The Corner

John Fonte’s “Sovereignty or Submission”

John Fonte’s important new book, Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled By Others is well worth your attention. I was able to wrangle an advance copy from Fonte during the Libya intervention. (Fonte’s an old colleague of mine from the Hudson Institute.) The book had a real impact on my thinking about that war, and many matters besides.

Sovereignty or Submission sounds the alarm about the vastly underappreciated threat to American democracy posed by the global governance movement. In his foreword to the book, former NATIONAL REVIEW editor-in-chief John O’Sullivan compares Fonte to Edmund Burke, whose early warnings about the French Revolution were poorly appreciated until the outbreak of the Terror. Fonte’s book names, outlines, and dissects a movement of international elites that seeks to place the heretofore sovereign decisions of democratic nation-states under the authority of international standards and bodies answerable to nobody–noone but international elites, that is. Particularly in America, the global governance movement offers a way for liberals to invoke the help of European progressives to impose policy solutions on the United States that could never be achieved by democratic means.

Essentially, the global governance movement is an attempt to extend the “pooling of sovereignty” that characterizes the European Union to the rest of the world–America above all. Global governancers see America, along with countries like Israel and India, as stubborn hold-outs for supposedly dated notions of national independence. If the party of global governance can ensnare America, Gulliver-style, in a tangle of transnational principles, precedents, and institutions, American military independence can effectively be nullified, and even our domestic policies can be brought into conformity with European norms in time.

If this seems unlikely, consider that the EU’s ruling bureaucratic elite has already captured a significant portion of the sovereign powers of its member states, although that elite is largely unanswerable to any voting public. Even EU supporters acknowledge this “democratic deficit,” which has everything to do with why Europe is now on the brink of financial crisis.

How did it come about that Europe’s sovereign democracies ceded their sovereignty to an independent elite whose policy views were substantially to the left of the European public? How was even Margaret Thatcher defeated in her attempts to prevent Britain from surrendering many of its sovereign powers to the EU? Fonte shows exactly how it happened, and why the United States is next in line–if the global governancers get their way.

Europe’s democracies surrendered much of their sovereignty when their legal elites–lawyers and judges–were captured by the dream of a post-national world. Once national legal experts gave priority to EU law, it became too costly for national politicians to oppose them. That’s why the spreading influence of foreign law and transnational thinking among America’s own legal elite is so disturbing. America’s sovereignty could someday be substantially subordinated to an transnational progressive elite–EU-style. That is the global governance movement’s long-term plan.

Agree or disagree with the wisdom of Obama’s Libya intervention, the fact that it was launched without congressional authorization, under the authority of the novel international “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, is a victory for the global governance movement. Fonte has plenty to say about the work of prominent global governance theorists and Obama administration officials like Anne-Marie Slaughter and Harold Koh, each of which helped shape the Libya war (Slaughter from outside the administration). Someday, America’s independent war-making powers could be seriously constrained by the precedents so recently set.

Another secret of the global governance movement’s success is its rhetorical reticence. Since the public here and in Europe would almost certainly vote down most of what global governancers hope to achieve, their strategy is, in O’Sullivan’s words “decidedly covert.” Soothing euphemisms like “global governance” (instead of “world government”) and “pooling sovereignty” (instead of negating or undermining sovereignty) are part of the program. And that’s only the beginning, as Fonte shows.

Already, the United Nations committee monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination has told the United States to overturn the First Amendment (an obstacle to the outlawing of hate speech). The UN monitors of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women have complained that “only 30% of Slovenia’s children were in day care centers.” America and Australia have been chastised by UN committees for capturing and detaining illegal immigrants. NGO’s closely allied with the global governance movement have also repeatedly targeted free-market capitalism as a “fundamentally flawed system.” In short, left-progressives increasingly hope to use the global governance movement as a backdoor way to impose their ends on unwilling publics in America and beyond. Today, the Goldstone Report and its successors seek to hamstring Israel’s ability to defend itself. Tomorrow, global governancers mean to bring American soldiers and leaders into the dock.

Will it work? It will not, says Fonte. China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are never going to allow themselves to be constrained by a system of global governance. Yet Fonte argues that, left unopposed, the global governance movement could bring about a kind of slow-motion suicide of conventional liberal democracy in the West. Just look at today’s Euro crisis and you’ll have a sense of the mess a gradual surrender of national sovereignty can create.

Sovereignty or Submission is no screed. The language is measured and fair, although the underlying argument is passionate. Fonte traces the global governance movement and its liberal democratic opponents to their deepest intellectual origins. The Founders interest in Ancient Israel turns out to be a model of democratic sovereignty, as opposed to the fascination ancient empires like Babylon hold for leaders of global governance movement. Fonte moves all the way back to John Locke, and all the way up to the International Criminal Court, the international campaign against Israel, and our latest immigration controversies. Fonte doesn’t just warn against global governance either. He takes the movement’s best arguments seriously and answers them.

If we’re lucky, someday we may look back on the publication of Sovereignty or Submission as a landmark in gathering and solidifying opposition to the global governance movement.

As the global governancers will tell you at the drop of a hat, nationalism is easy to abuse. Yet as Fonte shows, authentic democracy depends upon the independent judgement of a free people. True liberalism allows, and even requires, a democratic nationalism. For a timely defense of that proposition, and a warning against those who would reject it, there is no better place to turn than John Fonte’s Sovereignty or Submission.


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