Nationalism and the Future of Western Freedom: the Ancient Struggle between Empire and Independence Re-emerges

Nationalism and the Future of Western Freedom: the Ancient Struggle between Empire and Independence Re-emerges, by Yoram Hazony. Fitting Brexit, Trump, and the global elite into a broad historical context.

The fear, outrage, and despair that Britain’s vote for independence provoked in elite opinion in Europe and in many circles in the United States points to a political event of massive proportions. …

But the principal revelation here — and the phenomenon to keep our eyes on — is not only the fact that, for many both in the UK and elsewhere, the prospect of British independence is genuinely an object of dread. It is also the countervailing fact that the possible re-emergence of a free and independent Britain has rallied profound admiration and enthusiasm among countless others.

The global fault line is a battle over the political order itself.

But Brexit has turned the floodlights on it, exposing, so that all can readily see, the deepest fault line in the politics of Western nations today. It is along this line that the bitterest and most fateful political battles in our time are likely to be fought. … What we are seeing is the beginning of a struggle over the character of the international political order itself.

For 350 years, Western peoples have lived in a world in which national independence and self-determination were seen as foundational principles. Indeed, these things were held to be among the most precious human possessions, and the basis of all of our freedoms.

Since World War II, however, these intuitions have been gradually attenuated and finally even discredited, especially among academics and intellectuals, media opinion-makers, and business and political elites. Today, many in the West have come to regard an intense personal loyalty to the national state and its right to chart an independent course as something not only unnecessary but morally suspect. They no longer see national loyalties and traditions as necessarily providing a sound basis for determining the laws we live by, for regulating the economy or making decisions about defense and security, for establishing public norms concerning religion or education, or for deciding who gets to live in what part of the world.

The common man, used to unprecedented freedom for the last three centuries in the West, doesn’t fancy the return of empire:

But those who have made this transition in fundamental political orientation have done so without making sure that everyone else was on board. Millions of people, especially outside the centers of elite opinion, still hold fast to the old understanding that the independence and self-determination of one’s nation hold the key to a life of honor and freedom. These are people who believe that no one ever consulted them about giving up on the freedom of their nation to protect its people, their interests, and their traditions.

This is a very ancient struggle, between empire and independence:

The world of Israel’s prophets was dominated by a succession of imperial powers: Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia, each giving way to the next. Despite their differences, each of these empires sought to impose a universal political order on mankind as a whole, the gods having sent them to suppress needless disputes among peoples and to create a unified international realm in which men could live together in peace and prosperity. … By ending warfare in vast regions and harnessing their populations to productive agricultural work, imperial powers were in fact able to bring to millions a relatively reliable peace and an end to the threat of starvation.

And yet, despite the obvious economic advantages of an Egyptian or Babylonian peace that would unify humanity, the Bible was born out of a deep-seated opposition to that very aim. To Israel’s prophets, Egypt was “the house of bondage,” and they spared no words in deploring the bloodshed and cruelty involved in imperial conquest and the imperial manner of governing, its recourse to slavery and murder and its expropriation of women and property.

Was there a viable alternative to universal empire? … It is in the Hebrew Bible that we find the first sustained presentation of a different possibility: a political order based on the independence of a nation living within limited borders alongside other independent nations.

By “nation,” I mean a people or group of peoples that are united — or that are capable of being united — around a shared history, language, or religion, permitting them to act effectively as a body for the common defense and other large-scale enterprises.

Read it all for an interesting account of empire versus nationalism, through the sweep of Roman, Christian, and Muslim history, and the  crucial treaty of Westphalia:

The Thirty Years’ War, culminating in the peace of Westphalia in 1648, is often presented as a “war of religion” fought between Protestants and Catholics. But this is not quite right. The war is better understood as pitting the emerging national states of France, the Netherlands, and Sweden (nations that, respectively, were Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran) against German and Spanish armies devoted to the idea that universal empire reflected God’s will and that it alone could bring true well-being to mankind. It was in the Thirty Years’ War that the concept of a universal Christian empire, which had held sway over the West’s political imagination for thirteen centuries, was decisively defeated.

That treaty is under threat today, as the global elites try to construct a new universal empire, without the permission of their subjects. It won’t work because people are not interchangeable — different abilities and cultures do not mix well, as immigration into the west shows — and because freedom from empire is so desired it will be fought for fiercely, again.

The West rose and gave the world the technological revolution under nationalism, a system of competing national states free of the oppressive burden of empire’s corrupt bondage. Lifting everyone’s standard of living enormously, this could never have happened under a universal empire — witness China. Today the global elite would seek to plunge the world back into a single empire, moribund and corrupt in every way, lorded over by an elite who live well at the expense of the peasants. The great freedom that the common man experienced for the last three centuries would be reversed forever, with nowhere to escape to — because their bureaucratic regime would be global.

Which is why Brexit, Trump, the carbon dioxide theory of global warming (which apparently requires a global bureaucracy), and many other battlegrounds as the global elite advance, are so crucial.

WWII was the last battle of empire versus independent national states:

Despite the appearance of the word “national” in the name of the German National Socialist party, Hitler was no advocate of nationalism. His Germany was an imperial state in every sense. He was a harsh critic not only of the Protestant construction in general but of the institution of the national state in particular, which he saw as an effete contrivance of the English and French and vastly inferior to the Germans’ historic imperial legacy. In place of the order of national states, he set out to establish a Third Reich that expressly drew its inspiration from the “First Reich”—that is, from the German Holy Roman Empire with its universal aspirations and thousand-year reign. …

Nor is there any sense in which Germany’s effort to destroy the Jews can be seen as resulting from the Westphalian principle of national self-determination. The Nazi extermination program, directed at all of the Jews in Poland, Russia, and the rest of Europe and North Africa, was not a national policy but a global one, exerting influence as far away as the Shanghai Jewish ghetto established by the Japanese at the Nazis’ behest. It could not have been conceived or attempted outside the context of Hitler’s attempt to revive and perfect longstanding German aspirations to universal empire. …

[I]t was American, British, and Russian nationalism — even Stalin had abandoned Marxist claptrap about “world revolution” in favor of open appeals to Russian patriotism — that defeated Germany’s bid for world empire.

But none of this seemed significant to Western liberals, who moved swiftly after the war toward the view that, in light of German atrocities, national independence could no longer be accepted as the basis for the international order. …

The argument that eliminating the national states of Europe was meant to “restrain” Germany is repeated endlessly in Europe today. But it is closer to being a good joke than competent political analysis. The German-speaking peoples of central Europe never really had a national state to speak of. …

No-borders is an ancient bad idea:

Liberals do not seem to understand that the advancing liberal construction is a form of imperialism. But to anyone not already immersed in the new order, the resemblance is obvious. Much like the Pharaohs and the Babylonian kings, the Roman emperors and the Roman Catholic Church until well into the modern period, as well as the Marxists of the last century, liberals, too, have their grand theory about how they are going to bring peace and economic prosperity to the world by pulling down all the borders and uniting mankind under their own universal rule.

Infatuated with the clarity and intellectual rigor of this vision, they disdain the laborious process of consulting with the multitude of nations they believe should embrace their view of what is right.

And like other imperialists, they are quick to express disgust, contempt, and anger when their vision of peace and prosperity meets with opposition from those [the deplorables] who they are sure would benefit immensely by simply submitting. …

As the scope of legitimate disagreement is progressively reduced, and the penalties of dissent grow more and more onerous, the Western democracies are rapidly becoming one big university campus.

For serious understanding of the world today, this article is highly recommended.

Because European and American elites (including many university-educated Republicans in the U.S. and Tories in the UK) are today overwhelmingly liberal in their training and orientation, it is easy to find many well thought-out versions of liberal doctrines on the level of both theory and policy. By contrast, opposition to the liberal construction has an unprofessional and palpably makeshift quality about it. …

This means that for conservative intellectuals and politicians, the most pressing task right now is to articulate a restorative vision for re-establishing the political order.

That was one of the foundational goals of the Wentworth Report. Feel free to help.

hat-tip Stephen Neil