13 June 2024

Defenders of the Nation-State: Scruton and Hazony

If you doubt that it needs defending, ask yourself why the Left-wing global elite NWO and Great Reset types hate it so much and want it destroyed.

From The Imaginative Conservative

By Daniel Pitt

Both Roger Scruton and Yoram Hazony argue that the nation-state has its virtues. In the current “global conflict,” Scruton urged, “the nation is one of the things that we must keep.”

Sir Roger Scruton wrote of a “turning point in our history”[1] and this turning point was about the nation. Scruton believed that the “greatest political decisions” now confronting us in the West concern “the nation and its future”. Why is this the case? This is the case because “everywhere the idea of the nation is under attack”. Scruton provided us with three reasons why the nation is under attack; (1) the nation has become to be “despised as an atavistic form of social unity”; (2) condemned as a cause of war and conflict; and (3) the perspective that the nation should be “broken down and replaced by more enlightened and more universal forms of jurisdiction” as gained further traction. Scruton suggested that he is not alone in believing that the nation is under attack. Indeed, Yoram Hazony has posited “many have come to regard and an intense personal loyalty to the national state and its independence as something not only unnecessary by morally suspect.” Moreover, that these people “no longer regard national loyalties and traditions as providing a sound basis for determining the laws by”, or a “for regulating the economy” or deciding about “defence and security” policies and not a sound basis for “establishing public norms concerning religion and education” and especially not for the key decisions on “who gets to live in what part of the world”.[2]

Scruton, in his chapter “The Truth in Nationalism” in How to be a Conservative, articulated the repudiation of the nation after the end Second World War. Yoram Hazony also points to this phenomenon in his book the Virtues of Nationalism. Hazony writes of a “simplistic narrative” that “nationalism caused two world wars and the Holocaust”. But was this repudiation of the nation right? Scruton penned that “nationalism, as an ideology, is dangerous in just the way that ideologies are dangerous”. Sir Roger, commenting on my book Conservative Critique of Liberal Obligations, put it this way: “There is also an idea of nationalism as a belligerent ideology, i.e. a set of beliefs and principles that elevate one nation above the rest, and provide grounds for political action based on that”. In his essay, “”Conserving Nations”, he wrote that if the idea of the nation “occupies the space vacated by religion, and in doing so excites the true believer both to worship the national idea and the seek in it for what in cannot provide – the ultimate purpose of life, the way of redemption and the consolations for all our woes” it is turned into a pathology. It is no longer the “normal condition” of national loyalty. Scruton then provided a contrast between this pathology and the national loyalty of how “ordinary day-to-day life of European people”. They view the nation as “the historical identity and continuing allegiance that unites them in the body politic” and not as a belligerent ideology. The nation then, according to Scruton, “is the first-person plural of settlement” and the ordinary sentiments of ones’ national identity, which forms “peace between neighbours.”

Membership and the Nation

Indeed, the nation is the “natural love of country, countrymen and the culture,” and this love binds neighbours together. The nation in its normal condition is not hostile to the stranger who belongs outside of the nation. It is, according to Scruton “membership in territorial terms”, or a ‘we’ as Scruton put it. In democracies, this first-person plural should be national and not a religious or ethnic ‘we’. Moreover, without this national membership “we are all at sea” and according to Scruton it must be “safeguarded at all costs”. Indeed, Hazony believes the nation is our “most precious human possessions and the basis for all our freedoms”. Hazony also refers to a nation in terms of social membership. According to Hazony, we can be “born into them or adopt them later in life”, and members “are tied to them by powerful bonds of mutual loyalty”. Members of nations and other forms of social membership, according to Hazony, “come to regard these collectives as an integral part of ourselves” and start to see them as our “extended self”’.

Let us take a step back a moment and ask the question, how are nation-states made? Hazony, in Conservatism: A Rediscoveryprovides us with a short definition of a nation as “a number of tribes with a shared heritage, usually including a common language, law, or religious tradition, and a past history of joining together against common enemies and to pursue common endeavors.” Hazony emphasises the cultural inheritance, “the bonds of mutual loyalty” and “an alliance of many individuals, each of whom shares in the suffering and triumphs of the others.” Hazony describes a more deliberate conception of nation-building than Scruton does. Hazony depicts loyalty groups coming together consciously to form a larger loyalty group that supersedes them. Hazony describes the process of heads of families cooperating to form clans, and heads of clans to form tribes, and “heads of coalitions of tribes, recognizing a common bond among them as well as a common need, come together to establish a national standing government.” It is the “tribal chieftains select the ruler”, according to Hazony, and “loyalty to the state” is “out of loyalty to his parents, his tribe and his nation”.

Scruton, in “Conserving Nations”, also provided us with a definition of a nation. It is “a people, settled in a certain territory, who share a language, institutions, customs and a sense of history and who regard themselves as equally committed both to their place of residence and to the legal and political process that governs it.” The nation-state as posited by Scruton is a “by-product of human neighbourliness” that has been “shaped by an ‘invisible hand’ from the countless agreements between people” that “speak the same language” and live side-by-side with each other. In other words, nations grow from below. Indeed, the nation state, according to Scruton, results from countless “compromises”, “agreements” and the granting to “each other space” and the desire to “protect that space as common territory”. Relatedly, this Smithian invisible hand is dependent on “localized customs” and territorial law and tolerance. Out of this attachment to the land and law, a national loyalty is formed within a common territory that one calls one’s country. In terms of importance for the nation, Scruton provided us with a start of a hierarchy. The most important is territory. In a personal correspondence between the author and Sir Roger, he stressed the importance of territory and the challenge of the absence of boundaries. Writing in an email: “The whole German problem arose because Germans identified as a nation before acquiring a shared territory, and so never referred to their ‘country’ as we do: Vaterland, yes, but that became a place from which all non-Germans were to be expelled.”[3]

Scruton then provided us with the next level in the hierarchy, which he says is of almost equal importance to territory, and that is history and custom. History and custom bind people together. These include stories and national myths, and Scruton posited three kinds: (1) tales of glory; (2) tales of sacrifice; and (3) tales of emancipation. These in different ways can bind people together.

The Virtues of Nation and the Threats to Them

Both Scruton and Hazony argue that the nation-state has its virtues. Scruton suggested the virtues are the willingness to defend a territory; the nation provides a basis for reconciliation between people who live together, and thus it is a key condition for a political process of consensus and political accountability.

Another virtue of the nation is it provides a pre-political identity and an obligation of neighbourliness. This place where we live is yours and mine, and it defines one’s identity, according to Scruton, in non-political terms. It is the place where we belong, and this conscious feeling of belonging cements the sense of nationhood. The consequence of this conscious feeling of belonging is loyalty to place, its history, and not a loyalty to a particular class, such as the “self-perpetuating political class” in the European Union. Indeed, a core virtue is that nations also secure democracy, civil rights, and the Rule of Law, according to Scruton, and this aids respect for the sovereignty and rights of individual persons. The reason for this is that nations “provide the people with an identity”, and this identity allows people to “summarize their rights and duties” as citizens, as well as providing an allegiance to one’s neighbours on whom we “depend for civic peace”. Scruton also made the argument that for democracy to function it needs boundaries, and nation-states provide those boundaries. Why? Because we need to know who the demos is and share an allegiance to it and to the people within it. Scruton then argued that “wherever the experience of a nationality is weak or non-existent democracy has failed to take root”, and one reason for this is that opposition to the government without national loyalty is seen as a threat.

Hazony also points to several virtues of nation-states. For example, that national mutual loyalty provides a foundation for free institutions and individual liberties, and it provides a type of collective freedom—that is, the need for collective self-determination. This collective self-determination or nation provides a tolerance for diverse ways of life and an aversion to conquest of foreign nations, due to the respecting of other nations-states and ways of life. Indeed, the international framework of nation-states provides the context for positive competition among nations.

Both thinkers articulate that there are multiple threats to the nation-state. Scruton pointed to both internal and external threats,  such as the Islamists’ rejection of Western political order, including the nation-state. He also pointed to many transnational bodies, such as the EU, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as threats to the nation-state. There are internal threats such as Oikophobia, the repudiation of inheritance and home, especially by elites. Here, Scruton singled out universities, where this culture of repudiation is found at its height. He also argued that parts of the political left wish to mobilizable this culture of repudiation into a fully-fledged political programme and policies that attack the national idea. Another threat is the asylum crisis, or as Scruton phases it, the mass of uninvited non-‘neighbours’ into the nation-state and the political weakness to solve these issues.

Similarly, Hazony also identifies “educated elites” as a threat to the nation-state, as well as international institutions accumulating more power over nation-states. Hazony is also concerned about the “lack of thinking empirically” generally, especially in the universities, and its impact on the nation-state. Other threats, according Hazony, are universalist ideas (e.g. neo-Marxism and Enlightenment liberalism) and political and economic imperialism.

In the current “global conflict”, Scruton urged, “the nation is one of the things that we must keep”, and we “ought to improve it, adjust it, even dilute it”, but not throw it away. Why? According to Scruton that nation-state is the only answer that has been proven to solve the “problems of modern government.”


[1] All citations of Scruton work are from either A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism (London, Continuum, 2006) or his chapter The Truth in Nationalism in How to be a Conservative (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2015) unless otherwise stated.

[2] All citations to Yoram Hazony’s work are from either the Virtues of Nationalism (Basic Books, 2018) or Conservatism: A Rediscovery (Regnery Gateway, 2022).

[3] Personal correspondence date: 17.09.2018.

The featured image is “Germania” (1848), attributed to Philipp Veit, and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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