The Virtue of Nationalism By Yoram Hazony Full Summary

Nationalism is a dirty word. The mere utterance conjures up images of authoritarianism, racism and Nazi death camps. However, this vision of nationalism couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoram Hazony contends that nationalism for too long has been misdefined and unfairly slandered. In addition to denoting nationalism as a love and loyalty to one’s nation, Hazony uses the word to denote a theory of the best political order—one that seeks to establish a world of free and independent nations and that stands in direct contrast to imperialism. Hazony’s purpose in writing the book is to make a case for nationalism as the best political order.

The book is split into three parts: Nationalism and Western Freedom; The Case for the National State; Anti-Nationalism and Hate. The first part gives background and contextual information for understanding the contention between nationalism and imperialism in the West. The second part offers the argument in favor of nationalism and the third part deals largely with the hatred toward Nationalism, particularly by liberal imperialists.

Part One—Nationalism and Western Freedom

For as long as the West has been around it has struggled with two opposing views of world order. On the one hand we see an order of free and independent nations and on the other an order of peoples ruled by a single united regime. This is the difference between nationalism and imperialism and both of these orders are rooted in the ancient world.

Over the centuries we have seen imperialistic empires succeed each other, each seeking a universal political order, peace and prosperity. Now the initial draw to the imperial state is a powerful one. For most of human history we have lived in anarchist communities of tribes and clans each constantly warring with their neighbors. With the establishment of empires, however, war is driven to the periphery of the territory and liberates the average human from the constant struggle of war. This space of peace allowed mass scale agriculture and as a result, security from starvation. It wasn’t until Moses received a “constitution” from God that the concept of an independent, non-imperialist nation-state began a sustained existence. Now while the empire offers peace and food, the ancient Israelites saw this political order as one of bondage. The bloodshed and cruelty that imperial conquest and governing brought, was in their eyes, despicable. These empires brought with them slavery, murder and the transfer of women and property in the name of peace and prosperity. The nation-state on the other hand was one of collective self-determination and freedom which also drove war to the borders and opened the door to large-scale agriculture, but spared the world of conquest.

But what exactly is a nation? Hazony defines a 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 enterprises” (18). The concept of nation is not synonymous with race, but of a shared culture–language and history, religion etc. In the original conception of nation in the Bible, outsiders were welcome to join so long as they integrated.

Now, the Catholic church became the state religion of Rome and united with the emperors of the German Holy Roman Empire. Like so many other empires before them, they too believed that it was their responsibility to bring peace and prosperity to the world united under one empire. It wasn’t until the Thirty Years’ War that the thousand year reign of empire began to shift toward an order of nation-states. This war, which is commonly believed to be a fight between Protestants and Catholics, was actually a conflict between the developing national states of Sweden, France and the Netherlands (Lutheran, Catholic and Calvinist respectively) with the German and Spanish military devoted to an imperial Christian order.

The loss of the imperialists to these national states ushered in a new order in western Europe called the Protestant construction. This new political life was built on two biblical principles: (1) The moral minimum for right rule; (2) The right of national self-determination. The former means that the ruler to rightly rule had to be committed to the people to provide them with protection, justice in the courts, etc. Essentially he must obey the ten commandments. The latter meant the right to govern oneself under one’s own national constitutions without conflict from foreign nations. This Protestant construction thrived on these dialectical tensions. On the one side the concept of natural standards which supersedes the pronouncements of any government suggests that nations cannot do whatever they want. This makes government conditional. There are simply limits to right authority. On the other hand, national freedom protects the institutions, traditions, laws and ideals of the nation against the claims of those on the side of universal church or empire. This tension incubated a laboratory where nations could experiment and test the various institutions and freedoms that have risen from the West. Massive innovation in government, economics and science followed.

Unfortunately, while an order of independent nations was maintained in Europe, that didn’t stop these nations from invading foreign lands in Asia, Africa and the Americas. However, the structure afforded to the nations of western Europe, the principle of national freedom, was the foundation on which such injustices were eventually resolved.

This Protestant construction lasted until the world wars when nationalism came to be associated with the Nazis. It was challenged by a new order called the liberal construction. This order places individual freedom at the basis for all legitimate political order. Locke was instrumental in influencing this perspective of order. For Locke all transactions, obligations and memberships of collectives are based solely on consent. Hazony however, has a different view suggesting that such a position ignores the basis of all human collectives—mutual loyalty, which acts as the glue to society. These bonds unite families and nations and bequeath a specific culture. Being born into such collectives carries burdens of responsibility that are not established by consent. We don’t choose the culture we inevitably receive and our responsibilities to this inheritance and our families exist whether or not we choose them. Simply put, Hazony saw Locke as postulating a view of humankind that is inconsistent with observation and human nature and thus insufficient for understanding political reality.

It wasn’t long ago that the Protestant construction of self-determination and independence of the nation was seen as a progressive politics. Yet, the catastrophes of the two world wars saw the attempt at branding the evils of those wars on nationalism. By the 1960s they succeeded. Now most elites equate nationalism with Nazism and racism. However, Hitler was not a nationalist. He criticized the Protestant order in favor of a German imperialism and clearly sought an end to other countries’ right of national independence and self-determination. It was not the supposed nationalism of the Nazis that the world saw as a threat it was their universalism and imperialism, and it was Hitler’s attempted destruction of other national states that became part of the justification for war.

For Hazony the liberal order is nothing more than a veiled attempt at re-establishing a new imperial state. These empires while creating a level of peace, do so in exchange for national independence and freedom. Under such a state in which the empire has a monopoly over what is right, tolerance for diverse political and religious standpoints declines. Any attempt to voice an opinion in favor of a national order is seen as an attempt at returning to an older age of barbarism.

Today, Europe is strongly in favor of universal law and liberal empire, particularly with the creation of the EU, and this order is largely maintained because of America’s defense of the continent, thus sparing them from the heavy cost of military defense. But not everyone agrees with this liberal agenda. Most notably there are three groups that resist: (1) Neo-Catholics; (2) Neo-Nationalists (statists); (3) Conservatives (traditionalists). The first group subscribes to a revised Catholic political theory. They seek to provide human rights and liberties to the world. While they gravitate toward international rule, they uphold the principle of moral minimum. The second group sees the goal of humankind as service and loyalty to the state. They reject traditional views of the nation, constitution and religion. The third group supports the Protestant construction of international order—a world of independent nations subscribed to the principles of the moral minimum for right rule and the right to national self-determination.

To Hazony the choice of which is the best political order is clear—a world of independent nations each with their own culture, history and language experimenting and respectful of the differences and beauty in other nations. In part one we have a historical and contextual basis for understanding the contention between nationalism and imperialism. In part two Hazony provides his case for nationalism.

Part 2—The Case for the National State

Before taking a rigorous look at the argument for nationalism, Hazony seeks to clarify the two parts of political philosophy—philosophy of government and philosophy of political order. The former is concerned about the best structure of government in an established nation with independence and unity. The concern of the latter is how political order arises, its different forms and which form is best. It is important to learn the underlying causes of political order since these give a state its cohesiveness and independence and all states are on the verge of losing these qualities. Essentially, we must understand these causes to avoid creating bad policy or building up a form of government that works to dissolve cohesiveness.

Hazony’s initial focus is on the philosophy of political order and how the causes of such order effect the different forms of government available.

When it comes to politics, the most basic problem is how an individual lives in a community of other individuals each with their own goals and motivations. How does one influence others to support these goals that we deem necessary? This gives rise to politics which Hazony defines as, “the discipline or craft of influencing others so that they act to accomplish the goals one sees as necessary or desirable” (61).

The collective arises as a solution to this problem and there are many human collectives including the family, clan, tribe, church, business etc. The goal of collectives is to influence people to consistently act as a single unit. Hazony describes three ways in which people will join such collectives: (1) the threat of force; (2) payment; (3) seeing a particular collective as a reflection of the self. It is clear that payment forms the weakest bond to any collective as one is constantly assessing how he might find better pay and thus loyalty is restricted to receiving the right benefits. It is in human nature to protect oneself and this protection extends beyond the self to land, family, nation, etc. Now, loyalty exists when one has taken another under the responsibility of the extended self. Thus, when two individuals take each other under the responsibility of the extended self the bond forged is called “mutual loyalty.” We see this strong bond displayed in wartime heroics, when two or more people unite to face a common problem and other sacrifices that are detrimental to the individual’s life and property. Thus, bonds formed by seeing a collective as an extension of oneself is the strongest of all bonds and is thus, the glue that holds strong collectives together and keeps them acting as one unit. It is because of these bonds of mutual loyalty that we share in the triumphs and sufferings of others.

Now that we know a little about what holds human collectives together, let us address the question of how states come into being. According to Locke and Hobbes, people exist in perfect freedom and equality with each one consenting to form a government for the enhancement of safety and the security of property. To Hazony this is a fantasy comparable to the story of the stork delivering babies. As was earlier mentioned, the original political order consisted of tribes and families without permanent centralized government—anarchy. This order is relatively weak due to the constant threat of war and starvation, and the state is created to compensate. There are two ways that the state crystallizes: (1) people, out of loyalty to family and tribe, voluntarily give up their freedom; (2) conquest establishes the nation as a part of an imperial state suppressed by a ruler. We see the first way in the tribes of Israel uniting to form the nation of Israel and in the city-state of Athens. The second can be found in any empire from Egypt to Persia.

On one end of the spectrum we have anarchy, with people organized into families, clans and tribes, but without any established government; and on the other end of the spectrum we find the limitless empire. Hazony reveals some of the fundamental differences between the two.

With empire we find that loyalty is to the abstract—empire, all mankind and an unknown ruler out in the ether. Such a political order demands that its subjects abandon their loyalty to their leaders and clans. With empire, war is driven to the outskirts of the empire providing a great space for mass agriculture and universal law applicable to all people. The moral legitimacy of the empire is based on the idea that all humankind should be united under peace. The price of this peace is that the way of life of the conquered people is destroyed and such people are now subject to taxation and impressment for the maintenance of the military and other political projects. As is realistic, the ties one forms to all humankind are less strong than the ties of mutual loyalty one finds within the tribe and the concrete. What holds the empire together is not the loyalty of subject peoples, but the bonds of mutual loyalty of those within the ruling state.

Contrast that with anarchy where the members of a tribe personally know their leader who is concerned with the struggles of his people. In response to the kindness of the leader his people repay him with loyalty—thus, bonds of mutual loyalty are formed. The basis for moral legitimacy is the loyalty to the concrete. Anarchy rejects the obligation to the universal order. Yet, under anarchy the people live in a constant threat of war and starvation. Injustices may exist as the tribal leader may have something against the individual being judged.

In the end, both empire and anarchy dissolve into slavery. The empire binds all people in its borders to the customs and ideals of the ruling nation and anarchy binds the people to the endless conflict of local military leaders. It is the national state that lies in the balance between anarchy and empire. The national state is still an abstraction, but one in which there are commonalities of culture—the majority of the people living in the national state share similar language, laws, religion, traditions, and history. The national state takes what is best from both anarchy and empire. From empire loyalty to the abstraction of the state for the creation of peace on a larger scale and impartial legal system. From anarchy a ruler drawn from the tribes of the nation—one who is devoted to the people of the nation and to their specific culture.

In chapter 14 Hazony outlines the five virtues of the state. The first of these virtues is the peace that is created by establishing an area in which war has no place. The tribes that make up the space of the nation have the larger purpose of sustaining the internal cohesion for the sake of the nation and peace. In this space agriculture, family, trade, and innovation flourish.

The second virtue of the national state is its dislike of conquest. A nation is limited by its borders. It is not imperialist. This virtue is not simply a nicety of the nation-state but a pragmatic aim—the nationalist sees that imperialism is not good for itself. The bonds that are formed from conquest are weak and thus threaten the internal cohesion of the nation. Additionally, since the nation is to be devoted to the needs of the people, most would prefer that the government take care of their needs as opposed to constantly spending time and resources in maintaining parts of a distant empire. Now nations still go to war, but most of these fights are over minor boundary disputes, pecking order and other small-scale issues.

The third virtue is collective freedom. Although there is the pure freedom of tribes living under anarchy, such tribes are constantly plagued by war and starvation, thus, inhibiting advancements and shortening the range of freedom available. Hazony then argues that it is the national state that has the most collective freedom. The nation unites various tribes for the sake of peace creating a space for innovation, but without the disorder involved in empire. The unity that one feels when one tribe unites with another to combat a foreign threat, becomes permanent with the establishment of the state. Upon realizing the increase in peace and defense and the expanded freedom to pursue prosperity and greater protection of cultural inheritance, the individual directs his gaze toward the welfare of the nation as a whole. He sees this nation as an extension of self and is thus committed to the preservation of its internal integrity.

The increase in self-determination seen in the transition from anarchy to nation is unlikely to be repeated in the transition from nation to empire. This is because the nation has already succeeded in driving war to the outskirts, thus creating the space of peace and innovation. This nation is held together by the strong bonds of mutual loyalty among the local tribes thereby increasing the capacity for united action. Whereas with empire, the bonds holding the structure together are not as strong and each nation is constantly at risk of losing favor with the leading imperial nation.

The fourth virtue is that of a competitive political order. Here Hazony presents two theories of knowledge—rationalist and empirical. The rationalist approach tends to be the imperialist approach. They believe that human reasoning has led us to the great universal truths and that all that is needed is to impose these truths on humankind. But, human reason can lead us nearly anywhere and what is right is not immediately evident to all. Thus, the nationalist tends to take an empirical view. The empiricist is skeptical of human reasoning, acknowledging the great evils that have been done by the overconfidence of the rationalists. Instead, they believe the best path to knowledge is via experimentation. Some of the experiments will fail and the ones that succeed will provide a model for other nations to emulate. We see this competition between the rationalist and the empiricist in economics as well. The empiricist trusts capitalism to provide the answer to what works and what does not. The rationalist instead trusts his reasoning and thus gravitates to central planning.

The fifth and final virtue of nationalism proposed by Hazony is that of individual liberties. Individual freedoms in the real world have never existed by themselves, but are instead a product of institutions developed over the centuries by trial and error. These rights and freedoms that exist in the U.S. and England for instance, exist due to the balance of power between rulers, tribes and factions, and independent judges. This self-limitation of power can only exist where there are bonds of mutual loyalty.

So far the comparison has been between imperialism and nationalism but what about federalism? Hazony contends that there is an inescapable dichotomy in which one is forced to choose between imperialism and nationalism. Yet, this doesn’t stop some from seeking an intermediate position. This middle ground is global federalism. Although, this distribution of power looks a lot like either imperialism or nationalism in practice. When it comes to adjudicating disputes a nation can either: (1) choose to submit the dispute to the higher power and choose to comply or not—this is essentially nationalism; or (2) be forced to submit and comply with the higher powers’ judgments—this is essentially imperialism. There really is no middle ground. Additionally, in a federal order tends to centralize power. Consider the federalist structure of the U.S. Originally the states were given much independence and self-determination. However, progressive movements have seized many of the rights and freedoms initially given to the states, forcing them to conform to a standard in line with the central government’s will. No constitution can stand indefinitely as long as those in charge are allowed to interpret it.

The neutral state is also a myth. This supposed neutral state would only have concern for providing common defense, keeping the peace and ensuring the rights and freedoms of the individual. There would be no interest, on the part of the state, in collective self-determination and the transmission of the nation’s cultural values. Yet, the state cannot exist without either political repression or the national tribal cohesion formed out of bonds of mutual loyalty. In the first scenario, the culture of the dominant imperial state is imposed on its subject nations. In the other, these bonds of mutual loyalty are formed from common culture. Either way these states are involved in the transmission of culture whether by force or as the framework on which a particular nation is built.

Some would argue that loyalty must be directed towards the state documents or constitutions. Yet in history we see this only with religious texts. Muslims, Hindus and Christians have all demonstrated this loyalty to their religious writings. This implies there must be a sanctification of these state documents. Such sanctification for most people is tied to the cultural inheritance of a particular nation or tribe—a collective held together by bonds of mutual loyalty. The reverence for the political documents of one’s nation is transmitted by and held together by culture.

In the case of the U.S., which is often seen as a neutral state, the majority or core of the nation speak English, carry on constitutional and Protestant traditions, republicanism and English common law. It is on this culture with ties of mutual loyalty that the nation is held together. And we see in former colonial states where there is not one dominant culture, where borders are arbitrary and not drawn along cultural lines, that chaos ensues and management of these countries is nearly impossible. From observation we find that, instead of having a destabilizing effect, a dominant culture that is secure, and therefore unafraid of rebellion, grants all of its rights and freedoms to minorities. And it is these minorities that recognize that they can’t stand against the majority, and thus, assimilate. This is clearly preferable to a divided nation that is inevitably ripped apart by civil war.

Hazony turns his attention to the formation of national states, claiming that not all who wish for their own nation ought to be given one.

There are logistical and economic problems to delivering goods to everyone in society. Thus, not all goods are rights, which by definition require others to take action in securing. So while nationhood is good, we find that the formation of nations is not the right of any who would claim nationhood. Securing the resources to establish and maintain a nation is needed for the formation of nations—not something that every group of tribes or clans can do.

There is no limit to how fine a nation can be broken up into its component parts and in doing this we break society down to anarchy. For instance, there are 1700 different languages spoken in India alone; securing the resources needed to establish each a nation is impractical. Clearly, there should be some middle ground between creating a single family into a nation and uniting all of humankind into one nation. A nation by definition is made up of various tribes all sacrificing some measure of autonomy for the sake of a larger more peaceful space.

In supporting the formation of nations, we ought to balance the principle of national self-determination with other factors including: “the needs of the people in question; the degree of its internal cohesion and the military and economic resources it can bring to bear; its capacity, if constituted as an independent national or tribal state, to benefit the interests and well-being of other nations; and the threat that this people, once independent, may pose to others” (173). According to Hazony, we must seek an order of independent nations, but not artificially force the creation of these nations within a generation or two.

The final chapter of the second part addresses the rules for the formation and maintenance of the national states. A few of these rules include: (1) a nation should be formed if the people are cohesive and strong enough to secure their own independence. This is self-explanatory. If a nation is not stable or does not have the resources to defend itself, it should not be instituted as a nation. (2) No nation shall interfere with the internal affairs of other nations. All free nations should have the independence to pursue their own goals, so long as they do not interfere with the freedom of other nations. (3) A nation must permit the government the only right of coercive force. This is important for the prevention of anarchy. (4) Balance of power for the protection against a nation or group of united nations from becoming so powerful that it imposes its will and laws on other free nations. (5) Reservation in the creation of new states as opposed to the endless and mindless subdividing of states already in existence. (6) Minorities shall be protected. This is both self-evident as a moral principle and a pragmatic realization. By neglecting minority populations, one opens the door to angst among that population; this has the potential to degrade the internal cohesion of the nation as a whole and could possibly lead to anarchy. (7) A nation should not give its powers away to universal institutions. This removes independent judgment from that nation and results in the institution of an imperial state.

Part 3—Anti-Nationalism and Hate

It is often said of Nationalism that it inspires hate. While it is true that some nationalists will have hatred for rival clans, tribes or nations; it is also true that the imperialist often hates those tribes and nations that dissent and reject their universal authority. We find that the imperialist is as prone to hatred as the nationalist; just consider the Christian, Muslim, Communist and Nazi history of hatred and empire. Thus, it is not fair to reject nationalism on the grounds that it inspires hate if an imperialist is just as prone to it.

Hazony then moves to the specific example of Israel and its vilification. We have all been taught to see the world through a conceptual structure called a paradigm. This paradigm decides how we interpret facts and which facts we even consider. When Israel was formed in 1948 an order of independent national states was still an acceptable perspective. Particularly since the 1960s however, this paradigm has shifted among the educated in the West. They see Nazism as an example of nationalism taken to its ugly conclusion. They therefore reject the order of national states on the grounds that it is barbaric and primitive like the Nazis. Instead these “elites” endorse the multi-national liberal empire—a progression of reason.

There are two different paradigms through which to see Israel. The first emphasizes the sin of powerlessness. It’s claim is that the holocaust was a result and failure of the Jews to protect themselves. Israel represents the protection of the Jews and is therefore the opposite of Auschwitz and the holocaust. The second paradigm sees Auschwitz and the holocaust as a horror committed by the right to execute force in the name of national self-determination and interests. For this paradigm Israel is Auschwitz. If Israel is to be likened to Nazi Germany then there is no change or adjustment that can be made to silence Israel’s critics.

This raises an interesting question. Why are other nations, which commit far greater atrocities than Israel not treated as harshly? The answer lies in Kant’s concept of “moral maturity.” For Kant human beings are in a process of development. We start off as tribes living in anarchy and give up some of our freedoms to unite as nations—the civilized world. The final step is a similar relinquishing of freedom to a universal federal state—empire. Within this framework much of the world is still uncivilized and barbaric. European civilization is advanced beyond the rest of the world. They see Israel as part of this European civilization, and therefore must be held to a higher standard.

Hazony concludes the book by noting that liberal imperialists tend to be blind to their own hatred while criticizing the hatred of nationalism. They, like all other empires, believe that they are the ones to implement what is good and true to the rest of the world. That if only they had the chance to rule the world they would reign in an era of peace and prosperity. They should be willing to acknowledge however, their own hatred for the different and diverse and accept a world of experiments through which we come to a greater understanding of the best government.

For centuries the West has struggled with its political order. On one end of the spectrum there is anarchy and on the other end, imperial empire. Between these two extremes is an order of independent national states which Hazony argues is the best political structure.

The problem of being an individual in a community is that everyone has different aims. This gives rise to politics and collectives are formed in response to this problem. There are multiple ways that collectives are held together, but the strongest is through bonds of mutual loyalty. These bonds of mutual loyalty are formed when individuals take each other under their protection thereby extending the self. Through these bonds, individuals experience the joy, hope and suffering of others.

Proponents of liberalism see humankind in various stages of development. The first of these stages is anarchy followed by an order of national states and finally resulting in liberal imperial empire. It is for this reason that countries with Western roots are criticized more harshly then “uncivilized” tribal orders. Yet, Hazony sees individual nations bearing their own responsibilities and freedom as more mature than giving up that responsibility to an empire. An order of national states, free to experiment and pass on their unique culture is a virtue.

One thought on “The Virtue of Nationalism By Yoram Hazony Full Summary

  1. This is the right webpage for everyone who hopes to find out about this topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a topic that has been written about for a long time. Great stuff, just wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

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