Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

TAC Bookshelf for the Week of April 8

From Roberto Calasso to Yoram Hazony, here's what our writers are reading.
tac bookshelf

Scott Beauchamp, contributor: Having recently written a review of Roberto Calasso’s The Unnameable Present for the University Bookman (not yet published as of writing this), I continue my deep dive through Calasso. I believe that I wrote about The Marriage ofCadmus and Harmony for my last TAC Bookshelf, and since then I’ve also read The Ruin of Kasch and am currently reading Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India. I hope it doesn’t sound hyperbolic when I say that it’s one of the most illuminating books I’ve read in years. I already have a soft spot for the Vedas, having focused on Hinduism as a religious studies minor while an undergrad, and so this is truly a book after my own heart.

Following roughly the same sort of format as The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, in Ka the stories of Vedic cosmology unfold slowly, expressing their meaning through embodiment in characters and action rather than as a secular dissection of ideas. It’s an unveiling rather than a dissertation.

Like most Calasso works, Ka is also an exploration of how humans have experienced emptiness, sacrifice, and spiritual passion across the ages. These meanings slowly build out of the experiences of the humans and gods who populate the stories, never losing the ardor of the truth in their expression of it. And, as always, Calasso’s translated prose is beautiful. I’ll end with an example from his rumination on Śiva’s mourning for Satī:

Every lover loves, first and foremost, an absentee. Absence precedes essence, in the hierarchical order of things. Presence is just a special case in the category of absence. Presence is a hallucination protracted for a certain period. But this in no way diminishes our pain.


Casey Chalk, contributorSeveral years ago my wife and I hosted a German couple for dinner. They noticed, with surprise, a framed American flag on our wall. They told us that in their home country the only people that would prominently feature a German flag would be ultra-nationalists, hard right-wingers. Although I had previously known the reticence of many Europeans, scarred from two world wars, towards excessive pride in their country, I didn’t realize such caution extended even towards one’s flag. Though, sadly, there are plenty of Americans ashamed of Old Glory.

Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, which elicited significant critical acclaim in 2019, is unashamed to argue that strong, unreservedly independent nations are a superior form of government to more globalist, transnational institutions (e.g. the European Union). As a contributor for a conservative magazine that lauds a main-street, traditionalist, American way of life, Hazony doesn’t need to convince me (or TAC readers, for that matter), of the objective goods of nationalism. Indeed, TAC has already offered a more-or-less praiseworthy review of Hazony’s work. Moreover, he is likely right that nationalism offers the best chance for collective self-determination (as long as the nation is also ardently pro-localist), that it presents a natural obstacle to imperialism, and that it uniquely fosters “free institutions and individual liberties.”

Unfortunately, Hazony’s book quickly makes a mess of the historical record. He aims to present Protestantism as the progenitor of an independent nationalism that sought to wrest power from an aggressive totalitarian wielded by the Catholic Church and Holy Roman Empire. This is simplistic, to say the least. As Hahn and Wiker expertly explain in Politicizing the Bible, the proto-Reformers and Reformers (and their political supporters) sought to take ecclesial and spiritual authority away from the Church—which had served as a check against secular overreach—and place it securely under the power of individual nations. This, in turn, enabled the state to exert tyrannical political and religious authority over their people. Henry VIII in a few short decades took a wrecking ball to English Christianity, dissolving monasteries (dramatically increasing poverty), eliminating popular forms of piety (see Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars), and setting the Church of England on a course to self-destructive impotence. He then used the property he stole from the Church to create a new class of nobility that offered unwavering allegiance to the crown and displaced older, traditional centers of local power.

Hazony then tries to contrast the Protestant Swedes (proto-nationalists) against the Catholic Holy Empire (imperialists). Again, this trends far from the historical record. The Swedes ran roughshod over my ancestral homeland of Poland, attacking Catholicism and Polish nationalism in an attempt to dominate Central and Eastern Europe. Alternatively, Hazony neglects to note the many objective goods Christendom brought to Europe: a series of Crusades that blunted the threat of a militant Islamic threat to its border, a monasticism that preserved the wisdom of the ancients and fostered modern science, and the Peace of God which regulated wars, among other things.

Perhaps Hazony would argue that none of this undermines his central defense of nationalism. If so, I would agree. But a hearty articulation of nationalism need not detract from recognizing the good of certain transnational organizations, like the Church, or supranational paradigms, like Christendom. Indeed, a strong case can be made that the Catholic Church, not Protestantism, fostered a nationalist paradigm every time it united its liturgy with local cultures and languages. The problem with contemporary globalism is not international organizations per se, but that our current liberal, technocratic globalist order is bereft of any robust understanding of natural law theory or Christian philosophical underpinnings. Thus, rather than bless, it oppresses.



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