Foreign Threats Demand a Muscular Domestic Response

With our natural resources, our productive capacity, and the genius of our people for mass production we will…outstrip the Axis powers in munitions of war.
Franklin Roosevelt, Message to Congress, Jun 10, 1941

War, or the threat of war, should awaken nations from their dogmatic quarrels. So too should concentrated economic threats and assaults on our political system from unfriendly powers. It is not so much a matter of good global intentions but the embrace of hard-headed national interests, not only in the realm of energy and manufacturing, that will be key in responding to the autocratic challenge.

In the end, it’s only the nation state—in alliance with other similarly minded states—that can stand up to the threats now coming from our primary adversaries, China, and Russia. NATO does not build planes and failed to counter Russian threats; the UN has not exactly stamped out aggressive wars. Meanwhile the global economic hegemons have backed policies on energy and manufacturing that have made our autocratic enemies, and their allies like Iran, stronger.

Fortunately, America has revived itself before, albeit often later than would have been ideal. We freed ourselves from Britain through Hamilton’s embrace of industrial development; Lincoln’s development of credit systems, the Homestead Act, and the development of industries proved critical to defeating the slave economy of the south. Massive American production was critical in defeating Nazism and, over the ensuing four decades, under both parties, the United States managed to innovate and out produce the Soviet industrial state.

To be effective at countering that vast effort, a new American nationalism must transcend Donald Trump’s often hyperbolic “America First” rhetoric. We are fighting a primarily economic war, not against ideological opponents like the USSR or Mao’s China, but against leaders strategically motivated by imperial revanchism. In countering these autocratic moves, we cannot count on the United Nations, the European Union, or the globalist grandees of Davos. The current challenge can only be met by a national response on every level—from our increasingly weakened military, to our industrial and agricultural establishment—as well as an embrace of America’s uniqueness and historic mission.

Successful nationalism lies in tapping the power of our productive economy—real products, not just digital ones—as occurred under Franklin Roosevelt and successive presidents. America’s rise to global predominance in the last century, and its creation of a vibrant middle class, had its roots, notes economic historian Robert Gordon, in great investment in physical infrastructure and production. In contrast, our current focus on digital technology and social media has resulted in a slow and diminished productivity and growing social inequality. This has been made worse as by what one analyst describes as “the transformation of disruptive tech companies into rent seeking monopolies.”

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: Nikolas Zane, via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.