by Yoram Hazony
Basic Books, 304 pp., $30
What does the election of Donald Trump have to do with Brexit and the formation of EU-dissident governments in Italy, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic? Popular nationalism. The popular nationalists all combined grievances ranging across the traditional left–right political spectrum to form fervent antiestablishment movements. They all shocked the political experts by gaining the support of large pluralities, sometimes majorities, of national electorates. Finally, each movement was organized around the proposition that the local ruling class was really part of a transnational elite that ignored the interests and values of its own countrymen.
And those elites—politicians of left and right, government careerists, mainstream media and entertainers, multinational corporate executives, and academics and intellectuals—have struck back in something close to unison. The political arrivistes, they say, are ill-informed populists, xenophobic at best and racist at worst, with pronounced authoritarian tendencies. And yet there are dissenting intellectuals who sympathize with the essential motivations and many of the goals of the new national movements, though they may have reservations about particular leaders and tactics. Yoram Hazony is the first such thinker to provide a sustained theoretical argument for the revived spirit of nationalism. The Virtue of Nationalism is a brilliant achievement, at once learned and sharp, philosophical and politically engaged. It is also sure to be controversial. Not only is Hazony’s style of argument bold and emphatic, but his ultimate subject—political virtue—is itself a challenge to the dominant forms of contemporary political discourse.