YAEL TAMIRis President of Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art, in Israel. From 1999 to 2010, she served as a Member of the Knesset for the Israeli Labor Party. She is the author of Why Nationalism.
At a rally in Texas last October, U.S. President Donald Trump was delivering his familiar “America first” message, complaining about “corrupt, power-hungry globalists,” when he tried out a new line: “You know, they have a word—it sort of became old-fashioned—it’s called, ‘a nationalist.’ And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word,’” he added, grinning. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist.” As the crowd cheered, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Trump nodded. “‘Nationalist’: nothing wrong with it. Use that word!”
As Trump correctly noted, in recent decades, “that word,” and all it suggests, has fallen out of favor. For most political thinkers and elites in the developed West, nationalism is a dangerous, divisive, illiberal impulse that should be treated with skepticism or even outright disdain. Yes, nationalism helped give rise to the modern state system, served as a liberating force in anticolonial independence struggles, and fueled anti-Soviet sentiment during the Cold War. But surely, the thinking went, nationalism was a phase that the rich democracies of the world had outgrown—and in those places where it still thrived, it posed more problems than solutions.
Today, however, many elite assumptions about politics have come under assault, including those about nationalism. A small but increasingly vocal group of American and European thinkers have begun to mount defenses of nationalism—some modest, others more full-throated. One of the most enthusiastic advocates is Yoram Hazony, an Israeli philosopher and political theorist. His latest book, The Virtue of Nationalism, has brought him to prominence in some American conservative political circles. In it, he presents a spirited defense of nationalism and the nation-state. Although he does not ignore nationalism’s flaws, he rightly contends that Western intellectuals have been too quick to dismiss it and that the topic deserves a more balanced and nuanced analysis than what the academy has offered in recent years.
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