In previous posts (here and here), I introduced Hazony’s vision of conservatism is inextricably linked to the idea of nationalism. Now, that’s certainly a loaded word in today’s vernacular. “Nationalism” brings up images of jingoism, intolerance, and disdain for other people or cultures. But that’s clearly not what Hazony envisions from nationalism, particularly in light of his comment about the wisdom of respecting the laws and traditions of other nations. To Hazony, nationalism is an approach that puts the nation at the center of political life – and he thinks liberals have lost sight of what a nation really is. 

According to the liberal paradigm, “the term ‘nation’ (or ‘people’) is merely a collective name for the individuals who live under the state. On this view, the nation comes into existence with the establishment of the state and is dissolved when the state is dissolved.” But to conservatives, “the nation is not the same thing as the government or the state that rules over it. A nation can and often does exist without any fixed government established over it, as was the case of the Greek city-states, whose citizens were well aware of the existence of a Greek ethnos or nation that had never been united under a single government.” 

So what suffices to make a nation? To conservatives, a nation is “a number of tribes with a shared heritage, usually including a common language, law, or religious tradition, and a past history of joining together against common enemies and to pursue common endeavors – characteristics that permit tribes united in this way to recognize themselves as a nation distinct from the other nations that are their neighbors.”

Not only are nations and states different things (though there obviously can be such a thing as a national state), in the conservative tradition there is also a distinction to be made between government and the state. Not everything that constitutes governance in the socially relevant sense is a function of the state: “Every loyalty group is governed in some way. So we should be able to speak of government in a broad sense, comparing the various ways in which human loyalty groups are led, how they make decisions, and how their decisions are enforced. In such a broad discussion, the form of government familiar to us from modern states should be recognized as one kind of government among others, and the national state, in particular, should be recognized as one form of state. But recent political theory has been so preoccupied with the state that when the term ‘government’ is invoked, it is almost exclusively with reference to the kind of government that we find in states.” Conservatism is mindful about the differences between nation, government, and state.

Nationalism sees members of the nation as intrinsically bound together by “a thick matrix of inherited language, values, and history”, rather than being voluntarily associated “by nothing other than reason and consent.” An anti-nationalist view was articulated by “Patrick Henry, a great proponent of independence from Britain” who was also “a great opponent of American nationalism.” In arguing against the Constitution of 1787, Henry made the following comment: “Suppose every delegate from Virginia in the new [national] government opposed a law levying a new tax, but it passes. So you are taxed not by your own consent, but by the people who have no connection to you.”

In contrast to Henry’s view that citizens who lived in different states from each other were people with whom you have no connection, Hazony quotes John Jay in Federalist 2 presenting a different view of American citizens: “It appears as if it was the design of Providence than an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.” 

Conservatives are nationalists who see members of the nation as deeply connected by shared history, customs, and bonds of loyalty. Liberals see the nations as nothing but a disparate collection of individual people who have no connection to each other beyond what they may choose by reason and consent, and from which they may withdraw at any time. 

In the next post, I will describe how Hazony sees the premises of the liberal and conservative worldviews, and what makes them different.