Tamir, “Why Nationalism”

One of the themes of our most recent Tradition Project conference concerned the relationship between liberalism, populism, and nationalism, respectively, and tradition. And one of the readings for the workshop groups was a piece of Yoram Hazony’s recent book, “The Virtue of Nationalism,” which argues in favor of nationalism from a non-liberal perspective (you can hear more about these issues in this Legal Spirits podcast).

Here is a new book that also considers nationalism’s merits, but from an expressly Left Nationalismliberal progressive perspective, arguing for nationalism’s contributions to and structural support for liberalism. A kind of Left nationalism. The book is Why Nationalism (Princeton University Press), by Yael Tamir.

Around the world today, nationalism is back—and it’s often deeply troubling. Populist politicians exploit nationalism for authoritarian, chauvinistic, racist, and xenophobic purposes, reinforcing the view that it is fundamentally reactionary and antidemocratic. But Yael (Yuli) Tamir makes a passionate argument for a very different kind of nationalism—one that revives its participatory, creative, and egalitarian virtues, answers many of the problems caused by neoliberalism and hyperglobalism, and is essential to democracy at its best. In Why Nationalism, she explains why it is more important than ever for the Left to recognize these qualities of nationalism, to reclaim it from right-wing extremists, and to redirect its power to progressive ends.

Far from being an evil force, nationalism’s power lies in its ability to empower individuals and answer basic human needs. Using it to reproduce cross-class coalitions will ensure that all citizens share essential cultural, political, and economic goods. Shifting emphasis from the global to the national and putting one’s nation first is not a way of advocating national supremacy but of redistributing responsibilities and sharing benefits in a more democratic and just way. In making the case for a liberal and democratic nationalism, Tamir also provides a compelling original account of the ways in which neoliberalism and hyperglobalism have allowed today’s Right to co-opt nationalism for its own purposes.

Provocative and hopeful, Why Nationalism is a timely and essential rethinking of a defining feature of our politics.