Our own Walter Russell Mead penned a response to an essay by Yarom Hazony in which Hazony argues that the tide of nationalism sweeping global politics is a development to be cheered rather than scorned. WRM see things a bit differently:
Yoram Hazony’s “Nationalism and the Future of Western Freedom” is a bold and fiery piece. In what follows, even as I intend to question and complicate his argument, I remain grateful for its genuinely refreshing spirit of intellectual combat.
Hazony characterizes the idea behind modern nationalism, what he calls the “Protestant construction,” as at root a biblical idea. Although he doesn’t specifically mention it, I can’t help being reminded of the familiar story in Genesis of the tower of Babel (or “Baybul” as I was taught to pronounce it in the American South). That story perfectly encapsulates how I think about nationalism and universalism. On the one hand, the ambition of the tower’s builders was a noble one: they wanted to reach heaven. What could be a more appropriate human aspiration? On the other hand, that ambition challenged the majesty of God, trying to take for all mankind something that by right belonged only to the Creator, to the Transcendent.
The result of this human initiative is that God scatters the people into different nations and “confuses” their once-single language into many. Again: on the one hand, you might think of this as a kind of reward: independent nations, each able to determine its own unique identity and pursue its own purposes. On the other hand, you might—along with the displeased God of Genesis—see it as a punishment, and as a caution.
What this story powerfully suggests to me is that, as is often and perhaps usually the case in human affairs, we have here two alternatives—let’s call them, respectively, cosmopolitan universalism and national self-determination—and they’re both flawed. Really, deeply flawed: vulnerable not just to mistaken impulses but to vile and ugly deformations.
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