues the choice is not between nationalism and internationalism, but rather between nationalism and empire. He cites many empires over many centuries including the Holy Roman Empire, and he argues that all of them have been coercive. Such empires are born from a belief that peace and prosperity can only come through a particular worldview that is universally applicable. The acceptance of this worldview comes either voluntarily or through coercion, including war.

I can vouch for the coercive empire-building of the UN and the EU, institutions Pope Francis holds in such high regard. Each has a similar leftist worldview including upholding the “universal values” of abortion and sexual perversion. What’s more, they use their power, mostly monetary and legal, to coerce all governments to accept this view.

Nationalism properly understood allows for citizens to love their own country and at the same time recognize a similar love in the hearts of those in other countries. Nationalism does not preclude bi-lateral agreements, nor even multi-lateral agreements, but the decisions rest within the borders of each state. Nationalism does not posit a global worldview that all others must accept.

How does an Israeli Jew like Hazony handle the Hitler question? He argues convincingly that Hitler was not a nationalist. Like all imperialists, Hitler had his own vision, however twisted, for global peace and prosperity that he was willing to impose on all nations by coercion and violence. Recall, he wanted a global Thousand-Year Reich. This is empire, not nationalism.

The Holy Father should remember the empire emanating from the UN is no friend to the Catholic Church. It is the font of population control and the kind of “ideological colonialism” that he condemned at the General Assembly only a few short years ago. He should also remember it was the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child that told Holy See diplomats that the Church must change her teachings on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.

We as citizens must be in a position to affect public policy which impacts our lives. This is best achieved when we can knock on the door of our elected representatives and not when we must journey to some remote, indecipherable, $400-a-night international institution.

Editor’s note: Pictured above, Pope Francis delivers an address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 25, 2015, in New York City. (Photo credit: Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)


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