A new age of global nationalism: Final History Comes Alive lecture of the year

The final installment of the 2017-18 History Comes Alive Lecture Series brought the topic of nationalism to the Oakland Center Gold Rooms. The lecture was given by Professor Derek Hastings and the topic was nationalism in Europe.

Hastings published his first book, “Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism,” in 2010 and just last month his latest book, “Nationalism in Modern Europe: Politics, Identity and Belonging Since the French Revolution,” was published.

Hastings began the lecture with using United States nationalist mentality as an example.

“Out of the 330 million, you don’t know a fraction of a fraction of a percent,” he said. “Over 50 years, imagine if you tried to meet one new person in every waking hour of every day for the rest of your life. That would be, depending on how much you sleep, 100 or so new people every week.”

That would be about 260,000 people over the course of 50 years, which wouldn’t even equal 1 percent of the U.S. population.

”Yet, we’re told in surveys, that almost 85 percent of Americans say that they are either patriotic or very patriotic,” Hastings said.

This creates the idea of nationalism; the feeling of connection to people that we do not know simply because we are part of the same nation.

“One of the striking characteristics of modern European history is the fact that over the last couple of centuries, millions and millions of Europeans have been motivated to sacrifice greatly, potentially fight or kill, perhaps be killed, on behalf of millions of perceived compatriots that they would have no way of knowing,” Hastings said.

The first example of this new mentality came from the French Revolution.

“For the first time, you could see the power of people who believed that they were fighting for their nation, for themselves as opposed to mercenaries or people who thought they were fighting for an abstraction like the king,” Hastings said. “That made a very distinct impact on the battlefield.”

That image changes in the 20th century from German philosopher Johann Herder’s multi-national flower garden to what Hastings described as a Social Darwinistic piranha tank.

Radicalization of German nationalism after World War I was a main proponent of this change, transforming to a national bloodstream that must remain pure. Nazi Germany created an idea of a “healthy society” that required eugenic manners that included, eventually, forced sterilization and euthanasia.

“After WWI the feeling was that we didn’t do nationalism right so we have to do nationalism the right way,” Hastings said. “After WWII no-one was trying to do nationalism the right way, instead nationalism was largely discredited.”

The European Union was a final act of a form of belonging, but with a new generation, millennials in particular are finding a sense of nationalism on a global sense rather than in the traditional sense.

Hastings describes the last breaths of nationalism to be found in President Donald Trump’s America, Islamophobia and a resurgence in anti-immigration mentality.

“It’s entirely possible that the lines of demarcation will be different,” he said. “Despite the apparent resurgence of populist nationalism in recent years, it may indeed be that the nation is passing away, potentially, as the fundamental vehicle in the idea of belonging.”