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WRM Elsewhere
Nationalism Is Not the Only Way

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.

Check out the rest of the article here.


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  • Pete

    I read Mead’s full article and the guy is somewhat clueless on the matter of nationalism.

  • WigWag

    Hazony’s article is brilliant, but Professor Mead does make a few good points. Both Hazony’s article and the two responses published so far are well worth a look.

    • Kevin

      Hazony’s article is brilliant, an original synthesis, weaving together various strands of history and a bit of theology. Whether it will hold up on sustained examination is to be determined. Meade’s reply is a bit ramshackle, tinkering around the edges. (Its biggest service in my opinion is pointing people to Hazony’s article.)

      • Anthony

        WRM’s reply (along with R.R. Reno’s) is precise and anything but “ramshackle’ though you may question his crafting of contrast. Readers sans confirmatory thought will judge relative merit of all three well written pieces. An evenhanded consideration of alternative points of view (exploratory thought) increases accuracy of informed interpretation.

  • Anthony

    Excellent explication WRM and definitive contrasting. For both positions see: and

  • Jim__L

    “But the interesting thing is this: look how quickly everyone in Britain
    seems to have gotten over the trauma of Brexit….Things are moving on. So
    far, at least, the disruption seems to have been much less profound
    than, for good or for ill, the election of a President Trump could be in
    the United States.”

    What makes you say that? Don’t you remember all those people that said they’d move to Canada if George W Bush was elected, but somehow found themselves in this country in February 2000?

    “If political leaders steer too hard in one direction, or the cultural
    environment at a particular moment moves too far too fast, the pendulum
    begins to swing.”

    And yet, you’re in favor of meteoric mindworms like gay “marriage”, and the idea that somehow the years between 1976 and 2016 have seen “faster change” in the world than the years between 1876 and 1916. Or the years between 1776 and 1816. Or the years between 1676 and 1716… really, a historian should have more of a sense of perspective.

    As far as the overall thesis goes — America’s past has plenty of examples of how the US has interacted with other countries in an effective way, and has assimilated immigrants in an effective way. It’s not really a mystery.

    If the current crop of elites have a problem implementing that, we just have to get a new crop of elites. If it’s tough to find credentialed elites because our university system simply doesn’t teach that anymore because of an overemphasis on Politically Correct history, then we have to ignore credentials for a while as we reform and restructure the university system. Trump is just the person to do that.

    With Hillary it will just be more of what we’ve seen for the last generation. She is simply incapable of seeing other legitimate points of view as anything other than “deplorable” caricatures of their true intent, making finding any kind of “via media” impossible.

    • Jim__L

      Seriously guys, how can anyone with an ounce of perspective say the changes in the world between the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were not enormous?

      The changes between the American Revolution and Waterloo? (These are also the first 40 years that engineers got to play with the Watt Steam Engine.)

      The near-instantaneous changes wrought by the raising of the Siege of Vienna, and the Glorious Revolution? The profound changes wrought by the publication of Newton’s Principia Mathematica?

      It’s staggering, how easily people are taken in by industry figures whose status is based on their “my-innovation-is-bigger” claims, and further prone to having their minds greased by the propaganda of political activists who want to do away with history because the lessons of history are against them.

      “Change is faster now” is probably the most inaccurate meme of the last couple of decades. I look forward to putting it to a well-deserved rest.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    I agree with Walter Russell Mead from a religious viewpoint that all forms of government will in the end deform and fail even if pure from their start.

    However, the use of the generic terms “universalism” and “nationalism” are too broad for me. What kind of nationalism?

    There was the “Integral Nationalism” (aka Risogimento Nationalism) of Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany that tried to integrate of consolidate an Germanic nation. That is light years different than “Civic Nationalism” (non-xenophobic) built around a common political culture, such as the inception of the U.S. Are both to be lumped together as “nationalism”?

    Next, the debate between “nationalism” and “universalism” has been raised not because the polities in each state are voting for either one of the two, but because there has been an historic shift of what mode of economic system shall be normative and, thus, controlling? Despite the definition of democracy as resulting in “compromise”, the very opposite is what has happened. The ruling political party whether in the US or Europe has ruled the economic system by a “winner takes all” policy that thwarts economic pluralism (a mixed economy). The U.S. and Europe have shifted to a Globalist Economy based on:

    * open borders for cheap labor pools of low skilled workers:
    * so-called free trade where low-skilled labor is outsourced from First World to Third World nations but by circumventing anti-trust regulations and allowing corporations to set up monopolistic enterprises in China or India. This can hardly be called Capitalist because there is no assured competition to meet the criteria of a “free market”;
    * a centralized banking system that freezes interest rates near zero permanently to divert capital from local banks and local economies into the pool of capital for global investment (e.g., savings has become obsolete and this forces everyone into stock markets to prop up underfunded government pension systems).

    Brexit, the overturning of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Trump movement in the US are not resistance movements against “universalism”, “free trade”, “immigration” or for Fascism, Nationalism, Populism or any other such hysterical assertions. What they are, is a counter reaction to the deliberate “deformation” of the prior Virtuous Economy based on saving, ingenuity, deferred gratification, sharing between generations and classes, a work ethic and a focus on profits.

    In its place has arisen a Globalist Economy based on creating economic bubbles, arbitrage, waves of out of control immigration resulting in a ruinous and dangerous policy of shipping low skilled labor overseas but allowing waves of low skilled labor to flood the economy resulting in civil and political strife and destabilization.

    The problem with this shift is that it has not only resulted in “declasse” economic decline of the working class but that this totalistic, one size fits all “globalist” system has ended up seizing total power. No one can save money anymore to buy a home or build up home equity to get a loan to start a business. No one can control their own assets or their own property. This has extended to such events as the California drought from 2012 to 2015 where there was sufficient water supplies but cultural elites diverted water from farmers, migrant labor and small communities to flow to the ocean for intentional wasting that resulted in saving no fish or the environment. But the media framed it as a drought not a water shortage just as it framed the Mortgage Meltdown as a failure of Capitalism.

    The majority polity in Britain, Egypt and perhaps the US wants to regain control over the mode of the economy (for those on the Left, this goes back to Marx). If I understand the historian and sociologist Max Weber correctly, once there is a shift to a Totalistic Economy there will be an inclination for the form of government to devolve into totalitarianism as well. But oddly, the cultural and political Left in Britain, Egypt and the US are for the Globalist Economy. Despite the cognitive dissonance that nationalism is conservative, in this historical case I believe it is the liberal option.

  • Not ‘nationalism’ in the sense of blood and kinship. But definitely social contract and civil bond between real people, as opposed to a theological, airy-fairy ‘international law’ and ‘global citizenship’. Yes, the vernacular over the Latin. If you’re not committed to real people, you’re not committed to anyone. Rejection of patriotism is the first, not the last, refuge of the self-serving narcissist.

  • ljgude

    I have been a bigger fan of Brexit than WRM , but I emphatically agree with his middle way position between universalism and nationalism. I think with Hazony Brexit marks the swing of the pendulum away from a too extreme internationalism pushing globalization and multiculturalism beyond reason, beyond decency and beyond sustainability. But what is needed is responsible nationalism or a moderate increase in nationalism, not a radical resurgence of it. WRM’s application of Burke’s ideas nails it for me: “If you go too fast and get ahead of yourself, notably by trying to incorporate more universal and cosmopolitan values into the political structures of your life, you’ll lose your political balance and your society will begin to fall apart.” After more than my allotted three score and ten years of observing the progress of the American Republic that is exactly where we are at – falling apart. So I remember how Roosevelt and Truman vigorously and competently pursued the American Interest and can see how, in appalling contrast, both parties have failed to pursue it in recent times. We are now faced with a continuation of the imbalance under Clinton or an uncertain change that may or may not prove helpful. Given the choice I’ll take my chances with the Jacksonian wrecking ball.

  • LarryD

    The group bond of which nationalism is a large scale expression, is seen in all social animals. Arguably, its evolutionary advantage is that it marshals the entire group against a threat, instead of leaving individuals to their fate. But I don’t see any this in Progressives “universalism”. No immediate, outraged response to attacks on the Kurds, Copts, Jews, to the genocide in Rewanda, etc. Oh, they may make sympathetic noises, but that’s all. It seems to me that “universalism” is just the conceit Progressives use to cover for their alienation from the nations they were born in.

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