Two Schools of Thought: Liberalism vs. Nationalism

Should we fear or embrace the rise of nationalism? In November of 2019, scholars Yoram Hazony, president of the Herzl Institute, and Aurelian Craiutu, associate chair of political science at Indiana University, answered this and related questions in a debate at Villanova University about liberalism versus nationalism.

Yoram Hazony opened the debate in support of nationalism, saying that the best thing is to allow nations to rule themselves.

People would prefer to be ruled according to their own customs, according to their own likes—they prefer to be ruled by one of their own.

– Yoram Hazony
Yoram Hazony

Arguing against nationalism in favor of liberalism, Aurelian Craiutu said that despite its equalizing power and emphasis on roots, nationalism can take dangerous forms.

“We must acknowledge that nationalism is a deceptive and complex ideology that can be pulled into different directions,” Craiutu stated. “At its worst, it can be a devastating and destructive power. At its best, it can be a modernizing force—a forward-looking and constructive power integral to modernity and its progress.”

Yoram Hazony elevated nationalism above liberalism by saying that, while consent is important, what holds a society together is not consent but rather mutual loyalty. “Human beings naturally—by nature automatically, you don’t have to teach it to them—stick into these clusters of people who feel for one another,” Hazony said.

Both Hazony and Craiutu agree that globalism is not the answer.

Globalism has failed indeed to replace nationalism because it could not offer a political agenda that meets the most basic needs of individuals—the desire to be autonomous, the desire to be self-governing, the desire to be treated with dignity and justice.

– Aurelian Craiutu
Aurelian Craiutu

Hazony said that globalism is dangerously imperialistic while, “The whole idea of nationalism is that there isn’t going to be a rules-based international order.”

However, Craiutu believes that liberalism offers a better solution. To clarify what he means by liberalism, Craiutu listed four ideas that set liberals apart from conservatives and socialists. Liberals, by his definition, accept and regulate the ethical and material conflict within society, distrust and resist power, proclaim faith in human progress and reason, and profess respect for people’s thoughts and individual dignity.

In the end, liberalism neither promises nor delivers any ready-made panacea solutions to our problems—more modestly it seeks to limit the power that is exercised in society. It creates a structure for civil discussion or civil debate, negotiations, civil standards of behavior courtesy compromise, and yes, space for moderation which is a virtue only for courageous minds.

– Aurelian Craiutu

Hazony pointed out that he and Craiutu agree on the importance of moderation and freedom but simply disagree about which political ideology best promotes those ideals.

This event was part of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation Debate Series, which gathers speakers across the ideological spectrum together to debate on important contemporary issues. These programs give students and the wider campus community a unique opportunity to explore core concepts within the classical liberal tradition. IHS thanks the Intercollegiate Studies InstituteJack Miller CenterAmerican University Political Theory Institute, and the Matthew J. Ryan Center at Villanova University for their collaboration on this series of events.

For more information on IHS, our Campus-Wide Event support, faculty programs, or funding opportunities, visit TheIHS.org.

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