Yoram Hazony on the Virtue of Nationalism
Sep 3 2018

Virtue-of-Nationalism.jpg Yoram Hazony discusses his book, The Virtue of Nationalism, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Hazony argues that nationalism, for all its flaws, is a better system than a global system of governance. He argues that while the competition between nationalist states can lead to violence, the opportunity for each nation to pursue its own policies creates the benefits that trial-and-error innovation create in the marketplace. He also points out the dangers of global government systems and argues that U.S. military dominance and various international institutions such as European Union and the International Criminal Court have been growing in power.

RELATED EPISODE
Yuval Levin on Burke, Paine, and the Great Debate
Yuval Levin, author of The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas of Burke and Paine and their influence on the evolution of political philosophy....
EXPLORE MORE
Related EPISODE
Dennis Rasmussen on Hume and Smith and The Infidel and the Professor
How did the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith influence their ideas? Why do their ideas still matter today? Political Scientist Dennis Rasmussen of Tufts University and author of The Infidel and the Professor talks with EconTalk host Russ...
EXPLORE MORE
Explore audio highlights, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.

READER COMMENTS

Alonzo Fyfe
Sep 3 2018 at 9:53am

Greetings:

This was a very good – and, for my purposes – extremely timely podcast. Hazony made some extremely good points that it would be difficult for any globalist (such as myself) to ignore.

Still, I would like to offer three counter-points:

(1) There seems to be an initial incoherence in the original thesis. It seemed as if a reasonable translation would be, “Imposing a world order is a bad idea; therefore, we ought to impose the Treaty of Westphalia principles as a new world order.”

(2) Concerning the defense of a system of “mutual loyalties”, I think one can best illustrate the problems with such a practice if we ask, “What about building a system of mutual loyalties based on race? One can use all of the arguments that Hazony used in defense of this system of extended loyalties and use it in the defense of forming a system of extended loyalties – mutual aid and support – to others who are of the same race.

Now, race does not exist as a biological category – it is a social construct. However, the nation is also a social construct with artificial boundaries that exist merely where people opt to draw them.

I would not want to use racism as an argument against all systems of integrated mutual loyalties. Friends and families, for example, are quite important.

Mutual integrated loyalties become a problem when they are mixed with power. Racism becomes a problem when integrated racial loyalties is combined with the fact that one race has power over others.

Nor is it the case that equal power brings peace. Equal power brings war until one of the competing organizations of integrated mutual loyalties is able to establish dominance over competitors.

The integrated mutual loyalties of family tends not to cause problems because there are so many families that it is difficult for any of them to obtain dominance – at least in most western countries.

However, even here, the integrated mutual loyalties of family become problematic when a single family is able to take control of a large population. This is what rests behind the historical monarchies and many modern dictatorships. President Trump exemplifies what happens when one mixes the interdependent mutual loyalties of family with power even in a democratic state – where great importance is given to elevating the family above all other competitors.

Nationalism is an extreme marriage of integrated mutual loyalties and power. Indeed, each nation has its own military – has a monopoly on violence within its boundaries, and to extend its power beyond boundaries against populations that are outside of its integrated mutual loyalties and their concerns.

(3) The discussion seemed to migrate to an ideal of a number of independent countries, each experimenting with its own rules, systems, and institutions, a global laboratory with a couple hundred political experiments all bubbling along at the same time. We can then observe these and see which works out the best.

The model seemed to compare this to an economy with different companies in competition with each other, each experimenting and innovating, with those that succeed growing and becoming more prosperous while the failures die out.

Companies, however, are thought to be operating within a system that protects property rights and seeks to control externalities in some way. There is a system of laws, for example, that prevents one company from blowing up another company’s manufacturing plant or assassinating its researchers, or building a fire that fills its neighbor with noxious smoke.

We seem to be faced with two options. One is to find a way to impose these types of restrictions on the ways in which different nations may interact. However, this is the establishment of the very type of “world order” that Hazony seems to object to. The other is to allow anarchy to reign, and to allow conscience alone to determine the limitations of appropriate conduct across borders.

Conclusion:

I have a feeling that, when aliens discover the ruins of the human race on this uninhabited planet, to the degree that they can still determine the history that lead up to that destruction, I suspect they are going to list “nationalism” as the cause of death. It will be because we could not find a way to live together, and so we did not continue to live at all.

P Burgos
Sep 7 2018 at 10:30am

Do you see any realistic better alternatives to nationalism? One thing that I have read is that nationalism is in part a product of the widespread availability of guns. That is to say, guns brought about the possibility of new forms of violent conflict, and nationalism was in part a response to this, as a way to constrain a newfound ability of ordinary people to make war when they wished to do so, especially via things like assassinations, which guns make easier to accomplish than previous technology. Also, explosives make terrorism much easier than it was in previous centuries.

Andrew J Beauchamp
Sep 15 2018 at 11:57am

P Burgos,

I highly recommend “Guns, Germs, and Steel” for a history lesson.  It turns out that technological advantages (acquired by luck) determined the outcome of tribal/national conflicts long before guns.  Nationalism on a level of literally eating the other nation.

Andrew

Richard McCargar
Sep 8 2018 at 2:08pm

People are basically the same world-round.

The powerful seek ever more power over the weak.

As that is a fact, I want the least powerful government, one that is the closest and most responsive to the demands of the electorate.

World governmental bodies such as one finds in Brussels and the Hague are not responsive to local demands as they consider themselves “elite” thinkers who know best.

They want to rule my life, and believe they should, even without my input.

No thank you.

That kind of power always ends the same way, with the death of the the “non-believers”…..read that as “political opponents”.

Andrew Beauchamp
Sep 14 2018 at 3:14pm

Alonzo,

Thank you for articulating much of what I was struggling with in the interview.  Isn’t nationalism a close cousin of the tribalism that we’ve bemoaned in our politics of late?

This week we are remembering the tragedy of 9/11 after which the country hit peak nationalism and leveraged our “mutual loyalty” to give our President the authority (and haven’t yet revoked it) to ravage the Middle East.

Thank you, Econtalker, for the exposure to new (to me) ideas.

Andrew

Greg G
Sep 3 2018 at 9:53am

A huge part of the impetus to develop more internationalist institutions after WWII was the recognition that a world with nuclear weapons would be very different from what came before.  And not necessarily in a good way.

Certainly this was the case with the founding of  U.N. and European Union.  The national leaders involved realized that for all of known human history major powers had gone to war with each other and that military technology was changing these equations radically.  Increased international trade and institutions were sought not only for the increase prosperity  they made possible but also because it was believed in good faith that they would reduce the likelihood of war.

We now live in a world where even the least competent and rational government of approximately 200 separate nations can obtain a nuclear arsenal.  Whatever your definition of human rights is it probably contains, or ought to contain, the right to not be blown up in a nuclear war.

I was surprised and disappointed that these considerations were not more a part of this discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

Bogart
Sep 17 2018 at 2:20am

Joining lots of little nations in one big nation may reduce the possibility that two little nations may start shooting nuclear weapons at one another but that is because the new larger government can trample the rights of individual citizens instead of having to defeat an entire government to do it.  But what is worse is that for the unlikely event of nuclear war, the folks give up much of the freedom they earned previously.

In the end as nation states get larger, people will become less free as they have reduced options to escape tyranny.

Jonathan Andrews
Sep 3 2018 at 1:29pm

I thought this remarkable. Hazony gropes towards ideas and, as others point out, misses some important problems (well duh!).

There are always risks and dangers; nuclear war, global warming and, maybe, global solutions might be necessary. I think Hazony was trying to point out that this might be more frightening than the original problem.

I would like to have heard him express more about how crap the EU is and how necessary Brexit is likely to prove for our freedoms. Well, I suppose he did raise Thatcher’s concern that the French and German nations were more familiar with top down rule.

Jakob
Sep 3 2018 at 2:58pm

This podcast was rather a disappointment.

I think that the fundamental idea proposed is that it is good with a heterogeneous system with multiple approximately equal power centers that balance each other.  Like Europe after Westphalia and the concept of checks and balances in the US constitution.

Then this is somehow turned into “EU is bad” and “rule of law in international affairs is bad” and “we should be properly married and have more children”… the last of which has nothing what so ever to do with balancing of power and sounds more like a grumpy old man of rather conservative leaning.  It  has zero to do with nations – indeed, certain nations succeed in keeping those numbers up, like the Nordic countries…

I personally feel that Nationalism as an idea is considered a bit too negative.  Sure, it gave us gifts like Nazism and today’s Chinese aggressiveness… but it also built some rather stable and cohesive states.  A nation state is a good start for a good stable welfare state, as all it asks is for citizens to be citizens.  When done right, it transcends things like class,  religion, and ethnicity and organizes all people in an area into a functioning society.  This has been a huge boon to humanity, especially so in the Western world.

But this has nothing to do with the perceived problem of low marriage rates – I think that is just a passing phase, and that once the US gets through to a modern egalitarian and equality-based view of the sexes, you should see the same rise in stable relationships and marriages that is happening in the Nordic countries right now. As well as higher birth rates.

And seriously – why is low birth rates considered a bad thing?  If nothing else, it is good for the planet and everyone with fewer people around. More stuff for everyone in a very easy way.

Chris Peel
Sep 3 2018 at 9:49pm

This felt too much like a not-so-subtle call for religion, family, and conservative values.   He starts with a bible story, then talks about how states “sanctify borders” and the low birth rates.  Of course it’s good to have decentralized power, yet why give it all this baggage?

Dan
Sep 3 2018 at 11:25pm

Globalism carries many of the same problems as socialism. When everyone owns something, nobody really does. Nationalism is a kind of property right that gives citizens an ownership interest in where they live. Without it the land on which you are living is just another commons where you are passing through.

Harry Robinson
Sep 4 2018 at 9:09am

Two principle thoughts; Political leadership appears to not only use a military/police state and a required industrial complex to protect themselves against external enemies, i.e. other nation-states but also internal ones. If you’re a libertarian, as an example, you’re a potential internal enemy of the State because you disapprove with the taxation used by the nation-state to maintain their powers to both tax and usurp other individual rights.  Thus, the nation-state creates this great conflict by its pure existence, between those governing and those being governed.  Julian Assange and Edward Snowden as examples of this ethical dilemma.

We have just about tried every potential form of governance under the institution of the nation-state and they have all failed at two basic important issues. 1. Doing what is in the best interest of the majority. 2. Lasting a prolonged period of time without massive conflict.

The first is really very simple. No one can know what is in the majorities best interest therefore we allow special interests to manipulate the system through campaign contribution, taxes and the redistribution of that wealth which ends up being contradictory to the majorities best interest. All social policies have contraindications and of course, the political system is going to try to sweep them under the proverbial rug to get the campaign contributions, highly distorting the free market.

It appears that all nation-state end up dying because of the same reasons, except for eternal or internal conquest.  If they aren’t overthrown either internal or externally, they end up bankrupting the entire society and nation-state.  $21 trillion public and $18 trillion private, plus another +/- $50 trillion estimated for unfunded liabilities.  Japan’s debt to GDP ratio is even worse.

If the nation-state worked, we could just sent a group of experts to Venezuela to develop and implement a plan and it would be fixed. Oh, that’s right Marx nor anyone else has never really given us the full plan. We surely know how to destroy free market capitalism, we just don’t know how to keep the nation-state from manipulating it.

FYI. Vittel wrote the Law of Nations. He gave rights to nation-states and thus we still maintain “to the victor, goes the spoils”. The problem is groups cannot have rights any greater than the individuals within the group have themselves. We can’t vote, except for government, to take the rights and property away from others to benefit the group. It is illegal for any group, except government to do that. Those in Robinson Enterprises cannot vote to steal their neighbor’s money or property unless they are on the City Commission, then it can be highly popular depending if you are the recipient or the contributor of the money or property.

Cyniclist
Sep 4 2018 at 10:46am

If you want to have freedom in the world then you have to maintain multiple centres of power which can prevent one elite taking whatever its ideas are and imposing them on the rest of the world.

This isn’t an argument against the EU it is an argument in favour of it.

Not only does the EU provide a counterbalance to the US and China, but it is itself, unlike the US and China, comprised of 28 nations each of which can veto substantial changes in its powers and jurisdiction and all of whom are free to leave at any time if they so choose.

The EU is far from perfect, but if you fear concentration of power in the hands of an elite Europe really isn’t the place I’d be worrying about at the moment, and as for imposing their ideals on the rest of the world, there’s a queue to get in…

thomas
Sep 5 2018 at 2:31pm

That is a delightfully turned about argument.  If I may set up a strawman here:  “The British HAVE to give up their liberty because otherwise there will be no power center to counter the US and China.”  Is that about right?

I think if one looked at the particulars that the British were complaining about, one might see it more their way.  There was a massive bill for England (I don’t know if it was shared with the rest of Britain) .  23 million pounds a day.*  Those that got a benefit for reduced tariffs were not sharing that with the people who were paying the bill except in an incidental way.

The English were trading with Europe before the EU, they can continue after it as well.  If the large corporations that were getting the benefit and trying to control the press don’t get the benefits without getting to pass the costs onto the non-millionairres, I don’t think the world will collapse.

 

*https://fullfact.org/europe/our-eu-membership-fee-55-million/

Cyniclist
Sep 6 2018 at 7:35pm

That is a delightfully turned about argument.  If I may set up a strawman here:  “The British HAVE to give up their liberty because otherwise there will be no power center to counter the US and China.”  Is that about right?

It isn’t, and that’s two straw men.

Firstly the UK haven’t given up any liberty, they have a powerful veto within the EU, exemptions from several bits of EU legislation which are ‘unBritish’, and the ability to walk away at any time.

Secondly the existence of the EU is not dependent on UK membership. If as Hazony argued multiple centres of power are necessary to prevent a single elite enforcing it’s will on the world, and you live in a world which contains the US and China  you are explicitly arguing in favour of a third world-power, such as the EU. Moreover the EU does no enforcing of its will over its constituent parts unlike the US or China.

I think if one looked at the particulars that the British were complaining about, one might see it more their way.

There is no single British voice, nor a single Brexiteer voice making any coherent argument. The anti-EU vote managed to gain the support of 37% of eligible voters at the referendum, which it won on a 52/48 split.

If you look at the particulars ‘The British were complaining about’ you’ll find half the list is in direct contradiction to the other half. The Brexiteer vote came from the authoritarian left who resent the way in which the EU enables big business to trade easily across national borders and that it gives them access to a large pool of cheap labour and from the authoritarian right which resents what it sees as EU meddling designed to hobble business by tying it up in red tape and making it adhere to single EU standards, the inevitable consequence of a single market, the creation of which was championed by the British…

 

There was a massive bill for England (I don’t know if it was shared with the rest of Britain) .  23 million pounds a day.

Not only isn’t £23 million a lot of money when you are talking about a country with a $3 trillion GDP, but you can’t judge an expenditure without looking at what it is you are buying.

Do you have any idea how many governmental agencies the UK will have to setup and run if they leave, and the cost of doing so, or the cost of infrastructure changes required to accommodate third country status, the cost of increased friction at the EU/UK border, the potential consequences on the NI peace process, the cost of entering Brexit day one without a single trade treaty, the cost of debating and copying existing EU legislation in to UK law, the cost of  carrying out exit negotiations with the EU or the loss of business investment as the government debated amongst itself which proposal already known to be unacceptable to the EU to put forwards for official rejection?

£23 million a day is also considerably less than the £350 million a week that vote Leave had painted on the side of their big red bus. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-latest-news-vote-leave-director-dominic-cummings-leave-eu-error-nhs-350-million-lie-bus-a7822386.html

Ed
Sep 4 2018 at 7:13pm

Us vs Them.

It seems to be a constant in human history.  The nation-state (and the nationalism that underlies it) has proven to be an especially fruitful form of that ancient dichotomy.

Hazony lays his finger on the source of the rot in American society today.  We don’t have enough in common with our countrymen.  We need to do a better job teaching our kids and assimilating our immigrants into the historical traditions of the American republic.

Hazony also seems to think that a Judeo-Christian foundation is necessary for the preservation of freedom.  Perhaps so, but what if it turns out not to be true?  Should we Pascal our way into belief simply because it’s so beneficial, or should we seek out a firmer foundation?

Seth C
Sep 5 2018 at 10:15am

While there were interesting aspects of Hazony’s argument, I was disappointed that he never addressed one fundamental issue: what is the nation?

While we sometimes talk about the nation-state, the reality is that rarely do the nation and the state perfectly align. Most states have controlled people with competing national identities. As a result, the modern state is merely a smaller version of the imperial state that Hazony finds so repugnant, but one that often falsely claims to be a nation-state.

We see this in the various separatist movements that plague most countries. For example, many Catalans do not see themselves as Spanish, believing that their nation is Catalonia and argue that the Spanish government is and long has been a repressive regime that has tried to obliterate it as a nation. (The Franco regime even attempted to suppress the use of the Catalan language). So why is Spain a good thing, while far less repressive entities (such as the EU) are bad)?

While some people would argue that the Catalan sense of nation is based on many myths, what cannot be denied is that many Catalans do not feel any national affinity for Spain.

The question then becomes: if the nation is the best unit for determining what should be a state, why not break up those that are heterogeneous? We see this play out in the case of the United Kingdom with Scotland, but there are other separatist movements even in Britain.

While I would strongly oppose the dissolution of modern states, Hazony made assumptions about the linkage between the nation and the state that are questionable at best. Perhaps he addresses these issues in his new book, but his discourse left me skeptical.

 

P Burgos
Sep 7 2018 at 10:45am

In the UK, don’t most Scots and Welsh accept that they are British? I find all of this talk about the nation state without much talk about political violence to be perplexing, as I thought that nationalism and the nation-state were supposed to be solutions to constraining political violence. The idea of one nation, one people being the best precondition for avoiding civil war, as opposed to states with multiple ethnicities fighting each other for control of the state or to break away and form their own state. In the past, this wouldn’t have been too much of a probably, given that political violence was very costly, but now any (and every) idiot can grab a gun and assassinate a head of state, or shoot up a market, or build a bomb and blow up a train or an airplane. It is a lot harder for one or two people to wreak that kind of destruction with just swords and arrows.

Bogwood
Sep 5 2018 at 12:28pm

The flag, the pledge, and state religions seem to be part of the problem.  At recent events I wear my military unit cap and shirt (to avoid violence) but turn 90 to 180 degrees away, toward where “my” country used to be.  But that is a geezer view. Traditions have been subverted.

 

 

 

thomas hockman
Sep 5 2018 at 12:37pm

23 minutes Hazony:  “When you read the literature by think-tankers and … they are constantly referring to precedents from the Roman Empire, from the British Empire, from the Austria-Hungarian Empire.”

Sounds right, but does anyone have any examples of this?  I would love to have the quote from each writer to confront them with.  Thank you.

Threfin
Sep 5 2018 at 1:51pm

Global Free Trade sounds like a wonderful idea, and in theory it would be.  But the reality problem rears it head.

Cultures are very different on opposite sides of the border.  Not everyone plays by the rules we have in America.

For example, if you sell AR 15s in say Somalia or Mexico, you get very different results from their sale in America.

The product is the same, and the market can be efficient, but the culture receives the property with a different perspective and thus sees different results.

Efficient access to a quality consumer good does not change the consumer’s view-point on the use of the product within his cultural horizon.  It’s like pacific islanders wearing spoons as earrings, or that Seminole warrior who wore a lighthouse Fresnel lens as a breast-plate; or how about New Yorkers hanging cannibal ritual masks on their dining room walls, it’s a cultural thing.

Similarly, Immigration is, in theory, a wonderful thing for both America and the immigrants, but if you transport individuals with a different cultural perspective to America, and make no effort to ensure their assimilation, you are effectively importing the world’s problems into America.  Historically immigrants came to be Americans.  We used to praise the melting pot.  Now we are Balkanizing our own country in the name of ‘diversity.’

Thomas
Sep 5 2018 at 2:16pm

I think Hazony has a lot here besides cultural differences and immigration.  I like his explanation of Brexit as clash of the traditions of rampant liberty for the English and not so much for the French and German.  I wonder what the French and German would say their traditions are after liberty?  Also, in looking at immigration, people who are pro open border forget that when America takes these wonderful immigrants, that we then deprive the donor country of the world’s most wonderful people.  But proponents never get that far.  They just open the discussion of whether or not you are worse than Hitler, or just are Hitler.  Dave Rubin, in his sometimes good rubin report said that when we look at immigration, we are balancing the virture of mercy to the immigrants, and justice to the host country, and Socrates already showed us how to debate the virtues.  I would like to see people argue that, but I can not find anyone who is classically educated who will take the pro immigration side to see a good argument.

Threfin
Sep 5 2018 at 5:46pm

My point, in the above post, is that power and it’s proper use are percieved differently in different cultures.  The UN is rife with corruption for that very reason.  The EU is a platform for international socialism also for that reason (globalism is also a culture).

Threfin
Sep 5 2018 at 6:08pm

My point, in the above post, is that power and its proper use are percieved differently in different cultures.  The UN is rife with corruption for that very reason.  The EU is a platform for international socialism also for that reason (globalism is also a culture).

Locke worked for a certain culture, but appears inconsequential in others.  I think some would say that was the failure of neo-conservatism, our values couldn’t just be transplanted into the Middle East because they have a different culture.  Individuals there may accept Lockean ideas, but they are not the majority, and would be considered dangerous.

 

Mauricio
Sep 5 2018 at 7:35pm

Awesome topic, poorly executed. I was expecting more.

I wish the teaching from the previous podcast would have been applied here and a dissenting voice heard. Instead we heard a very agreeable Ross Roberts.

There were many bold claims made in this podcast and we could have had an even more interesting conversation had we heard these claims questioned. Rather than taking those claims at face value (perhaps because there was a level of agreement), we could have had a richer discussion.

A few questions of the top of my head that I longed for

Why is Yoram assuming that the basis for the theory for a more global world is that people will lay down their swords? Couldn’t it be something else like the fact that countries are so integrated economically/ socially and politically that makes war not practical?
Why is the boundary of nationalism defined at the country level? Seems like all of his arguments could be applied at the very local level. Should we then nationalize cities/ towns/ neighborhoods?
Where is the evidence that accepting tradition with all its good and bad is the only way to preserve the liberties of a nation? Needless to say, there are many traditions that were employed in the past which I am sure we do not want to keep.
When does tradition become oppressive and a limitation to development of rights and freedom? It seems to me that this train of thought would have done little to advance gay rights, women rights and African American rights.

Just a few that pop up but there was so much content here to exploit.

By the way, I am a big fan of econtalk and more often than not there is so much to praise.

Bill
Sep 5 2018 at 8:53pm

I feel like Putin and his pro-nationalist agenda should have been mentioned. The decentralization/anti-imperial argument is exactly what Putin says in defense of Assad, the annexation of Crimea and so on. Putin probably wouldn’t say that  England is the mother of all democracies, but when Hazony criticized the last four president’s expansionist wars, it really echoed Putin’s rhetoric.

Bill
Sep 6 2018 at 2:47pm

To clarify, I would have been interested in such a discussion, however I realize the interview was really restricted to principles and philosophy, and the politics of the present day we’re intentionally avoided. But granting that, I would still say that a discussion of the problem of a single global superpower would have grounded the discussion. I personally think that both Obama and Trump have tried to climb down from that thinning branch, but it’s not as easy as one would like.

Mr. Econotarian
Sep 7 2018 at 5:24pm

Let’s be clear, the superpowers of the world are divided between the multi-ethnic democratic individual freedom polities of the US/EU/UK, starkly contrasted with the more autocratic ethnic empires of China and Russia, which both fairly brutally keep down their ethnic minorities in conquered territories.

China and Russia’s brief flirtation with the multi-ethnic Communist International was always for them only a means to domination of other nations by their own ethnicities.

Bill
Sep 9 2018 at 1:56am

I agree (though I’m not talking about the Soviet Union, I’m talking about post-communist Russia), and would want to ask Hazony if this evident nationalism has any virtue. He’s arguing that there’s virtue in the clash of nations, and here we have an example and I’d be curious what he has to say about it.

I am honestly not 100% sure what I think. It seems like a high price to pay to withdraw from the world stage, but on the other hand it hasn’t been tried.

John McCue
Sep 6 2018 at 4:14pm

Although Prof. Hazony was not the smoothest interviewee I’ve ever heard, I’m glad I stuck with this podcast to the end.  The pay-off (for me, anyway) was in the last 10 minutes, when Russ asked him what should have been on the reading list besides Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau.  At times, what he was describing seemed to be Hayekian “law” (as discussed in a much earlier Econtalk podcast with Don Boudreaux), although Prof. Hazony did not use that term.

Kevin D Remillard
Sep 7 2018 at 1:53pm

Wonderful….were drowning in freedoms.

Mr. Econotarian
Sep 7 2018 at 5:09pm

Russ, sorry, you really dropped the ball on this interview!

You never asked Hazony to define what he meant by “nationalism”.  Is it just another term for ethnocentric polities?  Or does it mean separation and decentralization of power?

Regarding ethnocentric polities, work by Steven Fish (“Does Diversity Hurt Democracy?”) finds that ethnic diversity does not decrease democracy.  Work by Jong-sung You (“Social Trust: Fairness Matters More Than Homogeneity”) finds that cross-national variations in social trust are better explained by democracy, freedom from corruption, and fair income distribution than by ethnic homogeneity.   Work by de Soysa and Vadlamannati (“Does Social Diversity Impede Sound Economic Management?”) found that high diversity is associated with higher levels of economic freedom.  Some multi-ethnic cities like New York and San Francisco Bay Area have economies that are much larger than many enthocentric nations.

I’m all for decentralization of power, but of course the multi-ethnic polities of the USA and the EU have tremendous amounts of power delegated to constituent states.  I understand the potential for increasing concentration of central power, but of course there is a trade off between trade transaction costs and decentralization, a bit like the theory of the firm.  There is a cost to needing that passport to cross a national boundary, or having a product meet 28 different and incompatible safety standards.

Hazony tries to compare “nationalism” with “empire”, but he also doesn’t define the latter (and Russ doesn’t ask him).  Does he mean the ethnocentric, cohering empires like Nazi Germany or the Roman Empire?  Or does he mean an internationalist, multi-ethnic empire like the Communist International?

Hazony also talks about how great it is for nations to “survive” with their “traditions”.  Is it really great for Saudi Arabia to survive with its traditions of female oppression, for Spain to survive during its explosion of Jews in 1492, or for Nazi Germany to survive with the Holocaust (the latter two drawing on the “European Christian tradition” of anti-Semitism)?  Maybe sometimes it is better if a nation does not survive!  East Germany and the Confederate States of America, bye bye!

BTW the internationalist Communist empire certainly had no problem conquering a large number of nations.

At the end, the ethnocentric dog whistles become more directly audible, and the discussion of old Testament Christian “tradition” comes out, contrasting it to the rational reasoning of political philosophers. Does he mean the Christian tradition for witch trials, The Inquisition, The Crusades, and burning heretics?

Or is he speaking more of the English/Dutch Protestant tradition?  Protestantism of course came from rational reasoning overturning the inherited 1000-year-old Roman Catholic Christian tradition.  But specifically in England and the Netherlands, individual freedom was further incubated in ocean-going internationally trading nations.  I also think it is fair to point out that England was a very multi-ethnic nation – Celts invaded by Anglo-Saxons, then invaded by Norse and Normans.  BTW this is why written English has such confusing spelling due to the melange of languages feeding into it, and also why spoken English has simpler noun declensions than many other languages – too hard for all the invaders to keep straight!

Traditions change.  Slavery was tradition, its is largely gone.  Racism is a tradition, and we are certainly still working on getting rid of that.  We must look to REASON to ensure that the best traditions are kept, and that the worst traditions are kicked to the curb.  Black people can be treated equally under the law.  Gay marriage is OK.

And I think there is nothing wrong to recognize the human tendency to “cohere” as groups, whether family, religious, ethnic, based on polity, company, or if you are a fan of Manchester United.

With regards to the “biological” basis of group cohesion in families, I will point out that stepparents commit filicide at higher rates than do genetic parents, and in more violent ways (“Methods of Filicide: Stepparents and Genetic Parents Kill Differently”, Weekes-Shackelford & Shackelford).  I rather suspect that the inherent basis of group cohesion is biological and genetic, although humans excel at being able to expand the definition of group far beyond that, and that seems to be of immense species survival benefit – to date.

Moreover, we must call upon OUR REASON to recognize when that feeling of cohesion moves from one that inspires voluntary cooperation to achieve a common good to one that inspires the violent & evil oppression of others.

Stefan
Sep 10 2018 at 4:32am

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.–Econlib Ed.]

Scott Campbell
Sep 9 2018 at 6:27am

Dear Russ, I think this is a great subject and interview. I only wish Yoram Hazony was not the lone voice in the wilderness of personal accountability and divested government. I see the world inundated by big government, elitism, and I wonder how the communist atrocities are not again repeated.

Thank you for providing the text of the interview. I can now read and contemplate each idea. I hope there are other authors like Yoram and you will interview them. If not, then I worry that the world of my great grandchildren is going to be a very dark place, the literary dystopias not the elitist imagined utopia.

Brandon
Sep 10 2018 at 7:10pm

I wonder how all of this relates to the conflict with Palestine. It would of been interesting to push him on the applications to Israel’s relationship with the UN. It would of been very, very interesting to push him on the applications to Palestine’s relationship with Israel.

Always good to hear different points of view, deeply researched.

SaveyourSelf
Sep 12 2018 at 7:12am

This was a profoundly important episode because it proposed—accurately, I think—that our models for politics are very poor. Not just at the academic level, either. The models laymen and even politicians use have very little, if any, predictive power so far as I can tell. Yoram Hazony was savvy enough to say that economic models are useful for understanding and predicting markets but he made a major blunder when he said it was a mistake to try and apply those same models to politics. He proposed, instead, building a model for politics from the foundation of mutual loyalty, which he says is involuntary. His exact words were, “This characteristic of mutual loyalty is a completely different phenomenon from consent.” He allows for consent and sympathy in his burgeoning model of politics, but says they take second stage to mutual loyalty. He gives the example of parents and children and then suggests nations are the same sort of animal as a family.

I feel Yoram Hazony is correct on diagnosing the problem but his solution is deeply flawed. To begin with, the state is not a large family. To say children do not have consent in their relationships with family members is true. To say, or even imply, that adults in a country do not have consent in their relationships to other adults is completely false. A hierarchy can be imposed on the populace of a country through violence, essentially forcing a country to behave something like a distorted family, but this is neither required nor optimal. The functional unit of a society is an individual, not a state. To create a useful model of politics, the individual must be the building block. As such, the remark that competition between states is healthy for the people of the world is excellent but inferior to the understanding that competition between individuals both inside of and across state boundaries is healthy for the people of the world. In other words, Yoram was wrong to dismiss microeconomic models as an excellent tool for understanding politics. Politics is the economics of violence, after all. Specialization in violence has the same benefits as specialization in other occupations. Trade between the practitioners of violence and all other occupations functions the same as trade between specialists of all the nonviolent occupations so long as the violence does not enter in the negotiations. The key to understanding the difference between politics and the rest of economics is that violence is a trump suit in the games of trade. That fact is a credible foundation for a working model of politics.

I don’t mean to imply that mutual loyalty is unimportant. It is important. I only want to stress that mutual loyalty, and the duty it creates, are absolutely adult consensual acts. If you substitute Yoram’s concept of reflexive mutual loyalty for the concept of consensual loyalty through contractual citizenship, you now have the basis for a working model of politics based on microeconomics.

Daniel Klein
Sep 13 2018 at 12:29am

Up with Hume, Smith, and Burke.

Like Jonah Goldberg’s LIBERAL FASCISM, Mr. Hazony uses “liberal” regrettably. Smith was liberal; in fact he more than any other single person launched the original political meaning of that term, and it had those connotations that Mr. Hazony praises, for example throughout the discourse of Dugald Stewart and his pupils. I’d also call Hume and Burke liberals–on Burke see Richard Bourke and Yuval Levin. Liberal, liberal, liberal.

Yes, the Paine sort of rationalism also gets mixed in, social contract etc. but to take those features as defining of liberalism is misguided.

Mr. Hazony lumps Rousseau and Hobbes in with Locke to represent “liberalism.” That shows the problem with making social contract a defining characteristic of liberalism. Politically, Rousseau was, if he was anything at all, profoundly anti-liberal.

But, as with Goldberg’s book, the misstep with the word “liberal” does not undermine the main points.

The semantic trap was set about 130 years ago, and we fell into it about 100 years ago. Need to climb out of it.

Phil Langton
Sep 20 2018 at 5:04am

Russ,

There were lots of things I found useful in this conversation but I was a little concerned that you used the term ‘tryanny’ in relation to some power that might attempt to impose some action on a more or less global level.  This was in the context of global action on climate change.  For me ‘tryanny’ means cruel and oppressive.  In the 1950’s the UK government essentially banned the burning of coal in residential properties in London.  This measure was to prevent the pollution that was killing thousands of Londoners each year.  True, it did limit personal freedoms and impose costs, but was that tyranny?  If global warming is real and if it has the potential to significantly alter the earth’s climate and do harm to a host of nations and their citizens (not to mention the other species with whom we share the planet), is it not right that similar action is taken?

You seemed to imply elsewhere in the conversation that individual Americans  increasingly value personal goals only and that societal values (mutual loyalties) were being diminished.  Is it possible that you feel your personal values are being served because America currently has a dominant position as a World power?  If you lived in a country that caught a cold when America sneezed, would you feel as free and empowered?

LEAVE A COMMENT

required
required
required, not displayed
required, not displayed
optional
optional

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


DELVE DEEPER

This week's guest:

This week's focus:

Additional ideas and people mentioned in this podcast episode:

A few more readings and background resources:

A few more EconTalk podcast episodes:


AUDIO HIGHLIGHTS
TimePodcast Episode Highlights
0:33

Intro. [Recording date: August 23, 2018.]

Russ Roberts: Before introducing today's guest, if all goes as planned, the first episode of the book club for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book In the First Circle will be next Monday, September 10, 2018. My guest in that episode is Kevin McKenna, Professor of Russian language, literature, and culture at the University of Vermont. And in that first episode, which we've already recorded, he gives an overview of Solzhenitsyn's life, the Soviet literary scene, and Solzhenitsyn's conflict with Soviet leaders from Stalin to nearly the present. It's a fascinating conversation that I hope will be of interest even if you are not planning to read the book. Subsequent episodes--and I don't know how many there will be--will go deeply into the book itself. They will be released as bonus episodes and not on Mondays. Those will not air until at least late September, so you still have time to read the book if you'd like to follow along in real time. And we also hope to have an opportunity on Reddit for you to interact with each other about the book.

1:30

Russ Roberts: Now for today's guest, philosopher, historian, and author Yoram Hazony.... His latest book is The Virtue of Nationalism, which is the subject of today's episode.... Now, this book was a tough sell for me. Like many, especially those who are vaguely libertarian, classical liberal, I've become disenchanted with nationalism. But I have to say your book brought me back a long way. Take it seriously is a good idea. So, it's an incredibly provocative read. It covers a wide array of history, philosophy, and even some current events. I want to start with the dichotomy you present at the beginning of the book, which really runs through the whole book, which is the choice between national states and an imperial order. Explain what you mean by each of those.

Yoram Hazony: This is a distinction that actually we find going all the way back to the Bible. If you ask what is it that politically of great interest to the Israelite prophets, well, we're all familiar with it. They are living in a world of contending world empires; each of them claims that it should rule the world. Babylonia claims that it should rule the world; Assyria claims that it should rule the world. And this is the ancient conception of what the gods want: they want a ruler who is going to bring peace and prosperity, as we find over and over again in the ancient texts was going to bring peace and plenty to the world. He's going to end wars by conquering everything, and he's going to cultivate, create cultivation and agriculture on a vast scale so millions can be fed. And, in the Bible, we see this very strange dissent that goes almost the entire way through Hebrew scripture, where the Jewish intellectual leadership--the Israelite spiritual leadership--think that these world-conquering empires are evil. They have a different proposal that they want to put on the table. They think that Israel should be an independent state ruled by a king that is from the Jewish people, with borders that the God of Israel tells the Israelites that they're not allowed to cross. And moreover, this vision isn't just for Jews, because we find over and over again that other small national states, other independent nations, are supposed to keep their independence as well. And ultimately the vision of a peaceful world is a world where nations will no longer be enslaved to these world empires. And nobody seems to believe that a small, independent Israel or Moav or Edom or any of these other small countries, that they are going to be necessarily that they are going to bring peace and plenty to the whole world the way that those world empires claimed that they were going to, but they claim to offer something else. They claim to offer freedom for these different peoples to live each under their own vine and their own fig tree and to understand God in their own way. Now, that's a long time ago that those texts were written. But, as it happens, Western civilization plays out, almost the entire length of it, as a kind of a tension, a dialog between what eventually becomes the Roman Empire's vision of universal empire, and Israel's vision of independent nations that leave each other alone, in freedom.

6:23

Russ Roberts: Let me bring us forward then in time to 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia, which is one of my favorite trivia dates--with 1066. I have to confess, I didn't know much about the Treaty of Westphalia; I'd forgotten, if I ever knew anything about it. But, you make the case that that was an important break point in the evolution of the nation state and the world order and how it was organized. So, describe how we transition out of the Roman Empire into what you call a Protestant vision of competing nation states.

Yoram Hazony: There had always been nations in Europe that saw themselves, defined themselves in terms of this kind of Old Testament vision. But the Protestants, and especially Calvinists and the Anglicans, took this especially seriously. In 1534 we get effectively England's first declaration of independence: Henry VIII doesn't just decide that he wants to make decisions about marriage. He decides that his kingdom is no longer under the authority of this vision of universal Monarchy and Church which had been the medieval vision.

Russ Roberts: Which was the first Brexit.

Yoram Hazony: It's the first Brexit. In 1581, we get a declaration of independence by the Dutch Protestants, which, by the way, reads an awful lot like the American Declaration of Independence. It's just 200 years earlier. And then in 1648, as you say, after the 30 Years' War, this English and Dutch model of declared independence from the Holy Roman Empire and from the Catholic Church, that model of declared independence is then adopted formally by additional nations--by the French, who are Catholics; by the Swiss; and by others. So, 1648 is kind of a moment in which the reality that had been developing for a century and which nations declared themselves to be self-determining--that's a word that's invented later, obviously--but, no longer requiring any kind of approval, formal or theoretical, from the Holy Roman Emperor or the Pope, that gets ratified in three treaties, which create for the first time a formally pluralistic order in Europe, where some states are going to be Catholic, others Lutheran, others Calvinist; some are going to be monarchies and some republics. Some are going to have freedoms that we would recognize: freedom of speech, limited government. Others are not going to have anything like that. And, this diversity is accepted as being the basis for the civilizational order.

9:45

 

Russ Roberts: So, let me interrupt here. Because, you say some beautiful things about that; and the economist in me and the Hayekian in me finds it very appealing. We have all these different countries; they are each trying different things; they are each allowed to go their own way. They can learn from each other. They can learn from the mistakes of others. You could argue it has some of the characteristics--this is obviously not accurate literally, but some of the characteristics of federalism in the United States: each state has a certain level of autonomy to try different things; and good things can be copied and bad things can be set aside. So, that's the positive vision of these independent nation-states choosing their own religious traditions, their own cultural traditions, their own political traditions--some good, some bad. It's obviously a very mixed bag. On the downside, which you are very aware of and write about extensively, it launches a 300-year period--from 1648 you could say to 1948--of incredible warfare between all these independent nation-states, so that peace and prosperity--there's some prosperity, but the peace that was given up by moving away from a single empire, a top-down sovereign, that's gone. We get an immense amount of colonialism and imperialism that's not so attractive--quite ugly, in fact--as these nations vie for influence outside their immediate borders. So, why is this a model that we would imaginably want to embrace? And, in fact, as you point out: By 1948, after the horrors of World War II, the Holocaust--which were blamed on the nation-state, perhaps incorrectly in your view, but many people view that--we now are in an era where nation-states are kind of embarrassing. That, people--many people--want to move toward a more global and unified system of governance. What's your response to that 300-year history on the downside of it?

Yoram Hazony: Well, all sorts of people have written about this, long before me. And it's an old argument. Henry Kissinger's works are largely devoted to trying to demonstrate that the great conflagrations, the vast destructive works during that period, that would be, I think, the Napoleonic Wars--Hitler's Wars, World War I--these wars, they are not something new. They are actually very much like the 30-Years' War. And, which was ended by the Peace of Westphalia. And, the way in which these huge wars--we can call them World Wars--these universal wars are different from wars between nation states--is that universal wars are devoted to some kind of an ideology of world domination. I the case of the 30-Years' War, it was the theory of the universal Catholic order. In the case of the Nepolonic Wars, the theory of the new universal French liberalism. And, in the two World Wars, an attempt by two German emperors in effect to try to, uh, make Germany Lord of the Earth. And if your system consists of players who are devoted to some kind of universal vision, and they are willing to mobilize--not just one nation, but all nations, into kind of a universal army to go out an create that world order, those seem to create wars of inconceivable destruction. And the question is: What does that have to do with the Westphalian system? Since, Napoleon sets out to overturn and eliminate the Westphalian system? And the Kaiser, by trying to destroy France and to knock out France and Germany, and to break the back of British Imperial power--his goal is just to destroy the Westphalian system. And likewise with Hitler. So, the first thing I would say is that, the discussion about nationalism, I think in order to it be an intelligent discussion, has to begin with the possibility that there are states in the world that have political traditions which--uh--which involve borders. Which sanctify borders. Which--in which the states, as--we're only interested in governing a single people. We're not interested in conquering the whole world. And, the whole argument about the desirability or non-desirability of nationalism--I think it needs to be conducted around this question: If you are, let's say, today, living in India, or Israel, or South Korea. Or England. Or Italy. Or Poland. As far as I can tell, you don't have aspirations for universal conquest. And, the move--the globalizers wish to make--is, they say 'Well, it's true that these national states aren't now interested in universal conquest. But, let's, um, change this to where, to a universalist software. To, where, instead of living within borders, nations are going to eliminate borders and try once again to reach this kind of universal order under a single law.

Russ Roberts: 'Someone's singin' my lord, Kumbayah.' So, we can make fun of it. It's a slightly--there's a certain naivete about it. But, you don't paint it that way. You paint it as a frightening prospect. I think, partly, you call it very cleverly, you call it an imperial vision, which gives it a very negative sound to start with. And you obviously do that deliberately, and I think not just for marketing purposes but also because I think you think that this global impulse is related to the global imperialism of the past--these global visions of domination, not just--I think what the people who advocate for that global order, today, are arguing is, 'It's not--Well, we are just going to lay down our swords.' And, We're just going to have a lot more ploughshares.' Right? 'We are just going to have a lot fewer guns and a lot more butter.' I mean, is the European Union, an example you talk about it a lot, I mean, you say, after the Cold War, 'The minds of Western Leaders became preoccupied with two great Imperialist projects. The European Union, which is progressively relieved universal powers usually associated with political independence, in the project of establishing an American world order in which nations that do not abide by international law might be coerced into doing so, principally by means of American military might.' Let's put aside the American one for a minute; I think that is complicated. But, let's the European one. What's scary about the European Union? It's so nice. You can travel all over Europe with one passport. It's fantastic. What's scary about it?

Yoram Hazony: I'm not inherently against traveling over Europe with one passport. I don't think that's the main issue. I think that--look,, making it Kumbayah is making it too simplistic. The post-1989, New-World order, which all American administrations have, you know, other than the present one, I guess, have to one extent or another believed in, is not a world in which people actually laid down their swords.

Russ Roberts: Hmm.

Yoram Hazony: I mean: If the Bushes, and Bill Clinton, and Obama, were all about laying down their swords, then we'd have an interesting discussion about whether human nature has changed and political options before us have changed. And then we could talk about whether utopia is actually, uh, something we could create on earth. But, none of that happened. What actually has happened is that the United States, and the Europeans, have moved from, from a traditional defense--and I admit when I say 'traditional,' I don't mean consistent on the part of everybody for the last 400 years. But, let's say that there's been a very strong tradition of independent national states for the last 400 years--certainly in the English-speaking world. And, instead of defending that, American and European leaders have moved to a rhetoric of--not just a rhetoric, but a policy of independence isn't really important anymore. Because, economically and in terms of security, we need international institutions. We need international decision-making. And these national-states are slowly but surely going to be overcome and eliminated. That is, I think, the dominant rhetoric. It's obviously much stronger among intellectuals. Like, let's say, American or European, are very largely committed to this. But then the surprise is that even if you move into what used to be in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, they are internationalists. And then you move over into the sort of more libertarian wing of the Republican Party--I know it's a mixed bag but there are an awful lot of people there who also talk in terms of world order. And they speak with confidence not about how we are going to lay down or swords, but also how American might is going to become the enforcer: The policemen--that's going to turn to create a very rules-based international order--if I'm getting the buzz-phrase right. A rules-based into order is going to be enforced. And who is going to enforce it? Well, it's going to be American might, with a little bit of help from the Europeans. And, we've had examples of it. Right? So, the overthrowing of regimes by invasion or by aerial bombardment in Serbia, in Libya, in Iraq, in diplomatic coercion; in Egypt, and other places--this is kind of a systematic policy of: We're going to make the world better using our values and our muscle. Okay. So, that's not laying down swords and plowshares. That's a, a version of imperial theory. And, I'll just add that, I don't think people make a very big secret about this. When you read the literature by think-tankers and intellectuals and academics who are, sort of the brain trust for this way of approaching the world, they are constantly referring to precedents from the Roman Empire, from the British Empire, from the Austria-Hungarian Empire. It's like a comparative imperiology. Well, that's the big new idea. I don't think this is a good idea.

23:52

Russ Roberts: So, in between that vision--short of that vision of America as policemen--which I'm also not also enthusiastic about. For a lot of reasons. We could spend another half hour on that. Let's not. But there's something short of this. This would be what I would call the libertarian vision. And you invoke it when you talk about what you call a 'neutral state.' Can't we just have nations that--let people thrive according to their own desires? We will link with other nations through trade and possibly immigration; and we'll all get richer through the division of labor and the Smithian trade that will take place? It's a fantastic world that we've seen an enormous improvement in standard of living for the poorest people in the world over the last 30 or 40 years; been extraordinary. And that's great. You are worried about that?

Yoram Hazony: Well, I'm actually kind of a fan of that. I mean, I was sold on the free market when I was in college--which is, I'm embarrassed to say how many--a long time ago. So, as far as the general economic approach--Hayek and Milton Friedman were my heroes; and they still are; and I haven't really moved from that. But, what I don't buy--and I never did, even in college, is the idea that what the economic libertarians are describing is a formula for how to order the world in general. Or even for how to order societies. Because, just because you can show--and I certainly believe this--just because you can show that giving maximum freedom in the sphere of free enterprise, which allows, encourages private initiative: private initiative brings on innovation and originality that no planner could ever have come up with--just because that works in economics doesn't mean that you have now described what is necessary for a nation to survive through time. And there are important political theorists--and, by the way, I would include the Scottish School as well as the English common lawyers from Fortescue to Burke and onward. These are theorists who are trying empirically to understand what it is that allows a state to be stable--what allows it to be stable, to endure, to be just, to be, to maintain freedom--not only domestic freedom, freedom of individuals and limited government, but also freedom internationally. That is, freedom from being coerced by foreign powers that might not want you to live your life the way you want to live your life. That's a complex of issues, many of which are not dealt with by the libertarian thinkers at all. Or, almost at all. You can't derive a general theory of what's needed for the long term persistence of a free nation such as you find in Burke or even in John Stuart Mill. You cannot derive these things from the principles of liberal individualism.

28:37

Russ Roberts: Let me take that in a different direction. I've been talking recently about my dissatisfaction with economics in its most sterile form--as seeking satisfaction through material wellbeing. And I think material wellbeing is really important; I'm a big fan of it. But, it's only a small part of what makes us flourish as human beings, gives us ultimate satisfaction. And, that part reminds me of your critique of John Locke, which I'd like you to expound on. Give me Locke's vision of humanity and political order and what's missing from it. And, you may want to tie that in to what you just talked about.

Yoram Hazony: Sure. I try in the book to isolate a tradition which, I'm calling it the liberal tradition. If you want to give it another name, we can do that. We don't need to argue about the semantics. But I'm calling it the liberal tradition. This is a tradition that approaches the political life of peoples--not empirically, not by trying to say, 'All right let's look at the history and experience of nations and see what works and what doesn't work,' but rather from a perspective that is later called rationalist. Rationalist means you begin with principles that look self-evident and you deduce from there. And, Locke is part of this rationalist position, which includes Hobbes and goes on to Rousseau and Kant. It is a tradition which sees political theory as being something very much like mathematics. You begin with axioms that look self-evident; and then you can get to universal truths just like they thought Euclid's geometry works. You can get to universal truths that then apply--that they are true and good for all political times and places; for human beings in every single time and place in all of human history and around the globe. So, I have a problem with that entire non-empirical approach to begin with. But, in particular, if we take a look at what did they do with it, Locke begins the Second Treatise of Government with a number of assertions--they are really axioms, like in a mathematical system. First, that human beings can access universal eternal truths for all times and places through individual reason alone, which he says 'teaches all mankind who will but consult it.' Second, that all human beings are intrinsically perfectly free and perfectly equal, he says. And third, that it's only by the consent of the individual that they become members of any political society and thereby incur moral obligations. Now, these three axioms are the basis for--I think for most of what today is referred to as liberalism, both for Progressive Liberalism and what today is called Classical Liberalism. And I think that the problem is that these three axioms are, arguably, not true. They certainly seem to apply to be very useful and to reflect some kind of important truth, when you use them as the basis for a model of the market. And, in fact, all of economic theory later is constructed around these axioms, one way or another. But, they don't describe any existing nation or state in the world. They do describe certain existing economies: obviously it's a simplification. So, it gives you an abstracted description. But it's a pretty good description of a market. What it doesn't give you is a description of other political institutions. It can't describe the family. And it can't describe the clans or tribes. And it can't describe nations. And it can't describe imperial order. It can't do any of the things that you need in order for a political theory to be able to be intelligent. And this is an objection to Lockeanism that--it's just appeared over and over again. Appeared already even before Locke was born--and no, seriously, because this is an old idea. So, a great political theorist and common lawyer John Selden was already attacking this in the 1640s. And then, if you look at Hume and Smith and Adam Ferguson, and Burke--and all of them reject this. They all say: This can't be the basis for our understanding of politics. It's just simply a fiction. Now, some of the people--some of my friends who read my book, they reasonably object, and they say, 'Well, you're on that--that's true that the whole Lockean framework is based on questionable axioms of limited worth, and it really can't possibly support liberalism.' And that's why great thinkers like Mill, and Hayek later--they throw out the Lockean basis for liberalism and they try to come up with an empirical basis for it. The problem is, first of all, that Mill and Hayek didn't succeed in offering an alternative theory of how politics works. They didn't come and say, 'Look: This Lockean picture is completely or largely false. Let me tell you what's true and then build up from there.' Instead, they work backwards, and they say, 'All right. Well, look: the liberal economics works. So, what is it that we can say about how politics has to be on the basis of the fact that liberal economics works?' I don't think anybody has done what I think is a minimally reasonable thing to do, which is to say: The Lockean axioms are false. Even the greatest liberal thinkers understand that they are not adequate to describe political reality. So, what is a description that is adequate to describe political reality? That's what I try to do in my book, The Virtue of Nationalism, is I attempt to rely on the empirical, the empirical tradition of political theory; and somewhat on anthropology and sociology, where you see actual attempts to describe human beings in political life. And the first thing you discover when you read empirical writers on political things rather than these Lockean rationalists who dominate political theory discourse, the first thing you discover is that they reject the claim that human beings are capable of attaining, reliably attaining, universal political truths simply by applying individual reason. That's completely rejected. It's ridiculed, in fact. And instead they look for human beings who have historical experience, in, of nations, that are successful. That flourish. Likewise, the claim that political obligation arises exclusively through choice--well, there's no evidence for that.

Russ Roberts: I would like it to be so--

Yoram Hazony: Okay. But that's already a different question. If you have a good empirical theory of how do human beings, what is it that brings human beings to take on obligation and to cohere--that is John Stuart Mill's word--to create cohesive families, tribes, and nations--what is it that causes that? How do you encourage that? What's good about it? What's bad about it? Once you have a good theory of that, then you are perfectly free to come along and say, 'Well, look, I think that a cohesive society would be better off if people were treated as though they were perfectly free and perfectly equal. But that's a completely different argument already. But that's not the argument that the Lockean tradition is making. People today--and I am talking about the average college student, whether, you know, left or right or center--and this is one of my blaming college students--their professors are no better, and neither are the journalists nor the politicians--in general, what we hear is: 'I have a right to do x. I have a right to free speech.' And I am a fan of free speech. I love free speech. I think what the moves, the increasing calls to restriction of free speech and the imposition of a universal standards of what you should be allowed to say--I think this is incredibly frightening and terrible. But, the assertion, 'I have a right to free speech,' all you are doing is you are repeating, like, something that is deduced from these Lockean axioms: Human beings are born perfectly free and perfectly equal. That's just not true. In order to create a nation--you know, this is just like--it's like, you need at least a minimum government in terms of make the free market work. I think most people understand that. The same thing is true for every other freedom. Freedoms only exist because there are traditions that have been developed over centuries in places like England and the Netherlands and the United States. These are the places where these traditions were born. And if you want to understand what causes them to come into existence? What do you need to do to maintain them? What are the things threaten them? You can't just be asserting: I have a right to this or I have a right to that. You have to actually know how this happened. And this entire empirical discussion of how does, what circumstances make it possible for a right of this kind to actually be able to persist through time: I have a doctorate in political theory. I can tell you from experience. It doesn't--it almost doesn't arise. In the training of people who are thinking about these subjects. That's very, very strange for a civilization that prides itself on its science and its empiricism. In the field of political theory, we are almost entirely non-empirical. We are not interested in how these things come to be and what we would actually have to do in order to maintain them. All we want to do is assert that we have a right to these things, because, it's like self-evident to us. And then enforce. And that's not going to end well.

42:24

Russ Roberts: Let's talk about cohesiveness for a minute. Obviously, when a nation is threatened, cohesiveness very important. People are often faced with a threat: nation needs sacrifices to preserve the sovereignty of the country and prevent death, enslavement. When I look at the United States today, I see an incredible lack of cohesiveness. And, the obvious--I think the obvious example of that is our lack of respect for one another on different sides of the political divide, an issue we've talked about recently on the program. I want to pick something a little different. We're tied in to some of the issues that you raise in the book. So, I'm going to just pick a handful of things that have changed in the last 50 years. I don't know if children still say the Pledge of Allegiance as school kids. We did. We had to memorize it. I have a feeling that's either gone or changed--just to say "One nation, under God" would seem to be troubling to many people in America today. July 4th--that's a picnic day. It's not a time to celebrate our independence or the sacrifices others have made, in the present. Memorial Day is a big sale day: You go to the mall; a little more picnicking. You're in Israel: the contrast between Israel's Memorial Day and America's is shocking. It's stark. Partly because so many people died in Israel defending the country, and almost everyone there knows of a close relative or a friend who has died. But here, it's like, we pay lip service to it; we have a fly-over at an NFL [National Football League] football game, honor the military that way, maybe. We'll talk about "the sacrifices others have made." But we don't really--it's not part of our national dialogue any more, our national vision. The flag--you know, it's not doing so well. And, again, a lot of people find the whole patriotism thing--which is a piece of nationalism, not the same thing but a piece of it--find it offensive: the 'Rah, rah, America,' the whole idea of 'making America great again,' whether you think it needs to be made great, or it wasn't, it's not great now or whether you think the person in the White House can make it great. But the whole idea, the jingoism of it offends a lot of people. We're a remarkably uncohesive country, at least right now. Does that matter? Is it important? My dad is 88; it really bothers him that people don't always stand for the flag. And I'm thinking, 'Is that the biggest problem in America right now?' It's not. I'm pretty sure about that. But is it a problem at all? What's important about all these devotions and loyalties and things that you talk about in the book.

Yoram Hazony: Well, it's not important at all if you don't care whether America is going to continue existing. You know--if your view, and if you honestly believe this--if your view is, 'Look, I don't owe future generations anything, but all this Burkean stuff which we see in the Preamble to the American Constitution, "ourselves and our Posterity"--if you don't think that you have an obligation to hand down the country, the nation that you inherited, in an improved condition to your posterity, then none of those things matter at all. Then, you can be a Lockean Adam and say, 'I never agreed. I didn't consent to any obligations having to do with the future generations. I didn't consent to pass down the traditions of my forefathers. I apply reason. And I think that the flag salute is the dumbest thing,' I mean, I don't, but I'm saying one could say that, 'I apply my reason, my individual reason to it. I think these traditions are worthless. Or worse than worthless. I think they are terrible.' Okay. So--

Russ Roberts: They lead to self-righteousness and hatred of others who aren't like us, and disdain for them--

Yoram Hazony: We're more tolerant. Today, you start having a conversation like this, and they'll--because their political spectrum is so impoverished, their ignorance, they'll immediately go to Fascism--

Russ Roberts: Yup. I hear you--

Yoram Hazony: They hold that the Fascists--what's a flag other than a rag on a stick. That's Fascism.

Russ Roberts: Yep.

Yoram Hazony: And I say, if you don't care about the question empirically, historically, realistically, what needs to be done in order to hand a nation down to future generations in good order with its traditions intact, both the ones that you love, like freedoms and limited government, and the ones that you don't like as much, like the flag--if you don't care about that question, then political theory as a subject is just not of interest to you. Is, you know, how I personally can get the most out of life.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, 'What's in it for me?'

Yoram Hazony: So, that's not the subject of political theory. And, if people want to live like that--you know what? There's always been people like that in history and there always will be; and I don't have any particular big resentment against them--

Russ Roberts: Is it at risk? I mean, would you argue--wouldn't you agree that the American ethos today, 2018, not 1776--the American ethos today is, 'What's in it for me? Don't tread on me.' Right? A sort of parody of libertarianism without any hope, without any sidenotes of civil society--which is my version, my vision of classical liberal idealism--

Yoram Hazony: Well, look. Look. Notice that you brought it up. There is a relationship between the Lockean worldview, which is what we teach--I mean, when I was in high school, the school rounded up all the sort of bright kind of students, bright honor students, and put up in a class called Politics. And they taught us about politics. And--this was in 11th grade. And, what do they teach us? They taught us that politics is a big dispute between Hobbes and Locke and Rousseau. They picked three thinkers, all three of which wrote these mathematical books that accept these same, more or less the same exact Lockean axioms as the starting point for politics. And made is though there was like a big argument among them. Okay? Now, when you do that--and I'm not saying anybody did this on purpose, right? It's not like the high school teacher--

Russ Roberts: it's not sinister. Yeah--

Yoram Hazony: knew better. It's not sinister. But the fact that it's not sinister doesn't mean it's not stupid. What happens when you do that--I mean, this is as effective a tool for indoctrination as any that have been devised. You give a student three different thinkers. You tell the student: What are the differences among them? What are the distinctions? And you completely ignore the shared premises so that the students never question them. Ever.

50:41

Russ Roberts: So, when I was in college, it was Rawls and Nozick. That was the--

Yoram Hazony: Right. It's the same thing. Rawls and Nozick.

Russ Roberts: So, what are we missing from those two examples of--

Yoram Hazony: They are both Lockeans. What are we missing? We are missing--well, in my book I make a very, very specific argument. I argue that human beings are, by nature, capable--and when I say 'by nature' I mean that this is something that appears in every human society, at every scale just about that I am aware of: Human beings are capable of what I call mutual, developing mutual loyalty. Mutual loyalty is another way of saying cohesion. And this mutual loyalty, I argue, that is developed by children towards their family members and their parents and their brothers and sisters at a very small age. And this is not, by the way, something prevents them from being able to be individuals, because if you look at small children, they spend half their time fighting with one another and bickering for, you know, position and place within their little hierarchies. But the way mutual loyalty works is whenever they are, feel some kind of external threat, they immediately shift to seeing each other as a single unit. And then when the threat passes, they go back to bickering and fighting. This is not something that--you don't have to be kin in order to do this. It's not because of biological proximity. A husband and wife, their relationship is adoptive. It's not--you know, they could be from the other side of the world. But, once they've adopted one another, the same exact thing happens. They develop a relationship of mutual loyalty where they can bicker and fuss and fight terribly, up until they have deal with any kind of challenge. And as soon as they deal with some kind of challenge, then they start to treat each other as a single unit. This characteristic of mutual loyalty is a completely different phenomenon from consent. Because, the relationship that a brother has to his brother or his sister to his sister, her sister, is a--and this works just as well whether it's a biological sister or an adopted sister--that relationship of mutual loyalty is not something that has anything to do with consent. It continues to operate even if, even though nobody ever asked me if I want to be loyal to my brother. I mean, I didn't choose my brother. I didn't choose that relationship. And still it exists. Now, that mutualosity [sic], that is the foundation of--that is the strongest force in all political, all of political reality. I'm not saying there are no other forces. There is such a thing as individual sympathy and there is such a thing as consent and choice. All these things exist. But, by far, the most powerful force, always, is mutual loyalty. And, where you have a nation in which those mutual loyalties exist--and let me emphasize: that doesn't mean that people don't compete and fight and even hate one another--it only means that there are, that when there is a perceived common thread, each one will be willing to sacrifice and give his or her life for the others. Okay. So, where we have that, we have the capacity to do all sorts of things. Like, passing down traditions, some of which are extremely odd and extremely strange. Like, the English developing a tradition that the King is going to be, is not going have the right to enter the home of even a peasant because it's a private home. Okay: that kind of tradition or strong property traditions. Strong marriage traditions. Like, you stay away from somebody else's wife or husband. Those kinds of traditions, they are not natural. It's not natural to stay away from somebody else's property when you want something. It's not natural to stay away from somebody else's wife. Those things are completely artificial. But, because they are handed down as traditions within a society marked by mutual loyalty, people say, 'Oh, well, I really want to take that guy's motor scooter.' Or, 'that woman's husband.' 'I want to take 'em.' But out of loyalty to the society that you live in, you refrain. I'm not saying every single person obviously refrains all the time. But, in general what happens is that you don't need coercion to enforce these traditional rules. You don't need despotism to do it. The way that people obey the laws, pay their taxes, volunteer to serve in the military even if it means death--the way that happens is because their loyalty to their society is stronger than their desire for individual self-preservation or property or individual consent or choice. So, obviously you can do terrible things with that. You can create all these nightmare fascist societies that people are always talking about, that have really existed. But, the thing is that a free society can only be built on mutual loyalties as well. So, the America that we are looking at right now that I completely agree with you has--in which the mutual loyalties, to put it nicely, they are [?]--the truth is that they are on the ropes in a serious way. The disintegration of mutual loyalties means the disintegration of the basis on which our freedoms are built.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, I'm--it's a set of issues and concerns I haven't thought about much. And they've come to the fore in the last few years, and I think a thoughtful person has to think about them. There is a presumption that things will always continue on the way they always have. This is--not true. And there is a desire to live in a world that is consent-only rather than some feelings of obligation. Obligation is no fun. So, we all understand the natural human impulse to evade it and only take the benefits without providing any of the contributions. And so, I think these are deep issues. I'm just going to read something you wrote which I think is very provocative, related to this question of consent. You say,

And the project of raising children ever continues to throw up ever new surprises over the decades, including hardship and pain that were scarcely imagined when first they entered into it. Yet this original decision cannot be revisited--giving the parents a chance to renew their consent based on an updated assessment that weighs the benefits of each child brings against the suffering endured. Just the opposite. The parents' consent or lack thereof is irrelevant to their continuing responsibilities, and it is nothing like consent that motivates them as they persist in their efforts to raise their children to health and inheritance.

And, of course, this is true. It doesn't change the fact that we often want to escape that consent--that we want to evade our responsibilities. And I think that the challenge--I'll say it in a funny way--I think in America, going back to the political issues that you raised, we've just gotten out of the habit. You know, we're just not in the habit of making sacrifices. I think when we talk about the greatest generation of people who died in World War II, who sacrificed either at home or on the front, it's partly a recognition that we're a long way away from that. Those days are over. They could come back; it would probably take a tragedy of enormous proportions to bring it back. But, I think we're in the middle of a great experiment right now, where the things that created, as you say, the norms of freedom and other things are on the ropes--not being discussed. So, we'll see how that plays out.

1:00:17

Russ Roberts: I'd like you say a little bit more, though, about what's scary about the imperial order, because I think, in the book, I have to confess, I've been a little bit naive about the implications of, say, the European Union [EU] or the World Trade Organization [WTO]. And, the people who were worried about national sovereignty when we joined the WTO, I thought that was kind of silly. But you raise a number of really important points. And, I guess the part that really scares me is the potential for a global system of governance to impose tyranny more widely. I think that's the biggest fear I have, say, about climate change: if there were some global solution that had to be enforced. I'm open to the possibility that climate change is a scary thing. I'm agnostic or slightly skeptical of it based on my reading of the data. And I know listeners out there that may have some view that makes them upset. I apologize for that. I know there are really smart people who disagree with me. There unfortunately are not really smart people who agree with me. But, we're putting that to the side. The really of it--a lot of people want us to do something, to impose a global solution to what is indeed a global problem. And, that concentration of power makes me nervous. Very nervous. And so when I look at the global urge, which I see among all of my left-leaning friends--and I love them; I respect them; as you say, many of them, most of them are very well-intentioned, good-intentioned. People who have good intentions. I don't always remember that there will be a sword imposed by a central authority somewhere down the road. So, talk a little bit about why these global--and I want to come back to the EU, because I think a lot of people think Brexit is, 'Was just so obviously a bad decision.' And, I thought your point that the fact that people thought that was obviously a bad decision is obviously scary. Because, maybe national sovereignty is important, and maybe there are risks of European union that people are just going to ignore in this urge for this global utopia. So, talk about why that's more than just, 'Oh, it won't work so well,' but actually scary.

Yoram Hazony: Well, I think Margaret Thatcher was already quite clear about this in the late 1980s and then she want on to write a book called Statecraft, I think, 2003, which was almost universally reviled. But, if you go back and read it, I think you'll see that it's in many ways prescient. I think many people were lovers of freedom, economic freedom especially. I think that they can trust that Thatcher is no--Thatcher is no fool on these subjects. And, the description, her description of the naivete of the British government going into the European Union, are genuinely frightening. Because, they for some reason didn't--they didn't seem to understand that Britain, with a tradition of limited government and property rights and citizens' rights going back 800 years, was given control of it's--of the regime governing it. The legal and administrative regime governing Britain, was handing it over to other nations that don't have those traditions. And the assurances that the British had received, that the purpose of this kind of merging of ultimate legal and administrative authority, the purpose of it was to merely coordination--you know, to make sure that goods--

Russ Roberts: Like, we're all going to use the metric system. 'That's a good thing.'

Yoram Hazony: Like we're all going to use the metric system. Fine. And she says, that this was simply naive. That, in fact, the moment that you give the Germans and the French the authority to make the decisions for the British, then you get decisions that are the kinds of decisions that Germans or Frenchmen would make. And the claim that you can just sit and reason with them is completely false. They come from a different culture; they have different ideas. And, in fact what you've done is to take the most venerable and most respected, free nation--the mother of all free nations--and hand it over to institutions that don't believe in that freedom. Now, the reason people didn't at the time simply jump to embrace Thatcher's view of this--I mean, it was reviled and attacked already then--was because of the pervasiveness of economic models, which convinced everyone that everybody is going to be richer if you go through these mergers of national states. These are arguments that, as I write in the book, that you find already with Mises and Hayek. It's kind of a utopian vision that says, 'Let's imagine that all of Europe or the whole world could be like one big economic model. And let's pretend that there aren't any other factors driving human politics. That there are no massive distinctions between German traditions and English traditions. Or, that there are no group loyalties in play, or urges to conquer or to exploit, going on.' You're just going to pretend that all of those things don't exist; all of empirical human reality doesn't exist. And then you have this utopian picture of everybody sitting and reasoning together. The problem is this simply never exists. Anywhere. And, as the institution that you founded gains in prestige and power, then the people who run it simply use their decision-making capacity as the final decision maker to continue to expropriate more and more areas of authority. So, of course the European Union isn't some monstrous tyranny right now. The question is: What force is actually going to stop it? I mean, nothing. What force is going to turn the European Union into a British-style or American-style democracy which actually cares about protecting the kinds of freedoms that you and I care about? There's nothing on earth that could make that happen. But what will happen, and you see this everywhere, and you see this in every institution: You put a group of people in charge, you allow them to be committed to a certain ideology; and that ideology drives them to become ever more extreme. If you don't want that to happen--and we don't want that to happen--well, there's an answer in political theory to how you prevent that from happening. But you're not going to like it. The answer, we read in Vattel, is that multiple centers of power in the international system are the only way to prevent any one nation from being able to dictate the law to all the other nations when it gains enough strength. The competition among centers of power, just like in checks-and-balances theory in domestic politics--the same thing in international politics. Only by having very strong competing international powers do you have the possibility of maintaining freedom in the system. So, you notice Vattel does not claim that the purpose of multipolarity is stability or peace. He claims that the purpose is freedom. If you want to have freedom in the world, then you have to maintain multiple centers of power that can prevent one elite from taking whatever its ideas are and imposing them on the rest of the world.

1:10:29

Russ Roberts: Yeah. It's not a very good time for freedom. And I say that not in the normal way it would normally be interpreted. What I mean is, that ethos, that idea that freedom is a value in and of itself, is also on the ropes. And, in America, of all places--where I think it is most strongly felt. We're losing that battle. Which reminds me, though: Who else should you have read in that Hume/Rousseau--

Yoram Hazony: They didn't read Hume. Hume was a spec[?]--

Russ Roberts: Oh, sorry. Who is it--Locke, Rousseau, and Mill were the three? Or no?

Yoram Hazony: No. They were Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.

Russ Roberts: Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. And I read Rawls and Nozick. Who should have been added? I don't know who Vattel is, even. How do you spell it? Who is he?

Yoram Hazony: Emer de Vattel. He--'V-a-t-t-e-l'--he was a Swiss, 18th century political theorist who is one of the founders of what, the international law tradition. The American Founders knew him very, very well. And who else should they have read? I've mentioned the common lawyers, Coke and Seldon and Hale, John Fortescue is, in Praise of the Laws of England, is a pro-freedom, pro-England, pro-common law, pro-Bible manifesto of political theory from the late 1400s. Which you can read today. It's clear as a bell. It's beautiful. You don't have to struggle at all. It's like reading the ideas that are going to create the United States 300 years later. But nobody knows it. Nobody reads it. We only read these rationalists who think politics is mathematics.

1:12:46

Russ Roberts: So, let's close on a--I want to close on a Kantian note. I've recently been reading some John Gray, the British philosopher, who blames Christianity, and the Enlightenment, and Kant for creating this image of perpetual progress: That, through the application of reason we get the Scientific Revolution, and that we get the creation of Democracies; we get a rising standard of living. Obviously Steven Pinker is an exponent of this vision as well. It's just we're on this great path of--and John Gray would call it a Messianic path--of future, soon-to-be redemption and a utopian, Edenic[?] delight. I suspect you are not in that group. So, comment on that Kantian vision--which you do talk about in the book quite a book, actually, this optimism. And, talk about your own feelings of optimism or pessimism given what we've talked about today. [More to come, 1:14:06]


More EconTalk Episodes

Search Econlib
MORE OPTIONS