When Yoram Hazony took the stage on the first day of the National Conservatism Conference in London on May 15th, he beamed like the class valedictorian. Indeed, with his tousled not-yet-gray hair and Harry Potter-esque glasses, the 59-year-old emits a sort of boyish exuberance. Surveying the audience of a few hundred people, he began his address with a lament: Over the past few decades, Western democracies have been “flooded with . . . this notion that somehow it’s possible to be a globalist conservative . . . a universalist conservative, that the term conservative could somehow be alienated from the idea of home, the idea of family, the idea of congregation, the idea of nation.” Liberal multiculturalism is a dead end, he argued, “ruining Western nations” and bringing “cultural revolution.” Like the jeremiads of the prophets of old, Hazony’s lament came with a glimmer of hope: A “homecoming” is still possible, but only if the wayward people accept that there can be no true conservatism without restoring the nation to a place of honor.
The language of home was not a mere stylistic flourish, but indicated where Hazony believes political identity comes from and what it delivers: rootedness, belonging, and honor, a metaphorical roof over the head of otherwise atomized and troubled souls. As a political philosopher, former speechwriter for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and founder of two right-wing think tanks based in Jerusalem—the Shalem Center (now College) and the Herzl Institute—Hazony has been a fixture of Israeli intellectual and political life since the early 1990s. But he has recently set his sights on something even larger than Zion. Since publishing his landmark The Virtue of Nationalism in 2018 and founding the Edmund Burke Foundation (EBF)—a public affairs institute named for the British statesman and philosopher largely regarded as a founding father of conservatism—in 2019, Hazony has emerged as a key ideologue of the new global right. His movement, which he has dubbed National Conservatism, attempts to redeem nationalism from its genocidal associations by juxtaposing it with imperialism and claiming that the latter is truly to blame for the bloody 20th century.
Political philosophers differentiate between the state as a form of government that can take many shapes, and the nation as an “imagined community” of people that are joined together through shared history, ethnicity, language, religion, or some combination thereof. Crucial to Hazony’s thought is the contention that the fusion of the nation and the state—an innovation often associated with 19th and early 20th-century European nationalism—represents a timeless ideal for all people everywhere. Hazony goes so far as to argue that the Bible prescribes the nation-state as the optimal form of political community. Unlike empires, nations only want to maintain what is unique about their culture and heritage and are thus uninterested in conquest. (The fact that many paradigmatic nation-states were also empires goes largely unremarked upon.) “The nationalism I grew up with,” he writes in The Virtue of Nationalism, “is a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference.” Though careful not to criticize bombastic leaders like Donald Trump, Hazony clearly wants to offer the emerging nationalist movement a more reputable intellectual pedigree—to provide the ascendant global right with a respectable ideological scaffolding it can take home to mother.
NatCon UK was convened by Hazony’s Edmund Burke Foundation, the latest in a string of conferences that have also occurred in Washington, DC, Brussels, Rome, and Miami. The London gathering took place at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, a church-qua-conference-center that serves as the home of an evangelical congregation founded in 1989. It was a fitting choice for a decidedly contemporary movement that claims to root its political agenda in the bedrock of age-old national and religious tradition. Inside, smartly dressed Oxbridge students, guests, speakers, and members of the press shuffled about a small exhibition hall where ideologically aligned partners—including think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Danube Institute, and publications like The Critic, The Epoch Times, and The European Conservative—handed out literature. I picked up stickers of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill along with a Heritage Foundation pamphlet titled “How to Speak Up About Gender Identity.”
Hazony clearly wants to offer the emerging nationalist movement a more reputable intellectual pedigree—to provide the ascendant global right with a respectable ideological scaffolding it can take home to mother.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at the NatCon conference in Miami, 2022
Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán addresses the National Conservatism conference in Rome, 2020
While National Conservatism purports to represent the interests of everyday people, and families in particular, NatCon UK remained an elite affair. Its lineup of speakers included six British Members of Parliament (including two cabinet members), dozens of prominent conservative writers and intellectuals—from Michael Anton and Douglas Murray to Compact editor Nina Power—and Ohio Senator J.D. Vance over a live video feed. Yet the movement’s champions do have a mass base in mind, and an international one at that—from British Brexiteers and the American patriots who elected Donald Trump to the voters who propelled Giorgia Meloni to power in Italy and buoyed Viktor Orbán in Hungary. American conferences have proved popular with a brand of Republican politicians who paint themselves as culture warriors with intellectual cred: Governor Ron DeSantis, former National Security adviser John Bolton, and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who poured $30 million into the Senate campaigns of Vance and the venture capitalist Blake Masters, has been a frequent NatCon speaker and is among the movement’s major donors.
Wherever they are, national conservatives emphasize the primacy of the family as the core political unit, the immutability of biological facts, the preservation of borders and boundaries (between countries, between genders), the goodness of national histories no matter how bloody, the need for hierarchy and order, strong militaries, and national economies tailored to serve the needs of the people, not the free market. Above all, they believe in a strong state, one willing to foist their particular understanding of virtue upon a recalcitrant public, to forcibly intervene in social relations via a combination of economic carrots and legislative sticks.
In Hazony’s telling, this orientation represents nothing other than the Anglo-American conservative tradition in its natural, 21st-century iteration: a movement that organically sprouts from the intellectual roots planted centuries ago by the medieval English jurist John Fortescue, and that matured on both sides of the Atlantic in the hands of Burke and George Washington. Per Hazony, theirs was a conservatism that rejected liberalism’s commitment to abstract universalism and confidence in the power of human reason, favoring instead the bedrocks of tradition: family, religion, nation, hierarchy, order. Yet the clearest instantiation today of Hazony’s ideal is neither Donald Trump’s America nor Boris Johnson’s Britain, but the hilltop settlements located deep in the heart of the West Bank: tight-knit communities made up of large, traditional families, united in the face of the enemy, producing legions of young soldiers who have been schooled in the fusion of state violence and spirituality. This is the template that Hazony now offers to the world via the neutralized language of National Conservatism. Like his Zionist predecessors, he too imagines Israel as a light unto the nations—an illiberal model for the international nationalist brigade.
Critics tend to be dismissive of the NatCon movement, but it is important to take stock of what its champions want and why they might succeed. Yes, Hazony’s National Conservatism is fundamentally antidemocratic, and notably welcoming of aspiring authoritarians. But its stinging critiques of neoliberal economic orthodoxies and calls for meaningful support for care work and child-rearing—at least among the movement’s intellectual wing—do have mainstream appeal, perhaps more than many liberals would care to acknowledge. The goal is a new conservative fusionism, marrying ethnic nationalism to militarism and reactionary social values, while adopting, at least in part, left-wing critiques of the neoliberal economic order. The vision is not a new Reich but a global coalition of states that resembles Orbán’s Hungary, Narendra Modi’s India, Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and of course, Netanyahu’s Israel. We can guess what this world would look like because it is, to some degree, already here.
Suzanne Schneider is a historian, writer, and core faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. She is the author of Mandatory Separation: Religion, Education, and Mass Politics in Palestine and The Apocalypse and the End of History: Modern Jihad and the Crisis of Liberalism.