Review – Hazony, “The Virtue of Nationalism”

The fatuous, in-app-purchase-requiring 4x game of the contemporary nationalist imagination

Yoram Hazony, “The Virtue of Nationalism” (2018) – I should probably stop reading books on the idea that the contemporary twerp-right is reading them, all on a throwaway line in a half-remembered article in the Atlantic or the New Republic or somewhere, shouldn’t I? I doubt this Hazony guy is really hot stuff on the right, at least the part of it I should pay attention to. Whatever nonsense is in here, Hazony is too moderate, too polisci, and let’s not forget too Jewish for an increasingly bloodthirsty and openly antisemitic right. The kid name-checking him in that article probably just liked the title. I’ve seen a lot of that. You can’t tell me all these idiots on goodreads, or the morons on the other side of the line when we deal with local Nazis, have actually read Evola’s “Revolt Against the Modern World.” They just like the title, and stick with it despite Evola having written numerous books that are also fascist nonsense but are pitched more at their level. This is not a thoughtful time on the right.

Anyway- Hazony plays the usual polisci calvinball of making up whatever categories he wants and foisting them on the entirety of history to make some dumb presentist point. There’s three ways of arranging sovereignty, he informs us: “tribes and clans,” where no one has loyalty beyond an immediate in-group and it’s a war of all against all; nation-states, little culturally-bound units with discrete borders and governments; and empires, which swallow up nationalities and subject all to the rule of some overarching sovereign. The real choice in front of us, Hazony informs us, is between nationalism and imperialism, these days, the imperialism of super-national bodies and ideologies: the EU, global liberalism, Islam, Marxism comes in but more as an example from the past.

Well, this is obviously stupid, and moreover, Hazony seems to get that, does so much hand-waving he could probably fly from his home in Israel to Brussels to tell the eurocrats how naughty they are. One big hand wave is that you only get nation-state status if you’re “strong enough.” Ahh! Well, ok then. That sorts that. He hand-waves the imperialism practiced by more or less every nation-state on earth, sometime in its history and usually in its present. That’s different, and basically ok (“hear that, Palestinians!!”). You get to do that when you’re a political scientist! There’s a huffing and puffing appeal to the “common sense” of people who have grown up with national sovereignty as a basic principle, and pretty gratuitously whacky claims, like that the Old Testament enshrines the nation-state form specifically.

What all this adds up to is one of two things: I think Hazony might have meant it as an appeal to the center; or, part of an intellectual fig leaf for the right, like that boy in the article would have in mind. But the center is shrinking and paralyzed, and increasingly, the right, from the “national conservatives” to open Nazis to Zionism, dispenses with fig leaves altogether. Among other things, they can’t make up their mind between Hazony’s three categories. They say they like nationalism, and some of them do, but seemingly on the basis that nation-states are the playable factions of the 4x or miniature battle game they think life either is or should be. But many of those same people clearly prefer tribal/clan models, or imperial models, or… it’s almost like sovereignty isn’t a “solved problem” with discrete categories but rather a set of techniques and priorities! 

I give Hazony a little credit, but just a little, because sovereignty really isn’t a solved problem. Every now and again, a leftist looking to make a point, and they can come from the heights of the academy or the dregs of the Internet, crops up to crow about our lack of grounds on this issue, like a fat house cat bringing you a rubber band it caught but generally not cute. Well, they’re not wrong, though their solutions, which usually amount to “embrace nationalism, it’s fine,” generally are. At the same time, slapping one category on top of another like a trump — “class beats nationality, haha!” — clearly doesn’t do either. We might want it to be that way but in practice it doesn’t work. Hazony won’t help anyone clarify anything. But, unlike a lot of my readings on the right, especially contemporary ones, he’s at least in the neighborhood of an actual question, and in this category, I take the consolations I can get. **

Review – Hazony, “The Virtue of Nationalism”

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