Tag: Nationalism

Ridiculous Claims in Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism

President Trump recently said, “I’m a nationalist. OK? I’m a nationalist.”  Trump didn’t give a definition of what a nationalist is or what that ideology entails.  Fortunately, political theorist Yoram Hazony recently wrote The Virtue of Nationalism where he attempted to define and present a persuasive argument in favor of nationalism.  This was a worthy goal as nationalism is currently a popular political ideology.  The time is right for a book that defines nationalist and coherently and consistently makes the case for it.  Unfortunately, The Virtue of Nationalism is not that book. 

Other reviewers have identified its many problems, so instead of writing another review, I’m going to list some ridiculous claims that Hazony makes in his book and some of the logical implications of those claims.  Those claims and implications are numbered below and come from his book and I identify them as one or the other.  They are my summaries of his claims and NOT direct quotes.

1.  Nationalists can’t do the bad things that nationalists are most known for, according to Hazony’s definition.

Early in his book, Hazony wrote that he “will not waste time trying to make nationalism prettier by calling it ‘patriotism,’ as many do in circles where nationalism is considered something unseemly.”  True to his word, Hazony wasted zero-time conflating nationalism and patriotism, the latter being different and mostly positive.  He just wasted most of his book arguing that any nation-state that attempts to conquer other nations is not really a nation-state. 

According to Hazony, a nation is combination of “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) and that “the world is governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference” (3). 

Hazony contrasts nation states with imperialist states that have universal ideals that he claims leads to conquest.  Thus, nation-states cannot seek to conquer other nation-states as that would make them imperialist states because they do not respect the independent course of other nations.  According to Hazony, a state cannot be a nation-state and imperialist (dominating or seeking to dominate other nations) at the same time due to his unique definition that conveniently excludes the “bad” nation-states.  In my reading of the literature on nationalism, historian Douglas Porch was more likely correct when he wrote: “Colonialism was not, as Lenin claimed, ‘the highest stage of capitalism.’ Rather it was the highest stage of nationalism.”

2. Hitler and the Nazis were not nationalists.

Following his definition of nationalism, Hazony repeatedly claims that the Nazis were not really nationalists.  I know of no other serious historian of the Third Reich or other thinkers on nationalism who would go so far as to say that Hitler or the core ideology of the National Socialist German Workers Party weren’t nationalists.  They were, of course, nationalists.  The first point of their political platform was: “We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people’s right to self-determination.”  The evidence that the Nazis considered themselves nationalists, that others considered them nationalists, and that they fit into the scheme of nationalism is so massive that it would be silly to run through it all. 

Hazony should have just argued that not all nationalists are Nazis and that very few of them have achieved or even attempted to achieve that level of evil – which would be perfectly reasonable and true statement!  Not all nationalists are Nazis (very few are, in fact), so this would have been a very reasonable acknowledgment for him to make that would barely even rise to the level of a concession.  Carlton Hayes wrote a useful taxonomy of nationalism with Nazism on one extreme and liberal nationalism on the other.  There was no need for Hazony to make the blatantly false historical claim that the Nazi’s weren’t nationalists in order to argue in support of nationalism in the modern world.

3. Europe has never had nation-states, even during the age of nationalism.

This is an implication of Hazony’s unique definition of nationalism and nation-states, not something that Hazony explicitly wrote in his book.  According to his unique definition, there were no nation-states in the so-called age of nationalism in Europe.  During the age of European nationalist in the 19th and 20th centuries, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, and other nation-states were imperialists too.  They conquered colonies and overseas territories populated by non-nationals that they ruled with ghastly humanitarian consequences.

If Nazi Germany was not nationalist because it conquered other countries, then surely those European nation-states in the age of nationalism were also not nationalist because they conquered other countries.  I asked Hazony about this and his response was unsatisfying (Figure 1). 

Figure 1

Twitter Exchange Between Yoram Hazony and Alex Nowrasteh

 

 Source: Alex Nowrasteh’s Twitter Account on September 19, 2018.

 4.  Nationalism has nothing to do with race or ethnicity (page 20 of his book).

Hazony makes this claim specifically about the ancient Israelites.  I’m not a Torah scholar so he may be correct in that specific case.  However, many other nation-states are explicitly defined by ethnicity.  The Latin root of nationalism is natio, which means tribe, ethnic group, race, breed, or other divisions by birth.  Hazony’s definition that a nation-state forms from “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” is highly correlated with ethnicity, to say nothing of the historical inaccuracy of his theory.  There is much research arguing that there is a link between ethnicity and nation. 

Hazony could have argued that nation-states can also be formed by civic attachments too, thus widening the definition as many modern scholars do so they can avoid the ugly implications of arguing for a race- or ethnicity-based nation-state.  However, Hazony specifically wrote that nations formed along civic lines are systematically unstable and impossible to hold together, at best temporary, and that they function poorly relative to nation-states created with the ethnicity-correlated attributes above (156-157).  The United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are four wealthy states that are functioning very well despite not being nation-states under his strict definition.

5.  Nation-states are governed by consent, not coercion. 

 Hazony makes this claim several times in his book.  Nation-states have police, courts, military, and other institutions to coerce individual compliance with its law and rules just as every government does.  Perhaps governments in nation-states require less coercion to govern well as they are more homogeneous, thus theoretically making it easier to reach more broadly held policy consensuses that require less coercion.  But that would be an empirical claim that Hazony does not address that is doubtful given the large and complex legal enforcement apparatuses of nation-states.     

6.  Tribes voluntarily combined to form modern nation-states.

As mentioned earlier, Hazony claims that nations are formed by tribes that voluntary combined.  Economic historian Mark Koyama thoroughly debunked this claim far better than I could have, so please read his review.  My only additional comment on this is that a thorough listing and description of all the historical situations where Hazony’s claim does not hold would fill many, many volumes and describe the history of virtually every country.  

We are living in a time of renewed nationalism.  Whether this is a temporary blip or a long-term shift remains to be seen, but there is a scarcity of modern books, articles, or other writings that can competently explain that political ideology and make the case for it.  Hazony’s book fails for many reasons, but his insistence on defining nationalism in such a specific way that excludes virtually all nation-states that have ever existed should be a big red flag to anybody interested in this topic.

What Is Nationalism and What Does it Mean for Liberty?

From President Donald Trump to the rise of new nationalist political parties in Europe to a general resurgence of the term in recent years, nationalism seems to be on the march.  Nationalism is a political movement that has made major inroads in recent years while preaching a message of immigration restrictionism, trade protectionism, and a stronger government devoted to defending citizens from (mostly) imaginary harms.  But besides some policy positions and a style of governance, there is not a good working definition of nationalism widely used in popular discourse and there is almost no attempt to distinguish it from patriotism.  My base assumption was that nationalism must be something more than crude jingoistic tribalism, but few ventured beyond that.  Those reasons prompted me to read several thousand pages on the topic – and I learned quite a bit.  Below are some lessons I learned and a useful taxonomy of different types of nationalism.

North Korea: One Nation under Kim

In a comprehensive article on the comprehensive 1984-like propaganda efforts of North Korea, Anna Fifield reports on some underlying themes:

Tatiana Gabroussenko, an expert on North Korean literature who teaches at Korea University in Seoul, said that by not allowing people to form their own opinions, North Korea infantilizes its citizens.

“North Korea molds children socially,” Gabroussenko said. Books for different generations have different styles but the same message and characters, sometimes involving South Korean “stooges” or American “beasts.”

“In the children’s version, a child will be fighting Americans by throwing pepper in their eyes and making them sneeze and cough,” Gabroussenko said. In the adult version, weapons, rather than condiments, are used.

“The message ‘We are one nation’ implies that you can’t rebel against your father, you can’t rebel about your government, that it’s important to stick together,” she said.

North Korea’s totalitarianism may be unique, exceeding even that in the Soviet Union and Cuba, though perhaps reminiscent of Maoist China. So one must be careful not to draw too many analogies between the Kim cult and the efforts of political leaders anywhere else.

Service to the American People or to the American State?

One of the most persistent utopian visions over the last century and more is national service. By “national service” proponents never mean service to Americans. The United States long has been famous for the willingness of its people to organize to help one another and respond to social problems. Alexis de Tocqueville cited this activism as one of the hallmarks of the early American republic.

Rather, advocates of “national service” mean service to the state. To be sure, they believe the American people would benefit. But informal, decentralized, private service doesn’t count.

The latest proponent is columnist Michael Gerson, one-time speechwriter for “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush. Wrote Gerson:

How then does a democracy cultivate civic responsibility and shared identity? Taxation allows us to fund common purposes, but it does not provide common experiences. A rite of passage in which young people — rich and poor, liberal and conservative, of every racial background — work side by side to address public problems would create, at least, a vivid, lifelong memory of shared national purpose.

To Gerson’s credit, he does not advocate a mandatory program, where people would go to jail if they didn’t desire to share the national purpose exalted by their betters. But many people, from Margaret Mead to Senator Ted Kennedy, did want a civilian draft. Indeed, a number of noted liberals who campaigned against military conscription were only too happy to force the young into civilian “service.” 

The GOP’s Insipid American Exceptionalism

I’ve had it with “American exceptionalism.” Enough already.

The phrase has garnered a considerable amount of attention lately, namely because Republicans are saying it over and over again. The Atlantic points out that the term itself was coined by Joseph Stalin, lamenting America’s inability to go communist (cf. Louis Hartz). Of course, the concept that America was different than Europe goes back at least to Tocqueville, but is it too much to ask that we recall Tocqueville was writing nearly 200 years ago? Might we not pause, at least momentarily, to reconsider the argument from authority and subject it to a bit of scrutiny?

I complained about the pervasive theme at the Republican convention in my podcast yesterday, and Alex Massie holds forth against the exceptionally exceptionalistic speechifying at Foreign Policy today. Republicans—and the rest of us—ought to just shut up about exceptionalism already. As it stands now, a few word substitutions could make Herder or Fichte feel right at home at a GOP convention. We ought not to like this.

Encouraging citizens to reify, then flutter with excitement at the uniqueness of their own “imagined community” lubricates both the administrative capacity of and enthusiasm for the Great American Welfare/Warfare State that is presently bankrupting our unborn children. Those of us who would like a bit more federalism, veering toward sectionalism even, do so realizing that this would create downward pressure on the centralization of our lives in the body of the national government. (“Who is this fellow 2,000 miles away from me and why should I subsidize his career and pay his flood insurance and pension?”) That the disgrace of slavery accompanied the last era of sectionalism in this country is no reason to throw out the concept itself.

Bizarrely, the GOP married this nationalistic theme with an ostensible concern for how America is viewed across the world. Might we not consider that the world finds this constant self-congratulation unseemly and perhaps even dangerous? Imagine your coworker, or neighbor, or spouse, constantly parading about, preening and pronouncing that he is the greatest person ever to have been made and marveling at how lucky are those subject to his ministrations. Any impartial observer would forgive you for nudging him off a pier, and all the more so if he were, in fact, great.

This is perhaps the saddest part of the whole garish spectacle. The United States is a great country. Take a look around you. Saying it over and over again doesn’t make it any more so; in fact it makes it less. All the bleating about our exceptionalism from our leaders is enough to make you think that they don’t really believe it. The party doth protest too much, methinks.

The next time your would-be ruler holds forth about exceptionalism, remind yourself what Mencken said:

Democratic man, as I have remarked, is quite unable to think of himself as a free individual; he must belong to a group, or shake with fear and loneliness—and the group, of course, must have its leaders. It would be hard to find a country in which such brummagem serene highnesses are revered with more passionate devotion than they get in the United States. The distinction that goes with mere office runs far ahead of the distinction that goes with actual achievement.

That’s what this is all about: If we allow the other party or candidate to insert its peculiar and grotesque proboscides into our homes, wallets, and lives—well, we’ll be just that much less exceptional.

Much more in the podcast:

Finns Begin a Quixotic Quest for Prevention

In the aftermath of the Oslo terror attack, Finnish police—yes, Finnish—plan to increase their surveillance of the Internet:

Deputy police commissioner Robin Lardot said his forces will play closer attention to fragmented pieces of information—known as ‘weak signals’—in case they connect to a credible terrorist threat.

That is not the way forward. As I explored in a series of posts and a podcast after the Fort Hood shooting here in the United States, random violence (terrorist or otherwise) is not predictable and not “findable” in advance—not if a free society is to remain free, anyway. That’s bad news, but it’s important to understand.

In the days since the attack, many commentators have poured a lot of energy into interpretation of Oslo and U.S. media treatment of it while the assumption of an al Qaeda link melted before evidence that it was a nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic “cultural conservative.” Such commentary and interpretation is riveting to people who are looking to vindicate or decimate one ideology or another, but it doesn’t matter much in terms of security against future terrorism.

As former FBI agent (and current ACLU policy counsel) Mike German advises, any ideology can become a target of the government if the national security bureaucracy comes to use political opinion or activism as a proxy or precursor for crime and terrorism. Rather than blending crime control with mind control, the only thing to do is to watch ever-searchingly for genuine criminal planning and violence, and remember the Oslo dead as Lt. General Cone did Fort Hood’s: “The … community shares your sorrow as we move forward together in a spirit of resiliency.”

Two Cheers for Iraqi Nationalism

What Does This Mean? (Reuters/Ceerwan Aziz)

What Does This Mean? (Reuters/Ceerwan Aziz)

Today’s New York Times has a piece on the running discussion in Iraq about the prospect of U.S. military withdrawal from their country. As the article highlights, the discussion itself “reflects a nation still struggling with issues of sectarian identity, national pride, and how to secure its future.”

One of the few things former President Bush said about Iraq that I agreed with was his claim on Al Arabiya in 2005 that “the future of Iraq depends on Iraqi nationalism and the Iraq character—the character of Iraq and Iraqi people emerging.”

In general, I am not very fond of nationalism, but if you want to hold together a country of 25 million people, especially when they have been riven by decades of sectarian strife, a living-memory civil war, a variety of identity politics divides, and disputes over the rents from natural resources, you could probably use some. (Maybe we could find a way that a very diverse coalition of Iraqis could chase us out.)

As the article indicates, there are a range of views about the prospect of American withdrawal. One Iraqi remarks hopefully that “I prefer that the U.S. forces leave Iraq because then extremists wouldn’t have an excuse to carry guns.” A follower of Muqtada al-Sadr remarks that “Whatever [Sadr] says, we will do. We will keep on resisting until the last days of our lives.” An intellectual remarks that if American military forces leave, “the sectarian conflict between Iran and the rest of the Arab countries will seep into Iraq because the Iranians will try and make the Shiites more powerful and the Arab countries will support the Sunnis. This will lead to a sectarian war.”

Several of the Iraqis interviewed were profoundly cynical about American intentions, believing that the United States would try to stick around for various selfish reasons. At a time when political leaders like Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. John Boehner, and others are suggesting that we need to find a way to stay in their country, can you really blame the Iraqis for feeling a bit cynical?

Regardless, the future of Iraq will ultimately turn on whether Iraqis decide that there is such a thing as Iraq, and if so, whether they should identify strongly with it and be loyal to it. The fact that the jury is still out on those questions more than eight years after we changed the regime speaks volumes about the folly of the war in the first place.