Nationalism has a bad name. For many Americans, mention of the word summons up visions of Hitler and Nazism. Some condemn nationalism as thoughtless bragging that your nation is better than others, which should be discouraged just as second graders are told not to brag, lest they hurt classmates’ feelings.
Historical and international perspective is supplied by one of the conveners of the well-attended National Conservatism conference in Washington last month, Israeli think tank head Yoram Hazony, in his 2018 book, “The Virtue of Nationalism.” Hazony argues that nationalism first emerged in the northwest corner of Europe, in Tudor England and in the Dutch republic rebelling against the overlordship of the king of Spain. These were small maritime nations, growing rich through international trade even while threatened by massive monarchies. In the years of religious wars, they were the most religiously diverse and tolerant polities in Christendom.
Hazony contrasts nationalist states with what he calls imperialist polities, which include international organizations such as the United Nations and political entities such as the Holy Roman Empire, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which was not just trying to govern Germany but to conquer “untermensch” peoples. As an Israeli, he is very much aware that his successful nationalist state is under constant attack from such imperialist bodies.
Nationalist states, he argues, can provide peaceful havens for those of differing cultural views and economic interests who share a common citizenship. They will, he argues, protect their individual liberties and (here some readers will disagree) abjure external conquests. “The best political order that is known to us,” he writes, “is an order of independent national states.” […]