Furthest Right

The Complexity Of National Identity

From an email exchange between a writer and an actress comes an affirming view of nationalism as not just practical ideal, but transcendental goal:

You know, the word “Hebrew” (ivri, as in a nationality, like Abraham the Hebrew) comes from the root for “to cross over” — la’avor. I think it’s related to Jews being nomadic people, or maybe Abraham being the first one to cross a river in the Bible? But it does feel like a state that is emblematic of our people, and maybe all people — that we are always in the midst of replacing one fulfilled desire with a new desire, accepting a new piece of knowledge with another question.

When I first encountered Buddhist thought in my 20s, I was so confused. I’m supposed to be content with what’s going on here and now? I realized how much Judaism for me was connected to yearning — to wanting what you don’t have — which is maybe why Israel is so complicated emotionally for Jews: It’s built into the emotional structure of our religion to yearn for a homeland we don’t have.

So then if we have it, what do we yearn for? We say “next year in Jerusalem” as if we are still in exile. But maybe Jerusalem as an idea is never attainable — so we can keep longing for it even when we have it, like a spouse you desire eternally. You keep feeling that you can’t get them, as if it were the perpetual beginning of a flirtation. Jerusalem does have an aura. The air feels thicker there. It feels like the city, itself, is manipulating, pushing passions around.

This sense of yearning is central to all conservative visions of civilization: always seeking for an excellence that rises above reactivity to the world and its material demands, and instead seeks to create an emotional and moral experience in which striving for improvement becomes a joy.

In this vision, self-discipline and civilizational nurturing become one and the same, based in identity as a people. We are ourselves, it says, and we will always have an infinite horizon of potential toward which to aim. There is never an ending, only an ongoing task in which we find pleasure in taking part.

In their zeal to condemn internationalism, of which the Jewish diaspora is the most potent symbol, Nationalists have mostly ignored the Jewish experience of return to a homeland and the loss of their historically temporary identity as the nationless, persecuted and victimized. In this return, we see the soul-nourishing aspects of Nationalism, and how it commands us toward a primitive conservatism, or conservation of excellence.

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