You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > Nationalism is not a dirty word

Hazony’s many references to the Bible are well chosen. Few national stories are as widely known. Most of history details the growth, exploits and subsequent decline of empires. Imperial stories span continents and touch many different peoples. National histories tend to be localised and parochial. Outsiders typically find them far less interesting — and for good reason. Many of the critiques of nationalism are well founded: Nationalists are parochial. Their interests are localised. They’re content to accept behaviour among other nations that they consider unacceptable for their own. They assume responsibility for their own co-nationals without feeling remotely responsible for the plight of others. They believe that charity begins at home, and favour those to whom they feel kinship even if others can demonstrate a greater need. They balk at international laws that conflict with their own. They’re more interested in preserving their own right to do things their own way than in adopting universal norms and standards. They’re even OK setting up a rights-based democracy for their own people while living peacefully with authoritarian neighbours. Terrible, thoughtless, cold people, those nationalists.

Yet Hazony still insists that nationalism is a virtue. Note carefully his choice of titles. A book on “the virtues” of nationalism would characterise nationalism as an approach with many upsides. That book is not this book — though Hazony does include ample material about those upsides. No, to Hazony, nationalism itself is “a virtue”.

Philosophers and theologians like to enumerate virtues — characteristics that make people good people and societies good societies. The “Seven Contrary Virtues” were a seventh-century formulation of specific defences against Pope Gregory’s “Seven Deadly Sins”: humility to counter pride, kindness to counter envy, abstinence to counter gluttony, chastity to counter lust, patience to counter anger, liberality to counter greed, and diligence to counter sloth.

Hazony sees nationalism as a virtue in precisely that sense; it is the counter to the deadly sin of imperialism. And it is indeed a virtue because for all its faults, “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” is the only way to allow us all to be comfortable in our own skins while happily enabling others to live and let live.

There, in a nutshell, is the virtue of nationalism.
View Full Article
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.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.