The Virtue of Nationalism – Book Review

A Review of Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism

The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony advocates for national freedom as opposed to imperialism. Hazony seeks to show how the Bible sets the vision for a world of independent nations. The overall thesis of the book is that the world is governed best when nations are able to freely determine their own independent course, nurture their own traditions, and pursue their own interest without external interferences. According to Hazony, the new liberalism is imperialistic and has started restricting the basic freedoms of many nations. Contrastingly, nationalism entails the collective freedom to make choice and free-determination by a nation. Bottom line, Hazony advocates for nationalism explaining that it seeks to establish a world of truly free and independent nations.

Hazony divides the book into three parts: Nationalism and Western Freedom, The Case for the National State, and Anti-Nationalism and Hate. In part one – Nationalism and Western Freedom, the book lays out an argument asserting a biblical origin for nationalism in ancient Israel. According to Hazony, in an age of empires aspiring for universality (Persia, Rome, Babylon, and Egypt), Israel stood alone as a nation expressly forbidden by God to take other peoples’ lands but instead remain within its own borders. Hazony further elaborates that the biblical nationalism did not sit well with Roman Christianity came back with Protestantism in the Westphalia settlement (Hazony, 2018). Regarding the Biblical reference of the concept of nationalism by a state, Hazony is right. In Deuteronomy 2:4-19, God explicitly tells the Israelites not to expand their territory into that of neighboring nations. Moreover, Israel’s prophets frequently voiced their concern regarding the activities of the imperialistic empires such as Assyria, Persia, Babylon, and Egypt.

The second part – The Case for the National State, presents two interesting arguments. The first one is that nation-state is plausible historical compromise between tribal society and the global imperium. Given the two extremes, the nation-state stands out as the only political organization that best meets the competing human desires for freedom and belonging, and peace based on rule of law. The second argument postulates that variety among the social systems established in different nations serve as a global experiment that enable people to assess the strengths and weaknesses inherent in in them. Basing his argument on evolutionary theory and chaos theory, Hazony hypothesize that optimum outcomes are best achieved when there are competing alternatives. The argument is against the uniformity advocated by internationalism, which beneath the surface breeds rebellion (Hazony, 2018). Whereas this argument is to a degree plausible, it is not entirely correct. Nationalism is a compromise between the two extremes and is well-suited to satisfy the competing human desire for belongingness, freedom and peace. Nationalism provides nations freedom of self-determination, as a result, addressing the said needs (Baumann, 2020). Nationalism facilitates democracy and answers the wish of the sovereign people. However, the claim that optimum political outcomes will be achieved when there competing alternatives is questionable. Nations, especially in today’s outstandingly interconnected world, need to maintain diplomatic relations. Availability of alternative forms of governments all over the world established due to the freedom of nations to become self-determining is most likely to compromise the peace stemming from the diplomatic relationships (Statkus, 2019).

In the third part – Anti-Nationalism and Hate, Hazony argues that liberal internationalism is not straightforward positive agenda since beneath the surface it is an imperialist ideology that promulgates anti-nationalism hate. Hazony further elucidates that globalists are aggressively intolerant of cultural particularism and, as such, promotes hate and mistreatment of minorities. According to Hazony, nation-states are better suited to protect individual rights, especially minorities (Hazony, 2018). Whereas it is true that nations are well suited to protect the interests and rights of minorities, the statement regarding globalists promoting hate and mistreatment of minorities is arguable. Ateeque (2018), contradicts the argument that nation-states are well-placed to protect minorities citing evidence from nations that have refused to embrace universalism. Ateeque explains that research show that these nations have comparably less tolerance for divergent worldviews and, therefore, are more likely to mistreat minorities. Furthermore, the existence of international human rights which is a direct result of internationalism renders Hazony’s claim questionable (Ware, 2019).

Personal Opinion

            The model proposed by Hazony has both strengths and weaknesses. On the upside, nationalism is likely to promote freedom of nations to be self-determining. Additionally, nationalism will help preserve nations’ unique cultural heritage and allow them to base their laws and policies on their culture. Moreover, considering that the wars of the 20th century were a product of empires, free and independent nations are unlikely to take the same route. War between such minimal entities is likely to limited, local, and arguably easily mediated by neighboring countries.

            On the downside, there are troubling ethical aspects of Hazony’s proposed model. The idea of non-interference in the affairs of other nations poses a threat to fundamental human rights. Even in the 21st century the world has seen horrors inflicted to innocent populations due to internal wars within nations. For instance, internal clashes in the Middle East have seen many innocent people lose their lives and the life of many others destroyed. In such instances, it is only right that other nations interfere to prevent further deterioration. Hazony also fails to explain whether in his proposed model there is any room for global infrastructure.            

To sum up, The Virtue of Nationalism is a thought provoking book with laudable premise and attractive proposition. It is fertile with ideas and significantly contributes to the debate regarding how well to establish a just order, one that benefits people from all political perspectives. Although the book is not entirely persuasive it has several plausible arguments and sets up the stage for further debate on the issue.

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