The defeat of ultranationalist parties in the Netherlands and in France earlier this year gave European leaders the sense that fear of a far-right surge had, after all, been misplaced. As it turns out, it was the relief that was misplaced.

Europe remains a battleground between nationalist forces, conventional right or left governments and parties that cleave to broadly liberal positions. It is not alone. Across the world, the same impulses to define a state according to ethnic or historic criteria, or to put existing states "first," grow in diverse forms.

Two referendums illuminate the trend. One, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq on Sept. 25, produced an almost 93 percent vote in favor of Kurdish independence, followed by an immediate demand from the Iraqi government to invalidate the vote and a threat to use the army to suppress any move toward independence. On Sunday the citizens of Catalonia voted to secede from Spain, and the president of the autonomous region said it would declare independence within days.