Do We Need More Nationalism?


Yoram Hazony, the president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem and the author of The Virtue of Nationalism, believes that we do.

Here is a taste of his piece at Time:


Today, we hear the sloppy, misconceived term “white nationalism” more often than we hear about American nationalism. And whenever the term nationalism is raised, it is often quickly conflated with racism. For instance, at an Oct. 23 rally, President Donald Trump declared that he was a nationalist. He used the term in contrast with globalist, who he called “a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly not caring about our country so much.” Many commentators quickly deplored the President’s statement as a dog-whistle admission that he truly supports “white nationalism,” once again suppressing legitimate debate over the value of American nationalism, while insisting that racialist “white nationalism” is what we really should be talking about.

This is a problem. Because it’s American nationalism that the U.S. needs right now. Never in our lifetimes have we seen America’s various tribes so divided, so intolerant of one another, so quick to delegitimize and even threaten violence. The mutual loyalty that has bound Americans together as a nation seems like it is disappearing. The bitter argument over ongoing large-scale immigration is only a proxy for this deeper issue: Can Americans ever unite again around a shared national story? Can they ever see themselves as brothers again?

Read the rest here.

5 thoughts on “Do We Need More Nationalism?

  1. The difficulty we have is that most of our professional-managerial class (and many of their dependents and hangers-on) is hostile to the vernacular majority. The appropriate response to that is to take their toys away from them: the public subsidies, the regulatory rents, the conduits of influence, the guild privileges.


  2. I like your post. I am covering the 19th century in my World Civ II course right now and was discussing nationalism with the students on Monday. Talk about timing! Your post is excellent in that it shows us once again how complex history is. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire is a complex subject and one that I fear gets shorted a great deal in textbooks, as well as nationalism and its place in today’s world.


  3. At the risk of being pedantic, I make a distinction between “patriotism” and “nationalism,” the former being (in my little subjective mental environment) a positive descriptor of a shared sense of community and identity, and the latter which I see as more or less the same thing but with an important exclusionary dimension – the “Us vs. Them” part that feeds human tribalism.

    I share Yoram Hazony’s desire for greater emphasis on what unites us as Americans rather than what divides us. I suspect that one impetus behind the increased partisanship we’re seeing nowadays is a by-product of us moving generationally out of the two World Wars’ shadow; only fifty (+) years after the Civil War, the country became ensnared in two dramatic global events which created an urgency and sense of national peril that helped transcend and blur the divisions of the Civil War era, and foster a greater sense of American-ness, both on the home front and as millions of soldiers from across the country found themselves jumbled together, sharing experiences in dramatic events. The Cold War helped perpetuate that shared sense of American identity. With the passing of the Cold War in 1989-1991, the outside world has receded somewhat from American popular culture (including news headlines).
    9/11 is a stark exception, but one that seemingly has been portrayed popularly as an external intrusion and in that way has actually helped fuel the revival of traditional insular social tendencies in American society – the old isolationist impulse. The United States is a mixed nation comprised of “input” from the world over, but its core political and social fabric is fundamentally British (per David Hackett Fischer), and Britain itself is an island nation with its own struggles with social insularity and isolationist tendencies (Exhibit A: Brexit), preferring to view the English Channel as a civilizational border as much as a political one. Should it be surprising that the U.S., an offspring of Britain, should similarly have an island-type mentality?

    More directly to the point about nationalism: Nationalism is a relatively new phenomenon in Western societies, giving birth to nation-states in the 18th and 19th centuries. Our modern world is so thoroughly organized around nation-states politically and economically that we are often baffled when groups adhere to tribal, clan, regional or caste loyalties. Similarly, globalism seems insidious and unnatural to some today, possibly a dastardly Trojan Horse invented by Walmart or Wall Street, though globalism has long been a key driver in Eurasian history. Russia’s origins, for example, lay in Scandinavian Vikings traversing the Don, Volga and Dnieper Rivers to trade with Byzantines and Arabs on the far side of the Black and Caspian seas. The early 15th century Ming Treasure Fleets connected eastern Africa and southern Asia to China. How many Americans today make the connection between the rise of both Moghul India and the Ottoman Empire with Columbus? Classic American isolationist President Jefferson learned a lesson in globalism when he was reluctantly forced to use his predecessor’s navy to protect American merchants in the Mediterranean. (A reading of the treaties ending the American Revolution also underscore its global connections; these treaties included territorial changes in India, the Caribbean and Africa, as well as navigational issues in what are today Malaysia and Indonesia.)

    But back to nationalism – some modern French historians believe that France (the nation) only came into being sometime in the late 17th century, during King Louis XIV’s incessant wars. A French state had arisen in medieval times out of the wreckage of Charlemagne’s empire, but a real French ethnic and/or national identity did not spread until the advent of modern times, in the Age of Enlightenment. The point is arguable, but it speaks to just how extraordinary the creation of the United States was decades later in the late 18th century. Over the 18th and 19th centuries national and ethnic awareness spread across Europe, in many respects a by-product of the spread of universal education and literacy as well as improved travel and transportation technologies. But the rise of nationalism also led to new waves of violence across Europe, because national identity became linked with the need for representative states, and the popular assumption was that each ethnic state – nation-state – had to rule over every territory its ethnic group lived, or had lived. This ignored the reality that Europe is chock-full of overlap regions where multiple ethnic and religious groups live and co-mingle. Terrorism, both private and state-sponsored, became endemic (as well as its counter-part, anti-state terrorism; anarchism). Peoples who had lived for centuries among one another suddenly claimed exclusive domain over the land.

    Sorry for the length but this term “nationalism” evokes so much history, far beyond the narrow American context that has been kicked around the past couple days. So, a quick example. The Habsburgs were a family who rose in prominence from a region along the modern Swiss-German border, and by the 13th century were able to seize control over Europe’s then most powerful state, the German imperial confederation known as the Holy Roman Empire. This was the Habsburg family’s primary political vehicle for centuries through the late Middle Ages, until the Holy Roman Empire was gutted by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), at which point the Habsburgs slowly transitioned their political fortunes to one of the lands in the Holy Roman Empire, Austria. The Holy Roman Empire officially died in 1806 at Napoleon’s hand and the Austrian Empire was born – after 1867, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As most standard history textbooks tell us, this empire, beset by the rise of national awareness among its many minorities, somehow staggered into the 20th century, only to die pathetically in World War I. And there is truth in this approach.

    But the standard narrative throughout the 20th century was that the Habsburg state – the Austro-Hungarian Empire in its final incarnation – was some medieval relic that deserved its death in 1918, and was replaced by the much more rational and modern successor nation-states of Central and Eastern Europe: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Romania, and chunks of what would become Soviet Ukraine and Belarus. But more recently, some historians have been looking at the old Habsburg beast differently. The Habsburg state had been a leader in universal education, but many of its successor states could not afford to maintain the same high educational standards. The Habsburg state also had created a single market with few internal tariffs or trade barriers, a reality that hit the successor states’ economies hard in the 1920s and 30s as they each erected tolls, bureaucratic controls and protectionist trade policies, blocking each other from historic markets. Living standards across the region fell dramatically in the 1920s and 30s. One historian mentions how trade on the Danube River (which passes through ten countries today) fell in the 1920s to less than one-sixth its 1914 levels, and wouldn’t recover to those levels until the 1990s. Ante Trumbić, a Croatian lawyer who played a prominent role in the creation of Yugoslavia, later in his life (in the 1930s) as he watched Serbs and Croats squabble endlessly in his new creation, publicly declared that the destruction of the Habsburg state by its many component people’s was a big mistake – that they should have instead worked from inside to reform it. The point isn’t to bemoan the demise of the Habsburg state; when it died in 1918, it had almost no defenders, including in Austria. But I wanted to show that the popular 20th century narrative that nation-states and their attendant nationalism are somehow “modern” and inevitable is faulty, and worthy of re-examination. In many respects, for all its faults, the modern European Union is trying to recreate many facets of the old Habsburg state.

    This is why I have some hesitation about this term, “nationalism.” It is linked to so much violence in Europe over the 20th century, which ought to give anyone pause about mindlessly touting it. I don’t know what President Trump meant when he declared himself a nationalist. Maybe he meant something more akin to what I define as patriotism. I have to give him the benefit of a doubt. I disagree with his fear of globalism, but that’s a different argument. My fear of nationalism is that it has such a lengthy history of mindless support for state policies in Europe, and not just exclusion but often outright rejection and violence against “The Other” – those who do not fit our (highly idealized) definition of ourselves.

    Sorry again for the length and the rambling nature of this post, but it was all tied into my fear of this term, and what it means to those who use it, and hear it.

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