Stepping out of Shinjuku Station, you enter into an ordered chaos that is utterly overwhelming. Voices call out from billboards selling services and products; people swarm about in a frenzy that seems choreographed from the lack of accidents; all with a sheer volume that inspires sensory overload, blurring the mind to everything else.
The organized chaos is even more frenzied as campaigning politicians blare their platforms from loudspeaker equipped vans driving along the streets waving from the vehicles as taped recordings echo off of the skyscrapers. Occasionally they’ll stop to speak, gathering a crowd of supporters, or detractors.
But outside of Shinjuku Station, it isn’t a hopeful politician speaking from a large, blacked out SUV. It’s a protestor, a protestor of the US military bases in Japan, to be exact. He stands there all day, professing to the preoccupied passersby about the evils of the US, even comparing it to the devil. He does so flanked by two, college-age looking men, largely disinterested and probably just happy to be paid for such an easy gig. They are dressed in camo fatigues and Nike basketball shoes, all the while standing in front of an American made SUV, seemingly ignorant to the irony.
You can’t find a much better example of the paradoxical situation of nationalism in a globalized world than this passionate man preaching the evils of the US from his American SUV. But is nationalism an asset or a hindrance? It’s far too complicated to even begin to look at it that way.
No matter where you are in the world, the signs of globalization are there, laid out in Coca-Cola billboards and football jerseys for teams that the wearer has never even heard of. It has become, at this point, entirely unavoidable no matter where you come from, and is seen by many, like the protestor outside of Shinjuku Station, as a detriment to nationalism in all of its forms.
To a large degree, they are right. At least people believe they are right with enough vitriol to kill over the issue. The matter of globalism eroding national sovereignty, culture, and identity, particularly by Western ideals, is not a new one. It has caused violent blood shed all over the globalized world since at least the middle of the 19th Century when Britain’s opium trade with China became its only method for eradicating a sizeable trade deficit caused by the British fancy for East Asian teas.
Since then, fights against globalism’s encroachment on ‘nationalism’ have waged. Whether it was Chinese and Japanese efforts at ‘self-strengthening’ or the Iranian Revolution, the defense of a nationalist ideal has been the source of conflict, especially when globalization brought with it ideological change.
In a sense, nationalism and globalization often, if not usually, find themselves at odds with each other; on the one hand preserving sovereignty, tradition, ideology, and on the other hand forsaking nationalist values for the sake of a global community’s ideologies. Either way, there will be many people who are displeased. People will say that the country should adhere to its national, often conservative, traditions and heritage, while others opt for acceptance into the liberal global community and the eradication of traditional, ‘backwards’ ideologies.
It is, of course, not a decision of two extremes. At this point it is more of a scale: nationalist priority on one side and globalist involvement on the other. No matter where on the scale a country lands, there will inevitably be people who disagree.
For the man outside of Shinjuku Station, there is no compromise; the US has to go. The concerns of defending the nation of Japan from an increasingly aggressive China and North Korea are apparently not as immediately important to this man as the wholeness of Japan’s ‘nationalism’. Not to say that Japan can’t handle itself against threats to its sovereignty should it need to but, as many in Japan argue in opposition, Japan has existed peacefully in the global community since WWII thanks to the defense provided by the largest permanent overseas US military presence. So for this protestor, his nationalist fervor could be seen as, and would likely be, a hindrance to the future security of his country.
Though that’s not to say that nationalism isn’t also an asset to Japan. The main Japanese exports for the last several decades have been a product of it’s rich national traditions, culture, and identity. Everything from business management practices to the immensely popular cultural products consumed throughout the world, like manga and anime, have roots in the history, traditions, culture, and identity of being ‘Japanese’, which I would argue is the very definition of ‘nationalism’.
It is impossible for something to be entirely good or entirely bad, and nationalism is no different. Without nationalism, and indeed without globalism, it is tough to say that Japan would be as successful as it is and would continue to be one of the largest economies in the world. Perhaps the only thing to say about nationalism’s value as an asset or hindrance is this: it's both.
The key to understanding nationalism and globalism is to understand that they are inextricably intertwined; the key is finding the proper balance. A strong sense of Japanese nationalism stokes anti-US fires, which most see as a hindrance and detriment to Japan’s stability, while, on the other hand, Japanese nationalism contributes to a rich culture that the rest of the world readily and willingly consumes.
The issue is much the same across the world, with the trend toward choosing nationalism over globalism. From the BREXIT referendum to the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, from the “Chinese dream” to Russian expansionism, countries across the world are leaning towards nationalist ideals. The consequences of more nationalistic decisions are largely unclear at this point. Many in the UK and US argue that more engagement with the national community is necessary, especially to combat the increasingly aggressive nationalistic ideals of China and Russia. At this point in time, it looks increasingly likely that nationalism across the world will contribute and is contributing to the creation of trade, cyber, and, perhaps most regrettably, conventional wars. All of these potential consequences could be assets, hindrances, or both; there are no black or white answers.
In reality, the relationship between nationalism and globalism is one of coexistence, and both are here to stay. It’s not as simple as saying nationalism is an asset or a hindrance, because when you’re driving an American SUV away from a protest against US bases, it’s both.
University of San Francisco