July 20, 2019

Towards a Liberal Nationalism

“Yael Tamir’s new book, “Why Nationalism,” looks at an old idea through the prism of our newly nationalistic world. She examines how nationalism was used both to make war and (often after those wars) to build welfare states, and she argues that progressives once again need to harness nationalism for their own interests. “Liberals like to believe that social diversity breeds tolerance and open-mindedness, but research does not support this,” she writes. In Tamir’s view, a liberal version of nationalism is one of the only hopes of averting nationalism’s most destructive features, and entrenching support for welfare states.

I recently spoke by phone with Tamir, a political scientist and a former member of Israel’s Knesset from the Labor party. She currently is the president of Shenkar College, in Israel, and teaches at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed how nationalism went from an élite project to an anti-élite one, and how liberals might make use of it.

What is it that you thought needed to be said about nationalism?

The reason I was interested in nationalism is the realization that people need, in their lives, more than liberty or opportunity or things that liberalism cherishes. They need meaning, they need a context, they need to be rooted. And not allowing people to live in a meaningful environment may be a very painful and damaging thing for people’s lives and self-fulfillment.”

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