Why You Should Care That America Succeeds
The case for “Cosmo-Nationalism” (and why no one should wish for a U.S.-shaped global power vacuum)
OVERVIEW: This piece explores why extreme nationalism and extreme globalism are both self-defeating, and makes the case for “cosmo-nationalism”: a worldview that judges the "success" of a nation-state as synonymous with the flourishing of its citizens and ecology within its borders (its top priority), but also its ability to positively support the flourishing of people and the planet beyond its borders. ”Cosmo-nationalism” emphasizes the importance of both localism and global integration in creating a better future for all, and that a nation-state's responsibility to support the flourishing of the world is proportional to the nation's success in supporting the flourishing of its own citizens. I use this piece explore what "American cosmo-nationalism" might look like and why we should all root for people working to "level up America" in accordance to a American cosmo-nationalism worldview.
I’ve been creating content about “leveling up America” for a few months now, because it’s obvious to me: If the United States were to collapse or slip into an irreversible decline, it would be catastrophic, not just for the citizens of America, but for the world as a whole.
Of course, the U.S. has made many terrible foreign policy decisions over the past century that have damaged its credibility as a steward of global peace and democracy, including but not limited to:
The decision to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953
The 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was based on faulty intelligence and led to the destabilization of the region
The U.S.'s support of authoritarian regimes in Latin America during the Cold War, which led to human rights abuses and political repression
These actions (and more) have had a lasting impact on the world and the reputation of the U.S., and no one should excuse them. Fortunately, I am confident that Americans will use the power they have to make our political systems more democratic and to elect more responsible leaders—because we are privileged to live in a country designed by its Constitution to be improved by its citizens, and the vast majority of Americans want global peace.
The U.S. deserves its less-than-stellar global reputation. But let me be clear: the power vacuum left by the recession of the world's leading superpower would trigger an all-out scramble for power and resources among far less favorable alternatives.
Actors such as Putin's Russia and the Xi’s China would emerge as dominant players, with aggressive foreign policies, territorial expansion, and interference in other countries' internal affairs. Autocrats understand that the United States and the democratic-leaning world order stand in the way of an autocratic-leaning world order. In a phone call to President Biden, Xi wishfully stated: “Democracies cannot be sustained in the 21st century. Autocracies will run the world.” (source)
History has shown us that power vacuums often lead to the rise of even more dangerous and oppressive regimes. Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein is a prime example, where the power vacuum was filled by extremist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, leading to even more violence, destruction, and human suffering. Having seen the U.S. create so many power vacuums, all Americans should understand their dangers.
In a world where the U.S. retreats from global leadership (whether voluntarily or not), we would see a similar situation, only on a much larger scale, where the power vacuum would be filled by nations and leaders who do not share the same values and principles of democracy and human rights. This would be a nightmare scenario for the entire world, and it is in the best interest of people everywhere to prevent it from happening.
To avoid irreversible decline, Americans must take bold and immediate action to address a range of economic, political, social, and environmental issues, strengthen democratic institutions, maintain alliances, and promote global stability. Time is of the essence. Americans must act now, before it's too late.
While the collapse of the U.S. would be catastrophic for the world, and Americans obviously have the most power and responsibility to prevent that collapse, I've been criticized by some people for creating content about "leveling up America.”
Many people have a reflexively negative reaction to any effort that focuses on a single nation rather than the globe.
So let me address this negative reaction, which I know comes from a good place.
What goes through a lot of people’s heads is something like the following:
Our biggest challenges are GLOBAL challenges. We are also a GLOBAL species. National distinctions are arbitrary. It is so 20th century to focus on what concerns a nation. Also, "nationalism" is associated with racism, xenophobia, war, and other bad things. So let's not be "nationalistic.”
I am sympathetic to this way of thinking.
Climate change, biodiversity loss, and pandemics are three examples of global challenges that will harm a nation’s people, even if the nation’s leaders seek to turn inward.
Extreme nationalism is self-defeating.
But the other extreme is equally so.
Millions of Americans have a reflexively negative reaction to efforts that seek to put humanity’s interest, and/or the interests of the planet, above national interests.
The people who spearhead these efforts are ridiculed as “globalists”—a label that is sometimes used as a slur to insinuate that a person is engaged in an active conspiracy to subvert a specific or all sovereign nation-states.
The World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of the world's billionaires and political elite in Davos happening right now, is the centre of so many conspiracy theories because ordinary citizens within nation-states already feel they have no say in the affairs of their own country.
And if they don’t feel represented by their own nation’s elected officials, why would they feel good about the elites of each country coming together to set the direction of the globe?
The memes of “nationalism” and “globalism” have become so radioactive over the past decade that the words are barely usable in conversation.
But we still need words that help us efficiently discuss…
The role of nation-states and how citizens of that nation can fix national problems;
The role of global coalitions and mindsets and how to solve global problems; and
How people like, say, solutionists might identify themselves in relation to their nation and the globe.
So what do we do?
We need a new meme that calls on us to bring out the best of both nationalist and globalist ideals.
I propose the following:
Cosmo-nationalism is a combination of the words “cosmopolitanism,” a synonym for globalism, and “nationalism.”
It is a worldview that sees:
The success of a nation-state as synonymous with the flourishing of its citizens and ecology within its borders, as well as its ability to positively support the flourishing of people and the planet beyond its borders.
The flourishing of a nation-state’s citizens as the top priority of a nation-state’s government—with responsibility to support the flourishing of the world proportional to the nation’s success in supporting its own citizens’ flourishing. If a nation-state’s government appears to be prioritizing the flourishing of global interests at the expense of the interests of its citizens, when its citizens are suffering, even if the global investment is well-intentioned, the leaders may be voted out or overthrown, and that investment may be reversed.
Nationalism and globalism not as mutually exclusive, but interdependent and, at their best, able to work in unison to generate human and ecological flourishing.
Nationalism and globalism as each having major positives if balanced well—but having major downsides if not balanced well. Steve McIntosh has a great article explaining why this is.
Localism (of which nationalism is a form) as a necessity to create goals that feel achievable to people and thus motivate them to act. If changing a country is a challenge, changing the world is an order of magnitude harder!
A nation-state's domestic challenges as impeding its ability to support human flourishing at the global level. And since the citizens of a given nation-state are the ones most motivated to solve its domestic challenges, as well as the ones with the most relevant context about them, organizations must be created that coordinate the citizens of a nation to solve these challenges.
Nationalism as a generator of the social solidarity needed for social programs that affect millions of people. When you get to the global level, it's much harder to generate the political will to help strangers. Can you imagine a social program that requires a tax on people everywhere being well received? I can't.
Nation-states as essential for coordinating people to solve humanity's biggest problems, because their solutions—at least for the foreseeable future—require government funding and international agreements. It's nice that there are global charities, but the millions that even the most popular ones raise are a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the billions that a country can approve for foreign aid or investment.
Nation-states as laboratories for humanity to experiment with different models of organizing millions (if not BILLIONS) of people. At this point, liberal democracy seems to be pointing us in the right direction, but there are many implementation details that require real-world experimentation at the local level and replicable results in order to be taken seriously as best practice.
Globalism as a generator of environmental awareness and a desire to raise the standard of living for people everywhere.
The international system of nation-state structures as the foundation for continued global integration.
I would guess that most people around the world would identify more with this "cosmo-nationalist" worldview than with an extreme nationalist or extreme globalist worldview.
Having a name for this worldview makes it easier for people around the world to work on issues that are nominally nationalist in concern, because they can clarify the why behind their nationalism.
They are not “nationalistic” out of a desire to feel superior to citizens of other countries, or because they don't care about issues of global concern.
On the contrary, cosmo-nationalists treat the institutions and culture that exist within a nation-state structure as tools, in part, to support the long-term evolution of human civilization around the globe.
As someone who considers himself to be an “American cosmo-nationalist”, I believe that:
America’s “success” as a nation is its ability to support the flourishing of American citizens and ecology within its borders, as well as its ability to positively support the flourishing of people and the planet beyond its borders.
The U.S. has many domestic challenges it must overcomes (which affect its ability to be a leader on the global stage). And given that Americans are nearly the only ones who will be motivated to solve America’s domestic challenges, as well as the only ones with sufficient context about American issues, organizations that coordinate Americans to level up America must be created.
The U.S. has a major responsibility and opportunity to coordinate its people to produce foundational tech innovation that solves its own problems as well as humanity as a whole’s greatest problems.
The U.S. has an opportunity to experiment with good ideas related to the intersection of tech and governance that have worked well around the world (e.g. Estonia, Taiwan). In part, to help level up America, and in part, to suggest that if it makes sense for the most powerful country in the world to stay humble and import good ideas from other countries, then this should be an international norm.
The U.S.—especially in collaboration with the European Union—has the power and responsibility to show that liberal democracy, powered by a legal system that encourages foundational tech innovation and continual cultural and political evolution, is the superior way to organize millions, or even billions, of people—versus the techno-surveillance-powered autocratic model advocated by the Chinese Communist Party.
Further, with its system of federalism in which both the federal government and the states have distinct roles and responsibilities, the U.S. and a responsibility to show that the principle of subsidiarity (i.e., that matters ought to be decided at the lowest or least centralized level of government that is competent to handle a problem) still makes sense in the 21st century, at a time when global actors seeking to consolidate power and strip local actors of sovereignty.
In a time when leadership of the global order is being challenged by the CCP, the U.S. has a responsibility to step up to ensure that the world defaults to liberal democratic values and systems, instead of one that has no respect for freedom of speech, thought, association, religion, and more.
Human civilization does not like a power vacuum. And if the U.S.—with its wealth and military might—does not use it to preserve an order that favors freedom over autocracy, I believe all of us, everywhere around the world, will suffer.
You should care that America “succeeds” during this decisive decade.
The alternative is far worse for all of us.
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