July 21, 2004

On the National State: Empire and Anarchy (Yoram Hazony, Winter 2002, Azure)

The national state is one of the central ideas in the political tradition of the West, and it is in many respects the lynchpin of this tradition, serving as the premise—often a hidden premise, but a necessary one nonetheless—on which is founded our understanding of ideas such as popular sovereignty, the rule of law, and representative government, as well as our conceptions of personal liberty and civil equality. These and similar ideas emerged in the wake of the consolidation of the classical national states, and especially England, as the most humane alternative to the two major ordering principles that had been previously known to Europe: The idea of the centralized power of the imperial state, as represented by the memory of the Roman empire, and as pursued by the Catholic Church in such guises as the Spanish empire and the German Holy Roman Empire; and the ordered anarchy of the feudal system, in which the state often hardly existed, and even the right to make law and wage war was delegated down to countless local nobles arrayed in ever-shifting combinations.

The tyranny and disorder represented by these two alternatives was of course not new; it had persisted in nearly all times and places in history. But for Christians, especially after the advent of Calvinism and the Church of England had brought about the widespread circulation of the Hebrew Bible translated into the vernacular, there seemed to be another alternative, inspired by the history of ancient Israel. The Bible depicted the twin scourges faced by the Jews in terms that were hardly less apt for the passage of centuries: The fear, on the one hand, of a barbaric anarchy such as that represented by the period of the Judges; and that of enslavement to the imperial states represented by Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia, on the other. But it also described a recourse: The establishment of a united Jewish kingdom, whose purpose was to provide relief from anarchy, while at the same time resisting the world-embracing pretensions of the imperial states.

This biblical alternative, the theoretical counterpart to what we today call the national state, seems to have had a sympathetic hearing among the English from the dawn of their history. They had glimpsed a reflection of themselves in it as early as Bede’s Ecclesiastic History of the English People, which appeared in the year 730, and which had already then recognized the potential of the national state for freeing the English from the perpetual strife that persisted among their own petty kingdoms, as well as from the constant threat of subjugation to foreign invaders.8 For Tudor England, sustaining itself only with the greatest difficulty against domination by imperial Spain, this national alternative became the inspiration and the spiritual bulwark of English liberty. Such sentiment, familiar to us through Shakespeare’s nationalist histories from Richard II to Henry V—written in the years immediately following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588—was accompanied during Elizabeth’s reign by intense public interest in English-language translations of the Bible, culminating in John Lyly’s conception of England as “a new Israel, his chosen and peculiar people.” It was this new Israel, as it proved its mettle against imperial power, that subsequently became the model for the contemporary national state, throughout Western Europe and beyond.9

Now, if we are to understand the significance of this political tradition of the national state, we must first ask what characterized the political world prior to the introduction of this new ideal. In other words, in a world of empire and anarchy, what is it that distinguishes between the one ideal type and the other? It seems to me that the distinction can be grasped most readily if we understand it to be rooted in a difference over principal political loyalty: In speaking of an imperial state, I have in mind a state whose jurisdiction tends towards the rule over all, whereas anarchy tends towards the rule of each one over himself alone. This is not to say, of course, that there has ever been a perfect anarchy in which each one ruled himself alone and was loyal to none other, any more than that there has ever been an imperial state that succeeded in ruling over all of mankind. But it is nevertheless true that what we mean by an empire is a state that is in principle boundless in terms of its extent, so that the individual proffers loyalty and obedience to a jurisdiction that might easily include, if not today then tomorrow, any other member of humanity. Under anarchy, on the other hand, the individual proffers loyalty and obedience to a collective whose bounds are sharply drawn, and circumscribed only to those people with whom he could in principle be personally acquainted—whether they be members of his family, clan, tribe, manor, town, militia, or gang. In other words, anarchy is the rule of the familiar man, who is presumed to care directly for the needs of the individual; whereas empire is the rule of the universal mind, which is presumed to care directly for the needs of mankind.

Understood in this way, we find that neither empire nor anarchy are concepts concerned in the first instance with numeric quantities such as the extent of the territory or population of the state, or the number of its competitors. Rather, we recognize the difference between empire and anarchy as a substantive difference in the nature of the political allegiance of the individual. For if allegiance is given to a familiar individual or lord, and if allegiance to this lord will remain unshaken on the day he withdraws his allegiance from his own lord and gives it to another, then there can be no question but that this is anarchy; and this is true even if we are no longer speaking of a crime family of a dozen individuals, but of a feudal fiefdom the size of half of France. The anarchic or feudal loyalty remains always with the particular and concrete individual who is our lord, and to whom we have sworn allegiance. Under empire, on the other hand, one’s allegiance is never to a familiar individual, but rather to the empire itself, whose ruler is distinguished precisely by the fact that he is so remote and unapproachable as to in effect be no more than an abstraction. If the appointed governor of an imperial province should on a given day determine to go over to the enemy, it should surprise us greatly to find that this defection would entail the automatic defection of the entire province. For the people of this province care not whether the governor is this individual or that one. His identity is immaterial, since their allegiance is to the abstraction of the empire, of which the governor is no more than a momentary representative. Indeed, the treason of a high official, although unusual, is known to every imperial state, no matter how well regimented, and can take place without altering the fundamental character of the empire. But on the day that we see such a treason take place, and this official’s underlings are found to declare their allegiance to the traitor, then we can be certain that the imperial state is in dissolution, and is become anarchy.

Once this difference is understood, it is obvious why men who live in an imperial political order find anarchy to be the greatest imaginable evil. For it is no doubt correct that great masses of humanity depend for their lives on the order provided by the empire. By placing his loyalty to the familiar individual above loyalty to the empire as a whole, one has in effect denied his obligation to all of the masses of humanity who are unfamiliar to him, and who depend on the empire for the order that makes life itself possible. In this way, he becomes an enemy not only of the empire, but of humanity as well. In the same fashion, we can see why men who are committed to an anarchic or feudal order regard the encroachment of agents of the imperial state with such horror. For in demanding that allegiance to the empire be placed above loyalty to the familiar individual who has in fact afforded protection to and cared for the needs of those dependent on him, these agents of empire demand nothing less than the sundering and betrayal of the concrete bonds of affection and self-interest that have stood at the foundation of society and stability.

On this basis, we can recognize that empire and anarchy are not merely political constructs, or competing methods of ordering political power. Each is in fact a political ordering principle that draws its legitimacy, and therefore its strength, from its rootedness in the moral order. It is for this reason that men understand the political order in which they live and to which they are committed in terms of principle; and that the struggle between empire and anarchy is not only a war of opportunists and villains seeking the greatest power for themselves, but equally a confrontation between men of good will who disagree regarding the degree of moral legitimacy and sanction that can be ascribed to each of the respective political orders.

Thus our effort to identify the principles that underpin the respective political orders leads us to conclude the following: First, that the imperial state is always predicated on the principle of the unity of unfamiliar humanity. Even in an empire which is not yet universal in its extent or in its official self-understanding, the individual is nevertheless asked to sacrifice on the basis of an obligation he is presumed to have towards the great mass of unfamiliar men, who, though they be perfect strangers to him, are nonetheless men such as he is. According to this principle, each individual must give his utmost to the common order of mankind, whether or not he is presently the beneficiary of this order, for only in this fashion can the generality of mankind prosper. And it is this, the claim to bring order and even progress to mankind, which gives moral sanction to the laws and wars of the imperial state, even where these seem to have no apparent bearing on the well-being of the specific individual.

The difficulty with this principle of unity with the mass of unfamiliar men is that, being so abstract that it is always detached from the apparent interests of each concrete individual, it quickly becomes detached from the concrete interests of all of them—while at the same time leaving none with the standing to complain about the expropriation of his property and life, since these are carried out in the name of the generality of humanity, whose needs and interests the individual cannot reasonably presume to understand. This being the case, it is also true that wherever this principle is imbedded in the heart of the state, whether this state seems on its face to be vicious or benign, it logically gives birth to conquest and to the subjugation of neighboring peoples, depending only upon the measure of force that it is capable of bringing to bear.

Discussed in these terms we can see precisely the extent to which America is indeed an Empire. However, it’s an unusual sort of empire because rather than try to establish a single unified state it proposes that well the proper values of men (because they are God’s) are universal men can still live in many different states. Mr. Hazony touches on this later:

With this in mind, I would like to consider what type of ordering principle arises once we have conceived of a political allegiance that rises above the familiar individual of the anarchic order, but stops only half as high as the celestial dome of unfamiliar humanity. Here, at the inflection point between anarchy and empire, one finds the idea of the independent national state. And here one finds a third ordering principle whose root is in the moral order, and the one that in my view is the best and most noble of the three: The principle of national liberty.

The principle of national liberty offers a nation with an evident capacity for self-government, and with the ability to withstand the siren songs of empire and anarchy, an opportunity to live according to its own understanding. Such a principle therefore conceives of the political order as one in which each such nation is left to pursue its own unique purposes in its own national state. The principle of national liberty thus takes as its point of departure that which is vital and constructive in each of the two principles with which it competes: From the principle of empire, it takes the ideal of direct allegiance to the abstraction of the state rather than to familiar men—the practical effect of which is a state monopoly on arms and law such as admits the possibility of domestic peace; and the possibility of living under an abstracted authority that is no longer connected to particular individuals by ties of familiarity, this being the most important condition for establishing impartial justice. From the principle of anarchy, it retains the ideal of a ruler sensitive to the actual interests and aspirations of specific persons living in a particular society; it is this that finds expression in the aim of government over a single nation only—an aim that in effect proscribes foreign conquest, and for the first time permits a conception of the liberty of other nations as a potential good in itself. Indeed, these same two components, exclusive government over a given nation, and the limitation of government to a particular nation, are the essential prerequisites of national liberty; and together they constitute the ideal of national sovereignty.15

We are accustomed to thinking of the political good in Platonic terms, as the quest for the good regime. But the foregoing suggests that the possibility of establishing the good regime may itself require the prior establishment of a tolerable political order, which can serve as the foundation for such a regime. For where the imperial and anarchic principles continue their rule, the good regime—and in particular the institutions that we today associate with free government—is impossible. A state which is not devoted to the principle of governing a certain nation alone, but which instead entertains thoughts of unification with various unfamiliar nations, is ultimately a conquering state, whose energies are constantly dispersed in the emergencies of extension and domination. Such a state tends to see before it imperial interests that are increasingly detached from the reality in which each of its subject peoples lives, so that it is necessarily lacking a proper concern for the troubles of any actual people. Consequently, this type of regime is hardly ever conducive to developing truly representative government or equality before the law, not to speak of a decent respect for liberty. Moreover, the imperial state, even when it is not engaged in overt conquest, can never restrain itself from menacing other governments, undermining their legitimacy and traditions, and the integrity of their rule, the better to continue on its course of extension the moment it sees an opportunity to do so.

In the same manner, we find that the premise of personal loyalty to familiar men, which is at the heart of all anarchic order, is in effect a principle of sedition and resistance against every impersonal government, whose role must of necessity be to replace the corruption of individual loyalties with a concern for true justice and the good of the people as a whole. In this, the anarchic principle is inevitably at war with the institutions of free government, as these can only develop where loyalty to individuals has been superseded as the ordering principle of public life by loyalty to all members of an entire people. Thus the principle of anarchy is found not only to be an impossibly poor soil for the development of the institutions of a free people, but also, like the principle of empire, to undermine these wherever they are found.

Taken together, these observations suggest that free institutions can develop only under a particular kind of political order: Such institutions must come into being, if they are to come into being at all, in that space that exists between the transition of a people from personal to national loyalties, on the one hand; and their acceptance of imperial assumptions for themselves, on the other. It is here, and only here, that one finds the possibility of political life ordered in accord with the principle of national sovereignty, and it is this principle that holds the key to the establishment of the good regime and of free government generally.

In effect, what America proposes is to establish everywhere the principle (and to impose the reality) of legitimate national sovereignty. But the legitimacy, as Mr. Hazony concedes, presupposes that each nation will be faithful to certain universal ideals like “a concern for true justice and the good of the people as a whole,” which requires “the development of the institutions of a free people.”

National liberty may be the happy medium between empire and anarchy, but its adoption as a form of government is basically being driven by imperial means. Perhaps we might think of it as follows: at the End of History lies national liberty, but we are hastening that End.


January 11, 2004

On the National State: Part 3: Character (Yoram Hazony, Winter 2003, Azure)

The preceding sections of this essay explored two aspects of the ideal of Jewish guardianship, which is the purpose of the Jewish state-the first, according to which Israel offers diplomatic and military assistance to Jews everywhere in times of need; and the second, which sees in Israel a natural shelter under which a unique Jewish way of understanding and living may be brought into being. In the last part of this essay, I will examine a final aspect of Jewish guardianship: The aim of raising up Jewish men and women of a character sufficient to these ends. As the early Zionists were sharply aware, the idea of a Jewish state cannot be divorced from the question of individual character, both because character is a precondition for maintaining political and cultural independence over time, and because this quality of personality is more readily cultivated under conditions of national sovereignty. In the discussion that follows, I will argue that these claims are, if anything, even more relevant today than when they were first made a century ago.

Character is not a subject much discussed these days, and this is no surprise. The more one is preoccupied with equality as an ultimate political end-and such a preoccupation is no less visible in the Jewish state in our time than in any other Western society-the more difficult it becomes to admit of the existence of qualities such as honor, virtue, or character, which are usually recognized from the fact that some individuals possess them in a greater degree than others. In other words, these are qualities that are distributed unequally in any given population, so that in praising or otherwise seeking to encourage them, one becomes vulnerable to the accusation of harboring illicit republican or even aristocratic sympathies. And if it is in a Jewish context that one insists on raising such issues, the discussion is all the more difficult. For by now, any discussion of Jewish character is immediately said to recall all the old talk of the “new Jew” who was supposed to spring into being in Israel, and especially the calls of Brenner and others to reject the inheritance of our fathers who lived in the diaspora. At times the mere mention of the need to develop a more resilient character is enough to provoke accusations of “negation of the diaspora,” or even of anti-Semitism.

Such hesitations may be justifiable, but they have also had an increasingly baneful effect on our public discourse. Because of them the Jews have become a people expert at juggling abstractions such as “justice” and “rights” and “independence,” while avoiding any treatment of the concrete qualities that may be required for such political ends to be possible in practice. All these high ideals are presumed to be obtainable out of thin air, or else because we sincerely want them and frequently express ourselves to this effect. The possibility that our society may not be comprised of the kind of individuals who are capable of securing these things, and that some change in ourselves may be required if we are to attain and keep them, is seldom mentioned.

To my mind this reticence is ill-considered. We live in difficult times. And while there are things that are not in our hands, it may also be that if we are dissatisfied with conditions in the Jewish state we have built, it is because the materials with which we have been building are not what they might be. If so, a fundamental improvement will not be possible until we ask if we are the kind of men we need to be, given the tasks ahead of us. In this I do not propose that we necessarily adopt the severity of Rousseau writing of the French, Dostoyevsky of the Russians, Nietzsche of the Germans. But we must be able to point to our failings, not only with regard to this or that person, but also with regard to our people more generally. We Jews excel in pillorying every individual who takes the reins of power among us. But we are impatient when it comes to making an accounting of our collective faults. These are habits of mind that are not only imprudent but also dangerous when one lives under a democratic form of government, in which the qualities of thepublic, as much as those of any elected leader, may well determine the course of events. For these reasons it seems desirable that we revisit a question that was of such great concern to the founders of our state. […]

Every human association, if it is to persist and attain its purposes in the face of adversity, depends on individuals capable of maintaining their commitments under duress. In this sense, the association is like any other instrument. Like a hammer or a chain, it becomes worthless the moment any part of it begins to deform under the strain of events. Thus the family can no longer serve its purpose of sheltering and educating children once disputes between the parents break into the open; a business enterprise cannot survive if the partner entrusted with the books alters them out of consideration for his own financial needs; a military formation collapses once the soldiers begin to suspect that each of them cares only for his own survival. For this reason every human association, if it does not perish, eventually begins to become conscious of the need for character, and to develop methods of inculcating it in its members.

But of all forms of human association, it is the nation and the state that have the greatest need for individuals of character. Nowhere else is there a demand for individuals of character in such great numbers; nowhere else is there so consistently the need for these individuals to be able to endure every kind of physical and psychological violence without significant distortion in their original commitments. In its diplomacy, in its military and police actions, and in the operations of its organs of law and taxation, the state achieves its purposes under duress; and on each of these fronts and others, it can succeed only to the degree that it operates through persons who can maintain their bearing and commitments under the most trying circumstances. An official assigned to enforce the laws, or an officer in command of soldiers, or a statesman enduring the displeasure of foreign contacts built over long years-all stand under excruciating pressure to relent in their pursuit of state policy, acceding instead to a course that is, for them personally, more comfortable or more profitable. Unless they are of strong character, the official will soon begin to shape the laws so as best to suit his political or financial interests; the officer will seek to preserve his own life and that of his men at the expense of the nation’s ability to wage war; and the statesman will quietly give away his country’s independence in exchange for the applause of foreign dignitaries. In each case, to hold firm is to maintain the integrity of the state, while every failure of character brings the state that much closer to dissolution.10

This, then, is the challenge that the national state lays down before a people that wishes for independence: Produce ten thousand men of superb character for your cause, not once but in every generation. This alone can secure your independence. This alone can sustain it.

Now this is a formidable challenge even for the greatest of nations. It is not obvious that diplomacy or war, or any of the hardships commonly associated with statecraft, poses a greater difficulty than does this fundamental educational challenge. Indeed, this may well be the central political problem of the state: How can character be made to appear with such frequency in a citizenry, one generation after the next?

What Mr. Hazony says of Israel is no less true of America. But just as the Israelis prefer not to look within when they perceive the shortcomings of the state of their state, so too in America we’d prefer to blame others.

For instance, we understand that multi-culturalism and political correctness and the like are afflicting our society in general but our schools in particular. Do we blame ourselves for allowing intellectual elites to inflict this damage while we slept the slumber of the affluent? No, we seek instead to ban the folk of other cultures, thinking if only we can get rid of the easily identified other we’ll purify the culture. Not only would we be destroying an important facet of our own national character in doing so–the universalist beliefs stated in the Declaration–but we’d be sidetracking ourselves from the much harder task of repairing the damage the multiculturalists have already done. The solution to our sense that the unity and coherence of the American citizenry is in decline is not less but better citizens.

Israel, on the other hand, needs many more, and better, citizens.

-ESSAY: On the National State, Part 1: Empire and Anarchy: In defense of the beleaguered idea of the sovereignty of nations. (Yoram Hazony, Azure)
-ESSAY: On the National State,
Part 2: The Guardian of the Jews
: A national home is more than a place of refuge. (Yoram Hazony, Azure)
-ESSAY: Did Herzl Want a “Jewish” State?: Even after Herzl’s deconstruction, the answer is still yes. (Yoram Hazony, Spring 2000, Azure)
-ESSAY: The Jewish Origins of the Western Disobedience Tradition: Civil disobedience did not, as we are taught, begin with Socrates and Antigone, but with a Hebrew Bible that rejected the supremacy of human law. (Yoram Hazony, Summer 1998, Azure)
-ESSAY: ‘The Jewish State’ at 100: Does anyone remember the ideas that founded the Jewish state?
(Yoram Hazony, Spring 1997, Azure)
-ESSAY: The End of Zionism?: The ideology that built the State of Israel has given way to a Post-Zionism that sanctifies Jewish disempowerment. (Yoram Hazony, Summer 1996, Azure)

-PROFILE: Yoram Hazony and Zionism (David N. Myers, June 2, 2000, JEWISH JOURNAL OF GREATER L.A.)
-PROFILE: THINK AGAIN: A Textbook Example of How Not to Eat Crow (Jonathan Rosenblum, April, 25 2001, The Jerusalem Post)

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