Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others?, John Fonte, Encounter, 449 pages
“Who governs?” is perhaps the oldest question in political science. And for the vast majority of Americans, it has long been settled—Americans should govern America. Imperfect as our system might be, it’s better than any alternative; we rejected foreign rule more than two centuries ago and have never looked back. Or so we thought.
John Fonte’s Sovereignty or Submission forces us to reconsider whether our independence is necessarily a permanent thing. Fonte warns against the power of “transnational progressives” here and around the world—those who seek to diminish, even eliminate, U.S. sovereignty as part of their overall global project.
Fonte, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., makes a persuasive case that Americans should be worried because even as one-worldism is rejected by the masses, it is still embraced, in one form or another, by much of the elite—the corporate right as well as the intellectual left. If the American public isn’t paying attention, the elites will, in the end, have their way.
To be sure, whenever elite globalism and popular support for sovereignty collide head to head, the elitists lose—they are outvoted. We might consider, for example, the deep popular skepticism about the United Nations. While the UN is not at the forefront of most Americans’ minds, when it does become a political issue it’s almost always because the international body is doing something citizens don’t like, such as playing host to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez.
Meanwhile, UN peacekeepers seem to be either useless or dangerous. Here’s a Reuters headline from September: “Uruguay apologizes over alleged rape by U.N. peacekeepers”—apologizing, that is, for a recent gang-rape incident in Haiti, the country that Uruguayan soldiers were supposed to be safeguarding.
So much for the UN as a politically plausible expression of New World Orderism. But how about other kinds of international organization? For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? The green globalcrats had a good run for a few years, long enough to secure a Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore, yet support for cap-and-trade burst at about the same time as the world economy. Upon reflection, does anybody really think that China was on board with carbon caps? The Chinese are smart enough to make green tech if we want to buy it from them, but they are not so dumb as to think that such technology is better, on their own homefront, than good cheap coal.
Then there’s the fate of another globalist project, the euro currency, as well as the European Union overall. The euro fight has demonstrated to most Europeans that it’s silly to try to yoke together some 330 million people, in 17 different countries, into a common monetary system. Some say that the euro was always aimed more at achieving political union than economic union. But if so, it has failed even more spectacularly, as tensions over euro-related bailouts and austerity have actually increased nationalistic passions on the Continent. Today protestors in Athens wave anti-EU placards on which the EU symbol has been replaced by the Nazi-era swastika. Surely such atavistic displays are not helping bring about “the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world”—as lyricized by the young Tennyson before the older poet devoted himself to celebrating the Victorian virtues of his own England.
Even so, the euro lives on, benefiting from ever greater bailouts orchestrated by politicians who brazenly flout the opinions of their constituents. Indeed, the UN and the global-warming-ocracy also seem to be doing well enough; they have lost some credibility but still have plenty of money. That’s one of Fonte’s key points: support for global schemes springs eternal, irrespective of political failure. The Roman, Holy Roman, Spanish, Ottoman, and Napoleonic empires all had their fervent supporters and chattering-class propagandists. And if they were not the least bit democratic, well, that’s another Fontean point: Caesar Augustus, Charlemagne, Charles V, and Suleiman the Magnificent weren’t interested in small “r” republican give-and-take, and neither, really, are their would-be successors in our time.
As Fonte puts it, “For many of the world’s elites—who gather at places like Turtle Bay, Geneva, Davos, The Hague, wherever the G-20 meets—global governance is the big idea.” It’s simply not possible to have democratic decision-making without a voting citizenry that has the power to rein in officials. Yet that’s exactly what these elite systems lack—by design, although such power-mulcting is always cloaked in the murky language of internationalism. As Fonte puts it, “Major political leaders and intellectuals tell us that today’s global issues are too complex for the ‘obsolete’ nation-state system; that ‘global problems require global solutions’; that sovereignty must be redefined as something that is ‘shared’ or ‘pooled’.” Those who carry this burden are obviously too busy to seek the consent of the governed. And in any case, the governed are hard-pressed to figure out who, exactly, is governing.
Yet transnational progressivism is not just an ideology, not just a system of power—it’s a lifestyle. As anybody who has seen expense-accounted UN diplomats on the town in Manhattan or World Banksters in their limousines tying up traffic in Northwest Washington knows full well, global governancers are giving up no material comforts as they “serve” the planet’s people.
For its part, the Obama administration is credentialing a whole new cohort of global governancers in the United States. Figures such as Harold Koh, Samantha Power, and Anne-Marie Slaughter may be relatively obscure today, but thanks to their Obama sinecures they and their followers are making a neo-Gramscian “march through the institutions” and will no doubt rise high in the international superstructure of the future.
Fonte offers up a useful typology of four different visions of the world in decades to come: first, the global governance of the transnational progressives; second, a radical pan-Islamism, seeking to restore a caliphate of some kind; third, the sort of non-democratic authoritarianism of China and Russia; and fourth, the democratic sovereigntism that Fonte associates with the U.S., India, and Israel.
Obviously the vast majority of Americans would like to stick with option four, even as elements of the other three in all likelihood engulf the rest of the world. So how do we preserve our sovereignty here at home?
For Fonte, there’s only one proper response: Americans will have to get up and push back. And he has a term for this: “Philadelphian Sovereignty,” a play on “Westphalian Sovereignty.” In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia ended Europe’s Wars of Religion by enshrining the principle that the sovereign over each jurisdiction could decide between Catholicism and Protestantism; the saying was, “whose realm, his religion.” Westphalianism proved to be expedient for avoiding further slaughter; indeed, it serves as the basis of foreign-policy realism to this day. Yet it made no allowance for freedom of religion at the level of the individual. That advance had to wait for the American Revolution and the liberating ideas articulated in Philadelphia in 1776, as well as at the Constitutional Convention in the same city a decade later.
Fonte identifies the enduring wisdom of the Founders as still the best bulwark against globalocracy. The Founders put their political faith in the revival of Greco-Roman republicanism, but they knew that ordinary Americans might not be inspired by the ideals of Aristotle or Cato. Real people, the Founders thought, would be more likely to sacrifice for the tangible manifestations of hearth and home. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 49, patriotism in the infant republic would be based on “that veneration which time bestows on every thing, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability.” In other words, the essence of patriotism is not creedal ideology but the love of local places, folkways, and patriot graves.
Such anchoring in U.S. history also provides the foundation for a secondary theme in Fonte’s book, the need to protect U.S. sovereignty from unchecked immigration. The author champions “patriotic assimilation” as an alternative to open borders and multiculturalism. Once again, Fonte points out, the Founders had it right. Here’s George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 describing the virtuous process of Americanization:
The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
Americans, having been baptized in fire, are now forged together as one. More than a century after Washington’s death, other leaders were still echoing these same themes. Fonte quotes Theodore Roosevelt preaching civic equality for all those who embraced Americanism:
We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American. … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all.
As Fonte reminds us, TR’s nationalism was the norm back then, across the political spectrum. In 1915, Louis Brandeis, remembered as a great liberal, declared:
The immigrant is not Americanized unless his interests and affections have become deeply rooted here. … He must be brought into complete harmony with our ideals and aspirations and cooperate with us for their attainment. Only when this has been done, will he possess the national consciousness of an American.
The following year, TR’s great political rival, Woodrow Wilson, nominated Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court. The elite of those days shared the common goal of creating a common culture. Out of such consensus, great nations are made.
Yet in our own time, American politicians have forgotten the hard-nosed assimilationist politics of Washington, Roosevelt, and Brandeis. Texas Governor Rick Perry, for example, seems to have launched his campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination completely unaware of the possibility that American nationalists would react badly to his support for loose-border policies and special privileges for illegals, especially as a medium-grade civil war rages across the Rio Grande. Obliviousness about the dissolution of American sovereignty along the southern border seems to be congenital in Texas Republican governors.
Fonte, for his part, focuses mostly on the challenge of creeping global bureaucracy, while remaining mindful of the danger of demographic dissolution. Summing up the sturdy don’t-tread-on-me spirit that pervades his book, he reminds us of some of the last words of John Adams, our second president. On June 30, 1826, the townspeople of Quincy, Massachusetts, looking forward to the 50th anniversary of the Fourth of July, asked the revered nonagenarian for a proper toast for the republic. “Independence Forever,” the old man rasped. Adams died on that Fourth of July, but that American spirit, we hope, is immortal—never to be vanquished by post-patriotic transnational progressives. Fonte concludes, “Indeed, Independence Forever.”
James P. Pinkerton is a fellow at the New America Foundation and a contributor to the Fox News Channel.