The Virtue of Nationalism – this is the title of your book, which won the Conservative Book of the Year Award this year. However, nationalism has become a kind of swear word for many in recent decades. What makes you think that this perception can be changed?
Firstly, nationalism does not count as a swear word everywhere. There are several countries – for example Israel, India, Ireland and Hungary as well – which preserve the memories of how they became free from the rule of different empires. From a historical perspective, nationalism refers to a nation’s struggle to get free from someone else’s oppression. Quite understandably, the reaction of the West – America and the Europeans – to the Second World War was that it was a horrible shock that brought unprecedented devastation to the world. We can also understand that they wanted to prevent it from happening again. They said that if Hitler used the word ‘national’, then nationalism is evil because Hitler was evil. Life, however, is more complex than that. Hitler did not care about political theory, he did not use concepts in their previous meaning. In reality, the Nazi Germany was not a nation state, but an imperialist state. It did not aim to ensure the self-determination of Germans within their national borders. The vision of the Nazi Germany sought world dominance. They wanted to create a unified Europe that can become the ruler of the whole world. Hitler wrote in his Mein Kampf that the German Empire can become the “mistress of the globe”, that is what he wanted to achieve. He began by attempting to unify Europe, after that he wanted to rule the whole world.
So, after the Second World War, the word ‘nationalism’ lost its original meaning. It no longer denoted a world consisting of independent nations; its meaning was overshadowed by Hitler and the picture of the world in ruins. It is partly understandable, and there are rightful concerns related, but we still do not have a better word for the political theory that seeks to create a world of free and independent nations, a world in which many different nations exist, each with its own culture, legal and political traditions.
Is patriotism not the right word for modern nationalism?
No, because patriotism is not a political theory, it simply means that somebody loves their own country. However, nationalism seeks an answer on how the world can work better: one setup is a world made up of many independent national communities. The other setup is what the Roman Empire offered: one law, universal peace and welfare to those living in its territories. The latter solution is called imperialism. An imperial state has never remained democratic – even if it started like that – because history tells us that it always faces opposition. Sooner or later there will be attempts for independence from the empire, which can only be oppressed by force.
Is it possible to draw a historical balance between the two setups to see which served the interests of individuals better?
It would be difficult to announce a fair result. We can always find periods of time and situations when empires did good things and nation states behaved badly. We must not approach this question propagandistically. But if we ask the question: How would we like to live: in a world where empires striving for world dominance clash, or in one where different nations live next to each other, the answer is evident. Even the Bible makes it clear that it is better for humanity if there are many independent nations. Many people believe that when the Jews came out of Egypt, they celebrated only freedom and gave thanks to God for only the Exodus on the shore of the Red Sea. In reality, they celebrated the birth of their national independence too. Obviously, an empire may have several advantages, but freedom surely is not one of them. It may bring peace and material wellbeing, but its price is oppression because everybody everywhere has to follow the same law. And this is not freedom. If the Hungarian people want to decide about their own lives, and do not want the Germans or the Americans to decide for them, then they have to choose nationalism. Perhaps it is the harder way, but it is worth it. However, I cannot make this decision from the outside, nor can anyone else, you must make this decision.
Hungarians love freedom, and are ready to make sacrifices for it – as history testifies. But since you mentioned the Biblical example, nationalism is very often linked to anti-Semitism. How do people respond in such an environment when you argue for the national thought with the example of Israel?
I think in a lot of places it is a positive example, because where Christians are committed, know the Bible and take the Old Testament seriously, people are almost exclusively nationalists. They say that if Israel could become free, then our nation can also be free because God did not only give freedom to Israel but to every nation.
Concerning anti-Semitism, yes, there are anti-Semites among those who feel strongly about their nation, but I do not believe that in a higher proportion than among imperialistic-minded people. Those who do not love Jews are not the same: some justify it by saying that the Jews killed Jesus, others have financial or other reasons. Nationalism, however, is not necessarily linked to Jewry; there are nationalists who do love Jews, others hate them. The same is true for imperialists. The Nazi empire obviously did not love Jews. Nor did the Communist empire. The situation is the same today: those liberals who want a liberal global empire today do not necessarily love Jews. Jews disturb them, because they always seek a separate national identity, something different for themselves.
The debate about “dual identity” in the United States is about this question, isn’t it?
We recently celebrated Purim. If someone read the Book of Esther, they will know that when Haman went to Ahasuerus the King of Persia, he told him: there is a nation in your empire who do not follow your laws. This book was written over 2000 years ago, but it already contains the accusation that the Jews are not loyal because they have their own traditions and do their things their own way. It is not nationalist anti-Semitism, it is imperial anti-Semitism. The Persian Empire wanted to rule the world, and it annoyed them that the Jews did not behave like the Persians. This is human nature, and it will not change from one day to another. But I do believe that it is entirely possible to have nationalism whose followers love Jews and see them as allies and friends.
You mentioned Bible-believing Christians. In your book, you contrast the medieval universal Catholic European Empire with the nation states that have Protestant roots. Do you think this duality is valid for modern Europe too?
My Catholic readers were right in reminding me that not all Medieval Catholic thinkers were universalists. For several French, Polish, British, Hungarian and other Catholics, the independent nation state was important. The system itself was different however, and that is why the Brits had to part with Rome to become entirely free. They were the first, then others followed them later.
I believe that today the European Union is a reborn form of “Res Publica Christiana”, with almost the same vision, but with the exception that liberalism has taken over the role of Catholicism. Instead of a “religious empire under the rule of God”, an atheistic empire is being built, which is allegedly led by human reason. But the intention to pretend that it is possible to have an empire that is not under human rule, where everybody is equal, is very similar to the idea of the Holy Roman Empire, which was a German initiative to unite the nations of Europe under Catholicism. Today the EU is also a German Empire. Currently, it does not have large weaponry and military, fortunately. But if we look forward, we must see that the Americans will not ensure the security of Europe forever. This is the reality. Therefore the Europeans need to decide if they are willing to take responsibility for their own safety, and they need to think over how they are going to deter the Russians and the Islamic threat. The big question is, will this project be realized by the Germans again? If the Europeans say that let the Germans lead instead of the Americans, then here we are at the Holy Roman Empire again. There is no other solution. This is the biggest question for Europe today.
Looking at Europe today, who are the biggest supporters of the federation? You mentioned Germany, who else are there?
Besides the Germans, the French, the Belgians, the Spanish and the Vatican.
These are powerful countries, and if they combine the idea of a liberal empire with the traditional Catholic universalism, together they are capable of determining the future of Europe…
This is exactly the essence of the idea of national independence. Germany and France can only determine the future of Europe if other nations allow them to do so. It is not true that countries like Hungary or Poland cannot be free. They can, but they have to fight for it. They have to say that our freedom is important for us so much that we are willing to make sacrifices for it. They may not think that, but it is a decision that no one else can make for them. Today it is often mentioned that the European countries should spend 2 percent of their national income on defence. However, the Germans are not interested in increasing their military spending, they do not want to get their own defence capabilities. They think somebody else will do it for them. Obviously, I cannot see the future, but I believe that countries like Hungary or Poland have the capabilities as independent and freedom-loving nations to take care of their own defence and to prevent others from dictating to them. The Visegrad countries represent 65 million people and have USD 2000 billion National Product. This is significant power and with the help of God, your countries can continue to become stronger. Even now, the V4 represent such a significant power that they cannot be dictated to.
It sounds nice and the Hungarian Prime Minister would obviously agree with you. But it was him who said at a conference at the weekend that the strength of Hungary and other small countries is limited, and we can only achieve results and win if at least one big country stands by us. He even named Italy as one of the possible supporters. Do you see the chance for a European nationalist revolution?
I do not make forecasts because it is not my job. A revolution – as you put it – needs a change of perspective. National independence can only be reached by self-sacrifice. It is important to strengthen and build the economy, but there are two other factors as well. One is to have a high birth rate. Hungary is a Christian country, where having children is part of the tradition. However, liberalism saturates everything and it overwrites traditions. Young people are afraid to get married and have children. We can see this everywhere. So, the tradition of having children needs to be revived. And the other key is that military tradition also needs to be revived.
You mean armament?
I know it is not only nationalism that is regarded as a swear word, but so are army and militarism too. We have to change our way of thinking: we should not say that the military is bad because soldiers wage wars; we should say that the military is good because it protects us from others. If we do not only invest in the economy but in improving the birth rate and the military too, then our nation will become much stronger than we would think based on its size. Israel or Switzerland are examples for that, or even Singapore and Taiwan. They are small countries that are ready to invest enough money in their military, not only because of their self-esteem, but because they believe in self-defence. If bigger countries see that, they will think twice if they want a conflict with them. This resolve can be derived from national culture, it is not determined by size. Readiness to fight attracts other allies. Your true allies are not the ones who say that Hungary is small and weak, so we will protect you because we are so benign. It is not a real alliance, it is at most a charitable gesture. The true alliance is when the other side says that these Hungarians are very tough guys, they are ready to defend themselves. This is what attracts strong allies because others like to side with such people. In international relations, strength is attracted by strength. The stronger you are, the stronger countries will stand beside you. If somebody does not want to defend himself, other people will think, why should I do it for you if it is not important to you? A lot depends on national character and culture.
Israel is an obvious example, as we see that much bigger and stronger countries are seeking closer relationships with you. But behind Israel, there is an empire, the United States, which is benign; still as a global power, it may not be interested in strengthening independent states. Can this alliance with Big Brother not cause trouble in the long term? How long can Israel follow the path of national independence?
Well, this is a good question. I think the whole map is changing. You are right in saying that the United States has a special love for Israel because the country is built upon Biblical heritage. However, I do not know how long it will last, as I see how a part of America is drifting left. Many people are beginning to leave the Christian track both in a political and a cultural sense. I do not know what kind of stable and long-term relationship is possible between the US and Israel if America turns its back on Christianity, the essence of the alliance. The Americans are a Biblical nation like the Israelites, who stand on the same side in a certain sense. Today the American left is getting farther and farther from Israel, while the American right is becoming more and more friendly to Israel. I do not know how long it can be sustained. The current Israeli Prime Minister has done more than his predecessors to establish good relationships with other countries like India, Japan, China, Russia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, or South American countries, like Brazil recently. Today, none of these can substitute the United States for Israel. But we do not know what will happen in thirty years. We do not know if America, which is declining relative to other great powers now, will gain strength again or will continue declining. Independence, however, means that there is not one top eternal protector, but they change over time. In the time of a generation, America was Israel’s most important protector, but in the next generation, it may be someone else, for example, India.
Even when in the case of India, there is not such a cultural common denominator as the Bible in the case of America?
Good question, we do not know it today yet, the friendship with India is very new. The basis of it is rather the common problems and common enemies. Both countries are threatened by radical Islam. Both are traditionally religious countries, who do not want to drift along with the mindless liberalism in the direction where Europe and America are going. Both are democracies, but significantly religious democracies. Although the countries and the religions are very different, when Israeli Jews talk to Hindu Indians, they easily understand each other because of the common problems. Perhaps not just the Bible can be a common basis for an alliance, but we do not know it today yet.
Islam also thinks about a global community, the Umma, and a global empire, the Caliphate. Do you see any chance for modern nationalism and the formation of independent, free nations in the Muslim world?
This is a historical problem about which I write in detail in my book. Most forms of Islam that we know are imperialistic-minded. However, there are examples for Muslim countries having a strong national culture. The most obvious example is the Kurds. But there are others as well, like the Berbers of Northwestern Africa. They do not want to conquer the world, they do not want to melt into the Islam Umma, because they have lived under the rule of the Turkish and Arab universalism, and no thanks, they do not want to choose this path again. So, there are examples of Muslim nation states, but we do not know whether an Arab nation state is possible or not. There is a lot of talk about it, but we do not know if one will ever be formed. Today the Kurds are the strongest nationalists in the Muslim world, but nobody really wants to help them. But even if they have not been able to establish their national independence so far, the Kurdish people are highly respected in America and partly in Europe. They earned this only by being ready to fight for their freedom and make sacrifices. Because of that, they are good allies, even if it is not reciprocated towards them yet. However, the tendency is that strength and resolve can bring support and independence to them too.