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Book Reviews Recommended

The Virtue of Nationalism, by Yoram Hazony

Reviewed by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz

On Nationalism

In The Virtue of Nationalism (New York: Basic Books, 2018), Israel’s leading right-Zionist intellectual Yoram Hazony has taken a forerunner of modern liberalism, John Locke (1632-1704), to the task for the latter’s insufficiently commodious idea of a social contract. Individual freedom and voluntarism that aim to guarantee prosperity and private property are not the only formula for a sound political system. Loyalty trumps all that.

This is plain when we look at a basic social unit: the family. Despite the fact that we do not choose it voluntarily, and, instead, are born or adopted into it, every family is predicated on loyalty. One does not maintain family loyalty to gain economically, but, rather, to maintain our intergenerational and transgenerational solidarity. A set of families creates a clan, a tribe, and, ultimately, a nation. We exercise our solidarity within this framework. This happens not because we get paid, but because we are loyal to them.

That is the gist of nationalism. It is a liberal nationalism grounded in “mutual loyalty.” Working from this assumption, Hazony gives us a “realistic theory of nationalism.” It is an order of free, independent nation states which can seek their destinies in the framework of a sovereign national mission. To thwart any of them who would endeavor to become an empire, one must design a nationalist system of balance of power, where the participants would neutralize each other to prevent the ascendancy of any of them.

At the same time, however, the author supports a unilateral system. When a nation state has its particular interests at stake, it may be forced to go it alone, even if all others oppose it. Therefore, for example, he praises Czechia’s, Poland’s, and Hungary’s opposition to accepting so called “migrants.” This is not tantamount to “fascism” or “Nazism,” pace propaganda of “liberal internationalism.”

Hazony claims that to achieve a nationalist system one must only retool the Old Testament paradigm. Rather than calling himself merely a patriot, the author stresses that he himself is a nationalist in precisely that Biblical sense. One should be honest with oneself. Just as the Lord created the nation of Israel out of clans and tribes, so He inspired Protestant states to turn to the very same model in modernity. Thus, the Westphalian system came into existence after 1648. Its mainstay were Great Britain and Holland, and, later, the United States joined up. Alas, following 1945, America gradually has abandoned the nation state paradigm and has been drawn to imperialism.

Universalism is the enemy of nationalism. Each form of nationalism stands thus hostile, including one derived from the Catholic Church. According to Hazony, one must counter those universalist tendencies. He focuses his particular ire on Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), however. Kant was a champion of global government, which allegedly could guarantee eternal global peace. Instead, the Kantian system assures constant attacks by imperialist powers to enslave nation states to impose a global order.

Hazony stresses that imperialism is predicated upon a “rationalistic theory of power,” while nationalism – on empiricism. The former advances allegedly rational theories; the latter learns from experience. “The political order is in this respect much like the economic order. The reality is that no human being, and no group of human beings, possesses the necessary powers of reason and the necessary knowledge to dictate the political constitution that is appropriate for all mankind. Anyone tending to a skeptical and empirical point of view will thus recognize the advantages of a nationalist order, which permits many independent national states and allows them freely to compete. Each national state pursues a different set of aims, and is organized in a manner that is different from the others” (p. 131).

Hence, thanks to nation states, this creates a beautiful diversity in the world, which empires wish to destroy. “The imperial state naturally promotes an altogether different environment, ultimately offering a man of ability but one opportunity: to mold himself to the desires of the one great political power that is the empire” (p. 133).

There is no greater enemy for Hazony than empires. They forever endeavor to universalize themselves by dominating nation states. That is how Rome ruled. So did the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and, later, Napoleon and Hitler, and now the United States. The European Union is also an empire, but it is still subjugated by America. After all, Brussels and Berlin are militarily castrated by Washington. In this sense, the EU is an American satellite.

Further, Hazony criticizes liberals and leftists for blaming the nation state for Auschwitz. He warns about a syllogism that falsely posits that because it was allegedly nationalism that created Auschwitz, one must liquidate nationalism and there will never be an Auschwitz anymore. The author stresses that National Socialism was not nationalism but, rather, a socialist ideology of German imperialism. Polish nationalism, for example, is the only defense from the return of Auschwitz. If one eradicates Israeli nationalism, and the Jewish State along with it, Auschwitz shall return because no one will defend the Jewish people from the empire, if they are not capable of defending themselves. And they can only defend themselves, if they believe that they have something worth defending. And that entails to appreciate national solidarity which links all Israelis. “My first concern is for Israel,” says Hazony           (p. 202).

In summary, The Virtue of Nationalism is a challenging and timely proposition. However, it will speak loudest to Zionists and Protestant dispensationalists. Yet, other rightists, in particular nationalists, Polish and others, ought to familiarize themselves with Hazony. His is an indispensable point of departure to compare with other nationalist systems and to polemicize about their relative strengths and differences. Critiquing his monograph in a friendly manner can even help persuade the author to make his propositions even more attractive by taking them outside of the charmed Jewish-evangelical axis.

There are five serious points of contention. One should enlighten the Zionist champion that, first, Jesus taught that “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). This means that Christian universalism does not automatically translate into a universalist empire. Instead, it can be fabulous for the purpose of, say, the Catholic State of the Polish Nation. The latter never aimed at approximating Jesus’s kingdom on earth and imposing it on other nations. Further, it was commodious enough to invite anyone to share in its national communion who identified with its national spirit, even those of other faiths or no faith.

Second, Hazony is unaware that medieval Catholic universalism not only materialized as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, but also revealed itself in the Papal option. The latter was predicated upon the balance between the lay and religious options. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21) was the rule there, rather than Byzantine Caesaropapism, which permeated the Empire.  The Kingdom of Poland naturally supported Rome. It sided with the Pope, rather than the Emperor. This was because the Polish rulers anticipated Hazony in his defense of nation-states, even in their pre-modern forms, from imperialism.

Third, even within the lay option, two main alternatives functioned: imperial centralization vs. the congress of princes. The latter proposed to solve problems through consultations and negotiation between equal sovereign entities. Poland again favored the congressional solution.

Fourth, Christianity is indispensable to tame nationalism. It is the blood in the veins of the national organism. It is the chief microchip in the national processor. It guarantees that the Lord always comes first before any human ideological construct. Consequently, Christian nationalism, such as in Poland, has protected its followers from succumbing to the beastly horror of deifying the nation, instead of worshipping God. Christian nationalism crushes the temptation to embrace neo-paganism of nation worship which drives its adherents inevitably to the worst atrocities (e.g. NSDAP, OUN-UPA).

Fifth, the primacy of Christian nationalism not only neatly limits nationalist particularisms, but also provides an ethical and moral frame of reference for an international system to anchor nation states. Thus, pace Hazony, nationalism does not need to be Old Testament to serve its adherents well.

In this framework, there is not only room for northern Protestant countries, but also for Catholic Poland and whoever else understands the need for national solidarity to strengthen our body politics. Perhaps at this point in history, nationalism alone can remedy our ills of identity politics and class and race struggle. National solidarity trumps it all.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, D.C., 14 December 2018

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