Whenever anybody appears with a totalizing narrative of the “I am the truth and the light” variety, Jews are screwed. Christianity, the Spanish empire, the Nazi Germany, the USSR. Totalizing mentalities that want to bless the whole planet with “the only real truth” don’t dig Jews because they always want to be doing their own thing.
Global liberalism is as triumphantly self-righteous and totalizing as anybody else. It’s positively religious in its zeal to convert and punish the unfaithful.
So why should anybody be surprised that anti-Semitism is on the rise again? Another recipe for universal happiness always means another wave of Jew-hatred.
The best part of the book comes at the very end where Hazony writes about the negative reactions that the state of Israel evokes today. The analysis of how the erosion of the nation-state inspires these reactions is absolutely outstanding. I don’t want to narrate it here because I don’t want to spoil it for readers with a clumsy retelling.
The discussion of the seemingly bizarre European treatment of Muslim countries and the third world comes out of the chapters on Israel and is also brilliant.
When I praise an argument as brilliant and outstanding, this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with whether I agree with it. I hope this is understood. Brilliant to me doesn’t mean “something that echoes my beliefs.” I’m not referring to the degree of my agreement with the author but only to the intellectual quality, logic, coherence, and profoundness of the argument.
Now let me tell you what I didn’t like about the book and why I still suggest you turn to Zygmunt Bauman and Philip Bobbitt for their discussion of the erosion of the nation-state.
Hazony is very good at explaining – in the most patient and meticulous way I have ever encountered – what a nation-state is and how it comes into existence. But he has a huge glaring hole where Bauman and Bobbitt possess a profound understanding of the globalizing forces of the economy. Hazony talks as if we were all brains and emotions and had no stomachs, physical bodies, and varying material needs. I strongly believe that any discussion of the globalization has to start with the economy. Ideas are great, I’m all for ideas, but unless you understand how the ideas about the goodness / evilness of the nation-state play into a certain economic order, you aren’t getting anything like the whole picture.
What’s even worse, Hazony is very upbeat about the future of the nation-state model precisely because he doesn’t notice how the very logic of late capitalism makes it obsolete.
Hazony is from a country that arrived quite late at the nationalist game. As people from such countries (Ukraine is another example) tend to do, he wants to convince himself that the nationalist project is still going to be relevant for a long time. As a result, he engages in wishful thinking that is supported by his superficial and limited understanding of the global economy.
This is a useful book that makes some important points but I’d like to see the author try to reinvent the wheel less and engage with the mountain of existing theory on this subject a lot more.
OK, here is another interesting insight from the book. The world order where many different nation-states exist is a world where everybody lives with an understanding and acceptance of difference. Things are done differently in Zimbabwe, China, Ukraine, Argentina, or France. We all know and accept it and don’t feel any need to make Nicaraguans or Moldovans adopt the US electoral system, our national holidays, or our marriage customs. It doesn’t feel intolerable that these differences exist.
The universal liberal empire, on the other hand, proceeds from the knowledge that it has found the Truth, the universal Truth, the one and only. Its emissaries can’t rest until everybody adopts their way of seeing the world because it’s the correct one.
A recent example from my life is the explosion of rage by the diversity commissars when I pointed out that non-US Hispanics tend to find words like Latinxs and mestizxs to be silly. I did respond to them with the words “imperialist mentality,” and after reading Hazony’s book I realize I was more right than I thought. There is an enormous similarity here between this self-righteous rage and the feelings that motivated the conquistadors to bring the one true word of God to the “backwards savages” of the New World. Curiously, even the people considered to be savages (not by me, obviously) are the exact same ones.