National Conservatism (Part 3)

I recently finished reading “The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony.

Hazony is an Israeli citizen, and his book is written from a more international perspective than “The Case for Nationalism” by Rich Lowry.  Hazony views nationalism as a superior approach to international relations.  Imperialism (such as the UN, EU, and WTO) will never enjoy the loyalty of subject nations and peoples.  Nationalism, properly understood as respecting national sovereignty, does not produce the resentment and unrest that imperialism does.  Hazony gives ample historical examples.

Hazony points to the foundational thinking of imperialism in a way I had not previously considered.  The urge to create an international government such as the EU is based on the notion that there is a single correct and just way of thinking, a single set of universal laws fit for all mankind.  In this regard, imperialism differs little from Marxism or Nazism. 

For imperialist, you can substitute cosmopolitan, “citizen of the world”, globalist, or any number of other descriptions for those that advocate for a one-world government, borderless nations, or international institutions that have coercive power over nation-states.  In the end, there is little difference.

I have tended to think of imperialism in the sense of the great empires of the past.  The Greek and Roman empires, the British, French, and Spanish empires, right down to the former Soviet Union.  All empires of conquest, all (to varying degrees) despotic (at least to the conquered peoples), and all driven almost entirely by a desire for military and economic power.

Those conquering imperialists, however, frequently told themselves they were a positive good to those conquered.  The empire was bringing civilization, commerce, and knowledge to these savage populations after all.

In our time, the leaders and supporters of the European Union have convinced themselves similarly.  There is only one system of law, one economic system, one set of labor laws, and one set of immigration laws that are fit for all of Europe.  Any individual (or any nation) that disagrees is a barbarian.  These are the same people that relentlessly attack the United States and Israel (among others) when they reject international agreements and/or reject the authority of international institutions.  The elites and their institutions have convinced themselves that there is only one correct world view and only one correct political view – theirs.

Even if I could get over the stunning arrogance of this (I can’t), as a practical matter it doesn’t work, hasn’t worked, and isn’t ever likely to work.  Asking (or worse, coercing) nations to give up their sovereignty is entirely unreasonable. 

What would we imagine would happen if UN troops were deployed inside the United States with orders to enforce international law?  For that matter, imagine they were deployed inside China.  It would result in nothing more than the rejection and mistrust of the international order, and many dead.  The only cases where such an effort worked otherwise were cases where the deployment was to a small relatively weak country that could not resist.  Such small weak countries are not the places from which most of our major global issues emanate, their economic and military power does not represent a threat to the vast majority of countries (although it may well represent a threat to neighboring countries).

Hazony uses the terms clan, tribe, and nation – frequently and in that order.  In applying what I found in his book to the United States specifically, I find what he wrote to be an excellent argument for federalism.

The United States certainly meets the criteria Hazony lays out for a nation.  A shared culture, a shared history and language, defined borders, and if not necessarily a shared religion then certainly a shared notion of morality and ethics.

Hazony points out that within any nation there are different tribes and clans, the nation is in fact a union of those tribes and clans.  A successful nation must secure the rights of all tribes and clans if it is to remain stable and avoid feudal warfare.  If we simply substitute “states” for tribes then we are forced to conclude that a successful nation must secure the rights of all the states and indeed all minority groups within the states or the nation.  Just as a UN force landing within the U.S. is not likely to be welcome, an overbearing federal government isn’t likely to be welcome at the state level.  Likewise, an overbearing state government is not likely to be welcome at the county level.  The respect for sovereignty and a certain degree of autonomy at levels below the federal government is most likely to reduce conflict just as nations respecting the sovereignty of other nations reduce the chance of war.

There are times and circumstances where intervention is right and necessary.  We had no choice but to violate the sovereignty of nations to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  The federal government was right, and it was necessary, to override state laws that enforced segregation and denied people the right to vote.  But the fact that such drastic measures have been necessary in the past is not an argument in favor of intervention as a rule.  We would not use the argument that because we had to invade Germany in the 1940s we can invade any sovereign nation whenever we please.  These are not cases of “more is better.”  Rather, these are cases where we had to undertake a necessary evil.

If you have not, I respectfully urge you to read part 1 and part 2 in this series.  I’m very grateful to the authors of the two books mentioned above and I recommend both.  Both authors embrace empiricism.  Empiricism is something most conservatives embrace even if they do not explicitly say so.  It is the notion that what is right is that which has proven to be right, as opposed to innate ideas or speculative theories.  Both authors point out, at length, that nationalism works and imperialism does not, and they do so with historical facts.

For now, this concludes my series on this topic.  I’ve learned a great deal but I’m still frustrated by the fact that little in the way of concrete policy proposals is available from those that embrace National Conservatism.  That said, I do believe I am beginning to understand the general direction.


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