In Defense of Nationalism

Recent years have seen nationalism once again ascendant and increasingly victorious at the ballot box, both in the U.S. and throughout the world. Whether it was Donald Trump’s upset 2016 victory here in the U.S., or the battle for Brexit in Britain – or the successes of right-of-center nationalists in countries like Poland, Hungary, Israel, or India – all of these movements share a basic assumption: that the interests of one’s nation and people come first. What they also have in common is a fundamental opposition to unchecked mass migration, open borders, and globalist encroachments on national sovereignty. In response, globalist-inclined elites have raised the threatening specter of “Fascism” and “tribalism,” attacking the new wave of national patriotism – and nationalism in general – as nothing more than racism and demagogic xenophobia. In his fairly recent book, The Virtue of Nationalism (2018), Yoram Hazony, not only debunks the anti-nationalist fear-mongering, but explains how love for one’s nation can actually be a virtue.

Hazony is an Israeli philosopher and Bible scholar. A religious Zionist, he is also a vocal promoter of the “national conservatism” current which seeks to “recover and reconsolidate the rich tradition of national conservative thought as an intellectually serious alternative to the excesses of purist libertarianism, and in stark opposition to political theories grounded in race.” Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism won the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Conservative Book of the Year Award in 2019. And rightly so – because the book offers a valuable counter-narrative to the globalist attacks on the sovereign nation-state.

Following the Second World War, “nationalism” became a dirty word, largely due to the genocidal crimes of Nazi Germany. Thus, much of the Western political, intellectual, and cultural elite views it as a serious threat to a so-called “liberal rules-based global order” and a “reversion” to an age of “war-mongering and racism.” Many American defenders of U.S. national sovereignty and our country’s right to secure our borders and enforce our immigration policies have probably been called “Nazis” or “Fascists” at one time or another, and are therefore quite familiar with this.

As Hazony points out, however, in the case of Hitler’s Third Reich, an extreme and chauvinistic version of nationalism was bound up with not only biological racism but also a drive to conquer Europe and the world. Thus, the author argues, German Nazi dreams of world domination had more in common with various historical iterations of “universal empire” – including the modern-day globalist drive towards a system of “global governance” without nations or borders – than with more traditional, mainstream forms of nationalism.

Hazony objects to the tarring of all forms of nationalism with the broad brush of “Nazism” or “Fascism” as much as he rejects racist brands of nationalism. Rather, the kind of nationalism that he is defending is based on the right of peoples (i.e. nations) – bound together by a shared culture, language, history, and traditions (and often, but not always, also shared ethnic and religious affinities) – to chart their independent destinies.

As The Virtue of Nationalism makes clear, the choice between nationalism and globalism is often not between “exclusionary tribalism” and a world of perfect peace, tolerance, and brotherhood, i.e. between the imperfect real world and utopia. Rather, the alternative is nationalism/national sovereignty versus some form of universal empire – with all the problems and threats that it entails.

According to Hazony, a nationless and borderless world – or at least one in which borders and nation-states have been made irrelevant – under the auspices or overlordship of some kind of global government poses a significant danger to freedom. By contrast, an order of sovereign nations makes it much more difficult to impose anything, including tyranny, on the world. (Pro-illegal-alien radical activists who chant “f*** borders, f*** nations, f*** deportations” should pay close attention here!)

The Israeli philosopher also tackles the assertion – so often voiced by leftists and other “anti-nationalists” – that nationalism is tantamount to hate or inevitably leads to it. The problem, Hazony argues, is that there is no evidence that universalist doctrines or movements are somehow free of hateful sentiments. In fact, there exists a “hatred that is found in imperialist movements, which is the hatred that a universal ideal bears against those nations or tribes that refuse to accept its claim to universality.” This is of course borne out by history, whether it is Soviet communists (motivated by an internationalist ideology) decades ago or Islamist radicals (driven by dreams of a global Caliphate) in more recent years.

One need not agree with all of Hazony’s points, or even consider oneself a “nationalist,” to recognize that The Virtue of Nationalism offers a powerful and compelling argument. It is thus highly recommended for those who believe in secure borders and immigration policies that benefit the host nation and its people. Of course, those who believe in open borders and globalism should also take Hazony’s sophisticated analysis seriously.

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