Jewish Ideas Daily
In Defense of the Nation-State
By Diana Muir Appelbaum
Friday, October 5, 2012
In [Daniel Gordis’] new book, The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actually Its Greatest Strength, Gordis weaves the work of political theorists and historians into a compelling case for the nation-state in general and Israel in particular. … the governments that have produced human rights such as personal liberty and the rule of law have most often been ethnically based nation-states … Gordis quotes intellectual historian Mark Lilla, who notes that while Western Europeans have forgotten “all the long-standing problems that the nation-state, as a modern form of political life, managed to solve,” … [Zionism] remembers the wisdom of borders and the need for collective autonomy to establish self-respect and to demand respect from others. …
European and American opposition to Israel … reflects the fact that Israel is the archetypal nation-state, and nation-states have fallen from favor in intellectual circles.
Until recently, republics have arisen only in small city-states and, usually, only briefly. Apart from these cases, in all of human history only a few ways have been found to organize political life. There is the intense and appalling tribalism of Afghanistan. There are empires in which conquering Herrenvolk oppress conquered peoples. There are dictatorships and monarchies in which individuals may have comforts or privileges but not rights. There has been the universalizing ideology of Marxism, which has produced brutality and death on an unimaginable scale. Then there is the nation-state.
The nation-state gives no assurances of the universal peace and justice promised by Marxism, Islam, or the human rights movement. It claims merely that it will attempt to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for its citizens. The nation-state does not claim it will bring peace or justice to the whole world, only that it will work to bring these benefits to a particular people living on a particular piece of land.