The Rise of Economic Nationalism: A Pragmatic Approach

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Across the globe, trends of nationalization and economic nationalism have crept into the policies of nation-states recently. Fueled by popular nationalist sentiment, state elites from Bolivia to United States led by Donald Trump have reasserted state control over resources connected with energy and industry and promoted the interests of a purely national economy.

Economic nationalism has emerged as a powerful and attractive policy to press for national interests, achieve economic aims, and preserve the autonomy of individual nation-states in an increasingly internationalized world. Understanding how and why this process is taking place will be important to developing effective foreign policy and sound outlook towards the situation of the world for the foreseeable future.

In retrospect, these economic policies were considered as the part and parcel of the policies pursued by the countries in the 1920s to 1930s (The Interwar Period). At that time, it would have been sane to apply these policies as means to preserve the country’s economy but in the nowadays turbulent world, the pursuance of these policies will lead to a chaotic situation that will ultimately harm the entire world and in turn peace and stability can also be compromised. In this essay, I’ll endeavor to explain the recent emergence of Economic nationalism in the ranks of the top world leaders and the top states of the world with its implications on whether this is the right approach or not and what will be the consequence of adopting this approach.

Most recent authors writing about the future of nationalism foresee some transformation of the classic nation-state under globalization, and envision a decrease in nationalist sentiment over the next century. These ideas come largely from Eric Hobsbawm, authors of the classic studies which are generally considered the foundations of nationalism studies  (Hobsbawm, 1780). This author has been the most cited and discussed, and have been most influential in creating the modern definition of nationalism. An exploration of their thoughts will serve as the basis for defining the terms “nationalism” and “economic nationalism” for the purposes at hand.

In his work Nations and Nationalism since 1780, Eric Hobsbawm argues that nationalism “is simply no longer the historical force it was” and adopts an overall negative view of the future for states in the age of globalization. For Hobsbawm, the growth of the international economy and advances in communication and transport have undermined the vitality and purpose of nations. International associations, trade organizations, and transnational corporations are usurping economic powers from nations and replacing them as the “major building-blocks of the world system.” Hobsbawm envisions nations as “retreating before, resisting, adapting to, being absorbed or dislocated by the new supranational restructuring of the globe.” This rather ambiguous statement is pessimistic about the ability of nations to continue to dominate the international order and economy. (Hobsbawm, 1780)

Learning from this pragmatic perspective, we can say that the emergence of economic nationalism in a state generally occurs as a result of two basic conditions. Firstly, the expansive processes of globalization may foment strong reactions by ethnic nationalities which fear the eradication and subordination of their cultural identities. As promises of economic security and happiness remain unfulfilled by ineffective, selective, or uneven development and progress, individuals may blame groups or specific people that they see as responsible.

Increases in movement and contact between states create both internal groups such as immigrants and external groups such as world powers, which can be seen as responsible for economic hardship or the destruction of traditional ways of life. Nationalist tendencies can reemerge as a reaction to these “enemies.” Thus, economic and cultural grievances play a large role in precipitating nationalist sentiment under globalization. Relating this to the situation of the United States in this era, we can fascinatingly relate this first cause of economic nationalism to the overall situation of the United States where it faces almost all of these characteristics including the White Supremacists, Islamophobia’s, and other radical elements.

Secondly, a set of elites and policy makers set nationalist goals of autonomy, unity, and identity to appeal to this sentiment and achieve several aims. As in the case of the President of the United States, who is clearly using this rhetoric to claim that the country is facing a major economic as as well as political and promises to make “America Great Again”. In his inaugural speech, he was caught saying that “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength”. According to many, this narrative is complete nonsense (Anderson, 2017).

Moreover, Nationalism can be used as a political instrument by elites attempting to concentrate their hold on political power and increase the global status of their nation-state. These elites identify economic competence as an effective means for protecting culture, promoting national power, and winning the support of citizens who feel disenfranchised and powerless as a result of the processes of globalization. All of these aspects can readily be applied on the buffoon that is now in charge of the White House and the world most powerful country.

Therefore, the prime implication of these policies will affect the very state that has implemented them. As this is all the creation of a range of racist and discriminatory policies, there will be an economic and political backlash against the government and the overall sanctity of the state will be hurt, as a result. This model of economic nationalism resides on very thin underpinnings that are soon to be damaged and destroyed as the world has gone through significant change in the past 2-3 decades and no states, no matter how powerful it may be, can be prone to this type of policy because the complexity and interdependency that has been established in the world cannot allow any state to pursue all out economic nationalism.

For Instance, Donald Trump had fired his chief strategist Steve Bannon from the office whereas he was the biggest proponent of economic nationalism and many have the narrative that, in the 21st century, the term economic nationalism was coined by this person. By Trump’s rejection of this personality cleared the fact that even trump believes that economic nationalism is not the right way and can only be used as a rhetoric to gain popular support (Bannon, 2017).

In conclusion, the world has progressed and proliferation so much that due to concepts such as globalization and interconnectedness, the communities, cultures, and people have become linked socially, politically, and economically. The economic aspect of this globalization hinders the prospects of the states to pursue an Economic Nationalistic Agenda because this agenda could be the reason for the destruction of the same system that they have given. According to Fareed Zakaria, if Trump is not happy with fueling the budget of the Unites Nations, asking the countries to also do more, then it should not provide the funds to the U.N. This void will be sufficiently met by China as it is one of the leading world economies. But, in reality, U.S would never do that because if this happens, then China will dictate the policies of the U.N rather than America and this is something that Trump and his advisors cannot afford. But if this happens, then according to Zakaria, this will pave way for a Post-American World order. (Zakaria, 2008)


Anderson, S. (2017). Economists Say ‘Economic Nationalism’ Is Economic Nonsense. The Forbes. Retrieved from

Bannon, S. (2017). Trump loses loudest but not the only economic nationalist voice. Financial Times. Retrieved from

Hobsbawm, E. J. (1780). Nations and Nationalism Since 1780. Retrieved from

Zakaria, F. (2008). The Post American World. Retrieved from

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Hamza Yaqoob

Hamza Yaqoob is a Pakistani author and journalist. He is an IR Graduate with expertise in South China Sea affairs. He is the Editor-in-chief of Revelation World PK, and currently working as a Senior Technical Writer at a Real Estate firm in Islamabad.

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