The Corner

Thatcher the Democrat vs. Slaughter the Post-Democrat

Permit me to join Andrew Stuttaford and pile on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s disingenuous critique in the FT of Margaret Thatcher’s opposition to the European Union. Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former head of the Obama State Department’s office of policy and planning, is one of America’s leading transnational-progressive intellectuals. As a theorist and an advocate, Professor Slaughter has long favored the expansion of supranational authority over nation-states (including democratic ones).  

In a retrospective article on the “Iron Lady” in the Financial Times (“Thatcher’s Legacy is Britain’s Isolation”), Slaughter portrays Thatcher as an anachronistic political leader (“her instincts were completely out of touch with modern Europe”), and Thatcher’s attitude toward the EU is the key to Slaughter’s point.

Donning a “realist” cap, Professor Slaughter argues that the glory days of the special relationship with the U.S. are over, meaning Britain must integrate itself into the EU or “risk” becoming a bit player in global politics. Fortunately, following Thatcher’s “instincts,” most Britons today rightly recognize that political subordination to Brussels and the abandonment of their relatively healthy national currency for the ever more problematic euro would serve neither British national interests nor be consistent with British democratic values.     

But the realist pose is not Slaughter’s real argument; it is disingenuous. She has always been an idealist, a believer in “global governance” and even in a type of global Great Society. In The Idea that is America, Slaughter maintains that the different governments of the world should have “meaningful representation” in “global decision-making processes.” On the “substantive side,” Slaughter writes, “that means guaranteeing that the citizens of every country, including our own, have access to the necessities of life: food, shelter, basic health care, and the means to make a living.”

This form of transnational progressivism, a worldwide New Deal, reminds one of the term “globaloney” coined by a brilliant freshman Republican representative from Connecticut (and great conservative and proto-feminist) Clare Boothe Luce. In her maiden speech in the House, on a cold and wintry February 9, 1943, she used the term in attacking the globalist fantasies of FDR’s vice president Henry Wallace.

What we have between Thatcher and Slaughter is not primarily a disagreement over power politics, but a fundamental clash of world views over the single most important normative question of  political life: Who should govern? For Thatcher, the answer is democratic self-government within the nation-state; for Slaughter, the optimum solution is some form of transnational governance, which is why she has always championed the EU.   

Listen to Lady Thatcher in her memoirs explaining why British subordination to Brussels would be a very bad idea, asking the rhetorical question: “Were British democracy, parliamentary sovereignty, the common law, our traditional sense of fairness, our ability to run our own affairs our way to be subordinated to the demands of a remote European bureaucracy resting on very different traditions?”

Now let us listen to Anne-Marie Slaughter. In her book A New Global Order, Slaughter explicitly proposes a “global governance” system in which national governments would cede a degree of sovereignty to “trans-governmental networks” at the horizontal level and to supranational institutions at the vertical level. Horizontally, for example, this means that national judges, regulators, and parliamentarians in democratic states (e.g., Britain and the U.S.) coordinate policies with their foreign counterparts in the same sectors of government. Vertically, she argues that nations should cede sovereign authority to supranational institutions, such as the ICC, in where global solutions to global problems are needed.

Slaughter maintains that global-government networks “can perform many of the functions of a world government — legislation, administration, and adjudication — without the form.” Therefore, a “world order out of horizontal and vertical networks could create a genuine global rule of law.”

The crux of the mater is existential. Thatcher was about self-government and nation-state democracy; Slaughter is about rule by global elites.

For those who would like a detailed examination of the perennial conflict between the forces of global governance and the liberal-democratic nation state, I will shamelessly plug my book, Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?, from Encounter.


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