Book Review: The Virtue of Nationalism


Thursday, February 13, 2020

The United States, and the world at-large, needs nationalism—or so says Israeli political philosopher and chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation Yoram Hazony in his book The Virtue of Nationalism

With the election of President Donald Trump in America and Brexit in the United Kingdom, nationalism is on the rise across the globe. This comes much to the bewilderment and the derangement of political pundits on both sides of the aisle. To them, nationalism represents racism and backwardness. To Hazony nationalism represents freedom, independence, and the right to self-determination. 

Hazony believes nationalism is a “principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference.” Nationalism is opposed by imperialism. Hazony defines imperialism as a political theory “which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind, as much as possible, under a single political regime.”

He sees imperialism as an attempt by classical and modern liberals to create a world empire dominated by either the United States, the United Nations, or the European Union under the leadership of Germany. This is because these “globalists” have been inspired by a wicked German philosopher, Immanual Kant. Kant desired an international state that rules over all. This has led to “liberal imperialism” that has stopped individual countries from pursuing their own interests and their own right to self-determination. 

Instead, nationalism is the best way to organize society because every nation has their own “clan” or “tribe” that is unique to each nation and to each people. Each of these clans/tribes have their own special backgrounds, which they pass down to the next generation as a cultural inheritance unique to each. These small clans decide to come together, forming a nation. According to Hazony, “It is out of such small units that larger-scale political institutions of every kind are built.” Each nation has their own form of cultural inheritance brought about by their background and history, making each nation a unique enterprise.

Concerning international relations, nationalism may be the best way in which the world should be ordered. Hazony is right when he says that each nation should be sovereign. He is also correct in his skepticism towards the European Union as another attempt for world domination. However, he is wrong when he states that values such as liberty are not universal.

He claims that “British and American concepts of individual liberty are not universals that can be immediately understood by everyone, as is often claimed.” In addition, he asserts that the United States should shy away from standing up for human rights and oppression throughout the world. “Our interest is…to allow the nations, insofar as this is possible, to pursue aspirations that are original to them. We will not be enamored with what every nation does with its freedom.”

But what about when a “free” nation commits horrific human rights violations, such as in 1994 when the Rwandan Hutus were committing genocide against the Tutsis? Or the ethnic cleansing of the Albanians in Yugoslavia in 1999? Or what about the chemical attacks against rebels in Syria today? Does the United States, with all of its power and leadership, have a responsibility to stand down in the name of nationalism? Unfortunately, his answer would be yes. 

What does nationalism mean for American politics? Hazony’s answer is not quite clear. However, it is clear that using nationalism in American politics can be a threat to federalism and the individual rights that Americans hold so dear. By thinking of the “nation” as like a family, it is implied that one should look to Washington as the solver of all problems. Conservatism is, or at least should be, entirely opposed to any attempt to look to Washington for anything. It should instead desire to place its focus on building up local institutions and civil society.

The Virtue of Nationalism is a great book in understanding another viewpoint on how world politics should be understood. However, Hazony leaves many questions unanswered, and at times he cannot decide whether or not certain actions taken by the American or British “empires” are good or bad. Nor can he tolerate differing opinions as anything but a globalist wanting to create a world empire, whether that is the intention or not. His understanding of American politics and political theory is fairly decent, and he cannot decide whether nationalism should be focused in the area of international relations only, or also practiced here in the United States. Nevertheless, The Virtue of Nationalism is an important book for comprehending today’s politics, and it is one every conservative should read and consider. 

Jonathan Kirk is a junior Political Science and Public Policy Leadership double major at Ole Miss. He hopes to one day have a career in politics serving his country as an elected official.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Jonathan Kirk

Jonathan Kirk is a junior Political Science and Public Policy Leadership double major at Ole Miss. He hopes to one day have a career in politics serving his country as an elected official.

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