Rousseau: The Worldwide Tour


Readers of this blog, the book or, in particular people who’ve heard me speak about the book at length, know that I think political philosophy, or more accurately, political visions can be boiled down to Locke versus Rousseau. The Lockean vision holds that man is the captain of his soul, that his rights come from God, the individual is sovereign, that the government exists because men of free will cede certain authorities to it in order to best protect  their lives and property.

The Rousseauian vision holds that the collective comes before the individual, our rights come from the group not from God, that the tribe is the source of all morality, and the general will is the ultimate religious construct and so therefore the needs — and aims — of the group come before those of the individual. 

Fascism, like Communism, Socialism, Progressivism and all the other collectivist isms are all based on the Rousseauian vision of the group, the tribe, the class taking precedence over the individual. 

I’ve also been writing for years that “transnational progressives” are trying to take the Progressive project to the world stage. This was the dream of HG Wells –originator of the phrase Liberal Fascism — who often proclaimed that FDR was the living embodiment of the “world brain.” It’s the aspiration of Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village, in which the logic of everything inside the village, nothing outside the village is eventually extended, in Clinton’s telling,  to the global village. 

Bill Clinton’s modestly named “Global Clinton Initiative” is sold with the following sentiment from Bill Clinton, which appeared on the GCI’s website for years. “In my life now,” Clinton declares, “I am obsessed with only two things:  I don’t want anybody to die before their time, and I don’t want to see good people spend their energies without making a difference.”  (Historians may add that there was a third obsession — with his wife’s campaign for president).

Forget the gnostic hubris in the idea that Clinton could be part of anything that could determine when the right time to die for each of billions of humans might be, the idea that everyone — and I mean everyone — should be “making a difference” as defined by a handful of global priests is really a stunning, and to my mind frightening, ambition. Leave no child behind has escaped the paddock and is now galloping across the globe. 

I bring all of this up because I found a wonderful quote from John Fonte’s essay in the new Claremont Review of Books. Fonte, the author of the phrase “transnational progressives,” reviews books by Strobe Talbott and Marc Plattner. In the Talbott book, it’s recounted how the top brass of the early Clinton administration proposed dealing with the end of the Cold War. Bill was pondering the “direction of history” (in what appears to be a basically Hegelian  way) when Al Gore chimed in. Gore explained:

Rousseau said the body politic is a moral being possessed of a will. He was thinking at the national level. We need to take it to the international one. We need to make the leap from nationhood to a sense of identity that is truly global, but that embodies Rousseau’s point. 

Apparently Bill agreed, he just didn’t think he could sell that to the masses. So, in the meantime he was, in Talbott’s words, “careful not to broadcast” these beliefs.  Anyway, when the full review is up I’ll link to it. But I think this is a wonderful vignette of so many of the themes I’ve been writing about, I’ll have to hold on to it for quite a while. Heck, I guess I might even buy Strobe Talbott’s book. 


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review