The Virtue of Nationalism

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The Virtue of Nationalism is a 2018 book by Israeli political theorist and biblical scholar Yoram Hazony.


Hazony argues that the nation state is the best form of government that humans have yet invented, contrasting both with historical empires and modern forms of global governance including United Nations affiliated institutions such as the International Court of Justice.[1][2] In particular, Hazony argues that nationalism uniquely provides, "the collective right of a free people to rule themselves."[2]

According to Hazony, national identity is based not on race or biological homogeneity, but on "bonds of mutual loyalty" to a shared culture and a shared history that bind diverse groups into a national unit.[3] Hazony argues that the social cohesion enabled by a nation-state where a common language and history are shared by the majority of the population can produce a level of trust that enables the production of social and moral goods, such as civil and political liberties.[4][5][3]

He argues that because, in contrast with systems like the European Union where member states are bound by measures taken by the Union, each nation state sets up unique systems, standards and administrative procedures, effectively producing a series of experiments that other nation states can freely copy as they strive for improvement.[2][1]

And he asserts that it is a matter of historical fact that the rights and freedoms of individuals have been protected best nation-states, especially in England and in the United States. This, in Hazony's view, contrast sharply with attempts at “universal political order . . . in which a single standard of right is held to be in force everywhere, tolerance for diverse political and religious standpoints must necessarily decline.”[2] Hazony argues that globalizing politically progressive elites have promoted a “global rule of law” that is intolerant of cultural differences, of patriotism, and of religious faith.[2] Hazony writes that globalists promulgate “anti-nationalist hate,” and are aggressively intolerant of cultural particularism.[2] In Hazony's words, "liberal internationalism is not merely a positive agenda. . . . It is an imperialist ideology that incites against . . . nationalists, seeking their delegitimization wherever they appear."[2]

Israel and the European Union[edit]

In a juxtaposition that book reviewer Ira Stoll describes as the book's "strongest case," for nationalism Hazony discusses the conflicting understanding held by Europeans and by Israelis.[1]

In November 1942, as word seeped out of Europe about mass killings of Jewish families, Israel's founding President Ben Gurion said that Jews were being “buried alive in graves dug by them,... because the Jews have no political standing, no Jewish army, no Jewish independence, and no homeland.”[1]

The consensus view in Europe is that the Holocaust was caused by German nationalism. Therefore, in Hazony's words, “It is not Israel that is the answer to the Holocaust, but the European Union.”[1]

Hazony describes Nazism of Hitler's Third Reich was, in fact, a distinctive form both of imperialism and of racial supremacism. He points out that what the Jews lacked was a Jewish state in which they could have sought refuge. The consensus view among Israelis is that Israel is the most effective response to the Holocaust.[1][2]

Critical reception[edit]

John Fonte, writing in National Review, described Virtue as a book "that will become a classic."[2] In February 2019, the book won the Paolucci Book Award from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.[6]

Reviewing the book for the New York Times, Justin Vogt called Hazony's narrative a, "reductive approach (that) poses a false choice between an idealized order of noble sovereign nations and a totalitarian global government." In Vogt's view, "The world could use a less moralistic, more nuanced defense of nationalism. This book is a missed opportunity."[7] In that vein, critics of the book largely found fault with Hazony's use of terms and categorizations. For instance, one review by Park MacDougald in New York Magazine's the Intelligencer[disambiguation needed] noted, “The book’s major flaw is that Hazony tends to define his terms as ideal types and then argue from those definitions.”[8] Likewise, another review by George Washington University professor Samuel Goldman in Modern Age noted that Hazony's argument “rests on a confusing and counterproductive use of terms.”[9]

Further, some reviewers noted that Hazony's theory and defense of nationalism didn't seem to take into account the historical body of nationalist thought, in large part, because that body of thought would paint nationalism as something wholly unpalatable to Hazony's readership.[10][11] One review by Michael Shindler in Jacobite, put it thusly: "If this strange, contradictory account of nationalism...represented the first attempt to shed light on the subject, its incoherence would be forgivable—but it isn’t. Though Hazony references a handful of prominent political theorists, he largely draws his nationalist theory from sources of recent derivation—notably Fania Oz-Salzberger’s 'The Jewish Roots of Western Freedom,' and Philip Gorski’s 'The Mosaic Moment.' These and other comparable articles written in Israel and the Anglosphere portray nationalism as a descendant of the biblical Israeli model...It’s an interesting area of scholarship, yet the many folks who’ve adopted Hazony’s notions might be surprised to learn that there exists a robust body of nationalist theory that’s been developing since the 19th century. The absence of substantive engagement with this body of conspicuous. Likely, the reason these folk avoid engaging with this corpus is that while it is quite cogent, it admits that nationalism is culpable of precisely what it is accused of by its liberal critics."[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Stoll, Ira (9 September 2009). "Israel Emerges As an Avatar Of Nationalism (book review)". The New York Sun. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fonte, John (13 September 2018). "In Defense of Nations (book review)". National Review. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b Ungar-Sargon, Batya (24 June 2018). "The Liberal Case For Nationalism". The Forward. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  4. ^ Gordon, Evelyn (15 August 2018). "Obsolete or Indispensable?". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  5. ^ Riley, Geoffrey (12 September 2018). "Author Says Nationalism Can Be A Force For Good". Jefferson Public Radio. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Vogt, Justin (14 September 2018). "Modern Political Ideas (book review)". New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  8. ^ MacDougald, Park. "Are You a Nationalist or an Imperialist?". NyMAg. New York Magazine. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  9. ^ Goldman, Samuel (July 18, 2018). "Yoram Hazony and the New Nationalism". Modern Age. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  10. ^ Koyama, Mark. "A Nationalism Untethered to History". Liberal Currents. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  11. ^ Koss, Andrew (November 26, 2018). "How to Defend Nationalism, and How Not to". Mosaic Magazine.
  12. ^ Shindler, Michael (July 9, 2019). "Nationalism Qua Nationalism". Jacobite. Retrieved 19 July 2019.