When you react against something, you will sometimes run towards something that’s fundamentally the same thing. Think of all the young people who react against their parents, often legitimately, for being the way they are. Superficially, these young people go down a separate road, and 20 years later discover they have become exactly what they didn’t want to be: their parents.
It’s the same with a nation. A nation is nothing more than a collection of individual persons. While it’s never true that every person in a country will think, do and feel the same things, it’s usually true that a majority will. We refer to this as national or cultural trends.
Look at America, right now, and at the Republican Party in particular. The Democratic Party, i.e. the leftist establishment, represents socialism. It runs nearly all of the government, controls the agenda in Congress, and heavily influences most of the culture; with one more election victory, Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) will inherent a soft dictatorship, complete with a totally compliant Congress, and will have no hesitation in expanding it. Socialism refers to a political system where all (or most) property is collectively owned. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” as Karl Marx would put it. Socialism rests on the idea that we are all each other’s keepers, and that government has both a right and an obligation to enforce this opinion about morality.
Understandably, those on the other side, Republicans and many Independents, do not like this socialism, and want an alternative. The obvious and only alternative? Capitalism, the real kind, unhampered by government subsidies, edicts, regulations and all the rest. Under capitalism, the rule of morality is very simple. If you earn it, it’s yours. If customers willingly, without fraud or coercion, give you hundreds, thousands, millions or billions of dollars, it belongs to you, because you earned it. If you steal it, or break written agreements you willingly made, or damage another’s property, then you’re subject to legal penalty, of course. Nobody is anybody else’s moral keeper, not by law, other than the legal obligation to respect the individual sovereignty of all other persons, including their property rights. Charity, while often laudable, is entirely voluntary; it is no more a function of government than religion. Most of us are capitalists when it comes to our own wealth, actual or potential. Most of us are more like socialists when it comes to someone else’s wealth, at least past a certain arbitrary limit we consider too high.
Aside from capitalism, there is one other alternative. It’s called nationalism.
Nationalism is not capitalism. Nationalism is actually a form of collectivism. Like socialism, nationalism places the value of the group above the value of the individual. Instead of saying the rich must sacrifice for the sake of the poor, or for the sake of the middle class, or for the sake of racial minorities, under nationalism the individual must sacrifice for the sake of The Nation. Nationalism holds a nation’s identity as its top value, not for rational reasons (as with a free country) but almost as a mystical or supernatural kind of loyalty. Nationalism is not inconsistent with socialism. The most infamous example of nationalism in human history was Hitler’s Nazi regime; need we be reminded that “Nazi” stood for “National Socialism”?
Nationalism is the reason we get proposals like protective tariffs and immigration restrictions for economic reasons, rather than rational reasons (such as preventing violent people from entering the country). Nationalism also explains why some people start to say and feel, “Vladimir Putin [Russia’s dictator] really isn’t so bad. At least he’s strong, and at least he gets things done.” Strong—at what price? Getting things done—which things done, for what reason, and in what way?
Philosophically, the error of nationalism is that it’s collectivism, just like socialism. It’s ironic, because most of the people with nationalistic sympathies or tendencies do not consider themselves socialists. And they’re not necessarily socialists. But, like their political opponents, they do favor anti-capitalist government subsidies when it suits them. An example? Ethanol subsidies. Donald Trump, and many who support him, came out strongly in favor of ethanol subsidies. These subsidies benefit certain business groups. Instead of depending on the conclusions of the free market, they appeal to politicians to lift their income. That’s not capitalism; it’s corporate welfare. Trump’s rationalization? Because, he says, it serves the interests of The Nation. His claim is highly questionable, but his motive is clear. When it’s for the sake of The Nation, capitalism and free markets are out the window.
I do not wish to inspire gloom or despair. I recognize that what I’m saying implies that even if Donald Trump wins the White House, we might be replacing one form of collectivism (socialism) with another (nationalism). But have no despair. The alternative, capitalism, was there all along. It still is, and it will be, no matter what happens next.