Nations and Nationalism

I have been reading an interesting book by Amos Oz in which he interviews different segments of Israeli about their attitudes towards the land of Israel. One of the main problems he tries to address is how to reconcile his support for Zionism with his negative views on nationalism. The two seem to be mutually contradictory. In one place in the book, he recounts an address he made to a group in Ofra (this was the first ‘settlement’ established in Samaria). He writes,

We can all agree, without difficulty, that what Zionism means is that it is good for the Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel and it is bad for that people to be scattered among the nations. But from that point on – we disagree….

This is the place to make my first shocking confession-others will follow. I think that the nation-state is a tool, an instrument, that is necessary for a return to Zion, but I am not enamored of this instrument. The idea of the nation-state is, in my eyes, “goim naches” – gentiles delight. I would be more than happy to live in a world composed of dozens of civilizations, each developing in accordance with its own internal rhythm, all cross-pollinating one another, without any one emerging as a nation-state: no flag, no emblem, no passport, no anthem. No nothing. Only spiritual civilizations tied somehow to their lands, without the tools of statehood and without the instruments of war.

Amos Oz readily admits that his vision of a world without nation-states is an utopian dream; that in the real world he is, “forced to play the game of nations”, but he feels like a “old man in a kindergarten.”

His words remind me a little of John Lennon’s song,

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Since the unspeakable horrors of WW2 the West reacted to fascism by pretending that culture is neutral and irrelevant. This is an experiment that is ending badly as European nations will readily admit. The struggle to maintain an open and friendly society and yet maintain ones culture and laws is not new. For example, in Against Apion Josephus tried to defend his people against charge of being a closed society by arguing that the Greeks where no different than the Jews in this regards,

Plato also especially imitated our legislator [Moses] in that he enjoined his citizens to pay to nothing more attention than to this, that every one of them should learn their laws accurately; as also that they should not have foreigners mixing with their own people at random, but that the republic should be pure, and consist only of those who obeyed the laws.

Apollonius Molon failed to consider this, when he accused us of not admitting those who have their own preconceptions about God, and having no fellowship with those who choose to observe a different way of living to ourselves. For this method is not peculiar to us, but common to all men, not to Greeks only, but also to men of the greatest reputation among the Greeks.

From what Ive read of Amos Oz so far, the debate that Josephus was engaged in two centuries ago is alive and well today.

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