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Getting Behind Enlightened Nationalism

In devising new policies, let us marry the patriotism of Theodore Roosevelt to the human vision of Wilhelm Roëpke.

The US flag flies over shipping cranes and containers after a report said the United States and China are close to reaching a major trade deal that would see both sides lower some of the tariffs imposed during an often-bitter trade war, in Long Beach, California on March 4, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Enlightened nationalism is not some blind worship of the nation. It is not a nationalism that wishes to denigrate or dominate others. It is a passionate attachment to one’s own country: it’s history, heroes, literature, traditions, culture, language, and faith. It is the spirit that enables a people to endure, as the Polish people endured, under occupation, to rise again to live in the sunlight. 

Intellectuals, writes Regis Debray, “forget that nations hibernate, but empires grow old…that the American nation will outlast the Atlantic empire as the Russian nation will outlast the Soviet Empire.” This community called a nation is more than any “division of labor,” or “market” that may encompass it.

An economy is not a country. A nation’s economic system should reinforce the bonds of national unity, but the nation is of a higher order than any imaginary construct of an economist. A nation is organic, alive, it has a beating heart. The people of a nation are a moral community who must share values higher than economic interest, or their nation will not endure. As scholar Christian Kopff asks, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his country?”

What is wrong with the Global Economy is what is wrong with our politics; it is rooted in the myth of the Economic Man. It elevates economics above all else. But man does not live by bread alone. In a true nation many things are placed on a higher altar than maximum efficiency or a maximum variety of consumer goods. Once, conservatives understood that. 

Neither the national economy nor the free market is an end in itself. They are means to an end. A national economy is not some wild roaring river that must be allowed to find any course it will, to be admired for its raw power and beauty. It is to be tamed for the benefit of the nation. 

The same holds true for the market. While an unfettered free market is the most efficient mechanism to distribute the goods of a nation, there are higher values than efficiency. To worship the market is a form of idolatry no less than worshipping the state. The market should be made to work for man, not the other way around. 

“What is the market? It is the law of the jungle, the law of nature. And what is civilization? It is the struggle against nature.” So declared France’s Prime Minister Edouard Balladur at the close of the GATT negotiations of 1993; he is right. 

In devising new policies, let us marry the patriotism of Theodore Roosevelt to the human vision of Wilhelm Roëpke, the student of von Mises and refugee from Hitler whose vision informed the post-war miracle of Ludwig Erhard. Roëpke “saw the market as but one section of society…‘whose existence is justifiable and possible only because it is part of a larger whole which concerns not economics but philosophy and theology.’…There is more to the whole of life…than maximizing GNP.”

What do we mean by “economic nationalism?” We mean tax and trade policies that put America before the Global Economy and the well-being of our own people before what is best for “mankind.” Trade is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end, to a more just society and more self-reliant nation. Our trade and tax policies should be designed to strengthen U.S. sovereignty and independence and should manifest a bias toward domestic, rather than foreign commerce. For, as von Mises said, peaceful commerce binds people together, and Americans should relay more on one another.

A human economy will harness the mighty engine of a free market for higher ends than maximum efficiency or maximum output. Neither the goodness nor the greatness of a nation is measured in GDP. America was a good country before it became a great nation. Efficiency does not come first. The good society, a decent income for all our families, the good life for all our people, come first. 

What are the goals of a new nationalism and human economy?

Full employment, with our working people as well compensated and rewarded as any on earth.

A wider, deeper distribution of property and prosperity. 

A standard of living that rises each year, and a “family wage” that enables a single parent to feed, clothe, house, and educate a large family in decency. 

A tax system that leaves Americans with the largest share of the fruits of their labor of any industrial democracy. 

Diminished dependence on foreign trade for the necessities of national life.

Restoration of America’s lost sovereignty. 

Self-sufficiency in all areas of industry and technology vital to the national security. 

Maximum freedom for citizens and private institutions—consistent with a moral community and the common good.  

This article was excerpted from Pat Buchanan’s 1998 book, The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.”

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