"Potentially very destructive" – John Bruton on rising nationalism

Former Taoiseach discussed whether we're seeing the death of globalisation...

John Bruton, Brexit, referendum, EU, Ireland, Irish workers, emigrants, David Cameron, Enda Kenny

Former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton pictured at the 2012 Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Dublin | Image: RollingNews.ie

With the world currently dealing with everything from terrorism and Trump to Brexit and territorial aggression from the likes of Russia and and China, former Taoiseach John Bruton joined Business Breakfast to give his views on whether or not we're witnessing the end of the globalisation movement.

He began by issuing a warning about the rise in fear and nationalism around the world.

"It is quite dangerous because the risk is that people will see the world in a zero-sum way," said the seasoned Fine Gael politician. "Where basically they can only gain if someone else loses."

"Whereas over the last 40 years we have seen that most people in the world have become better off as a result of globalisation. Some, like the Chinese, have become dramatically much better off.

"In the West, we have had a lot of change. Our standard of living is higher, but also there's been a growth in insecurity among people because of an increase in competition from countries like China...

"One of the reasons for the anxiety we're seeing is expressed in votes like that in the UK on Brexit."

Can nationalism be avoided?

"I think it's important to define what we're talking about when we use the term 'nationalism'.

"Nationalism presupposes that you owe a singular allegiance to one territorial nation. Very often a nation that is based on a single racial or religious background.

"That form of nationalism is, I think, potentially destructive because it will run into conflict very quickly with other nationalisms formulated on the same basis."

On the other hand, Bruton conceded that nationalism does provide a sense of belonging and identity:

"I think we all need that for our happiness; to believe that we belong to an extended family, that we belong to a county, that we belong to a nation.

"I think we need to recognise that we can belong to something bigger than even one nation, such as the European Union. What we need to reconcile is the idea that you can have several identities that co-exist with one another."

The possibility of a Schengen Area break-up

"There is a risk that that will happen," Bruton told presenter Nick Bullman, "Although the cost of reintroducing border controls on the continent of Europe would be enormous.

"The trade disruption and the disruption to people's normal lives would be very, very difficult.

"As it would be, for example, along the border in Ireland if a hard border were to be reintroduced.

"So I think that people can, if you like, indulge a dream of the world 60 years ago, where you always knew your neighbour and where everybody had the same colour skin and religious background as you had.

"You can romanticise about that but, in a sense, we're never going to be able to get back to that sort of world in practice anyway.

"And reintroducing borders won't resolve the issue – it may in fact exacerbate it."

Listen to the full interview here: