The Hebrew's national charter was explicitly based upon a divinely commanded ethic of remembering how horrible social and economic oppression felt for them in Egypt, and thus, a command to treat any non-aggressive outsider seeking to escape similar oppression, with a special kindness and an invitation to convert, but fairly high tolerance for peaceful non-converts.

In a nutshell, that's the bible's definition of nationalism. Remember, then act.

Ethnic solidarity as constitutive of the national charter was a joke from day one, because even in Abraham's day, the religion was aggressively evangelical, incorporating foreigners at a breathtaking rate. When Abraham left Ur, his nation included plenty of folks not of his own loins. When the Hebrews left Egypt, they were a highly miscegenated multitude (Joseph having already mixed Hebrew and Egyptian blood, and the Egyptian component being ratified by Jacob's blessing of Joseph's mixed-race sons). There were only two guys with the courage and faith to conquer Canaan; Joshua and Caleb; and Caleb was an incorporated foreigner, not a descendant of Abraham. So Israel was 50% mudblood even before King David.

By the time of Christ, the Jews shouting "We have Abraham as our father!" were seriously self-deluded, and Jesus told them so. (Although Christ himself was an oddity as he could credibly trace a lineage to Abraham, though including many foreign infusions).

The Puritan founders of the proto-USA, from where we consciously and unconsciously imbibe so many of our ideals, viewed their national project as a type of recapitulation of Israel, and their ethic of sojourning and welcoming immigrants resembled the early Hebrew's. This is why the colonies, and then the first 100 years of the republic, were so militantly incorporative of immigrants, and why, instead of an ethnic nation, we almost universally began to speak of the USA as a "nation of ideas".

Of course, we still like to use that phrase, but we no longer really know, or understand, those early ideas. We've supposedly come up with better ones.

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Those do sound like pretty outlandish claims. I think a much better book on nationalism would be "Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism",

by Azar Gat. Although it is descriptive rather than prescriptive; it's a historical examination of nationalism, rather than argument for or against it. Although it does seem to suggest that for better or worse, it is something we will have to contend with indefinitely. And it pretty thoroughly refutes pretty much all of those above points, especially #4:

"nationalism and ethnicity are closely associated; by and large, nationalism is one particular form of a broader phenomenon, that of political ethnicity; and ethnicity has always been highly political, ever since the emergence of the state and even before"

On "civic nationalism":

""Civic nationalism,” supposedly based solely on common citizenship and shared political institutions, is habitually contrasted to “ethnic nationalism,” both historically and normatively. However, as quite a few scholars have noted, this distinction is greatly overdrawn.6 Civic institutions have been variably central to the make up of nations. But there have been very few nations, if any, whose existence was divorced from ethnicity, that is, which did not share cultural and at least some kin affinities. In reality, civic nationalism too – indeed, civil nationalism in particular – generates assimilation into the ethnonational community, either as an explicit (“republican”) requirement or as a tacit assumption."

Imperialism "vs" nationalism:

"within such larger multiethnic unions – called empires when they were large enough – ethnic existence was also widely political, formally or informally, usually both. Informally, the more the state was dominated by a paramount ethnic community, the more power relations and benefit allocation were skewed in its favor, and the state’s symbols of identity reflected its particular ethnicity. It was mainly this ethnic core upon which the state relied to establish its rule, because it was this ethnic core’s loyalty that could be counted in a way that could scarcely be said for other ethnicities or peoples within the realm. Other ethnic communities within the state were well aware of, and more or less acquiesced to, their secondary or subordinate status, for the reasons mentioned above. It often helped that their status could incorporate some positive elements. Above all, their separate identity could be respected and protected to some degree. Their particular institutions and system of law were often recognized and retained within the larger state structure, and considerable cultural tolerance tended to prevail."

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This reminds me of an interesting feature of the SF grand strategy game Stellaris. In the game, every civilization has certain traits. One of these is ‘inward perfection,’ which essentially requires the civilization to ‘build tall’ rather than wide. Significant debuffs to conquest and expansion, significant buffs to your handful of starting planets.

I think this was inspired by a particular alien civilization in the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi. In the series, the galaxy is in a state of maximal interstate anarchy. A war of all against all, essentially. Almost all civilizations, humans included, are approximately at demographic, technological, and economic parity. There are exceptions, mostly on the lower end, which often leads to things like extinction or orbital Stone Age-ing. Extinction is a common policy objective and a common policy consequence, even among peers as described.

The exception are (eventually, obviously, humans, but in a way that sort of makes us the villains) the Consu. The Consu are a crustacean-like species of vast technological superiority over every other species. They have created an artificial star in their system and enclosed it in a sphere in order to project a titanic force field around the whole system. They have no interest in other species or other territories, that we would recognize. They do fight the other species, but for religious and sporting reasons, not for conquest. They think they’re saving the souls of the benighted in this fashion, and having fun.

The plot of the first book largely concerns Consu tech that ‘leaks’ to a rival of humanity’s, and why they’d permit such a thing considering their long-standing policy.

It seems that these are what Hazony is gesturing at with his ‘definition,’ and it made me wonder if any human civilization has ever really behaved in a similar fashion. I don’t think so, but it’s not for lack of people like Hazony recommending it.

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I read the book a few years ago, long before the current tragedies in Israel and Palestine, and what struck me was how little of an answer Hazony was capable of giving for why the Israeli nation should get a state while the Palestinian nation shouldn't. It mostly seemed to come down to sputters - and with Hazony being Israeli and using Israel as a major example, that was such an obvious gap in his general argument that it was hard to take the book seriously after that.

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Hazony's position isn't that crazy. If the word nationalism is to be useful it does have to be mean something distinct. If it's treated as indistinguishable from imperialism, then there's no meaningful way to say you are in favor of the 20th century world order in which nations have fixed borders with no territorial ambitions. Yet this is a useful thing to be able to say!

Were European countries like Britain and France nationalist in any meaningful way before WW1? Arguably not. They ran empires and liked it. But post 1950 their ideology had clearly changed in a serious way that needs a name, and the UK steadily disposed of its empire in order to retreat to a clearly defined state of nationhood. What is this, if not nationalism? If not that word, then what should it be called?

Were the Nazis nationalist? There's so much fighting over how to classify the Nazis that I'm a fan of just looking at what they did rather than what they said they were, or what modern academics say they were. The Nazis were clearly left wing/socialist, for example. Although they helpfully said they were socialist, we don't need to care about that because their actions were 95% identical to the Soviets, the CCP etc and very radically different to that of the USA. Were they nationalist? Well, if your argument is that they were because they wanted to reunite a "Greater Germany" then that's judging them by what they said, not what they did. What they actually did was create the Third Reich, where Reich means empire. They were openly imperialist. What were the exact boundaries of the Third Reich, in Hitler's mind? There don't seem to have been any. If he could have conquered Britain he would have done.

If we compare the behavior of the supposedly "nationalist" Nazis (conquering other countries without end) vs the supposedly non-nationalist Britain, then we can clearly see a big difference in emphasis and approach even though Britain had a (soon to be ex-) empire and the Nazis started out without one. The directions of travel were totally different.

Now the above is only really picking at points 1-2. Point three seems weak because you aren't arguing with something he directly claims, and because this "age of nationalism" thing is something I never heard of and your citation for this is some random dude's blog. I don't think Europe had any kind of age of nationalism before ~1950.

Point 5 also feels weak because presumably he means nation states tend to be democratic, but you're arguing with some straw man claim that nations are anarchic.

For point 6 I'd have to read the linked blog post and that can come later.

> many other nation-states are explicitly defined by ethnicity

Which ones? I'm struggling to think of any. The closest is surely modern Israel but even then that's highly arguable given how many people who live there aren't Jewish. Perhaps the closest fit is China?

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Like just about everything in politics, national feeling is subjective. No university professor nor government official can instruct people to have such a feeling if they don’t, nor demand they abandon it if they do. It can also change over time. It can have something to do with race, ethnicity, language, and religion, because all these elements can help consolidate a nebulous pre-national feeling. But they don’t track it exactly. The Swiss Germans never seem to have wanted to become part of Germany, while the Austrian Germans seem to have wanted it at a previous time, but not today. The fact that both Scottish independence and Irish unification are felt to require popular approval in referenda shows that modern nationalists accept the principle that nationality is subjective, and has to be demonstrated at the ballot box. There are a few cases where people insist that some territory and people belongs to a nation even if the inhabitants don’t want it (e.g. Argentina and the Falkland Islands, Russia and Ukraine, maybe China and Taiwan), but these are exceptions, and are all disputed.

Regarding nations and empires: there is an important distinction between territories which are fully incorporated into the larger nation, and territories which are governed at one remove. Britain tried to govern Ireland as if the inhabitants of Dublin were no different from the inhabitants of Durham or Doncaster. It never tried to govern India as if the inhabitants of Delhi were no different from the inhabitants of Derby or Dover. Though British rule in Ireland was frequently brutal and coercive, by the time of the 1916 uprising, the Irish were over-represented in the UK Parliament, and had citizenship on exactly equal terms as the English, Scots and Welsh. By this point, the Irish simply felt that what was good for the UK as a whole, and what was good for the Irish part of the UK, diverged too much to make common governance acceptable. They were objecting to the principle of majoritarian government at the UK level.

For me the crucial difference between a nation state and a non-nation state is precisely to do with this acceptability of demographic majoritarianism. Post-1871 Germany included a significant Polish minority which it unsuccessfully attempted to Germanise. But that aside, majoritarian government was possible and practical. Majoritarianism was never practical for Habsburg Austria. Had it been attempted, it would have hastened even faster the 1918 breakup of the Empire.

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What do you mean with "Majoritaranism"?

Honest question, I'd like to understand it better.

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The question is, are you prepared to accept the majority will of the people in the territory you find yourself in, or do you find that majority inherently coercive, as the Irish did in Britain? To me, a nation state is simply one in which the majority will is not felt to be coercive and is therefore politically acceptable to more or less all sub-groups in the state. Here’s an example.

In the last election, you voted Red Party but most of your fellow citizens voted for the Blue Party. In a nation state, this doesn’t make you give up on majoritarianism, because you have the reasonable expectation that you can persuade enough Blue Party voters to change their mind next time if you tweak your policies, find a better leader etc. Now let’s imagine a non-nation state, in which, every election, everyone in ethnic group A always votes for the Red Party, and everyone in ethnic group B always votes for the Blue Party; and, since there are more people in ethnic group B, the Blue Party always wins every election. I think majoritarianism is not acceptable in such a state. Either that state will break apart into two nation states which can be governed via majoritarianism, or it will have to adopt some form of non-majoritarian governance. The Constitution of Lebanon is a good example of the kind of arrangement a non-majoritarian state has to adopt to hold together. It stipulates that the President must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker a Shia Muslim, and the Cabinet must divvy up portfolios according to an ethno-religious quota system. The Northern Ireland Assembly is another example of a deliberately non-majoritarian system. Before the Good Friday Agreement, the Protestant Unionist parties always won an overall majority in every election. It meant that no Catholic Nationalist ever had any role in government. The current system is like the Lebanon system in requiring a form of automatic coalition between Protestants and Catholics, Unionists and Nationalists, regardless of how people vote.

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I’ve never heard of this historian and there’s probably a reason for that

Did a recent write up on the Westphalian Nation State system. Would love your thoughts


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It's incorrect to say that "no other thinkers on nationalism" say that the core of Nazism wasn't nationalism. Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, writes that the Nazis used German nationalism for mass propaganda purposes, but that the nation for them was subsidiary to the movement. The goal of the movement was to create a master race, of which the German people were mere building blocks: "The Nazis did not think that the Germans were a master race, to whom the world belonged, but that they should be led by a master race, as should all other nations, and that this was only on the point of being born." For Arendt, Nazism was a totalitarian movement, and totalitarians "consider the country where they happened to seize power only the temporary headquarters of the international movement on the road to world conquest."

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Timothy Snyder also argues, in Black Earth, that Hitler was not a nationalist, and he makes a pretty compelling case for it. Hitler's own views were even darker: that the world is an endless series of zero-sum struggles between races and species for resources, and any attempt to veer against this is to veer against nature itself; all such veerings of which were Jewish in origin, hence the need for their extermination. Hitler didn't even believe the German race was necessarily destined to be the victor of such a struggle. Only the struggle itself could teach whom the victor was. Hence why he pressed on through the Russian invasion and conquest of Berlin, despite this doing significantly more damage to the nation than a surrender would have. It wasn't just his massive ego. He genuinely believed this was the way God organized nature, that the entire concept of the nation state in the Westphalian sense was illegitimate, and that his and Germany's loss just meant the Russians were their superiors after all.

It's an unbelievably grim view of the world. But he believed it anyway.

Hitler also, at least towards the end of his life, did not believe that the Jews were even a real race. Rather, he saw them as a "community of the mind", and thus, by his own logic, he was not racist against Jews, as one cannot be racist against a race when their race does not exist:


Not really that surprising, once you learn this stuff. Most all the worst anti-Semites don't believe the Jews are a real race, neither. Kanye West, for instance, is a subscriber to the "black people are the real Jews" conspiracy theory, which is common among black anti-Semites. The Quran teaches that Levantine Arab Muslims are the real Jews, and that the actual Jews are heretics whom deviated from the One True Faith, an insult further compounded by those Ashkenazi European fakers whom are pretending to be Levantines who came along and wormed their way into conquering the Holy Land. Such groups often cite the Khazar hypothesis as justification for this. It's particularly popular among Communists and Russian-nationalist anti-Semites as well, and remains so, even though Y-chromosomal genetic studies disproved the hypothesis decades ago.

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