Nationalism and the Cyclical Nature of History

The election of Donald Trump was unexpected, and no one ever dreamed that Britain would actually vote to leave the European Union. For decades the world had been moving toward globalism, while nationalism seemed to be an idea of the past, regulated to the days predating World War II. Now it seems nationalism is growing in influence and globalism is slowly dying.

I want to divert from the topic for just a moment to make something clear. I am not at all saying the form of nationalism we are seeing in America and Britain today is the same form we saw in Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s. Germany saw nationalism in its most extreme form. Neither am I saying that Donald Trump is comparable to Adolf Hitler. Trump has not taken away individual rights. Trump has not slaughtered 11 million people. Trump has not consolidated power into a central office. Those who say that Donald Trump is “literally Hitler” have no understanding of Hitler, Nazi Germany, or history in general. Also, I do not use the terms nationalism and globalism negatively. Both can be and are good. It is the extreme forms of both that are dangerous.

Yet, without a doubt, there will be a day when globalism will see a revival. It may look different from the globalism of the past, much like today’s nationalistic movement looks different from the nationalism of the 1930’s and 40’s, nonetheless we will see globalism at the forefront again.

Those who view history as linear may disagree with my assessment. The view of history as linear sees events in one segment of time. Once that event passes, it is never to be seen again. It also sees history as progressive. As we move forward in time, mankind and the world evolves into better forms. Thus, the crises of the past do not take place in the future because we will have evolved into something better. Many who have this view of history were certain that nationalism died with the fall of Nazi Germany (Nationalism did not only effect Germany. Every country at war in the 1940’s were gripped with their own version of nationalism.) Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest reasons so many were shocked by the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump.

The flaws with the view of history as linear are obvious. An ideology doesn’t die, never to be seen again, with the passing of time. Man is not evolving into better forms, and history is not progressing to the point where the crises of the past will be averted in the future. It is more appropriate to have a cyclical view of history. History is not progressing linearly, but is moving in cycles. The preacher in Ecclesiastes stated it best when he wrote, “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). People who view history as cyclical were not as surprised by the revival of nationalism. They also won’t be surprised when nationalism wanes and globalism rises again.

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