Event Reports |
July 27, 2023

Roundtable Discussion on “Conservatism, Nationalism and Democracy”

Under the aegis of India Foundation, Conservatives’ Collective organised a roundtable discussion on “Conservatism, Nationalism and Democracy” on 26 July, 2023. The keynote lecture was delivered by Dr Yoram Hazony, Chairman, Edmund Burke Foundation and President, Herzl Institute, Jerusalem. The session was chaired by Dr Ram Madhav, President, India Foundation and moderated by Prof Shri Prakash Singh, Director, South Campus, University of Delhi.

Conceptually ‘conservatism’, ‘nationalism’ and ‘democracy’, are different yet an inextricable linkage between the three have become earnest discourse in contemporary times. More often, this stem from a spurious drive to deceptively misplace the connections between the three. In the wake of mainstream discourse which hinges around incongruent relation between nationalism and democracy, how conservatism is appropriately placed with them has generated great deal of fervour among academicians, policy analysts and journos. Hitherto conservatism is seen through a combined prism of nationalism and democracy. In this context, the “Conservative Collectives” has endeavoured to investigate various discourses pertaining to the relationship between ‘conservatism’, ‘nationalism’ and ‘democracy’ and expose the erroneous understanding and interpretation by developing deep insight with conceptual objectivity and theoretical underpinning.

The foundational notion stands on the premise that the concept of traditions and customs are at the core of traditional nationalistic conservative thought. Edmund Burke describes conservatism as an “approach to human affairs which mistrusts both a priori reasoning and revolution, preferring to put its trust in experience and in the gradual improvement of tried and tested arrangements.” Against this backdrop, a modest beginning of the “Conservative Collectives” on the platform of India Foundation took place with enlightening presentation on the subject by Dr Hazony, who, as a core supporter of ‘conservative nationalism’, talked about the historical basis of development of the ‘hegemony of enlightenment liberalism’. Discussing contemporary times, he mainly focused on the timeline of 2016 to 2020, when competing political visions were given space to come forward against the dominating ideology of liberalism and marxism. He has been hoping that national conservatism would provide restoration of political stability and freedom of thought in all the nation-states.

Dr Yoram Hazony initiated his lecture by speaking about his career, which has revolved around the study of the philosophy of Jewish Bible, the history of the state of Israel and similar subjects. In 2016, his Jewish professor from the United States encouraged him to publish on the concept of nationalism. He published his book titled “The Virtue of Nationalism” in 2018 and his second book on “Conservatism: A Rediscovery” in 2022. He also spoke about the “National Conservatism Conference”, an initiative of the Edmund Burke Foundation since 2019 to strengthen the principles of national conservatism in Western countries. Dr Hazony spoke about ‘enlightenment liberalism’ that has been dominating the western ideology since the second World War, and also pointed out that since 2016, ‘national conservatism’ has been a new and powerful force in the West. Though the conservative approach has been gaining strength in intellectual, academic and political circles, there is a need to further concretise and replenish its academic and political base.

Dr Hazony spoke about the Hebrew Bible and Judaism to bring forth an understanding of the origins of nationalism and the Jewish traditions associated with its conceptualisation. He explained about the Christian Bible which consists of the Old Testament constituting 80% of the Bible and the rest is covered by the New Testament which is basically the gospel and doctrine of Jesus. Jews do not believe in the New Testament, nor in the traditions relating to it. The Jewish Bible (basically the Old Testament) describes the origin of the nation, which begins with the creation of the world. The majoritarian ideology of the West of personal salvation of the individual soul, which has been the mainstream Christian ideology, is completely absent from the Jewish Bible.  According to Dr Hazony, the basic pillar of mankind is the idea of one nation which could provide blessings for other nations, and it does not necessarily have to be achieved through warfare and hatred.

Dr Hazony explained that the cornerstone of the Jewish political understanding is the unification of diversified tribes, the formation of a collective. He pointed out that all nations form as a collection of tribes. The western political theory has shifted the focus of this political understanding towards the concept of homogeneity, thus un-familiarising the present world with the traditions through which the nation state has emerged.

According to Dr Hazony, the traditional form of nationalism in Judaism consisted of, firstly, a structuring of diversified tribes which came together through their recognition of a unifying heritage that could be different things in different nations in the form of religion, language, shared ancestry and law. Secondly, this shared history provided the force for struggle towards common enemy and commemorating the memories of the collective triumphs and also solidarity against common disasters. These two factors, according to Dr Hazony, constituted a traditional Jewish understanding of the nation. This interpretation of traditional nationalism and nation in the Jewish Bible is entirely opposite to the enlightenment liberal series of Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau,  whose theories have propagated that state builds up the nation.

Dr Hazony said that the nation is innate even with all the internal struggles. He compared this understanding with the Christian Bible which states that the state is unified for a period of greatness, but then it splits as the brothers go to war against one another and in the end the kingdom is destroyed. The course of the western history went through the conquest of the Mediterranean by the Roman empire and then the Christians taking over the Roman Empire. After almost 2000 years, said Dr Hazony, that what we have been calling ‘West’ has been shaped by the Christians. All of great empires – the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Syrians, the Persians, and the Romans, the origin of each one has been unique but they all functioned with the same core ideology that God provided visions to the king for conquering the four corners of the Earth to bring peace and prosperity to the mankind. The Jewish Bible has been completely against this political theory of conquering the world to bring peace, and the dream of a global empire and world government is completely evil. The Jewish prophets have the opinion that these empires, considering themselves responsible for bringing peace and prosperity to the world, are actually murderous entities. The wars fought for the formation of such empires destroy the heritage and traditions of the land they conquer.

Thus, Dr Hazony said that looking at these 2000 years of Christian history, it has been a ‘see-saw’ struggle within Christianity. There has been a constant struggle between the Holy Christian Roman Empire, which sought to take over the whole world and bring peace and salvation to all mankind by imposing Christian imperialism. On the other hand, Christian nationalism, inspired by the Jewish Bible, supported the nations to free themselves from the universal empire. The examples of nations connecting themselves with the idea of national freedom were Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, France, England, Netherlands and later even in Italy.

The Conservatives believed in living according to their own traditions and the understanding of God in an independent way. The ‘see-saw’ struggle came to a conclusion in the 1500s when many Protestants came out in support of Jewish nationalism. This vision developed in the 1500s, the nations’ drive to live independently to pursue their own form of independence continued till the 20th century when the western empires started tilting towards the direction of recognizing national independence.

Dr Hazony stated that the idea of nationalism before the second World War had a generous approach, the idea of independence was progressive and the viewpoint was towards a gracious and free nation. The world changed post Second World War. The Marxist and Liberal academics in the universities posited Hitler and the genocide of Jews as an example of national independence and how that led to destruction of the world. It was an aggressive move by the universities against nationalism. This revived theory of ‘international liberalism’ led to the formation of the European Union (EU), a single law for the whole world and new world order and globalism. Amongst the academic institutions at that period of time, 95% of the academic establishments and universities were either liberal, universalist or marxist globalists. These views and ideas took over the universities and increased exponentially.

With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, it was the end of struggle between the western liberal nations and the communist nations and the liberal nations had emerged triumphant. In 1990, George Bush came to power in America, declaring a global ‘new world order’. The ‘new world order’ would replace the law of the jungle into a universal rule of law, that is, one law around the globe. Dr Hazony explained how shocking it was that the fight for independent nations changed into a collection of the whole world under a single law, which in today’s world is called as globalism or liberal internationalism.

Dr Hazony mentioned that until Brexit and the introduction of Donald Trump to the world, the West was overtaken by the fantasy and utopian vision that it had defeated all its enemies and under a single umbrella of law, it could bring peace and prosperity to the entire world. This worldview ended the Jewish Biblical vision of independent nations and the world had circled back to the Roman Empire. When the EU was created in 1992, people were caught up in euphoria, the goal was changed to eliminating all borders and no warfare in Europe, which was a utopian vision. The decision of having one currency affected the economic independence of European countries.

2016 was the year of debate between the liberal internationalists (or the utopians) and conservative nationalists (or realistic people) to be able to maintain their independent national approach and pursue their own interests and philosophy. But in 2020, there were major changes that took place in the liberal institutional structure in Europe and America as they were going under a ‘cultural revolution’. The change was visible in western media like the New York Times and in universities like Princeton.

Dr Hazony ended his lecture by saying that there is a long way to go and we cannot keep on believing in the existence of the same liberal ideology that was formed after the second World War, the ideology has evolved into a new woke narrative of Marxism and it is much different from the original liberal ideology, and the resistance is national conservatism.

Prof Shri Prakash Singh commented on the lecture by citing the example of C Rajagopalachari and stated that he was the first openly declared conservative of the country and greatest opponent of Marxism. He initiated reforms against casteism in 1917 in colonial India and in 1960s against the license permit quota system.

Concluding remarks of the lecture were given by Dr Ram Madhav, President, India Foundation. He said that Dr Hazony was one of the key authorities on core conservative thought. He said nations are not just ‘imagined communities’ but are ‘organically evolved communities’. He spoke about evolving an Indian conservative thought presenting our own ideas and thoughts of nations. A coherent conservative school of ideological thought has been lost and we should develop our own discourse and create literature that could match the idiom that today’s generation would understand. He said that the idea of Nationalism has been turned into a pejorative after the second World War, thus there is a need to develop a new school of thought with a contemporary outlook.

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