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Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of Europe’s most prominent nationalist leaders hail from the nations that fared poorly during Europe’s last imperialist wave. The Polish, Hungarian, and Czech nations have vivid memories of captivity. They appreciate the hard work necessary to preserve national identity while chafing beneath imperial rule — particularly the rule of a universalist empire. Having regained the rights of self-determination and national self-expression only recently, they are loath to hand it over quietly. Across the EU, nationalism is on the rise among the masses who can’t recall ever agreeing to relinquish — much less to denigrate — the national symbols and cultures that gave their lives meaning. That anger may have bubbled over first in the UK — in the form of Brexit — but similar movements are likely to arise elsewhere, soon.

For his exemplar of a successful nation, Hazony turns to the Hebrew Bible. Unlike Homer’s focus on heroic individuals, the Bible tells the story of a heroic nation — the Nation of Israel. Moses, a secretly-Israelite Prince of Egypt, retrieves the captive nation of his birth from its enslavement in the empire that adopted him. He spends 40 years in the desert building 12 tribes into a coherent nation bound for the national homeland that is its birthright. More importantly, Moses provides the young nation with purpose, definition, and meaning. The Israelites bond with the one true God, and master intricate rules and rituals that make them unique. Moses never suggests that any other nation adopt the Israelite rites or symbols. In fact, the Bible is clear. When it comes to the non-Israelite nations, it commands only a code of basic decency, the seven Noahide laws.

Through wars, alliances, and betrayals spanning the centuries between Moses and David, the Israelite nation encounters many other nations — Amorites, Edomites, Amalekites, Philistines, etc. Each of those nations has its own (false) gods, with whom it has developed a special relationship. False or not, each god makes demands on its own people. Each nation has its own rituals, adheres to its own legal codes, displays its own national symbols, and claims its own territory.
Even at their most successful, the Israelites remain a nation rather than form an empire. David founds a unified kingdom that splits in two the moment his grandson increases an already high tax burden. From there, the Biblical saga follows the relationship between the two states of the Israelite nation and the God that defines them, tracking the times that the Israelites remain true to their distinct national character and those in which they stray to emulate other nations.

The Biblical narrative ends where it began — with the Israelite nation captive of a multi-ethnic empire. Following an extended period of infidelity to the true God at the heart of their national self-definition, the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires subsume the Israelites. Before the canon closes, the conquered Israelite nation experiences both the worst and best fortunes of captive nations. The genocidal downside arises when Haman, Viceroy of a Persian Empire spanning 127 nations from India to Ethiopia, complains: “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of th[e] kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king’s laws; therefore it profiteth not the king to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed.” Shortly after they escape that fate, Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites to return to their homeland and rebuild some of their national institutions — as loyal minority subjects of his Empire.
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Lawrence James
August 31st, 2018
9:08 AM
The suggestion that 'imperialism' was and is a deadly sin is at best naif and at worst ridiculous. It would have astonished Spanish Catholics and British Protestants who warmly endorsed their countries' empires as instruments for conversion. Modern imperialism grew out of European and American nationalism. America's 'Manifest Destiny' and France's 'mission civilatrice' were expressions of national identity and virtue. As for the nature of empires,the most recent did spread the European scientific and intellectual enlightenment, established civil peace and stability and raised standards of living. In 1880 life expectancy in Africa was about 30 and in 1960 it nearing 60. There were of course cruel and exploitative empires - the Japanese and the Italian - but there were also the generous and benevolent - the British and French. The former has produced Canada, Australia, New Zealand,and, dare one say it, India. Failed'Nation states' such as Burma, Somalia and the Sudan would benefit from a revival of imperial government. As for nationalism, its offshoots are fear and loathing of the other and a mean insularity - emotions which sadly broke surface during the Brexit campaign.

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