Who are the friends of America? Who are the real enemies who hate America to the core of its being?
In trying to answer these questions, the usual distinctions between conservative and liberal don’t apply anymore, especially since Donald Trump has been president. The idea of America is under assault today from those who inhabit quarters on both the Right and the Left. Trump has chosen to fight for America’s sovereignty and against the bloated beast of globalism, and that beast has champions on both sides of the traditional political aisle. Today, whether we realize it or not, the distinctions between globalism and national sovereignty are at the center of almost all of our intellectual discussions.
A Review of
Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?
by John Fonte
(Encounter Books, 2011) $19.29
John Fonte knows and understands this. In his 2011 book, Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?, Fonte pinpoints the real problems facing not only the American public square and a variety of ideas in it, but also in the American economy and public policy. We are getting lost in peripheral issues as we desperately try to cling to the same old paradigms that shaped our debates in the decades before the forces of globalism upended our politics. Fonte, who is a senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute, is a clear thinker who illuminates the current dilemma about America’s relation to globalism.
Fonte’s book is composed of chapters that outline exactly what we mean by the term globalism, especially as it relates to the questions of national and political sovereignty, and also how it influences our understanding today of public policy issues. It’s a reminder that ideas do indeed have consequences and—more often than not—we don’t pay attention to how quickly destructive ideas can and do change our reality, especially if there is financial support behind them (in this case from many pro-globalist philanthropic organizations).
Fonte rejects Francis Fukuyama’s declaration that we have before us “the end of history.” As Fonte explains, Fukuyama “meant that liberal democracy was the endpoint of humankind’s ideological evolution.” Not so. Fonte contends that an emerging ideology he calls “transnational progressivism” poses the greatest challenge to democracy as we have known it. This ideology, he says, “will be a major ideological competitor to liberal democracy and therefore a threat to the liberal democratic nation-state.”
Those words read like prophecy now.
Globalism’s biggest claim is that unity among peoples is possible. If we all choose globalist governance, then happiness and a “hopeful vision of international harmony” will ensue. As lovely as this may sound, we should know by now that utopian visions of such a “brotherhood of mankind” (or is that too sexist) are foolish propositions. Ironically, the reason for the impossibility of this kind of universalism has precisely to do with an undeniable universalism: human nature. We don’t have to agree with Hobbes that human life is destined to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” to recognize, as Fonte does, that we cannot be blind to conflicts, contradictions, and clashes of cultures.
All of these are natural aspects of the human condition. To be sure, hope and cooperation are possible and Fonte doesn’t deny any of this. He is certainly not a nihilist nor does he advocate some destructive form of hyper-nationalism or moral equivalency between nations. But he correctly sees that we do have a problem in that we are witnessing “an epic ideological and political struggle that is global in scope and will last for decades, perhaps for most of the twenty-first century.”
One of the seemingly good and noble aspects of globalist governance is the urgent desire it signals for peace among nations. As far back as the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant pronounced this desire and, as Fonte points out, he “argued for a world federation of republics.” This united power would strive toward what Kant called “perpetual peace.” Who wants to argue with that? But to think that “perpetual peace” is firstly possible and secondarily that it is attainable through the creation of one power is naive. As Fonte writes, “Kant’s vision thus moves from the international, meaning relations between sovereign states, to the transnational, meaning relations that reach above sovereign nation-states.” This is a frightening vision doomed to end in totalitarianism. To totalize an individual human being or a nation itself is radically to change its essence. This is a sure way to dehumanize the individual and reduce the sovereign nation into a powerless entity, subject to the will of whatever tyranny replaces it.
Throughout the book, Fonte makes numerous theoretical distinctions in order to give a more clear definition of both globalism and sovereignty. For him, “sovereignty is understood as Abraham Lincoln defined it” when he said that sovereignty is “political community, without a political superior.” In other words, a political community that is not defined as a nation subordinate to some type of federation.
Globalism, by contrast, establishes a “postdemocratic” regime. And make no mistake, it is a regime, not just some beautiful utopian dream of unity and brotherhood. It has the power of force. It’s not only a cultural problem because for a political regime to be successful, it must involve the creation of laws. As Fonte writes, “unlike the traditional international system of sovereign nation-states, the new global system would establish transnational and supranational laws, regulations, and institutions… Nation-states continue to exist, but they are subordinate to transnational authority.”
Under the guise of diversity and inclusion, the globalist mind weaves an elaborate narrative of multiculturalism aimed at the destruction of sovereignty as a concept but especially at the sovereignty of America since its founding principle of political rights grounded in equality is in competition with globalism as a universal idea, but recognizes the role of particulars in its realization. This globalist narrative also includes painting America as a corrupt nationalist state, that is, nationalist in some absurd “Hitlerian” sense. Setting aside the absolute moronic quality of these kinds of comparisons which lack both philosophical and historical knowledge, what is bad about nationalism in itself?
Instead of discarding nationalism, that is, shouldn’t we instead be asking what kind of nationalism we should strive to achieve?
This is precisely one of the excellent questions that Fonte addresses. He asks serious questions about our national identity. His approach is not grating or defensive. In fact, throughout the book, it is Fonte’s “rhetoric of invitation” that moves the reader to ask many of the same questions he poses before he even poses them!
In a chapter titled, “Civic Nationalism and American Liberal Democracy,” Fonte gets to the heart of the matter, “Can a constitutional democratic nation-state be sustained in the long run without a strong national identity?” Using the work of Israeli statesman Natan Sharansky, Fonte points out that democracy will die if national identity is suppressed.
Sharansky made a distinction between “negative and positive kinds of national identity.” An identity that opposes democracy and freedom—like Nazism, communism, and radical Islam—is negative. An identity (whether national, religious, or ethnic) that reinforces democracy and freedom is positive.” For Fonte, this is crucial to his argument about citizenship and patriotism and it should be just as crucial to all of us if we want to have any possibility of authentic and constructive discourse. Human beings long to be an integral part of a larger national identity. It is important for the flourishing of the individual as well as for the country itself.
If we don’t define ourselves as a nation, then the result will be fluidity of being. Constant shapeshifting of identity will prevent the articulation of clear definitions not only of the essence of America but of the distinction between good and evil. All of this will disappear into the fog of multiculturalism and relativism.
Multiculturalism and naïve and misbegotten notions of “world citizenship” are also part of our current discourse on immigration. Should America be open to immigration all the time? What is expected of immigrants once they enter the United States? Globalists often speak of immigration to the United States as a right. The truth is that America is not under any obligation to admit any immigrants or refugees. Those decisions must be made on a case by case basis through the political processes of the sovereign American people.
Whatever processes for admitting or not admitting immigrants are adopted, one thing is certain: immigrants must assimilate. Fonte divides assimilation into “five different types: economic, linguistic, cultural, civic, and patriotic.” But despite the necessity of such integration, even this is not enough, according to Fonte. He goes back to the wisdom of the Founders, as well as to Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Louis Brandeis who say that the necessary assimilation is “political loyalty and emotional attachment to the American republic.”
This may seem radical and may suggest to some readers a disappearance of the individual and his culture. But there is much more to it than such a blinkered reading would suggest. As Fonte writes, this kind of Americanization “occurs when newcomers essentially adopt America’s civic culture and the story of America as their own [emphasis mine], when their children begin to think of American history as ‘our’ history, not ‘their’ history.” Immigrants who become American citizens are then part of America’s past, present, and future. The words of John Adams or Thomas Jefferson and words in the Declaration of Independence should speak to them and awake them to a higher reality.
Fonte outlines in detail the problems that America is facing. The battle that we are in right now is not necessarily the one of conservatism versus liberalism and it’s not really a culture war, either—though those intellectual conflicts are certainly part of our present political moment. The main battle, instead, is between globalism and sovereignty. Fonte’s book is absolutely essential reading for any American who is trying to make sense of what is happening in the world today, how to move beyond pointless shouting matches, and is concerned with restoring an intelligent discourse about how we can truly flourish both as individuals and nations.
As Fonte argues, globalization is here and there are many positive aspects of it, namely technology and human interconnectedness. But our responsibility today is to find a way to navigate through and preserve the positive aspects of globalization while, at the same time, retaining our national identity abroad and political sovereignty at home. The fight for America is the fight for America’s renewed independence.
Photo Credit: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images