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Global governance, the next new thing in trendy international thought, has been typically portrayed as the nearly inevitable evolution upward from the primitive nation-state and its antiquated notions of constitutionalism and popular sovereignty.
Not “world government,” wildly unpopular among knuckle-draggers in America, but a rebranded alternative, more nuanced and sophisticated, would creep in on little cat feet before the Neanderthals knew what was up.
American exceptionalism was on its way to the ash heap. Terms like shared and pooled sovereignty were bandied about like new types of cell phones rather than fundamental shifts in the relationship between citizens and state. Multilateral treaties on an astounding array of issues were in prospect—not just the usual subjects of international relations, but matters heretofore quintessentially decided by nation-states: gun control, abortion, the death penalty, among others.
Although George W. Bush’s troublesome flag-waving tenure represented an unwelcome bump on the road, Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration was surely the high point of global governance’s advance. Here was a president who saw global warming as the threat it was, promising to stop the seas from rising. This self-proclaimed “citizen of the world” rejected U.S. unilateralism, took the United Nations seriously, and understood that European Union-style institutions were the real future. Not only would America have social democracy domestically, but it would join its like-minded confreres worldwide to celebrate global governance’s emerging transcendence. What could go wrong?
Fortunately, while globalista academics, their handmaidens in the political commentariat, leftist think tanks, and non-governmental organizations were hard at work, others, in the late ’90s, were awakening to the consequences of all that buzz. Sometimes derided as “new sovereigntists” by the multilateralist chorus, these analysts and practitioners began examining both the precepts and the implications of the global-governance agenda.
Prominent among them was John Fonte, then at the American Enterprise Institute, now at the Hudson Institute. His latest effort, Sovereignty or Submission, has as its subtitle the sobering question: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others? That is, indeed, the question.
Fonte warns against the “globalista” technique of international norm setting, whereby self-selected, transnational elites fashion rules of conduct through multilateral negotiations, which are then carried down to the nation-state level to be rubber-stamped by pliant parliaments. This model is actually not far from current European Union (E.U.) governance practices. U.K. Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron, for example, have both estimated that approximately 50% of significant parliamentary actions involving economic policy simply ratify, without possibility of amending or rejecting, what E.U. bureaucrats or diplomats in Brussels have already decided.
These are not choices by officials actually elected by real people, the only legitimate basis for the state’s monopoly of coercive power. We are not considering here authoritarian or less-developed countries where free expression and representative government are absent or inadequate. One could argue in such cases that international norm setting might provide standards or models from which emerging free governments could pick and choose. (Of course, one could also argue that the United States provides a perfectly acceptable model all on its own, which emerging democracies can emulate or not, without any need for America to “multilateralize” its uniqueness.)
Ironically, however, the global governance advocates focus less on countries like Iran, Cuba, and North Korea than on the United States. There is a reason for this skewed focus. The United States is the main threat to global governance, with its antiquated attachment to its Constitution rather than to multilateral human rights treaties and institutions. Fonte explains the philosophical development of this antagonism toward the United States (and others holding similar views elsewhere), and poses his own alternative, which he labels “Philadelphian sovereignty,” in contrast to the more familiar term, “Westphalian sovereignty.”
The point is more than semantic, because Fonte is not simply defending national sovereignty in the abstract (and indeed the concept has a plethora of sometimes contradictory definitions). Instead, he is defending how America has developed the concept, resting on the Constitution’s opening phrase, “We the People.”
For Americans, sovereignty is not an abstract concept of international law and politics, nor was it ever rooted in an actual “sovereign” as head of state. Starting with the Revolution, we rejected sovereignty and legitimacy outside of a constitutional framework of representative government. “No taxation without representation” was one early formulation, and “We the People” the most famous and broadly influential. Americans see themselves as personally vested with sovereignty, an ineluctable attribute of citizenship, and they therefore react with appropriate concern when globalistas insist that “pooled” or “shared” sovereignty will actually benefit them. Since most Americans already believe they have too little control over government, the notion of giving up any authority to unfamiliar peoples and governments whose tangible interests likely bear little relation to our own is decidedly unappealing.
Moreover, for those watching recent E.U. developments, events there are a source ofconsiderable concern rather than admiration. Euroskeptics (or Eurorealists, as they prefer) have repeatedly highlighted the E.U.’s “democratic deficit,” a phrase often associated with Margaret Thatcher’s E.U. critique. Not only are E.U. institutions and processes remote, opaque, and unaccountable but also, as a consequence, they lack the legitimacy so fundamental to acceptable governance. The euro’s unfolding debacle only underlines this point.
Fonte provides several case studies of the global-governance philosophy at work, including international efforts to direct U.S. domestic policy; transmogrifying the laws of war to constrain U.S. options and practices; the International Criminal Court (ICC); isolating and delegitimizing Israel; and international migration and assimilation policies. The globalista agenda is lengthy, including major issues such as climate change, but Fonte’s examples certainly rank among their top priorities.
In describing the intrusion of foreign actors into U.S. domestic policy, Fonte uses a phrase of former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, “global domestic politics,” which neatly captures the problem. In the globalista view, there is no room for national variation from their norms, or tolerance for contrary majorities in different countries. This attitude explains the ongoing efforts to homogenize E.U. member states, and the growing tendency to second-guess what have been seen historically as entirely domestic issues. Fonte focuses primarily on how various seemingly innocuous international “human rights” conventions, and numerous U.N. bodies (such as the United Nations Human Rights Council), have been used to criticize and harass the United States in recent years.
Fonte does considerable original thinking about how America has assimilated immigrants, cutting through much of the current debate about illegal immigration and how to deal with it. By stressing the longstanding importance of Americanizing newcomers to the United States, an approach directly contrary to the “multicultural” view now embraced by the international Left, Fonte explains why the globalistas are so irritated by our adherence to the Constitution and our other basic values. The debate here is not about enforcement versus amnesty or any of the other hot buttons, but what to do with people who are in this country and almost certainly staying.
During the height of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, our ancestors had no hesitancy in tossing millions of new arrivals straight into the melting pot, and no one was embarrassed by Americanization. Because the melting pot directly forms the shared values of citizens who see themselves as “We the People,” when assimilation is disrupted or frustrated, the unifying bonds of citizenship are similarly weakened. These are critical issues regardless of one’s views on the broader question of who should be let in and who excluded.
In considering traditional foreign affairs issues, the laws of war, the ICC, and the isolation of Israel are all excellent examples of the globalist approach. They seek to exploit both international law and domestic U.S. law to limit, constrain, and intimidate the United States and its political and military leaders from robustly defending our national interests abroad. One should begin here with skepticism for the very idea of international law, a skepticism now increasingly justified by a torrent of wide-ranging scholarship. Jeremy Rabkin, John Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, Eric Posner, and many others have dealt the globalists setback after setback, precluding even the Obama Administration from following its basic proclivities.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the proponents of “lawfare” have used this strategy successfully against Israel, and increasingly against the United States. By threatening U.S. officials with prosecution for alleged war crimes or human rights abuses, asserting jurisdiction over them when they travel abroad, for example, the globalistas seek to impose their version of international law over our own constitutional authorities. The American response should be that we recognize no higher earthly authority than the Constitution, which no valid treaty can supersede or diminish. And we certainly do not accept that “customary international law” which we do not voluntarily follow can bind us, especially today’s variety, formed not by actual custom but by leftist academics who hardly have our best interests at heart.
John Fonte deserves our thanks and praise for wading through the morass of globalista writings, conference papers and speeches, U.N. resolutions and reports, and the panoply of studies written over decades while many in the United States proceeded blithely on their way, unaware of the mounting challenges to “Philadelphian sovereignty.”
The struggle to preserve our constitutional system of liberty and representative government is a great unfolding political war, and the outcome is far from certain. Those armed with Fonte’s analysis, however, will be well-armed and heavily armored for the battles ahead.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ambassador Bolton’s review of John Fonte’s book “Sovereignty vs. Submissions: Will Americans Rule Themselves of be Ruled by Others?”
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