‘We see an epic ideological and political struggle that is global in scope and will last for decades, perhaps for most of the twenty-first century,” John O’Sullivan writes in the introduction to John Fonte’s new book, Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others? “The outcome of this struggle is uncertain,” O’Sullivan continues, “but one thing is for sure: like all political conflicts from time immemorial, it will not end in a fashionable non-zero-sum scenario. On the contrary, there will be winners and there will be losers. Particular institutions and individuals — nation-states, subregions, supranational organizations, multinational corporations, international lawyers, soldiers, clerics, U.N. officials, EU commissioners, the judges of the International Criminal Court, American citizens — will either gain more power or lose power. Liberal democracy will either expand or shrink. The idea and practice of a free society will either advance or retreat.”
Fonte, a senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute, talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about how to advance rather than retreat — and what the odds are we will.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is “submission” a bit dramatic?
JOHN FONTE: Not really. The goal of the globalists (including many American elites) is the subordination of the United States to what they call the “global rule of law.” The current legal adviser to the State Department, Obama appointee Harold Koh, when he was dean of Yale Law School several years ago, said the United States was part of an “axis of disobedience.” He meant “disobedience” to international law and global norms. This so-called “disobedience” was related to parts of international law to which America had never agreed, or had interpreted differently than some other nations and international institutions. However, “state consent” is a core requirement for legitimate international law.
LOPEZ: Is your book essentially about American exceptionalism?
FONTE: The main obstacle to the advancement of the global-governance project is American sovereignty and all that it entails in terms of American exceptionalism — as both an empirical and a normative concept — in politics, economics, religion, culture, foreign policy, and law. At the same time, the book argues for the principle of democratic sovereignty for all nations.
LOPEZ: Have we gone too far down the road to “global governance” already, so that your case for “Philadelphian sovereignty” is really a case to turn back the clock?
FONTE: The book is a warning that we are at the beginning of a decades-long political struggle over sovereignty; that is to say, over American democratic self-government. In the name of global “interdependence,” powerful and influential forces abroad, but most importantly at home, are seeking to limit American independence.
LOPEZ: Is global governance all bad for human rights? Couldn’t a world government help some? Keep this pastor facing death for apostasy in Iran alive, perhaps? Surely most of us in the world think that’s crazy wrong?
FONTE: I’m all for the promotion and protection of universal human rights. However, the current advocates of the global-governance movement, exemplified by partisan activist groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (which spend an inordinate amount of time savaging the United States and Israel), have done little to promote genuine human rights. Those who speak in the name of “global governance” will not protect the Iranian pastor. The liberal democratic nation-state and one of its prime institutions, the armed forces of the United States, have done much more good for human rights (think World War II) than the global-governance project has ever done or ever will do.
LOPEZ: How is sovereignty a moral issue?
FONTE: It is a moral issue in the political sense. An original National Review senior editor, Willmoore Kendall, talked about our “constitutional morality,” meaning the political morality that emerged from our founding documents and the authoritative commentary of the Federalist Papers. This constitutional morality, Kendall noted, teaches us that the only moral basis of legitimate government is the consent of the governed and that the first political right is the right of the people to govern themselves.
LOPEZ: What does Dante have to do with any of this?
FONTE: Dante advocated a world government under the control of the Holy Roman Empire. James Burnham, another original National Review senior editor, wrote a scathing critique of Dante’s globalism in his famous work The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom. Dante appears in my chapter on the history of the perennial conflict between advocates of global governance and supporters of the independent state going back to the disagreement between Alexander the Great and his teacher Aristotle.
LOPEZ: What’s wrong with Fukuyama?
FONTE: Fukuyama argued that after the fall of Communism there would be no serious future ideological rivals to liberal democracy with universal appeal. My book maintains that the global-governance project and its ideological spearhead — transnational progressivism — has widespread appeal among Western and Westernized elites throughout the globe and challenges the moral legitimacy of the nation-state, including the liberal democratic nation-state.
LOPEZ: Who is this Anne-Marie Slaughter person you keep quoting, and why do you?
FONTE: Anne-Marie Slaughter is a leading theorist of global governance and a major actor in American foreign-policy circles. Under Obama, she served as head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Office (the in-house think tank, once headed by Cold War architect George Kennan). I call her the “John Bolton of the Left,” or of the transnational progressives. She could be secretary of state someday in a future Democratic administration.
LOPEZ: What does it mean to act transnationally and post-constitutionally?
FONTE: I’ll give you one example. During the negotiations in Rome that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the mid-1990s, American human-rights groups openly worked against American diplomats. Our official delegation was attempting to limit the authority of the ICC prosecutor and preserve the Bill of Rights guarantees of American military and civilian officials who could be charged by a global prosecutor with alleged “war crimes” (such as not warning enemy civilians before an American air attack). American citizens in the human-rights NGOs were writing rebuttals and lobbying against our diplomats’ efforts to defend our soldiers and officials. That is an example of acting transnationally and post-constitutionally. Upon reflection, perhaps I should have used stronger language.
LOPEZ: Why is Durban worth dwelling on?
FONTE: It is important to remember the shameful role played by American human-rights groups and American foundations (particularly Ford) when anti-Semitism ran rampant at the U.N. Durban conference. However, Durban was not simply an assault on Israel, but an attack on the U.S. and the West in general. One year before the conference even started, leaders from major U.S. rights groups. including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, La Raza, NAACP, MALDEF, the Arab-American Institute, and the National Council of Churches. called on the U.N. Human Rights Commission to investigate “racism” in the U.S. because, in their view, we couldn’t do the job domestically. This is another example of acting transnationally and post-constitutionally, that is, acting outside of (and, indeed, in opposition to) to our constitutional process.
LOPEZ: Why are you still complaining about CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women)?
FONTE: Recently, the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review published an article supporting U.S. ratification of CEDAW. Unfortunately, the treaty is not dead. In the book I detail how CEDAW is bad in principle as well as in practice. The treaty endorses “substantive” or “de facto” equality (equality of result, i.e., group quotas) and openly disparages equality of opportunity and equality under the law. As the American Bar Association has revealed, if the U.S. ratified the treaty, it would trigger hundreds of lawsuits attempting to impose widespread gender quotas into practically every segment of the market economy and even private life. In terms of political philosophy, CEDAW is a root-and-branch rejection of classical or traditional liberalism. It is reminiscent of the type of group-conscious “corporatism” imposed by European fascists in some states in the 1930s. In a way, it’s an example of Jonah Goldberg’s liberal fascism.
LOPEZ: Tell me a little about the moral case for patriotic assimilation. How can that be helpful to the public-policy debate about immigration? For pastors working with immigrants, many of them undocumented, as they say?
FONTE: As I said earlier, I’m talking mostly about American constitutional morality. Illegal immigrants have come here against the consent of the American people (democratic consent is expressed by the American people as a whole through our body politic, not by individual outlaw employers who want cheap labor). The clergy who are aiding and abetting illegal immigration are showing open contempt for a core concept of our constitutional morality: government by consent of the governed.
Also, in terms of religious morality, these pastors, by supporting a vast increase in cheap labor, are undermining the economic status of our poorest and most vulnerable American citizens, many of them, of course, African-American and Latino. In this regard, Big Religion (clerical elites rather than most parishioners) has joined forces with Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Media. In addition, all of them support multiculturalism, bilingualism, and dual citizenship, which erect barriers to the patriotic assimilation of immigrants. So, I’m not impressed by the alleged “compassion” of any of these elites.
LOPEZ: “Almost no serious analyst today speaks of world government or world federalism.” Similarly, do sovereignty advocates need any language or other PR pointers?
FONTE: That is the reason I came up with the term “Philadelphian sovereignty” and contrast it with “Westphalian sovereignty.” Americans think of sovereignty as belonging not to the state, but to “We the People of the United States,” as stated in the preamble to our Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787.
LOPEZ: Is your book as much about Israel as it is about America?
FONTE: No. There is a full chapter on Israel, and I note that Israel is the most embattled of all the democratic nation-states. But in the final analysis, American sovereignty and American exceptionalism are the major impediments to the global-governance project.
LOPEZ: Liberalism under assault isn’t a good thing in your book, is it?
FONTE: That’s right. I’m talking, of course, about classical or traditional liberalism, meaning individual rights, free speech, the free market, and the like. In Chapter 4, I examine the assault on traditional liberalism (and even New Deal liberalism) from multiculturalism, the diversity agenda, and the whole Gramscian-Frankfurt School “critical theory” nexus.
LOPEZ: Explaining that even a Republican (well, Olympia Snowe) and goofy Joe Biden have been invaded by Marxist thinking, you write: “The public debate had moved beyond liberalism, both traditional and modern. Post-liberal or even anti-liberal ideas have gained a foothold.” Again, isn’t the cat out of the bag?
FONTE: Yes, the cultural-Marxist cat is out of the proverbial bag, and he is clearly influential in our public discourse. Thus ordinary American politicians like Vice President Biden and Senator Snowe will unwittingly parrot cultural-Marxist conceptions like “institutionalized oppression” without being aware of their origin.
LOPEZ: What can we learn from Europe? Can Europe undo what it’s done to itself? (And if they do, won’t that be a real pain for me on this next National Review European cruise?)
FONTE: We can learn what not to do. The EU elites, like the Bourbons of the ancien régime, have learned little from the current euro crisis. They are doubling down, proposing more and more Brussels centralization and less and less democratic accountability. In the long run, some of this may be undone. A crucial question for American foreign policy is: Will we stand in the way of the restoration of democracy in Europe by continuing to support greater EU integration? On your cruise problems — the short-term gain in lower transaction costs (with a single currency) is not worth the overall mess both economically and, more important, democratically, with the weakening of liberal democracy and self-government throughout the continent.
LOPEZ: What does Brigitte Bardot have to do with any of this?
FONTE: Brigitte Bardot was severely fined five times for simply exercising free speech by criticizing Muslims and Islamic practices in France. This is an example of the retreat of traditional liberalism in Europe, and why Fukuyama and others who talk about triumphant liberalism are ignoring recent troubling trends.
LOPEZ: How did you become a doctor of demystification of ideology?
FONTE: I am grateful to John O’Sullivan for his very generous foreword to my book, in which he gave me that title and compared the writings of some of us “early warning democratic sovereigntists” to the early commentary by the sainted Edmund Burke on the dangers in the emerging revolution in France.
LOPEZ: How should sovereignty or submission be an election issue? Is it about suicide avoidance?
FONTE: President Obama clearly has little use for American exceptionalism, and he has filled his administration with many appointees who, in the name of greater global cooperation and governance, favor the diminution of American sovereignty. His rather tepid encounter with sovereignty concerns should be an issue in the coming campaign. But, even more important, as Sen. Jon Kyl pointed out recently, the defense of American national sovereignty should be openly articulated and placed at the center of our national-security strategy in the coming years as we face the challenges of the 21st century.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.