Tue. Feb 19th, 2019

Why nations are back on the agenda

                         Every jigsaw needs a range of different sized pieces to complete the picture

Book Review of :”The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony

THE overwhelming cultural and economic currents over the past generation or so have been flowing in the direction of an ever expanding liberal globalism.

Major opinion formers singing from the same hymnbook

With all major opinion formers in current society fully signed up to this phenomena: media, big business, academia, political parties, think-tanks, the third sector, NGO’s etc, etc, it has truly seemed an all conquering and unstoppable force in modern life.

People have not only been conditioned but virtually browbeaten to receive all its main tenets( the primacy of multinational corporations above all else, open borders, progressivism and the need for individuals to be as economically and socially footloose as possible) as undeniable truths about life today. Its eloquent spokespersons have monopolised the airwaves and the public forum for years, full of confidence that we are now living in a post-national world.

But history, always a good and faithful guide shows us time and time again that arrogance  comes before a fall.  Events over the last couple of years, including the shock presidential victory of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, a populist government elected into power in Italy, and the on-going mass social unrest in France have shaken this complacent world-view to its very core.

The mass media who have been such propagators for the liberal globalist agenda are now warning us to be very scared because these new developments mean that the  bogeyman of nationalism is rearing its ugly head in Europe again.

Nationalism a much needed corrective to liberal globalism

But, a newly published book “The Virtues of Nationalism” by author Yoram Hazony makes the case that in fact, this argument is totally misplaced. He argues that not only is the re-emergence of nationalism a much needed corrective to liberal globalism, but that it is in effect a way of thinking which is ultimately more empowering and fulfilling for people in every country, wherever they may be.

He argues that the mutual loyalties engendered by a national state provides an ideal mid-point for people between what he terms the anarchy of a system based on affiliation to clan and influential individuals alone on the one hand, and an impersonal bond to an empire project of different stripes on the other hand. Such a mid-point allows the best elements of both systems to persist whilst neutralising their more negative connotations at the same time. He lists the 5 main benefits of the national state as being: violence banished to the periphery, a distaste for imperial adventures, collective freedom, a competitive political order and individual liberties.

Imperialism a more correct description of globalism

In the book, the author  also shows how the national idea has been one of the foundational components of the Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe over the last 2,000 years. He traces the idea from the Old Testament injunction on Israel to set its own national borders whilst also respecting the borders of other nations, through to the Protestant reformation and its after-effects in the 16th century, the European revolts of the mid 19th century  to the Atlantic Charter signed by Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941, affirming the rights of all people to self-determination.

But, he says that the national idea has always faced the challenge of imperialism, of which the current liberal ascendancy in the west and its derision for nations is its latest manifestation. Hazony goes to argue  that the term globalism  for this current ascendancy is a misnomer, since in truth it merely serves to sanitize and glamourize the whole phenomena. He claims it should be called out for what it really is in practice, i.e imperialism, a wish to impose a certain worldview on others whatever the consequences, and whatever the human costs involved.

History’s lesson about the dangers of imperial utopianism

The author believes that imperialism is based on a “rationalist” understanding of the world, a kind of dogmatic insistence that there are universal truths that have to be put into practice and that people have to be coralled and even shamed to accept this new “reality”. History’s many false turns with various empires throughout the centuries( and he includes Communism and Nazism in this category) also shows us how dangerous this imperial utopianism actually is:

“In the end the utopians will be consumed by the hatred of the universal for the particular that will not submit, just as their predecessors were. In the end, they will conclude that there is no alternative but to coerce the dissenters-dissenting individuals and dissenting nations-making them conform to the universal theory by force, for their own good”.

Competition between national states fuels human progress

Nationalism on the other hand he says, provides a more “empirical” approach- based on the wisdom of encouraging many different attempts to attain the truth through the experiential learning afforded by diversity.  The point is made that competition between independent national states has always been the engine of progress in religion, art, science, trade, education and all human endeavour over the centuries. He quotes the words of philospher John Stuart Mill:

The European family of nations have always struck out a great variety of paths, each leading to something valuable. Europe is….. wholly indebted to this plurality of paths”

Ah, some people would say. But what kind of nationalism does he have in mind though? And is it always the case that nationalism is virtuous?. Hazony identifies three strains of nationalist thought he sees in existence  in Europe at present. One is neo-catholic- the belief that religious beliefs should underpin a nation, almost in terms of fighting  a rearguard action against modernity( rather like the early Irish republic which was to all intents and purposes run by the Catholic Church). The second is neo-national, where there is a dangerous fascination with the authority and power of the state( rather like Italy under Mussolini).

The author firmly aligns himself with the third strain of nationalist thought, the traditionalist view, underpinned by the classical protestant idea of the state, national independence allied to limited executive power, free  institutions and individual liberties.

Yoram Hazony does not make the case that all people should be allowed national independence. This is contingent on factors such as are they cohesive and strong enough to secure such a settlement in his opinion. Although he does not spell it out as such, this seems to be a clear indicator that he would not support the establishment of a Palestinian national state, side by side with Israel which one could argue is a tad hypocritical on his behalf. Some readers might also find the bigging up of modern Israel, whilst glossing over some of its faults and its own expansionist agenda slightly off-putting.

Fourth spring of European nationalism on the way

The book finishes by suggesting that there is a fourth European spring of nationalism breaking out in Europe which will ultimately defeat the imperialist ambitions of the EU. Following the Protestant Reformation, the European Revolutions in the mid 19th, and  the Atlantic Declaration of 1941,  the author believes that this new spring will once again put national self-determination allied to a re-imagined alliance between individual countries firmly back on the European agenda.

This prognosis is very encouraging for Welsh nationalists here in Cymru. For many years we have been battling against a British state which has appeared completely formidable and impregnable. It has seemed a lonely and futile battle on so many levels.

Now though, in view of the current fissures and with our cause aligned with a wider emphasis on renewed self-determination throughout Europe, there is a fantastic opportunity to redefine ourselves as free Welsh Europeans.

“The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony is published by Basic Books. 

Leave a Reply