Democratic socialists frame their project nationally without reference to the trans-national context, while also framing neoliberals’ view of ‘nationalism’ as regressive. Actually, the transnational context of the prevailing mid-range form of capitalism or ‘model of development’ influences nationalist tendencies that may be regressive or progressive. Present regressive nationalist tendencies exploited by the Alt. Right have their source in the ‘neoliberal model of development’ that has generated a global market within which nation states must aggressively compete with each other in order to attract and maintain a viable share of capital. Today, the neoliberal project’s deep multi-sided crisis trajectory further feeds the Alt. Right’s regressive nationalism.

In order to distinguish itself more clearly from the neoliberal project, the democratic socialist perspective needs to identify the neoliberal causes of the Alt. Right’s regressive nationalism. Further, in order to contest the Alt. Right’s degenerate brand of nationalism, democratic socialism needs to develop an alternative vision of a trans-national regulatory framework that can facilitate progressively cooperative nationalism and self-sufficient local autonomy. Underpinned by a ‘second-generation’ neo-Marxist approach, my recent article clarifies how the neoliberal model of development’s national-trans-national framework generates regressive nationalist consequences. It then goes on to discuss a democratic socialist alternative to the neoliberal model of development.

My second-generation neo-Marxism seeks critical development of the Marxist current of mid-range French regulation theory. Major focus is on developing the core concept of a ‘model of development’ in order to go beyond both the ‘objectivist’ constraints of its Althusserian heritage by bringing in praxis, and beyond its methodological nationalism by bringing in the trans-national.  Standard structural formulations of Marxism, most influentially presented in the works of Althusser, exclude Marx’s early writings while treating Capital Vol. 1 as the robust expression of Marx’s Marxist science. However, the early writings that include Marx’s seminal work on human nature, alienation, praxis and socialism laid the foundations of his mature critique of capitalism. In particular, the young Marx’s praxis message that the ‘point of knowledge is to change the world’, implying intellectuals’ agency, is consistent with Marx’s recognition in Capital Vol. 1 that for humanity imaginative consciousness precedes practical action. Further, Marx’s method points beyond CapitalVol. 1’s ‘abstract’ long-range account of capitalism’s tendencies towards a more ‘concrete’ account that brings in inter-national and mid-range steps as well as politics and praxis (see Neilson 2022).

In my critical reworking of French regulation theory, a ‘model of development’ refers to a consciously designed, prescribed and widely adopted national regulatory template that in aggregate defines the national-trans-national regulatory terrain on which unfolds a regime of accumulation. The regulatory terrain sets the accumulation imperatives and priorities of capitalist agency, and thereby national economic agency as well. The former post WWII Keynesian-led national-trans-national mode of regulation ‘counteracted’ the competitive logic of capital by promoting ‘autocentric’ national accumulation that in turn supported progressively co-operative nationalism. In contrast, the present neoliberal model of development has ‘pro-activated’ capital’s ‘coercive whip of competition’. It has generated the framework of a global accumulation process that creates national dependence on viable competitive specialisation that implies zero-sum competition with each other to retain economic competitiveness. The neoliberal model of development has thereby created an aggressive locational competition that structurally encourages competitive, mistrustful, amoral, i.e. regressive, nationalism.

Agents of the neoliberal project have constructed a world of aggressive locational competition, but they have also sought to have it play out on a nationally unbiased global market level playing field. In contrast, the Alt. Right embraces a more aggressive, and indeed amoral, version of national economic advantage and a correspondingly regressive nationalist ideology. Its narrative is of a natural zero-sum war between competing nations that rationalizes a ‘hook or by crook’ approach to economic advantage. In addition, the Alt. Right’s socially conservative, anti-cosmopolitan, xenophobic, warring neo-fascist message exploits the anxiety, fear and anger resulting from the destabilising consequences of locally invasive neoliberal globalisation. Furthermore, Cold War institutional residue and its ideological spectre are articulating dangerously with the neoliberal model of development’s aggressively competitive logic and regressive nationalist consequences.

A democratic socialist alternative to the neoliberal model of development imagines a regulatory framework that can give practical expression to Marcos’ beautiful idea of ‘a world within which many worlds can fit’.  The final section of my ‘regressive nationalism’ article sketches some essential elements of such a progressive model of development. Its initial political precondition is a post-Empire cosmopolitan democratic reformation of present United Nations institutions. The economic project of such a reformed UN would be to make a blueprint and practical institutions for an alternative national-trans-national cooperative regulatory framework of a democratic socialist model of development. Such a framework would prioritise the principle of national economic sovereignty expressed as nations of the world cooperating to facilitate universally local material security and self-sufficiency in food, shelter, health, and education. Indeed, these are the universal material prerequisites of a genuine cosmopolitan social democracy. Relatedly, such a reformed United Nations could develop globally socialized forums of virtual democratic communication and a ‘World Knowledge Bank’ dedicated to the procurement and then free distribution of cosmopolitan knowledge to the countries of the world that together would facilitate international cooperation and local self-sufficiency.

David Neilson is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

This post summarizes his 2021 article: “Beyond Regressive Nationalism and the Neoliberal Model of Development.” Review of Radical Political Economics, 53(1): 17-34

Image by Matt Brown via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)