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.
Hazony discusses the double standard that reviles nationalist behavior by some countries and accepts it in others:
The Americans are reviled, and their behavior deplored, for exercising independent judgment in the pursuit of their interests as a nation, whereas no such scandal is attached to China or Iran exercising independent judgment and pursuing their own interests. Again, it is the national independence of a ‘European’ people that should have reached moral maturity and should know better that is driving the anger and hatred (216).
When a little kid announces, “Mommy, I’ve gone potty!” it’s cute and greeted with delighted applause. But if an adult does it, we find it disgusting. The liberal mentality, Hazony says, treats first-world countries like adults who should be too mature to engage in something as disgusting as acting in their own national interest. But when countries considered inferior do it, that’s OK because nobody holds them to the same high standard.
What’s really curious here is not the double standard, which is something we’ve all noticed many times. It’s the horrified repulsion of anything that smacks of defending national interest. People are trained to feel this repulsion because it brings enormous profits. To somebody else. They are schooled to cheer the dismantling of the nation-state that will make them poorer. But it’s OK because in return they get a sense of moral superiority.
What Hazony’s book misses is developing his ideas a bit further and taking them into the terrain of profits and gains. But he’s clearly not a Marxist, so for him it’s all ideas, Kant, morality, etc. I always find such an analysis insufficient but I fully recognize that other folks might see my obsession with the capital as boring and pedestrian.
What is the liberal empire that is proposed as an alternative to nationalism like? Here is my favorite quote from Hazony’s book:
Dogmatic and utopian, it assumes that the final truths concerning mankind’s fate have long since been discovered, and that all that remains is a way to impose them. . . As the opponents of liberalism have been vanquished one by one, and universal liberal empire has seemed to come within reach, dogmatic imperialism [became] the dominant voice within the liberal camp – a voice that has rapidly taken on the worst features of the medieval Catholic empire upon which it is unwittingly modeled, including a doctrine of infallibility, as well as a taste for the Inquisition (46).
You can see from the style of writing why I liked this book in spite of disagreeing with a large chunk of the argument. Hazony tries to find roots of the modern nation-state in the Hebrew Bible, which I find kind of embarrassing in its sheer ludicrousness but this part I just quoted is spot-on and very powerful. I never thought about globalism this way but it makes a lot of sense to me. I hate authors who tell me what I already know because I feel like they are stealing my time. And I feared Hazony would be like that. But from the start, I discovered that the book was giving me new insights.
More to come later.
P.S. Isn’t it great to have me read all the hottest new books on nationalism and give reviews? This is a response to those who think that Humanities profs don’t contribute to the public good outside of teaching. This is also an argument against those who want to silence academics like me.
The greatest contribution of this book to the discussion of nationalism is that Hazony doesn’t refer to the alternative to nationalism with the vague terminology of globalism, transnationalism, or post-nation state. Instead, he uses the term “liberal imperialism,” which I haven’t encountered before but find productive and insightful.
There are many things I didn’t like about the book, such as, for instance, the obsessive and utterly unjustified attempts to link the rise of modern nationalism to the Protestant tradition. Nationalism is the child of the Enlightenment, and some of the greatest enlightened thinkers were French. It is no accident that the first grand success of nationalism was Napoleon’s mobilization of soldiers. And Napoleon’s greatest defeats happened when his used nationalism to advance imperialist goals and was rebuffed by nascent nationalisms in Spain, Russia, etc.
In any case, looking at nationalism as an alternative to imperialism (currently, of Germany in the EU, the US everywhere else, and, I’d add, Russia in Eastern Europe) is very productive and I don’t know that it’s been done by anybody else before.
People hate long posts, so I’ll break this one up in a bunch of smaller ones.
Just what we need:
The Food and Drug Administration has approved a potent new opioid painkiller, despite warnings from physician critics who say the drug will contribute to the addiction epidemic.
And notice this:
On Wednesday, ahead of the FDA’s final decision, four U.S. senators — Ed Markey, Claire McCaskill, Joe Manchin and Richard Blumenthal — sent a letter to Gottlieb, the FDA’s commissioner, echoing concerns from Brown and Public Citizen and asking the agency to deny approval to Dsuvia until Brown and the full drug safety committee were allowed to participate.
I told you McCaskill is great. And so is Manchin. I hope they both win their races on Tuesday. But my question is: why just these four? Where is everybody else? Lying snugly in the pockets of the drug industry?
Please don’t vote for people until you see them take a firm stand on opioids.
I know it’s not breakfast time but I haven’t posted anything in the salad for breakfast category, so here is the most recent one.
Microgreens, shrimp, egg, and salsa huancaina.