According to the regnant wisdom among academics and American and West European elites, nationalism is a fundamentally illiberal and exclusionary force; by contrast, the identities of various minorities are held sacrosanct. The result of these twinned ideas, argues Andrew Michta, is a disintegration of national and social cohesion that has contributed to the growing sense of political crisis in the West:
The hypothesis that institutions ultimately trump culture has over the past quarter-century morphed into an article of faith, alongside the fervently held belief that nationalism and democratic politics are at their core fundamentally incompatible. The decades-long assault on the very idea of national identity steeped in a shared culture and defined by a commitment to the preservation of the nation has left Western leadership frequently unable to articulate the fundamentals that bind us and that we thus must be prepared to defend. The deepening fight over the right of the central government to control the national border—which is at the core of the Western idea of the nation-state—is emblematic of this situation.
The deconstruction of the nation-state across the West has had consequences beyond the national security of individual states. It has directly diminished the durability of the liberal world order, which not so long ago was heralded as the zenith of our globalized future. Though its fundaments are still in place, the era of the post-cold war triumph of liberal internationalism is more than a decade behind us. The liberal international order cannot function without strong national communities acting as the baselines for democratic government. Regrettably, in the last half-century we have witnessed the gradual unraveling of the cultural foundations of this compact—the idea of the nation as an overarching identifier linking peoples across space and time.
Today, in addition to the shifting global power equation and surging transnational threats, a key factor in the deteriorating security of the collective West is our inability to appreciate the vital importance of the nation-state to the security of a self-governing people. National identity, national culture and history, and the sense of belonging to a distinct community are not antithetical to the notion of an interdependent international system. On the contrary, when bereft of the core building blocks of consolidated nation-states, the system will grow less stable with each passing year.