Fonte on “Global Governance"—John O’Sullivan’s Foreword to Sovereignty Or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves Or Be Ruled By Others?

Peter Brimelow writes:  At, we’re preoccupied with what we call “The National Question”—whether the U.S., or for at matter any other First World country, can survive as a nation-state, the political expression of a particular nation, defined as a specific ethno-cultural community. We mostly focus on the internal problems caused by the importation, through government policy, of masses of non-traditional, and arguably unassimilable, immigrants. The Hudson Institute's John Fonte has a powerful chapter entitled "Assimilation of Immigrants: Patriotic or Multicultural?" in his new book Sovereignty Or Submissionimage. But his main focus is external: the subordination of the nation-state to “global governance”, basically the dirty deal being done by what Fonte calls “post-national elites” over the heads of the national electorates who are under the misapprehension that their representatives (ha!) represent them. Note the common thread: both immigration and global governance are elite enthusiasms.

Americans got a glimpse of this with George W. Bush’s so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America—at the 2005 tri-national summit announcing which Bush distinguished himself by denouncing the Minutemen border activists as “vigilantes”—and with Governor Rick Perry’s astounding proposal for the 4,000 mile-long, 1200-foot wide Trans-Texas Corridor, which his Presidential rival Congressman Ron Paul denounced as a threat to U.S. sovereignty (back in the days—sigh—when Paul used to talk about U.S. sovereignty).

John Fonte provides not just a glimpse, but an expose. We here post John O’Sullivan’s Foreword and summary of Sovereignty Or Submissionimage, with added links. To view a Hudson Institute conference on the book at which both Fonte and O'Sullivan spoke, click here.


By John O’Sullivan

For some years, John Fonte has enjoyed an odd and slightly enviable reputation. He is the scholarly defender of democratic sovereignty most likely to be invited to debate the matter with his opponents in the academic school of global governance. This is partly because he is a courteous, well-informed, logical, and honest debater. That happens to be likewise true of his better antagonists, such as Peter Spiro, on the global governance side. It is not true of all, however.

Dr. Fonte is also one among very few scholarly defenders of sovereigntist ideas. In the academy, the media, the law, the foreign policy establishment, the corporate world, the wider political elite, and—almost inevitably—the bureaucracies that serve international institutions and nongovernmental organizations, the ideology of global governance is the prevailing orthodoxy. Those scholars who adopt a hostile or even skeptical attitude to its doctrines are in a distinct minority, resembling an endangered species in the academy.

Although global governance in its current form is a relatively new idea—dating roughly from the end of the Cold War—it is increasingly the basis of government decisions, bilateral agreements, and international treaties such as the Kyoto protocols or the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. Books, op-eds, law journal articles, proceedings of international conferences, and think tank reports advocating various aspects of global governance appear almost daily in both print and electronic media. There has been little organized opposition.

Dr. Fonte’s book is a major counterblast from the sovereigntist side of the debate. It is also an example of a disturbingly familiar paradox: a lone voice speaking out on behalf of multitudes. As Dr. Fonte illustrates (and as opinion polls confirm), the concept of democratic national sovereignty and the nexus of ideas and institutions built upon it reflect the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of citizens in the United States and other advanced democracies. Americans, Australians, Brits, Italians, and other free nations imagine that they are self-governing peoples who settle domestic political issues—such as the limits of free speech or an adequate level of welfare provision—by democratic debate and majority vote. Despite occasional grumbling about politics and politicians, they like it that way. All the evidence suggests that they would oppose any open attempt to replace their democracies with another political system.

“Global governance” is another political system or regime. It seeks to take ultimate political power from parliaments and congresses accountable to national electorates in sovereign states, and to vest it in courts, bureaucracies, NGOs, and various transnational bodies that are accountable only to themselves or to other transnational bodies. In the existing international system, legitimacy flows upward from voters in elections through sovereign governments, via treaties, to international institutions that enjoy specified and limited powers agreed in advance. Under global governance, by contrast, legitimacy flows from postnational elites in transnational institutions, via open-ended treaties, downward to postsovereign governments holding powers regulated by transnational bureaucrats and lawyers, and then finally to the voters.

Advocates of this second system argue that voters enjoy more real power as a result of “pooling” their sovereignty in transnational bodies that carry greater clout in international affairs, but they are curiously unable to describe how the voters can actually use this power. How can they amend an international law? Or vote members of the European Commission out of office? Or appeal a decision of the International Criminal Court? Or influence the diplomatic campaigns of the European Union, such as its attempt to outlaw capital punishment? The voters can do none of these things because they lack the ultimate democratic sanction: they cannot throw the (transnational) rascals out. It is not the voters but the elites running the courts, the NGOs, and the transnational bodies who exercise sovereign power in a wilderness of committees. In short, global governance is yet another attempt (the third major one since 1917 by my count) to sell elite rule in thin democratic disguise.

That’s a tough sell. So it’s hardly surprising that the attempt to impose it on liberal democracies has been decidedly covert. Here’s how it’s done: Global governance begins as the ideology of small but influential transnational elites operating outside the spotlight of national politics. Its voice is loud in academic seminars but muffled to the point of being dumb in national political debates and in the general media. Its supporters spread their ideas in the obscurity of learned journals, international conferences, and legal judgments. Then, politicians and bureaucrats travel to pleasant foreign cities to negotiate treaties and covenants that reflect the new orthodoxy. On rare occasions—as when Hillary Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Beijing conference on women’s rights—these treaties are openly crafted and fiercely debated at home. That slows the process down. So usually it is done between faceless diplomats in smokeless rooms in Geneva, watched only by lobbyists for NGOs and selfinterested multinational corporations.

 When they finally emerge from the long process of multilateral negotiation, these global treaties have only begun their careers. They have irreproachable titles signaling noble aspirations, such as protecting women or opposing genocide. But they are subject to extravagant reinterpretation by international courts, national courts, and even—under the rubric of the new customary international law—conferences of law professors claiming legislative force for their law review articles. The treaties themselves contain provisions that go well beyond a commonsense reading of their headlines. They incorporate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that transfer authority from national governments to UN agencies and other transnational bodies. And they intrude into the most domestic of domestic policies—an intrusion often sought or welcomed by national courts, bureaucracies, NGOs, and other local bodies anxious to reverse a policy defeat in the nation’s democratic debate. Indeed, a major impetus behind global governance is the desire of elites to insulate themselves against the possibility of such defeat.

Much of this maneuvering takes place in the political twilight inhabited by NGOs, lobbyists, and pressure groups. The wider public often learns of it only when a UN monitoring body arrives to argue that the treaty requires changes in national law or policy, or in the Constitution. Here are a few examples chosen at random from this book:

1)     The UN committee monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination told the United States in 2001 to overturn the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it was an obstacle to outlawing what the committee regarded as hate speech. (U.S. diplomats negotiating a treaty routinely insist on laying down “reservations” when they suspect that some of its provisions might be incompatible with the Constitution. This is something that greatly irks the UN and other global bodies.)

2)     In 1997, UN monitors of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women complained that “only 30% of Slovenia’s children were in day care centers.” Too many children were being raised at home by their parents because the elected Slovenian government was providing benefits to stay-at-home mothers. In the monitors’ view, this policy reinforced old stereotypes and deprived children of educational and social opportunities.

3)     The UN committee monitoring the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights complained to Australia in 2000 about its detention of illegal immigrants. It also chastised the United States for the “increased level of militarization on the southwest border with Mexico.” The committee was troubled, too, by the American federal system itself because “the states of the union retain extensive jurisdiction over . . . criminal and family law,” which “may lead to a somewhat unsatisfactory application of the Covenant throughout the country.” [PDF]

Such intrusions into domestic politics are catnip to the tabloid press. Once it emerges that a country like Canada has agreed to submit its welfare budget for approval by a UN treaty rapporteur who is also the diplomatic representative of a notorious dictatorship, it becomes an instant political scandal. The public reacts along the lines of “What the hell is going on?” Advocates of global governance respond with variations on “Nothing to see here, folks, move along please. Just a small earthquake in theory; not many disenfranchised.”

But the soft soap of global governance eventually fails to soothe. After a long period in which a revolution has been occurring largely unnoticed and unopposed, those attached to the status quo—in this case, liberal democratic governance—realize that the revolution is incompatible with their sovereign rights and established institutions. And then a genuine debate bursts forth.

Early opponents of revolutions are often disdained by their natural allies, however. In his 1968 introductionimage to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, Conor Cruise O’Brien points out that his students usually assumed that Burke was writing after the Terror began. In reality, some of his most passionate philippics were written several years beforehand. Most well-informed Englishmen, including Burke’s closest political friends, thought his early hostility to the French Revolution was excessive and unbalanced. They did not see the radical implications of the revolutionary ideology and therefore missed the bloody and anarchic direction in which it was leading. Burke’s analysis of the revolution’s early phases was profound and prescient, but only when his predictions were confirmed by events did conservative and liberal Englishmen convert to his skepticism.

Until recently, Dr. Fonte and other democratic sovereigntists have been in the same position as the early Burke. They have found it hard to persuade their fellow citizens that there is anything to worry about, partly because global governance needs a good deal of explaining. It presents itself as the fulfillment of liberalism, democracy, and internationalism, rather than their negation. It lacks the appalling frankness of Marxism or Nazism or jihadism—their willingness to state openly that their rule will brook no fundamental opposition. Instead, it describes its aims with many of the same terms used by democrats and internationalists: human rights, peace, international law. These clouds of ink deceive and pacify many.

 Dr. Fonte is a pioneer in the trade of demystifying ideologies. He was the first anthropologist to classify and analyze the early primitive “transnational progressive.” Accordingly, he is well equipped to extract the real meaning from the sophisticated euphemisms of global governance. (The first half of his book is a Cook’s Tour of political theory over the past four hundred years—a highly readable introduction to political ideas on its own.) So he has little difficulty in demonstrating that to “pool” sovereignty is to lose it. He shows that to sign a treaty with clearly defined obligations to other nations is to exercise sovereignty, whereas to sign a treaty with a postnational entity obliging you to do whatever it demands is to surrender sovereignty. The former is internationalism; the latter is transnationalism, which first imprisons and then gradually eliminates nation-states in a euthanasia of regulations.

Dr. Fonte traces where the logic of global governance leads: to a massive, remote, undemocratic Leviathan. But why tap the thermometer when you can see the weather? In Europe, global governance advocates have already established an institution that embodies some of their fondest beliefs, namely the European Union. It provides us with a trailer of what global governance would look like in practice, as Walter Russell Mead points out:

“Think of the European Union blown up to a global scale; in the Global Union nations would have their own governments and their own laws, but an increasingly dense framework of commonly agreed-upon laws and norms, and an increasingly complex and effective web of global institutions would supplement and in many cases replace the authority of national governments. “

  And that’s putting it mildly. The current crisis of the euro demonstrates two additional dangers in such a structure: the first is that unwise and unpopular policies tend to be adopted in the absence of democratic accountability; the second is that even when they have manifestly failed, such policies tend to continue unchanged. The long-running failure of the Common Agricultural Policy—which ruins the export prospects of small Third World farmers in order to sustain high food prices for European consumers, at a cost equal to 40 percent of the EU’s entire budget—shows that such folly can be maintained more or less indefinitely (or until the entire structure runs out of cash and collapses). Elites are far more unwilling to give up their fantasies than practical-minded ordinary voters, in part because elites can escape the negative aspects of utopia. The triumph of global governance would therefore risk repeating the failures of the EU on a world scale and at Brobdingnagian expense.

Global governance, however, is not an inevitable destiny, even if its advocates present it as such. In the second half of his book, Dr. Fonte examines four ideological contenders for the title of dominant political philosophy.

Democratic sovereignty, or “Philadelphian sovereignty” in Fonteesque language, is the system that still provides the United States with its regime and that was the prevailing constitutional doctrine in Western Europe until recently. It received a marked fillip when the nations of Eastern Europe threw off communism and joined “the West,” believing they were joining a structure built along liberal democratic lines. Instead, they found themselves in a halfway house to global governance, a structure that reminds them too much of both the Hapsburg empire (in more relaxed moments) and the Soviet empire (in moods of bitter despair).

Two other competitors are radical Islam and sovereign authoritarianism, such as the Chinese regime. Both can cause a great deal of damage in the world, but neither looks able to gain enough support or acquiescence to allow it to shape international relations and global institutions in its own image. Neither refutes Fukuyama’s thesis that no plausible ideological alternatives would arise to challenge Western liberal democracy.

What Fukuyama did not sufficiently foresee, as Dr. Fonte points out, was that a plausible challenge might come from within. Global governance is just such a challenge. Like Marxism, it emerges from the leading social classes in Western society. It affects to solve global problems that democratic sovereign states allegedly cannot solve “on their own,” or through international cooperation. It presents itself as a deeper and truer democracy than the partisan bickering of political parties. Yet it subverts democratic accountability and the consent of the governed at every turn, while it transfers ever-increasing powers from democratic institutions to global bodies and NGOs that seek to implement policies already rejected by voters and governments.

The intellectual quadrille danced by these four competitors is complicated. Day to day, the doctrines of global governance are a useful tool for Islamist sympathizers and authoritarian governments as they embark on, for instance, “lawfare” to hobble U.S. efforts to fight terrorism. But rising nation-states, whether democratic or not (China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, etc.), are particularly interested in exercising their sovereignty.

Fonte argues that it is unlikely that the forces of global governance will succeed in establishing their own utopian version of a “global rule of law.” Nevertheless he warns that, assisted by transnational pragmatists, they might attain considerable influence, or even what Antonio Gramsci called “ideological hegemony,” over opinion makers and statesmen in Western democracies. Though unable to achieve success on its own terms, the global governance project could essentially disable and disarm the democratic state. “If liberal democracy drinks from the cup of global governance,” Fonte writes, “it will have poisoned itself.”

Dr. Fonte analyzes the slow-motion suicide of the liberal democratic nation-states of western Europe as they transform themselves into subordinate states within the supranational legal regime of the European Union. Among the chief facilitators of this suicide are national judges of the various European nations. In the construction of a global legal regime, likewise, judges at the highest levels within nation-states would play a crucial role. Some comfort may be found in the growing resistance to the project of undemocratic Eurogovernance. Both at the polling booths and in the streets, European voters and taxpayers are rebelling against unaccountable power structures that deliver currency crises, high unemployment, and massive policy failures.

The forces of skepticism enjoy one potentially decisive advantage: global governance is the ideology that dare not speak its name. It has to deny on television the doctrines that it boasts about in the seminar. It has to conceal its achievements. It has to engage in verbal tricks to pass off its rules and institutions as liberal and democratic. In general, it has to dissemble constantly.

That was fine when no one was paying attention. Global governance could apparently survive anything but discussion. With the publication of this book, that qualification no longer applies. Dr. Fonte has removed the veils of circumlocution that surrounded the sovereignty issue, giving us an intellectual armory to defend our constitutional democracies against internal subversion or external attack.

 He has done everything that can be done by a political writer. It is now up to his readers to do the rest.

John O’Sullivan [Email him]is vice president and executive editor of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, and founder of the New Atlantic Initiative. He was a special advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and has been editor of The National Interest and National Review, and a senior editor at the Daily Telegraph and The Times of London. His book The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the Worldimage /em> has been translated into several languages.