In taking on Donald Trump today, Bill Kristol has been tweeting about the dangers of nationalism, and quoting George Orwell’s great essay of 1945, “Notes on Nationalism.”
“By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions and tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” — George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism,” 1945
A lot of people have been retweeting Kristol, including many Zionists. They should be careful quoting from this essay. Orwell several times criticizes Zionism and the idea of Jewish superiority in his effort to counter nationalist thinking in English politics. He writes (in the essay published in Polemic in Oct. 1945):
Nationalism, in the extended sense in which I am using the word, includes such movements and tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism.
Orwell again cites Zionism specifically in savaging the “principal characteristics of nationalist thought.” Those characteristics include “Obsession.”
As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.
And another characteristic is “Indifference to Reality.” Nationalists live in denial:
The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness.
Finally, Orwell referred to Zionism as a form of “positive nationalism,” as opposed to “negative” or “transferred nationalism.” But he understood that Zionism entailed a belief in Jewish superiority
3. ZIONISM. This has the unusual characteristics of a nationalist movement, but the American variant of it seems to be more violent and malignant than the British…. In England, for several rather incongruous reasons, the intelligentsia are mostly pro-Jew on the Palestine issue, but they do not feel strongly about it. All English people of goodwill are also pro-Jew in the sense of disapproving of Nazi persecution. But any actual nationalistic loyalty, or belief in the innate superiority of Jews, is hardly to be found among Gentiles.
The point of Orwell’s essay is that everyone engaged in political causes/disputes is subject to nationalism, a form of self-serving bias, in which speakers assign superiority to their own group. He urged all political players to undertake the “moral effort” to prevent such fervor from taking over their thinking.
If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognize that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes.
I can only hope that Bill Kristol and other Zionists will now undertake this self-interrogation– Bill Kristol who launched the Emergency Committee for Israel, Kristol who has said that American Jews should not be critical of Israel because they don’t face the risks Israelis do, Kristol who conflated American interests and Israeli interests re Palestinians in pushing the disastrous Iraq war. That is one good byproduct of Trumpism. White nationalists have repeatedly stated that they only want here what Jews have sought in Israel, higher national rights. That’s why so many of us at this site find Zionism objectionable: It entails a belief in Jewish superiority. That belief is clear in its fruits, the persecution of Palestinians.