Yoram Hazony Has Written The Political Philosophy Book Of The Decade

Posted: Feb 13, 2019 10:47 AM

I'm not saying that The Virtue of Nationalism is the best political philosophy book of the decade; after all, the decade has not yet ended.  I'm saying that it is the political philosophy book of the decade because it epitomizes the decade that we are now in, the decade in which the old world order (which was pretending to be a new world order) began to crack apart.

Yoram Hazony, is the Israeli scholar, college founder (Shalem College), and think tank leader (President of the Herzl Institute], based in Jerusalem), who has written this extraordinary book.

He had already been well known as a political philosopher in Israel, but he did not become well known in the west until his prior book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012.

Hazony had been getting increasingly concerned about the loss of the idea of the nation state in non-Israeli politics for some time. He saw that liberal internationalism had gotten very entrenched in elite conservative and liberal circles.

Particularly, he was shocked and dismayed when he heard George H.W. Bush's New World Order speech, which he rightly saw represented a Utopian view of the world, with U.S. troops acting primarily based on the interests of multi-lateral institutions and their vision of the world and not based on the direct interests of the American people.

Hazony saw how really fundamentally crazy this idea was. A collection of dictatorships, in which some of the worst governments in the world exercise veto power as members of the Security Council, were being elevated to the role of arbitrators of which nations will and will not be punished. Were American security forces now to be answerable to the dictators of the world, rather than to the American people?

George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, while often contrasted with his father's actions, shared a fundamental philosophical rationale with his father's - the belief that the United Nations conferred legal and moral legitimacy on military action. The second President Bush portrayed his invasion as the enforcement of UN resolutions, and based his legal case on that.

And in these two generations of Presidents Bush, we see two different wings of this internationalist vision - one focused on concerted international action with a central role for diplomacy, and the other focusing on American use of force and deemphasizing the traditional diplomatic channels and institutions. But both agree with the central premise, that US troops have the job of enforcing some global political order.

Hazony employs an analogy between the two competing models of the Holy Roman Empire and the two competing models of our secular multilateral unacknowledged imperial order. Modern elite conservatives, such as the much-maligned neo-conservative theorists, tend to want America to take a role similar to that of the Holy Roman Emperor, with the head of state as 'decider' in chief.  Liberal internationalists such as George H.W. Bush and even more so President Obama, tend to favor diplomatic bodies and international courts and are more analogous to those who favored the power of  the medieval papacy, particularly its hierarchy of trans-national courts residing outside of the nation state.

Both agree with the idea that all of the nations of the world should be wrapped in one law and it should be imposed on them by force if they refuse to abide by it.

But this is fundamentally at odds with the American tradition. As Hazony says, when we Americans celebrate Independence Day, we celebrate the opposite vision - we celebrate the idea of independence as an inherent good.

Where did we get the idea of national independence? We got it from ancient Israel. We got it from the Bible. More on that in a future column in this space.

I spent a fascinating hour on Skype with Professor Hazony, partly from New York and party from Jerusalem (with helicopter noise in the background), which you can listen to here.