THE VIRTUE OF NATIONALISM
By Yoram Hazony
Basic Books, $30, 285 pages
Nationalism — for many folks, that’s bad enough. But the modifiers don’t help at all. There’s “Black Nationalism,” and the still more frightening, to many, “White Nationalism.”
The popular culture undergirds this aversion to nationalism — in any form. Take the season premiere of CBS’ popular drama “Madam Secretary.” To kick off the season, the show featured appearances by actual former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton, who sat down for an earnest brainstorming session with the fictitious Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, usually played with charm by Tea Leoni.
Advising “Secretary” McCord, Madeline Albright intones that ” three of my grandparents were murdered in concentration camps, so the threat of nationalism is not just a theory. “
With the show’s “president” in attendance, Secretary McCord speaks on television to pound home the message that ” nationalism is the existential threat of our time. Nationalism is a perversion of patriotism. “
So who, on Earth, could defend nationalism? Yoram Hazony, that’s who. Princeton and Rutgers educated, Mr. Hazony is the president of Israel’s Herzl Institute, where they explore philosophy, theology and public policy issues.
For generations, anti-Semites have suggested that Jews might have “dual loyalties,” but leaders like Mr. Hazony, Natan Scharansky and millions of Israelis put the lie to that. Indeed, with hostile actors surrounding Israel, how would they even begin to forge some “supra-national” structure?
Much of the literature on nationalism hearkens back centuries, notes Mr. Hazony. The Holy Roman Empire was a supra-national realm, with unity enforced by emperor Charlemagne and his descendants. The nation-state system had not yet emerged, though the Treaty of Westphalia later advanced the principle of national independence and self-determination in 1648.
Mr. Hazony emphatically rebuts the idea that Hitler’s Holocaust was an outgrowth of nationalism. He accurately explains that World War II was caused by imperialism, not nationalism.
Indeed, Hitler was the “ultra imperialist” of his time, and perhaps of all time. He justified the invasion of any nation-state in the hopes of expanding his “1,000 year Reich,” a great supra-national state, in his warped thinking. “The national state,” says Mr. Hazony, ” was an effete contrivance of the English and French” in Hitler’s mind.
It was genuine nationalist Winston Churchill who led the national forces that defeated Hitler and his demented vision.
As an undergraduate, I grasped that there was no link between nationalism and war or authoritarianism. My academic mentor was Henry Paolucci, a brilliant, self-described “libertarian nationalist.”
Mr. Paolucci would stress in class, as Yoram Hazony might today, that “nationalism” requires respect for the nation-state system and for each peaceable country taking its place as an equal among the family of nations.
When President Trump declared “I am a nationalist” in Houston, he was not unique. Among American Presidents, the nationalists include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Woodrow Wilson, with idealistic hopes for the League of Nations, was not.
On the other hand, there are conservative icons who did not support the nation-state system. They include economists Friedrich Hayek, a Nobel laureate, and his mentor Ludwig von Mises, who both established the “Austrian School” of capitalist thinking. Lecturing prior to the founding of the European Union, they favored the establishment of some supra-national order.
Sadly, according to Mr. Hazony, ” the independent national state is now seen by many intellectual and political figures in Europe as a source of incalculable evil, while the multinational empire — which Mill singled out as the very epitome of despotism — is mentioned time and again with fondness as a model for a post-national humanity.”
Mr. Hazony further cites John Stuart Mill, who wrote in 1861 that it is “a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of government should coincide in the main with those of nationalities.”
One common thread of those pressing for supra-national states and federations is the expressed desire for “peace.” Chillingly, Stalin and Hitler justified their expanding multi-national states by speaking of “peace.” Their vision of pacification culminated in the stillness of the graveyard, where after man can supposedly be “perfected,” becoming either the “master” Nazi or the ideal Communist.
When even New York Times columnist David Brooks declares: “Yes, I’m an American Nationalist,” Mr. Hazony is really on to something.
As Moses descended from his meeting with God, writes Mr. Hazony, he tells the Israelites that “God has given us borders.” And He expected his people to live within them.
Mr. Hazony adds: “Throughout the Bible, we find that the political aspiration of the prophets of Israel is not empire but a free and unified nation living in justice and peace amid other free nations.”
Who are we to contradict Moses?
• Herbert W. Stupp served as a commissioner in New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Cabinet after serving in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.