Chosen nations


Yoram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books: New York)

Yoram Hazony presents himself as the leader of a rejuvenated American nationalist right: an impresario, organizing conferences in the United States and Europe; and as a theorist, setting out a programme for the new movement in his latest book, The Virtue of Nationalism. The book may be read on two levels, on the one hand for its argument and on the other as an indicator of the coalitions and fissures on the contemporary American right. The son of an Israeli nuclear physicist, Yoram was raised in the United States. As an undergraduate at Princeton in the mid-eighties, he founded the Princeton Tory, a conservative, Reaganite-Thatcherite student journal of the sort that was being established at many American universities at the time. An encounter with the Jewish Defence League’s Meir Kahane inspired Hazony and a handful of his friends to return to the faith in which they had been raised. After completing his doctorate at Rutgers, Hazony joined several of this same group in Israel, where he served as an advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu, administered a think-tank and lived in a settlement across the Green Line until the outbreak of the Second Intifada occasioned a move to Jerusalem. Hazony quickly found himself implacably opposed to prevailing opinion in Israeli intellectual circles: the result, a fierce critique of the ‘post-Zionism’, avowed and tacit, of the country’s elite in his book The Jewish State (2000), announced him as a leading intellectual figure of Jewish conservatism.

In The Virtue of Nationalism, Hazony’s project is ambitious: wielding two ideal types, the nation and the empire, he proposes to vindicate the former. Following his mentor Steven Grosby, he asserts that modern nations in fact represent a revival of the ancient form of political order exhibited by the ancient Jewish nation, or people. The independent rule of the Jewish people over themselves was established in fact ‘under the Seleucids’, and the theory that a world of limited, self-governing nations is preferable was propounded in the Old Testament, with its descriptions of the survival of the Jewish nation against Egyptian and Babylonian empire. Hazony’s definition of the nation is drawn from Deuteronomy: ‘The political aspiration of the prophets of Israel’, he writes, ‘is not empire but a free and unified nation living in justice and peace amid other free nations’.

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