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Proprietary Nationalism

This is my land
Wednesday, June 8, 2022, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

In investigating nationalism as a subject for political philosophy, I have assumed that, given its Janus-faced nature, I should above all help contain it within the frameworks of public law, both international and constitutional. Such taming requires identifying types of unconscionable nationalist ideas that should be dismissed at the threshold of political morality, and correspondingly identifying types that pass this threshold. In my talk I will present a type of an unconscionable nationalist idea I call “proprietary”. Types of nationalism which are considered unconscionable are usually those that originated in an anti-enlightenment world view. In an essay published in 1978 Isaiah Berlin characterized them as essentialist in terms of their social ontology, and collectivist, relativist and particularist in terms of their meta-ethics. The subsequent voluminous literature on liberal nationalism and multi-culturalism testifies for philosophers’ belief that nationalist ideas can also originate and grow outside an anti-enlightenment context. The thesis I would like to propose in my talk is that there is at least one type of illiberal nationalism that does that. To be sure, when it is fully developed political phenomenon, as I will show, it is likely to become essentialist and collectivist, but it doesn’t originate within this anti-enlightenment ontology and meta-ethics. I have two motives for distinguishing proprietary nationalism from other types of unconscionable nationalism. One is philosophical, which I have already indicated. The other motive is political. Since the end of WW II politicians and states have rarely invoked unconscionable nationalisms that originated in the anti-enlightenment. They are shy of doing so. However, this is not the case with proprietary nationalism. Unlike the other types of unconscionable nationalism that have been dormant since the mid-20th century, it is an active volcano of injustice and violations of human rights. I will try first to convince you that it actually exists by describing some contemporary and past cases of nationalism. I will then try to explain philosophically why the proprietary type they belong to is no less unconscionable, and sometimes even more so, than racist types of nationalism and those that directly originated in the world-view of the anti-enlightenment. [The analysis of some of the historical cases that I will discuss was worked out together with Dr. Oded Steinberg, a historian at the Hebrew University.]

Image: PC game cover: This Land is My Land