The internal contradictions of nationalism, example #249

Here’s the Financial Times:

A trip to Jerusalem has become almost compulsory for today’s ‘strongman’ leaders . . .

Israel is benefiting from the rise of a new generation of nationalist-populist political leaders — from Washington to Delhi, and from Budapest to Brasília — who ardently admire the Jewish state. This change in the international political atmosphere has created new breathing space for a country that has long feared international isolation and trade boycotts.

In one sense this is not surprising, as Israel’s current leader is highly unpatriotic, in a fashion similar to that of other leading nationalists. Just as Orban has a low opinion of Hungarian Roma, and Modi doesn’t like Muslim and Christian Indians, and Trump doesn’t like Americans from “shithole countries”, Netanyuhu doesn’t like Israelis who happen to be Arabs. Indeed his coalition government relies on the support of the Jewish Power group, who want to encourage Israeli Arabs to leave their own country. (Sort of like the way Trump himself doesn’t say and do the worst stuff, but frequently praises those who do. The art of the “dog whistle”.)

In another sense, however, this is all rather jarring, as one important theme of Jewish history is opposition to nationalism and support of liberal internationalism. Again, this long proud tradition is not surprising, given that throughout most of history Jews have been a minority targeted by nationalist politicians. That’s why these modern trends make my head spin:

Another leader who loves to stress his friendship with Mr Netanyahu is Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of Brazil, who is currently visiting Israel. . . .

Indeed, a trip to Israel has become almost a compulsory stop for a new generation of “strongman” leaders, who revel in defying liberal opinion. Last September, Rodrigo Duterte, the leader of the Philippines, came to Jerusalem and told Mr Netanyahu: “We have the same passion for human beings” — a double-edged compliment, given that Mr Duterte is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for encouraging extrajudicial killings.

Another strongman cultivated by Mr Netanyahu is Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary and champion of “illiberal democracy”, who visited Jerusalem last year. This relationship is controversial in Israel because Mr Orban launched a poster campaign in 2017 that used anti-Semitic imagery portraying George Soros, a Jewish philanthropist, as a puppet master intent on flooding Hungary with refugees. 

Today’s Israeli leaders pal around with foreign leaders who embrace torture, mass murder, and traditional anti-Semitic tropes.

Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me. Progressives used to encourage white artists to add black characters to their work, they used to favor a color blind society, they used to oppose the prudery of the Victorian era, they used to favor free speech. Now they tell artists to stick to their own race, they oppose free speech, they consider advocacy of a color blind society to be racist, and they are the worst sort of prudes.

I guess we all just have to accept that, “the times they are a’changing”

But I don’t plan to change; I’ll go to my grave opposing identity politics.

PS. I wouldn’t vote for him, but in fairness to Netanyahu he is far better than Trump on economic policy–as I explain in this new Econlog post.

PPS. The FT has another story suggesting that British patriotism is being replaced with English nationalism.

PPPS. Just when we need a sound Democratic Party to defeat Trump in 2020, they begin to self-destruct:

Former President Barack Obama warned on Saturday that progressives risk creating a “circular firing squad” at a time when prospective presidential candidates are competing fiercely against one another to run against President Trump.

I hope I’m wrong, but right now the party looks like a slow motion traffic accident, playing out right before our eyes. Once again, Trump will benefit from the unpopularity of his opponents.

PPPPS. Don’t forget to order Bryan Caplan’s new book advocating open borders:



42 Responses to “The internal contradictions of nationalism, example #249”

  1. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    8. April 2019 at 10:32

    You’re old enough to remember McGovern ’72, aren’t you?

  2. Gravatar of Kgaard Kgaard
    8. April 2019 at 10:34

    Hi Scott … I think you may be confusing “nation” and “state” here no? A nation shares a language, culture and blood. A “state” just shares a geographical area.

    Elites have always attempted to merge different peoples into one political entity, in the interests of more efficient control and taxation. Thus they deliberately obfuscate the difference between nation and state.

  3. Gravatar of SV SV
    8. April 2019 at 10:40

    Read the Yoram Hazony op-ed in yesterday’s WSJ, I think there’s going to be a realignment away from liberal internationalism toward self-interested nation-states regardless of who occupies the office of the Presidency.

  4. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    8. April 2019 at 11:38

    Isn’t the whole point of a primary to be a “circular firing squad”? You seem to be advocating North Korean-style politics.

    For the record, I support the American recognition of the Palestinian state, and oppose the Zionald’s subservience to the Jewish state.

  5. Gravatar of Chuck Chuck
    8. April 2019 at 12:11

    “A trip to Jerusalem has become almost compulsory for today’s ‘strongman’ leaders”

    I wonder why…wait no, it would be “wrong” to speculate on such matters.

  6. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    8. April 2019 at 12:34

    The question is not why Israel is becoming increasingly nationalist. The question is: What in the world took them so long.

    I find it mind-boggling how anyone can criticize Israeli nationalism without naming its two main causes.

    I have heard that there is at least one supra-nationalist imperialist ideology, with almost two billion believers, a clear majority of whom want the destruction of Israel.

    Again, this long proud tradition is not surprising, given that throughout most of history Jews have been a minority targeted by nationalist politicians. 

    This story is really lovely but don’t you forget a little something, again? The ending of the story, maybe? How did this strategy turn out? Was there perhaps an event that has shown many Jews that they will never be safe unless they form their own nation again?

  7. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    8. April 2019 at 13:46

    A word to defend Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President.
    He is a patriot, don’t believe what certain networks tall you about him. The term “nationalist” as understood in America or Europe just don’t apply, circunstances are completely different. He does reject liberal intenationalism, though. But rejecting the current form of liberal internationalism does not make one a “nationalist”. To reject an ideal doesn’t make you automatically a defender of its opposite ideal.

  8. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    8. April 2019 at 14:28

    Patriotism is support and attachment to one’s polity. A polity is not very resilient if it cannot attract a certain amount of patriotism.

    Nationalism is support and attachment for one’s ethnic group: usually involving the claim that it also have a state of its own.

    It is easy to generate “contradictions” if one does not apply the above distinction.

    On a rise in English nationalism, given that (1) Scottish nationalism gets lots of cultural support, (2) much of the British cultural elite displays contempt for many of their fellow citizens (3) education and culture have been undermining any sense of a worthwhile “British story”, a retreat into English nationalism is hardly surprising. The striking thing is that it has taken so long to happen.

  9. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    8. April 2019 at 14:40

    On open borders, having read much of economic literature, I am not impressed. There is typically an assumption that physical, social and political infrastructure is infinitely flexible, which is patently not true.

    For example, having lots of non-citizens as housing market entrants makes it easy to regulate to limit housing land supply, raising the price of shelter. Such costs easily wipe out the alleged net benefit to resident labour from migration. I can tell you that congestion costs are rising in Australian cities, because infrastructure is not keeping up with migration, and we are quite selective, so minimise other migration costs.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. April 2019 at 14:42

    Brian, Yes, I recall. And I expect another McGovern in 2020. But today’s GOP is far more corrupt than in 1974, and won’t remove Trump from office in 2022.

    Kgaard, No, it’s the nationalists who are confused; they are the ones who confuse nationalism and patriotism.

    Jose, Yes, a “patriot” who defends torture.

    Christian, You said:

    “Was there perhaps an event that has shown many Jews that they will never be safe unless they form their own nation again?”

    You do know that Netanyahu is opposed to giving the Palestinians their own state, don’t you?

    Lorenzo, My point is that the nationalists claim to be patriots. Rather than talking about “Making White America Great Again” they pretend the agenda is to “Make America Great Again”. At least the extremists are upfront about the actual agenda—ethnic cleansing.

  11. Gravatar of Chuck Chuck
    8. April 2019 at 14:50

    “Was there perhaps an event that has shown many Jews that they will never be safe unless they form their own nation again?”

    Don’t forget the six gorillion!

  12. Gravatar of tpeach tpeach
    8. April 2019 at 15:18

    They should forget about a peace agreement.
    A peace agreement will never be hammered out between two sides who distrust each other and would rather that the other side wasn’t even there.
    First you need trust. Trust comes from partnership and cooperation. The best way to build that is by free trade and economic cooperation. When people are trading, doing business and making money there’s no time to let old disputes get in the way. Israel is also richer and should invest in Palestinian infrastructure and institutions to facilitate better trade. When both sides benefit from each other’s presence through trade, the disputes about who rightfully belongs there will fall away and peace will come naturally and easy without the need for “negotiations” or “concessions”.

  13. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    8. April 2019 at 16:12

    ‘You do know that Netanyahu is opposed to giving the Palestinians their own state, don’t you?’

    The King of Jordan seems to oppose it too, and probably a number of other Arab leaders also. Btw, just WHO is supposed to ‘give’ the state, and from whom would it be taken?

  14. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    8. April 2019 at 17:22

    In the United States, identity politics is a big PU. I am insulted by appeals along identity-politics lines

    Although double standards persist and wildly so. Evidently, it is okay to run as a “proud woman of color” but not as a “proud white man.” OK.

    Oddly, no one chastises South Africa for not treating immigrant populations more nicely and opening their borders wide open for more European and Asian immigrants.

    Bryan Kaplan’s sado-lunatic plans for wide-open borders strike me as the classic example of an egghead pontificating inside an opaque bubble. Scott Sumner says the US should not even try to build more mass transit as it costs too much and accomplishes too little. The US adds net only about 800,000 to 900,000 housing units a year, due in large part to property zoning restrictions.

    Given political realities, the US might be better served by targeting lower total national population in years ahead.

  15. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    8. April 2019 at 18:42

    Prudes? Did I miss something?

  16. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    8. April 2019 at 18:57


    Prudes and worse—censors and martinet authoritarians.

    The male Harvard soccer team had its season cancelled by the female dean of Harvard, as they had been rating members of the female Harvard soccer team on their pulchritude, in a private chat room.

    The dean delivered quite a sanctimonious sermonette on the whole matter.

    Yes, college boys rating girls on their looks!


  17. Gravatar of Matthias Görgens Matthias Görgens
    8. April 2019 at 21:44

    Scott, I guess the best you can hope for is another four years of political gridlock in the US. One way or another.

    Btw, in terms of actually policies enacted, Trump doesn’t look too bad as far as I can tell. Not for lack of trying, of course. He just had a hard time getting anything enacted at all.

  18. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    9. April 2019 at 01:47

    OT but on monetary policy

    “Growth is also being undercut in less direct ways. For example, persistently low – and in some cases negative – interest rates tend to eat away at the institutional integrity and operational effectiveness of the financial system, thereby reducing bank lending and limiting the range of long-term products that insurance/retirement firms can offer to households”—MOHAMED A. EL-ERIAN

    I keep seeing comments by financial-industry experts that commercial banks cannot prosper in a negative interest-rate environment. And, of course, less bank prosperity means less banking lending (and thus less endogenous money creation).

    I would like to see an explanation of why banks wither in a negative interest-rate environment, if anyone has seen one.

  19. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    9. April 2019 at 05:24

    Prof. Sumner
    Bolsonaro has defended the fight against comunism in the 70’s in Brazil,and then in that context he has defended the military that participated in that fight, including colonel Brilhante Ustra, already deceased. I find that foreigners are misinformed about what happened in Brazil in that period. Historians have documented 434 victims of the political repression (a number confirmed by an independent investigation still ongoing within Congress). This number in a population of 90 million at the time. In opposition to that, the terrorists against whom the military were fighting killed 119 military and police officers, and 60 innocent civilians. They were not peaceful political opposition, rather, they advocated armed revolt.
    Bolsonaro’s remarks must be taken within this context, and not as an open and unconditional defense of torture, as much of the press try to show, here in Brazil and elsewhere.

  20. Gravatar of bob bob
    9. April 2019 at 06:25

    I think one of the main lessons of recent years is that we are all very susceptible to identity politics. It’s a fascinating topic. It’s easier to recognize identity politics when it applies to race or religion or middle America vs coastal. However, we all have identities and we can be easily manipulated when our identities are threatened. I don’t know exactly what mine is, but I know my identity is threatened when a post about nationalism ends with a ding on PC. I’m guessing the need to insert a ding on PC culture in most of your posts that criticize the right has something to do with one of your identities. Most republicans voted for Trump because their identity would not allow them to vote for a Dem. Claiming that you are not susceptible to identify politics is like saying “I don’t see color”. I am aware that what you actually wrote is that you oppose identity politics, and did not claim that you were immune to it. My point is that you oppose many if not most forms of identity politics, but most likely you support (subconsciously) some forms of identity politics. I apologize if I come across as too condescending, because that is not my intent.

  21. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    9. April 2019 at 06:44

    BTW, it bears repeating that the Palestinians were offered a state in 1948, but turned the offer down. They preferred to go to war against the Jewish state of Israel, thinking their superior numbers would prevail. So, it’s hard to sympathize today.

    Israel is a tiny sliver of a country you can drive across in less than an hour, with a few million inhabitants. It’s surrounded by several hundred million hostile Muslims, who still wage war against it. Maybe that’s why they entertain ‘strongmen’. They need any helping hand they can get.

    The solution would be for the Arabs to ‘get over it’, live peacefully next door, and concentrate on building their own lives in Jordan, Syria, Egypt….

  22. Gravatar of Chen Chen
    9. April 2019 at 09:39

    The example of Israel is interesting to me, as a Chinese-American. It seems that nationalists hated Jews when Jews were weak and admire them now that Israel is strong. The same thing happened to East Asians too—Japan and China were the s-hole countries of the 1800s; now they are admired by many Western nationalists, some of who even seem intent on jettisoning our own semi-free market traditions in favor of Chinese state capitalism. The left is often criticized for instinctively siding with the downtrodden even when it’s their own fault, but the right seems to just as often instinctively side with the successful and powerful even when that success and power was achieved through military superiority or exploitation of others.

    Thus, although I am opposed to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, I understand why many liberal Jews are defensive about any criticism of Israel. It is the same reason I and many other liberal Chinese-Americans are defensive about criticism of China. As much as we would like to be unattached globalists, history shows that a world where our ethnic “home country” is weak is a world where we are easily victimized by Western nationalists, who hold most of the real power in the world.

  23. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    9. April 2019 at 09:43

    Ben Cole,

    Thanks, that makes sense. I’d never really though of the word “prude” in that way but it does fit.

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. April 2019 at 10:15

    Ben, You said:

    “Scott Sumner says the US should not even try to build more mass transit as it costs too much and accomplishes too little. T

    I’ve said we should bring in lots of cheap labor from Bangladesh to build cheap mass transit. What’s wrong with doing that?

    Matthias, As I’ve pointed out many times, presidents have very little influence on the course of events. The country’s doing fine, but Trump is the worst president in US history.

    Jose, I don’t think you know very much about Bolsonaro. Take a look at his history of public comments on torture. Or his comments on military governments, or his comments on rape, or his preference for a dead son over a gay son.

    Bob, It would probably be more useful if you were to provide examples of my identity politics—I have thousands of posts to choose from. If you don’t do so, I’ll draw the natural conclusion. Both the left and the right engage in identity politics, so I’ll call out both sides.

    Patrick, You said:

    “it bears repeating that the Palestinians were offered a state in 1948, but turned the offer down.”

    Wow, so generous! We are offering you the “choice” of leaving the home your family has lived in for hundreds of years.

  25. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    9. April 2019 at 11:19

    “Wow, so generous! We are offering you the “choice” of leaving the home your family has lived in for hundreds of years.”

    Glad you support the establishment of a Palestinian state, Sumner.

    “No, it’s the nationalists who are confused; they are the ones who confuse nationalism and patriotism.”

    What is patriotism? What is nationalism? What are you trying to distinguish?

    The actual agenda of half the so-called “nationalists” in the world seems to be to make Israel greater than ever.

  26. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    9. April 2019 at 11:20

    Prof. Sumner

    None of these remarks, even taken out of context, define a nationalist. That has been my point all the way. If you know any comment where he defends/justifys rape please let me know.

    His comments on torture are well known. I repeat, he said that in the context of defending the fight against comunism in the 70’s.

    And please realize you are telling a Brazilian that I don’t know my country’s president well, when you probably read about him on CNN or NY Times.

    If you don’t believe my comments on the issue, read what Thomas Skidmore has to say about the political perido 1960-1985. He is an American Brazilianist, he has written about that period with impartiality. His views support Bolsonaro’s views on the issue, not the other way around.

  27. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    9. April 2019 at 12:55


    Wow, so generous! We are offering you the “choice” of leaving the home your family has lived in for hundreds of years.

    That’s so much more than the Europeans offered the Native Americans.

    Seriously: The Arabs have lost all wars against Israel. If you lose so many wars you should not be allowed to make such ridiculous claims. It’s mad.

    The antisemitism against Israel and Jews creates a dangerous precedence: The rule of the Jews in Israel is not accepted, even though they have fought off so many offensive wars. The Arabs seem to get through with this mad behavior but then this means that no border is ever secure. What’s next? The Germans wanting their land back because they “just” lost this two tiny wars once? The Indians wanting America back? The Celts wanting Europe back? No. It needs to end.

    You do know that Netanyahu is opposed to giving the Palestinians their own state, don’t you?

    First, Netanyahu said this before, but so far only during election campaigns. We don’t really know what he thinks about the issue. This behavior reminds me of Trump.

    Second, there are elections going on right now. He might as well lose.

    Third, he is right about the issue, assuming he really means it this time. There’s no reason for a Palestinian state at all. “Palestinians“ are Arabs. There are at least 22 Arab states already. We don’t need 23. Why in the world would we need 23? Not to mention that countries like Jordan are in fact
    Palestinian. Why would the Palestinians need a second state?

    There is a people in urgent need of a nation in the Middle East: the Kurds. Strangely enough, the Arabs do not want to talk about this at all. There’s no place for a single Kurdish nation throughout the whole Arab world. There’s no place for a single Jewish nation throughout the whole Arab world.
    There’s no place for democracy, freedom, and human rights in the Arab world. For what is there a place? And people like you seem to think that the Jews are the baddies in this conflict? You must be out of your mind.

    Quite some Muslims seem to be fascists who do not even hide it. These people killed all their native Jews, and drove the few surviving ones to Israel, and now Israel needs to go as well. Where is this journey of madness supposed to end?

    Just the fact hat the well-known mega-antisemite Harding is so vehemently on your side, would tell you everything that you need to know about the subject, if you just opened your eyes.

  28. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    9. April 2019 at 13:01

    Trump is pretty awful but is he really worse than Bush?

  29. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    9. April 2019 at 13:54

    Christian, your argument is simply the mirror-image of what many Palestinians believe; namely that there is no reason for a Jewish state because Jews are just Europeans, and there are dozens of European countries already, why do we need another one? This is an eminently reasonable position from the Palestinian perspective. After all, the British promised a Palestinian state after World War I, only to go back on it and turn the region into a British mandate, encourage massive immigration of Jews from Europe (because the Europeans didn’t want Jews in Europe), and then after World War II, gave the majority of the land to the Jews who were a minority of the population, and then supported them in conquering the rest.

    Now we can acknowledge that both sides have a legitimate claim to the land which should be fairly divided, or insist as you do that might-makes-right and that the Palestinian claims are invalid because they lost in war and they should just be happy they weren’t exterminated like the Native Americans. But if you think might-makes-right, then the wheel of history is going to continue to turn, the people and countries on top now may not be on top forever, and when they are on the bottom again they will not deserve sympathy.

    And while you are right that the Arab world has many problems, citing those problems to justify Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians is like citing Aztec human sacrifice to justify the Spanish conquest.

  30. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    9. April 2019 at 17:44


    encourage massive immigration of Jews from Europe 

    The British never encouraged that. Get your facts straight.

    But if you think might-makes-right

    That’s not the point. The point is that the status quo matters. If peoples don’t accept the current borders, and that they lost their offensive wars, then the conflicts will never end. At which claims will you guys stop? Modern Napoleons like Erdogan and Putin already have their eyes on new lands. Start this process and it will never end, until a few nations are gone. Feeding these guys is like feeding a crocodile with humans, while hoping that it will eat you last.

    fairly divided

    If you think that most current Arab/Turkish/Iranian leaders will stop at anything less than the dissolution of Israel you are extremely naive. Israel gave away Gaza already, the very first thing the Arabs did after that was electing Hamas into office.

    I admit that Israel is probably in a death spiral from which they may never break out. They missed these possibilities during the first wars, they should have expelled almost all Arabs. I don’t have the actual numbers here, but I think they stopped around 40-60%. This can kill Israel in the end. A new Arab nation would kill Israel for sure. With a new Arab nation Israel can not be defended. Israel is hardly wide enough already, making it even narrower would be suicide.

    is like citing Aztec human sacrifice to justify the Spanish conquest.

    This argument actually exists. As far as I know Aztec loved to enslave their neighboring peoples. People like Cortés could never have conquered these realms, with so few soldiers, but they had the support of many indigenous peoples who were liberated.

    But this was not my point. My point was that the Jews expelled only 40-60% of the Arabs, while the 22 Arab nations expelled 95-100% of the Jews. A huge difference.

    And while you are right that the Arab world has many problems

    “Problems”, are you kidding me? The “problem” is that they have zero democracy, no Rechtsstaat, and no tolerance for Jews. These “problems” won’t just go away by handing them over a 23rd nation right next to Israel. It will only make the “problem” worse. I think most Israelis have understood this by now.

  31. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    9. April 2019 at 18:33


    what a load of pontificating from your generous self, on what other people should be allowed to want and what they “should be given”, presumably by your god-like self. The world doesn’t work like that. As long as people have grievances, they will keep addressing them. As for having won some wars, this does not establish legitimacy. The Arabs ruled Spain for 800 years. They were thrown out eventually, having won quite a few wars in the meantime, but not legitimacy.

    Also, you seem to entertain a vision of the Middle East grounded in the 70s. This is not “Arabs vs Jews”. Arab nation states have long made their peace with Israel, some of them officially, and care little about the Palestinians. Palestinians aren’t some kind of fungible “Arabs” to be distributed at your gracious command amongst other fungible Arabs. Palestinian nationalism is local, and arose in direct response to Israel. There wouldn’t be any Palestinian nationalism were it not for Israel. They’d just be local people living there, not caring for being made into a nation.

    There is no “Islam vs Israel” either, as you imply with your bizarre
    “I have heard that there is at least one supra-nationalist imperialist ideology, with almost two billion believers, a clear majority of whom want the destruction of Israel. ”
    Islam is a universalist (anyone can become a muslim) religion (not ideology) and completely orthogonal to nationalism. Within Islam you find various streams. Some of these streams are more radical and aggressively dominate the discourse but if you speak to actual Muslims of various backgrounds, something you don’t seem to do, you’ll notice they’re generally highly tolerant people and Jews are respected as “people of the book” (common monotheism between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity). And then, yes, there is “political Islam”, some of it opposed to Israel. But not always. Ironically, “political Islam” often accommodates Israel rather well, e.g. Erdogan’s Turkey. Which is precisely the meaning of Scott’s post: it is nationalists that are now drawn to Israel, regardless of other beliefs, because they all share their vision of purity and homogeneity of people within the borders of the nation state.


    “I think you may be confusing “nation” and “state” here no? A nation shares a language, culture and blood. A “state” just shares a geographical area.”

    Blood??? Oh dear.

    But either way, nationalism today is used almost exclusively in the sense of the nation state, the most toxic political concept invented in the last few hundred years. Were it not for the nation state, a feeling of belonging and attachment to some “national” cultural values would be much less of a problem. It’s the nation state that insists that everyone should look the same, think the same, eat the same food, and come from the same ethnic background, just because they happen to live in the same administrative unit (the state). It was mostly post-revolutionary France that pioneered those ideas. Since most people today were brought up in nation states, they somehow believe that this is a natural condition of man. Not so – the nation state as a political concept is an invention of the 19th Century starting with France, who pioneered cultural cleansing, e.g., forcing people withing its borders to speak French (which they did not all do before the revolution) etc. Before that, ethnic cohabitation within empires (common administrative areas) was the norm. This is what everyone today seems to forget. The purity ideal of “only people of the same kind within a state” is a fairly modern perversion.

  32. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    9. April 2019 at 22:55

    Christian, it is quite self-serving to support a status quo where your favored group happens to be on top. If accepting the status quo is so important, why didn’t the Jewish people accept the status quo of being expelled from their homeland in Roman times for almost two thousand years? Why not accept the status quo of 1914 or 1939 or 1945? Israel is founded on the idea of a two thousand year struggle to regain the Jewish homeland. For all we know, the Palestinians are just now beginning a similar struggle. It seems uniquely hypocritical for Israel to criticize Palestinian irredentism.

    I know that the argument about the Aztecs is a real argument; I do not want to straw man anyone. However, those natives surely regretted working with Cortez after being wiped out by disease then enslaved for centuries. And ultimately, the Aztec human rights abuses had no greater historical consequence while the Spanish conquest did. The point is that people making those arguments do not actually care about the natives; they are just looking for justifications for colonialism. I don’t mind when Amnesty International types who criticize all countries bring up human rights abuses in the Arab world, but it certainly has a colonialist flavor when apologists for Israel do so.

    I must admit that your open support for ethnic cleansing is refreshing though. Many people like to dress up what is fundamentally Western chauvinism in pieties about liberal democracy or international law, and that hypocrisy unfortunately discredits the very concepts of liberal democracy and international law. Still, I hope that we can do better. History teaches that no hegemony is permanent, and when you are no longer on top, you are going to wish you had acted fairly while you were.

  33. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    9. April 2019 at 23:29


    I think Christian List is making fewer claims to omniscience than you are. He appears to be saying simply that a nation’s demonstrated ability to defend its land from attackers is a critical factor in determining the legitimacy of that nation’s claim to its land.

    Reasonable arguments can be made against that corollary of the principle of the Right of Conquest, specifically that it can be viewed as legitimizing, well, conquest. But if we never accept the Right of Conquest in any form we are doomed to live in perpetual civil war. Granted the Palestinians have a historic claim to Palestine, but the Jews have a more ancient claim. Why does the Palestinian claim take precedence?

    You make the claim that the Moors 800 year rule over Spain was illegitimate. Why? Was it because too many people in Moorish Spain still embraced Christianity? If that’s the case, would the Moors’ rule have been made more legitimate by exterminating the Christians?

    You say that Palestinian nationalism arose in response to Israel? I think you’d have Palestine if you removed the Israelis, meaning that I think Palestinian nationalism comes from the Palestinians. I don’t believe the Palestinians’ natural state is to be a province of an empire?

    You call the nation state a toxic idea and claim that ethnicities flourished under empires. Sometimes that happened, but it clearly wasn’t the case for the Armenians under the Ottomans or the Persians and Chinese under the Mongols.

    I agree with your criticism of the characterization of Islam as a supra-nationalist imperialist ideology, but it may not matter that the majority of Muslims are highly tolerant if a sizable enough minority are dangerously and violently intolerant. Just look at the demise of Christianity in the Middle East for an indicator of how welcome other religious groups feel in the Muslim countries of the Middle East.

  34. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    10. April 2019 at 01:40


    mostly not what I actually said. Empires had their problems including ethnic cleansing right up to genocide. The nation state, however, elevated ethnic cleansing to its basic organizing principle. The most successful empires let ethnicities cohabitate peacefully. There are studies about that – success of empires correlates with letting the subjugated parts live their own way. And the whole concept of a “pax romana” or “pax americana” results from the fact that under strong empires, there is peace because the various enthicities, for once, do NOT engage in warfare against each other. Fast forward, the European Union was born out of the same political concept: the primary goal is to end inter-European wars by binding the nations into one whole. NOT to make refrigerators cheaper by removing tariffs (although it is sadly being sold to the public that way). And you can see how Brexit is now rekindling even intra-UK nationalism of the 4 “nations”, up to threatening the cohesion of the UK. Congratulations.

    ” a nation’s demonstrated ability to defend its land from attackers is a critical factor in determining the legitimacy of that nation’s claim to its land”. The guy driving off with your car because he had a gun and you had none, has a more legitimate claim to your car than you?

    “You make the claim that the Moors 800 year rule over Spain was illegitimate. ” no. I said their opponents managed to have them viewed as illegitimate. To me this means, even a strong 800 year rule is not enough to definitely establish “legitimacy”. Legitimacy ultimately depends on acceptance by your neighbors, stakeholders, partners, and grudging opponents, not (just) raw power. And it is fluid. Example, I would contend that Israel’s neighbors now accept Israel’s legitimacy, but most also accept the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ claim to something more than refugee camps. Again: what we now call “Palestinians” would not exist as a national concept were it not for their struggle with Israel – this is what defines and unites them. A Palestinian is an Arab fighting with Israel over political control of territory currently occupied by Israel. Arabs not fighting with Israel over such control are not called Palestinians.

    “You say that Palestinian nationalism arose in response to Israel?” Of course it did. The entire territory was part of the Ottoman empire until the end of WWI. ALL nation states there arose as a result of big power meddling and post-colonial carving up of the Ottoman empire.

  35. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    10. April 2019 at 04:40

    Minority ethnicities typically do better under empire than rule by foreign nation-states. You were probably better off in India under the rule of British imperialists wanting to take up the white man’s burden, than in Poland under the rule of Nazi nationalists who just wanted to take your land and give it to German settlers. And Palestinians were better off under the rule of the Ottoman Empire than the rule of the Israeli nation-state.

    The whole distinction between empires and nation-states is very fluid. Most empires have been formed from nation-states that expand their reach in order to secure more resources for their own people. Taking land and resources from other peoples to enrich your own is the quintessential nationalist endeavor. The nationalist fervor that spurred the unification of Germany and Italy also spurred them to seek overseas colonies almost as soon as the ink on unification was dry. Then, the more liberal empires pursue assimilation and eventually grant equal rights to the conquered peoples, while the more ruthless ones try to exterminate the conquered peoples and settle their own people on the land. Some do both, and some shift between these two ends at different points in their history. Some empires are very successful at assimilating or exterminating their minorities and thus become nation-states again. The world’s two most powerful countries, the USA and China, both seem to fall into that category. Thus, nationalism and imperialism are not opposites, but mutually reinforcing trends.

  36. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    10. April 2019 at 10:18


    “The guy driving off with your car because he had a gun and you had none, has a more legitimate claim to your car than you?”
    No. But i wouldn’t advise my grandson to take a gun to his grandson’s house to get it back 75 years later. Also, your analogy misses part of the point. If a people are unable to hold onto their land they will eventually be invaded or turn into a hellhole or both.

    Pax Americana: I agree with what you say about the beneficial effects of PAX Americana but I also know the whole thing began with the near extermination of the Native Americans. It is a brutally sad reality that it would be worse to try to overturn America’s original sins against their predecessors than accept them.

    I actually agree with your evaluation of the Arab nations’ “private” assessment of Israel’s legitimacy (publicly they still have to tread lightly). But Hamas does not accept the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. Nor do most Palestinian people.

  37. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    10. April 2019 at 15:31

    As it happens, I have an essay just published at Areo Magazine which analyses the elevated rates of homicide in urban African-American communities as being a social response (a sort of DIY public order) to long term failure to provide adequate protection and policing services in African-American communities.

    That’s a history that the US definitely shouldn’t go back to and needs to do much better at correcting. Race talk is not the solution, it’s at the heart of the problem.

  38. Gravatar of SeaMoney SeaMoney
    10. April 2019 at 16:03

    Scott said:

    “I’ve said we should bring in lots of cheap labor from Bangladesh to build cheap mass transit. What’s wrong with doing that?”

    The problem with this is that it misunderstands why US construction costs are high.

    The third world does not build at lower costs than the first.

  39. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    10. April 2019 at 17:44


    “But i wouldn’t advise my grandson to take a gun to his grandson’s house to get it back 75 years later”.

    Neither would I. I would recommend to stick to rule-based order and to go through the proper police and justice channels.

    For what it’s worth, some heirs to Jewish property confiscated by the Nazis are still trying to get it back 85 years later. Seems perfectly reasonable to me if they go through the proper channels. These cases pop up almost every year, still. Or, look at all those Cubans in Miami holding on to their land claims since the ’50’s, significantly biasing US policy towards Cuba… There is nothing particularly unique in the insistence of the Palestinian land claims. If you look at history, these things tend to get settled only when some form of compensation is offered, even symbolic. Where the aggrieved party is at least allowed to score a moral victory, and some form of compensation, however meager.

    For what it’s worth, Native Americans in the US, Maoris and Aborigenes in Australia and New Zealand – nothing is settled there either. In these countries, the colonizer swamped the original population completely, so we see no real struggle, that’s all. But the grievance remains. In South Africa, it’s a different story because the European immigrants never outnumbered the native population. And so, no matter how long White South Africans have lived there, the legitimacy of their land ownership is still being questioned in a very real political struggle. And tragically, private people pay with their private property and lives, for political problems they have not created. There is no good solution to any of this, only acceptable political compromises. Interestingly, in Latin America it’s different. Lots of social problems, but it seems there is no unified aboriginal position questioning the legitimacy of another population living there. I suppose this is because in most of Latin America, the populations blended sufficiently – they’re largely mixed race societies now, and that finally did the trick.

  40. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. April 2019 at 15:49

    Harding, I never said I supported a Palestinian state.

    Jose, Yes, I tend to believe exact quotes printed in the evil NYT more than the opinion of some random commenter.

    SeaMoney, I never said that the third world had lower costs, although costs in China are far lower than in the US. I said bringing in cheap foreign labor would reduce costs in the US. We should also bring in foreign managerial expertise, as the Europeans are better at building subways than we are. Our costs are far higher than even in Europe.

  41. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    15. April 2019 at 10:07

    Prof. Summner, you are fooling yourself. NYT has a strong bias, and is certainly giving you the biased (wrong) opinion. A random commenter could possibly give you the right opinion, unbiased.

  42. Gravatar of SeaMoney SeaMoney
    19. April 2019 at 14:50

    Scott, low wage China builds subways at about the same unit cost as high wage Western Europe and Japan.

    Spain and South Korea both blow it out of the water.

    Local labor cost just isn’t a major driver of cost differentials.

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