I am glad that some libertarians are dealing with Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism. It is a book that is shaping conservative thinking and ought to be addressed thouroughly. I’ve reviewed it for the Cato Journal and dealt with it on this blog too (here, here and here). Alex Nowrasteh has written a powerful post here. More recently Akiva Malamet has published an interesting critique, on Libertarianism.org.

Malamet doesn’t wear velvet gloves, as he states:

Hazony’s work does not perform this task and instead adds further confusion. Ultimately, he defends propositions that, if taken to their conclusion, imply denying that individuals have any kind of meaningful autonomy, excusing state violence, and legitimizing gross violations of human rights. Hazony encourages us to lean more heavily into our tribal and authoritarian instincts—instincts which have served to fuel centuries of violent conflict and sustain oppressive social orders. Finally, he radically oversimplifies Jewish tradition, misrepresenting a complex faith with competing values of both universalism and particularism.

I think Malamet performs a particularly useful service by focusing on this latter element. Can “nationalism” – which is a modern ideology, that serves the interests and purpose of the modern nation-state – be seen as consistent with a political interpretation of the Old Testament? Malamet answers in the negative:

Hazony omits those aspects of the Hebrew Bible (and, I would say, the Jewish tradition broadly) that complicate his story. The idea that human beings are created in God’s image, what Jews call “tzelem elohim” (for Christians the “imago dei”) and that therefore our moral obligations extend to everyone, is the missing half of a core religious dialectic: It is important that the Hebrew Bible talks not only about Jews as God’s chosen people, but also of the Jewish obligation to welcome strangers and outsiders. While Judaism does not proselytize, Jews are also obligated to be an “or l’goyim”—a “light unto the nations.” Later texts—including the Talmud and the works of philosophers such as Maimonides—spend extensive time debating the appropriate range and degree of universalism vs. particularism. No accurate account of the Bible or of Judaism can be had without including both elements.

Hazony also fails to show why moral obligations must depend on their establishment in and by groups. He argues that “rationalist” moral theory is too dependent on abstract ideas without real world grounding—for Hazony, morality only exists in contexts. However, Hazony does not account for what is a significant is-ought problem. The fact that we first learn morality in specific places does not show we ought to see moral duties as only grounded by those environments. … I can apply my reason to my moral sense and extend the range of my ethical concern. In this way, I can abstract from my context and ground my understanding of what I owe to others. Indeed, the Bible itself makes this point, when God tells the Israelites in Exodus 23:9 (my emphasis): “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, as you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I recommend you read the whole thing.