nationalism and religion

We conservatives, however, have our own preferred division of the political universe: one in which Anglo-American conservatism appears as a distinct political category that is obviously neither authoritarian nor liberal. With the rest of the Anglo-American conservative tradition, we uphold the principles of limited government and individual liberties. But we also see clearly (again, in keeping with our conservative tradition) that the only forces that give the state its internal coherence and stability, holding limited government in place while staving off authoritarianism, are our nationalist and religious traditions. These nationalist and religious principles are not liberal. They are prior to liberalism, in conflict with liberalism, and presently being destroyed by liberalism.

Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony. Setting aside for a moment the debate about liberalism, the conflation here of the nationalist and the religious is troublesome, to say the least. Nationalism is and always will be dangerous to the Christian faith, because it inevitably does what it does here: co-opt “religion” as the handmaiden of nationalist interest. And there’s a reason why so many people inclined to this way of thinking love to talk about “religion” in the abstract: it enables them to evade the universal and non-negotiable claims of Jesus.

In this context it’s good to recall what Augustine says in the City of God:

Two cities, then, have been created by two loves: that is, the earthly by love of self extending even to contempt of God, and the heavenly by love of God extending to contempt of self. The one, therefore, glories in itself, the other in the Lord; the one seeks glory from men, the other finds its highest glory in God, the Witness of our conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.’ [XIV, 28, quoting Psalm 3,3]

Perhaps nationalism and “religion” alike are inimical to liberalism. But if so, they aren’t inimical in the same way or for the same reasons. Faithful Christians will always earn the response Paul and Silas got in Thessalonika: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”