Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Yaram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism, 2018

Yoram Hazony makes the case that anti-nationalism is objectively anti-Semitism. He is the president of the Jerusalem based Herzl Institute. He makes clear in this book that Zionism is Jewish nationalism, which he completely supports.

He demonstrates much more in this masterful work that needs the widest possible dissemination. The Virtue of Nationalism's thesis is much broader than the nature of the Jewish State. It's an in-depth look at the theory, nature and history of the national state and why it's the best form of political order known to man. The author's conceptual framework begins by making the vital distinction between forms of government and forms of polities:
When these questions [on community cohesion] are taken into account, we see that political philosophy is naturally divided into two subjects, one more fundamental than the other. One subject is the philosophy of government, which seeks to determine the best form of government, given the existence of a state with a high degree of internal unity and independence. Prior to this is the philosophy of political order; which seeks to understand the causes of political order and on the basis of this understanding, to determine what are the different forms of political order available to us and which of them is best. (p. 59)
Hazony observes that for various reasons, there is little discussion on the nature of political order, what makes it possible and what form of polity is most desirable. This issue goes to the heart of his argument. He presents a compelling case that the nation-state is the largest form of polity that allows for genuine social cohesion and for civil society to flourish.    

Hazony contrasts the nation-state with the other two most prevalent forms of polities: tribalism/feudalism and imperialism. He discounts tribalism as virtual anarchism and a social dead end. The more sophisticated forms of imperialism are based on some universalist ideology such as Marxism, Islam or medieval Catholicism. All of these universal dogmas require much force and oppression to expand and remain in power. The author observes that ancient Israel was unique as a nation of tribes that did not seek imperial aggrandizement. 

Hazony defines nation as a "number of tribes with a common language or religion, and a past history of acting as a body for the common defense and other large-scale projects" (p. 18). He views such nations as the best form of political organization. He argues that the nation-state is a necessary but not sufficient cause for human freedom and flourishing. He notes that all imperial states are held together by force and are, in fact, dominated by the most powerful nation within the empire. 

The author cites the European Union as a "liberal" empire, dominated by Germany, that is profoundly anti-liberty and anti-individualism. This is because the very nature of empires, of whatever stripe, require the brutal suppression of all dissent to the universalist dogma on which its legitimacy rests. 

The author argues that the nation-state has its origins in ancient Israel. He further argues that its modern origins began in sixteenth century Europe. This is an important point because most "anti-nationalists" evade this historical fact and claim that modern nationalism began with the French Revolution. Needless to say, Napoleon's was a classic empire dominated by France and not an example of the Westphalian state model. The "Enlightenment" reaction to the Revolution was the justification for endless wars of peace:
In Perpetual Peace, then, [Immanuel] Kant argues that the establishment of an international or imperial state is the only possible dictate of reason. Those who do not agree to subordinate their national interests to the directives of the imperial state are regarded as opposing the historic march of humanity toward the reign of reason. Those who insist on their national freedom are supporting a violent egoism on a national scale, which is as much an abdication of sound morals as the insistence on violent egoism would be in our personal lives ... The Marxists' condemnation of the Western national state was joined by a liberal anti-nationalism, which eagerly sought an end to the old order in the name of Kant's march toward Enlightenment. (pp.199-201)
Hazony makes clear that even Kant's "liberal" imperialism results in a viciously tyrannical state at odds with actual liberal governance. 

On the positive side of the ledger, Hazony argues that the nation-state makes many political goods possible, unlike any other form of political order. These goods are: the banishment of political violence to the periphery of the nation-state; antipathy to imperial conquest - see the American "deplorables" hostility to neo-con wars of "nation building;" genuine national self-determination and independence; a competitive political order where nations can learn from others' success and failure. 

The author also notes that a relatively free, peaceful and stable nation-state does require some degree of homogeneity. "Diversity" for its own sake leads to Balkanization and ceaseless internal conflict. The author describes, 
what I have called the internal integrity and cultural inheritance of the nation. And it is these things that tend to be lost as the imperial state expands [or as the decadent "liberal" state's borders are erased]. This is because conquered nations bring their own aspirations, troubles, and interests into the state. And this growing diversity make the state more difficult to govern, weakening the mutual loyalties that had held it together, dissipating its attention and resources in the effort to suppress internal conflicts and violence that had previously been unknown to it, and forcing the rulers to adopt oppressive means of maintaining the peace. (p.113)
Hazony cites the Austrian-Hungarian Empire as a textbook example of this violent, destabilizing process. It is also the fate of Western Europe, the United States and any other state that opens its borders to (mutually) hostile tribes.     

The Virtue of Nationalism covers a lot of theory and history in its 234 pages. It is impressively researched and its citations provide a treasure trove of sources for further study on its topic. One of the book's many virtues is its clear and precise prose. The author exercises great skill in presenting complex political concepts in accessible, enjoyable and jargon free language. I can't recommend this work highly enough. It belongs on the bookshelf of every citizen concerned about his nation's future.

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