Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

The war over values

Western tensions about migration show deep anxiety about core beliefs, including democracy

Britain, Brexit summit,Theresa May, Prime Minister Theresa May , European Council, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission, EU Negotiator Michel Barnier, world news, britain, British Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, FILE)

A simultaneous process of de-globalisation and a “re-moralisation” of Western democratic nations seems to be occurring. It started with a demand in Britain that its nationhood should not be tied to the European Union and England as a nation had to be reasserted. The process of globalisation took a new turn with the formation of the EU, beginning a common currency among many nations, which had their own independent currencies earlier. Though Britain retained its currency, a majority of Britons voted in 2016 for Brexit. But that is only one aspect of the de-globalisation and re-moralisation process.

The US election of 2016 reflected a new “moral nationalist” sentiment rallying around Donald Trump. His inner team worked out a “spiritual, moral, nationalist” agenda by invoking Christian values. In their view, core Christian values, on which their constitutional democracy is based, got shaken by massive global migrations into the US, during the administrations of Bill Clinton, George Bush Jr and Barack Obama. Asians and others migrating to Euro-America, bringing their socio-spiritual values, is seen as “Orientalising” the West. US Vice-President Michael Richard Pence seems to be heading this moral, nationalist ideological force in the Trump team.

In Britain, the migration of Asians and East Europeans seems to have posed an ethical crisis. There has been a growing feeling among Anglican Church-goers that globalisation has increased multi-religious tensions in Britain; they saw, along with decreasing church attendance among the British, an increase in racial, caste and cultural conflicts. It thus appears that the British Protestant church played its own role in mobilising votes for Brexit in rural areas.

In America, multiculturalism has grown quite rapidly in the last 25 years. While Left liberals saw this as a positive transformation, the evangelical church saw the increase of Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist institutions as dangerous to their Christian ethic. At the level of perception, church-going and non-church-going whites differ on the foundational ethic of their democracy: For the infrequently church-going Left liberal, multicultural pluralism is to be cherished. But for the conservative evangelicals (most are Republicans), the expansion of Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist social forces and religious institutions pose a long-term threat to their values. Perhaps, they view this as the most negative impact of immigration, which has accompanied globalisation. The recent attacks on Asians in America seem to be part of that moral nationalism.

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Significantly, in this worldview, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are seen as illiberal, non-modernist, male chauvinist-dominated religions. The American Christian ethic is seen as more democratic and gender-equal. Hence, conservative women also supported the Trump-Pence team.

This kind of moral nationalism is underway in the West because Eastern “illiberal” values are perceived to be taking root in Euro-American nations. Post-Cold War globalisation has, in a way, initiated reverse migration of not only people but also their socio-spiritual cultures. What was sought to be economic global free trade also became a free institutionalisation of Oriental religious values — in the West. Trump gets his main support from those conservative Christians who are opposing this reverse cultural globalisation.

In their discourse, American and British conservatives seem to opine that this process could erode the moral base of their Christian, liberal nationalism. The notion of nationalism and its institutionalisation in the modern capitalist phase is said to have its roots in Biblical discourse. Though they recognise the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and other texts as basic religious scriptures of the East, these are not seen as protectors of democracy. Even conservative Christians believe that democratic thought developed from a Christian notion of God creating all human beings as equal, with compassion.


Though Trump himself appears to be going against Christian values of compassion, his ideological team seems to think that they should stop the reverse migration of values, even though it might harm their economic development in some sectors.

America has experienced the foregrounding of moral nationalism during the times of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. However, the present phase, of moral nationalism with de-globalisation, may encounter problems. This phase of globalisation started during the times of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both conservatives, with a view of expanding economic trade across the world. Within 25 years, globalisation touched the ruling elite of the world; their luxuries increased several fold. Though there are social conservatives among these global rich, economic opportunities outweigh social concerns they may have.

But alongside, the tragedy of the East is that, except the monarchical model which includes oligarchies, these nations did not evolve any notion of administration. Both democracy and the socialist model evolved in the Western Christian ethic. Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu spiritual systems did not evolve their own post-monarchy models. Even the notion of nationalism is Western.


The evolution of Western political thought changed the world. Today, the fear of the non-Left liberal Western conservative thinker is that an over-representation of Eastern spiritual and social cultures may endanger the very notion of democracy in the West. How does the East negotiate with these new socio-political tensions? Not just the Islamic world, today, the whole Eastern world must rethink globalisation and dependence on the West.

First published on: 25-03-2017 at 12:50:57 am
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