Editor’s note: This essay appears in the Spring 2018 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Reprinted by kind permission of the Claremont Institute.
In 1993 the president of the American Society for International Law called for a “campaign to extirpate the term [‘sovereignty’] and forbid its use in polite political and intellectual company.” Such a proscription would have been in keeping with the bien-pensant consensus at the end of the past century and beginning of the present one: sovereignty is becoming obsolete and needs to be diluted or shared as mankind progresses toward global governance.
A review of
The Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America with the World by Stewart Patrick
Nonetheless, Donald Trump, Brexit, and the growing resistance to increased centralization by the European Union from its member nations show that sovereignty has returned with a vengeance. This interruption of the inevitable march to globalism creates a problem for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), central command for “liberal internationalism,” more accurately described as “transnational progressivism.” From the CFR perspective, the issue is how to defeat the American sovereigntists and their case for democratic self-government. This task is taken up in The Sovereignty Wars: Reconciling America with the World, by Stewart Patrick, director of CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance program.
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Patrick writes well, is knowledgeable, informative, a pleasant fellow, but he is wrong on the most important issues concerning democratic sovereignty and the right of a free people to rule themselves. His first priority, in effect, is to deconstruct the concept of sovereignty into its constituent but discordant elements, which he sees as threefold. At the top of his framework, “the Sovereignty Triangle,” is authority, which, with respect to America, “implies that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and no external constraints should limit Americans’ right to govern themselves.” The triangle’s second vertex is autonomy, which “implies that the U.S. government, acting on behalf of the people, should have the freedom of action to formulate and pursue its foreign and domestic policies independently.” The final corner is influence, “the state’s effective capacity to advance its interests,” hence, America’s ability to influence others.
Though these three aspects of sovereignty are “often in tension,” sovereignty itself can be “disaggregated” when we “voluntarily trade off one aspect of sovereignty for another.” These “sovereignty bargains” will be “required” if the United States is to exert influence and shape the future of globalization. Indeed, it is “counterproductive” for sovereigntists to worry too much about autonomy or even authority—the supremacy of the Constitution—because influence is what America most needs “to shape its destiny in a global era.” Patrick concedes that a “liberal internationalist” would prioritize “solving a global problem” through multilateral action “even if that implied a loss of autonomy or, conceivably, even authority.”
Read the rest at The Claremont Review of Books.