Tim Naftali: Ronald Reagan’s long hidden racist conversation with Richard Nixon
The conference in Rome was different in many ways, beginning with the aesthetics: No room in Washington contains quite so many Corinthian columns. The purpose, at least at first, seemed a little more mysterious, too. If Reagan and John Paul II were linked by anything, it was a grand, ambitious, and generous idea of Western political civilization, one in which a democratic Europe would be integrated by multiple economic, political, and cultural links, and held together beneath an umbrella of American hegemony. John Paul II wanted Poland to join the European Union; in his famous speech in Normandy, Reagan declared that not just “one’s country is worth dying for,” but “democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.” At least when she was still prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was also a proponent of this vision of the West. She was one of the driving forces behind the European single market, the continent-wide free-trade zone that also required a unified regulatory system—the same unified regulatory system that the British have now rejected—and had great faith in the importance of human rights. She said so explicitly: “The state is not, after all, merely a tribe. It is a legal entity,” Thatcher declared in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1998, according to her biographer Charles Moore. “Concern for human rights … thus complements the sense of nationhood so as to ensure a nation state that is both strong and democratic.”
The new national conservatism, at least as articulated in Rome, is very different from Reaganism and Thatcherism. The starting point is that European integration and American hegemony are both evil, and that universal ideals like human rights are a dangerous ideology. These, in fact, are arguments made in Hazony’s book, The Virtue of Nationalism, a work that synthesizes biblical history, the writings of John Locke, and contemporary politics into a caricature of a political philosophy for our times. Hazony has invented a definition of the nation—tribes that have agreed to live together, more or less—that applies to no existing modern state, not even Israel. He also attributes all of the good things about modern civilization to the nation and all of the bad things to what he calls “imperialism.” He puts countries and institutions he likes into the first box, and those he doesn’t like into the second. Thus it emerges that the Nazis, who specifically called themselves nationalists, were not nationalists but imperialists, as is the European Union, an organization created to prevent the resurgence of Nazism. Britain, Spain, and France, despite their long history as empires on land and sea, count as nations.
In this worldview, democracy is of no significance. International treaties and obligations do not matter either, not even if people want them. Although membership in the European Union is voluntary—Brexit has just proved that—and is supported by majorities in most countries, Hazony writes and speaks as if the EU were an occupying power.