Friday, September 05, 2008

Links from our commenters 1: New book by Sharansky

Lynne T. links to a fascinating review of a new book by Natan Sharansky called "Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy" in which he makes what seems like the counterintuitive claim that democracy without nationalism is a weaker democracy. I'd probably need to read it to understand it fully but some of the tidbits mentioned are most interesting. I especially like this paragraph:
By clouding the differences between democracy and tyranny, the cultural relativism of post-identity doctrines have had the poisonous effect of making human rights standards more difficult to apply universally. Sharansky exposes the double standards and hypocrisy of those who argue that while nationalism must be eliminated in the West, it is perfectly justified in weaker societies. He is particularly critical of international human rights groups that fail to distinguish between rights violations in open and closed societies, as if the abuses characteristic of authoritarian regimes are indistinguishable from deviations from democratic practices in democracies that are brought to light precisely because of their transparency. And he is scathing in his condemnation of post-Zionists who argue that Israel must be transformed into a secular state while at the same time preaching a self-determination for the Palestinians that would preserve their Arab identity 'as part of the surrounding Arab and Islamic world.'
I imagine that Sharansky is distinguishing as well between nationalism in democratic and repressive societies, because clearly nationalism can be used in a most negative way (which would explain Europe's skittishness about nationalism today.) It is possible that the United States is unique in its trans-ethnic nationalism (the "melting pot") based on principles of equality and democracy, rather than US-style nationalism being the reason for the relative success of US democracy. Still, Sharansky always brings up very good points, and it is probably a good read.

It is a shame that the White House seems to have fundamentally misunderstood his book "The Case for Democracy," something that might have helped Hamas gain Gaza.