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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Sovereignty or Submission’
Black helicopters and “one-world government” have long been staples of conspiracy theories across the political spectrum, but, as the saying goes, even paranoids have real enemies. Hudson Institute senior fellow John Fonte has written a new book showing that there really are people in positions of authority who would dilute national sovereignty and transfer political power to unaccountable transnational organizations.
“Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others?” painstakingly demonstrates that people worried about global governance have real enemies: academics and political activists, government bureaucrats and nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations and the European Union. They needn’t bear the mark of the beast.
In the foreword, the respected journalist John O'Sullivan describes Mr. Fonte as “one of the very few scholarly defenders of sovereigntist ideas.” Indeed, the author does stand out as someone who can debate issues pertaining to democratic sovereignty without resorting to hyperbole or heavy breathing. But readers might be surprised to learn how bereft the academy is of people who believe in self-governing nation-states that use international organizations rather than being used by them.
Mr. Fonte begins by talking about early forms of liberalism that fought for individual rights rather than “ascribed status” that accrues based on class, station, race or socioeconomic status. This advance in our understanding of the proper relationship between citizens and their governments remained a central organizing principle of modern American liberals up through the civil rights movement.
Not long after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some liberals began to look beyond securing equal opportunity for all individuals. Outcomes between groups remained unequal. Racial disparities in income, wealth, occupational advancement and other economic measures persisted after the racist Jim Crow system was dismantled and discrimination was outlawed.
This led some progressives to shift their focus from equal opportunity to equality of result. They decided an economic system that was built during a period of formal inequality and continued to produce unequal group outcomes must itself be racist and discriminatory.
Decentralized political authority seemed, if you will pardon the expression, unequal to the task of rectifying these problems. This suggested that power should be shifted from local to state governments and then from the states to the federal government. But what happens when the federal government is unwilling or unable to effect the necessary changes? And isn’t the nationalism that undergirds the nation-state, even its democratic forms, itself essentially racist?
These ideas, described by Mr. Fonte as “transnational progressivism,” have spread far outside the academy. We have gone beyond national governments arriving at agreements to mutually reduce trade barriers and set up a World Trade Organization, which some see as part of a “world constitution.” We have the U.N. World Conference on Racism (and a list of other evils too lengthy to enumerate here) brainstorming about imposing reparations and other controversial policies on a recalcitrant U.S. population.
The historic peoples of Europe have been subsumed into a supranational union. Transnational organizations like the International Criminal Court seek to write the rules of war that bind nations. Others counsel countries like the United States to become like the United Nations in embryo, through open immigration without assimilation, official multiculturalism and multilingualism and plural citizenship.
All of these developments have their roots in legitimate injustices: world wars that ravaged Europe and killed millions in the 20th century; war crimes and dictatorships that have appealed to national sovereignty in brutalizing their own people; genuine discrimination against racial, ethnic and religious minorities even in Western democracies.
But the proposed solution of centralizing power in the hands of a small number of people suggests a failure to learn from this history. What sound reason exists to believe global governance will not repeat the crimes of national governments, with fewer checks and balances? Worse, transnational progressivism threatens to repeal the idea that governments derive their just powers through the consent of the governed.
Polls show most Europeans don’t want the policies foisted upon them by the European Union. Most Americans don’t want multilingualism or uninterrupted mass immigration. It is unclear whether a majority of Westerners desire to live under the Kyoto Protocol. But without national sovereignty, they don’t get a choice in the matter.
How do you appeal a decision by the International Criminal Court? Who elects the World Trade Organization? Where do you go when supranational bureaucrats side against you? “The clash between global governance and democratic sovereignty,” Mr. Fonte writes, “is a moral struggle over the first principles of government and politics.” That’s no conspiracy talking.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of the American Spectator.
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