Tag: Nationalism

This Month at Cato Unbound: Neoconservatism Unmasked

This month, Cato Unbound examines neoconservatism – perhaps the most puzzling of current ideologies. The lead essay is from Professor C. Bradley Thompson, author of Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea.

So what is it? Some say there’s no there there – neoconservatism is a disposition or a mood, no more and no less, and it’s got little or no enduring philosophical content. Thompson, however, argues that neoconservatism is a coherent political philosophy, one blending Machiavellian pragmatism with Platonic idealism. Philosophers may apprehend eternal truths, but these truths aren’t fit for ordinary folk, and still less are they a good basis for politics. In these realms, we need national unity, national greatness, national strength – in a word, nationalism.

Is this an accurate portrayal? Some will certainly disagree, and we’ve invited three distinguished panelists to engage Thompson’s thesis – Patrick J. Deneen of Georgetown University, Damon Linker of The New Republic, and Douglas B. Rasmussen of St. John’s University. Be sure to come back throughout the month, or subscribe to our RSS feed to see the conversation as it develops.

Problems with Nationalism?

I try to avoid Sunday morning talk shows like the plague, but somehow I happened to catch five minutes of Fareed Zakaria’s “GPS” show on CNN International.  Elliott Abrams and Peter Beinart were arguing about the Gaza flotilla and Beinart’s New York Review of Books article about liberal Zionism.

What I found interesting about the segment was the exchange between the two men about the argument Beinart made in the article: that many young Jews saw the choice before them not as being between liberal Zionism and conservative Zionism, but rather between conservative Zionism and no Zionism.  Beinart spelled out the argument, and this is what followed:

ZAKARIA: Elliott, you can briefly respond to this, and then we’ve got to go.

ABRAMS: OK. I think it’s quite historical.

What Peter is forgetting, that Jewish liberals have never supported Israel. They didn’t support the founding of the state of Israel. The reform movement was anti-Zionist for decades and decades.

Jewish liberals have a problem with particularism, nationalism, Zionism, and they always have. And it isn’t due to anything that is going on in Israel, it’s due to things that are going on inside their heads. They need to grow up and realize that Israel has a right to defend itself. (emphasis mine)

I’ve included his whole response for context, but I’m only really interested in the italicized part of the argument.  Aren’t all Americans supposed to have problems with nationalism?  Not our own nationalism, of course, which we have re-labeled “exceptionalism.”  But foreign nationalism?  Isn’t that supposed to be pernicious?

The way in which Abrams presented the argument struck me as being a normative claim, not positive.  That is, “particularism, nationalism, and Zionism” were not just things that Jewish liberals have problems with, but rather they were things that Jewish liberals have problems with but should not.

Abrams’ inclusion of Zionism alongside nationalism ought perhaps to caution him about Zionism’s susceptibility to the perils that have plagued other nationalisms through history.

GM’s Nationalization and China’s Capitalists

GM’s restructuring under Chapter 11 includes plans to sell off the Hummer, Saab, and Saturn brands. Well, just one day after GM’s bankruptcy filing, a Chinese firm has come forward with a $500 million offer to purchase Hummer. The prospective buyer is Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co Ltd, a manufacturing company in western China, which hopes to become an automaker.

Not only is the Hummer offer the first bid for a GM asset in bankruptcy, but the bidder is foreign. Not only is the bidder foreign, but Chinese. And not only is the bidder Chinese, but the Hummer was first developed by the U.S. military. Thus, this is certain to be characterized as a national security matter, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will have to review the proposal. There should be little doubt that the economic nationalists will be out in full force, warning CFIUS against transferring sensitive technologies to Red China.

Let me offer two quick points, as the bulging veins in my temples pulsate with disdain for official Washington.

First, if this deal is rejected (even if the bidder is scared away by detractors), any remaining credibility to the proposition that the United States will once again become that beacon on a hill, exemplifying for the world the virtues of free markets and limited government, will vanish into the ether. There has been too much U.S. hypocrisy on free trade and cross-border investment and too much double talk about the impropriety of government subsidizing national champions, that another indiscretion in a high profile case will blow open the already-bowing flood gates to economic nationalism worldwide. Considering that U.S. companies sell five times as much stuff to foreigners through their foreign subsidiaries than by exporting from the United States, investment protectionism is as advisable as nationalizing car companies.

Second, the willingness of this Chinese company to purchase Hummer serves as a stark reminder of what could have been. Had George W. Bush not allocated TARP money to GM last December, in circumvention of Congress’s rejection of a bailout, then GM likely would have filed for bankruptcy on January 1. At that point, there would likely have been plenty of offers from foreign and domestic concerns for individual assets to spin off or for equity stakes in the New GM. There would have been plant closures, dealership terminations, and jobs losses, as there is under the nationalization plan anyway. But taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for $50+ billion, a sum that is much more likely to grow larger than it is to be repaid. It is also a sum that will serve as the rationalization for further government interventions on GM’s behalf.

Your Apropos-of-Nothing Observation of the Day

Fun with juxtaposed quotes:

Durkheim taught that in religious worship, society adores its own camouflaged image. In a nationalist age, societies worship themselves brazenly and openly, spurning the camouflage.

-Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 56.

and

Addressing Congress [in 2003], Bush declared that “the course of this war is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.” A form of religious nationalism permeated the whole address. Bush took words from a hymn, “There’s Power in the Blood,” to refer to the “power, wonder-working power,” of “the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people” — words which in the hymn are used of the lamb, Jesus Christ.

-Anatol Lieven, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 128.

Crazy as I thought those days were at the time, the more you think about it, the crazier they seem. You’d think American Christians would have found this sort of thing mindblowingly offensive. Yet, they sort of seem to have dug it.

Nationalism. Powerful stuff.