As we did with the previous profile — The Brothers Judd—The Adventure of Great Literature (Edward B. Driscoll, Jr.,1/16/02, Catholic Exchange) — we thought it might be interesting to publish the raw interview that Ed Driscoll managed to turn into a far more coherent and readable essay, Sovereignty Redefined (Edward B. Driscoll, Jr., 11/03/2005, Tech Central Station):
An e-mail interview about Redefining Sovereignty with Orrin C. Judd (Ed Driscoll, 10/29/05)
Ed: What is transnationalism?
OJ: Like, I suspect, many of the people reading this, I first came across the notion of transnationalism in John Fonte’s terrific essay, Liberal Democracy vs. Transnational Progressivism, which we include in this volume. Though there are a number of ways to define it, in the book I chose to frame it as “the movement on the intellectual Left which views the nation itself as a hindrance to the realization of certain social goals.” Transnationalists wish to see nations sacrifice their sovereignty and electorates sacrifice self-government to expansive central institutions and the bureaucrats who run them, who will then establish and enforce liberal, or progressive, policies irrespective of the objections of discrete majorities.
Ed: How did it coalesce as a major component of the left?
OJ: It’s perhaps easiest to understand the attractiveness of transnationalism to the Left by using one issue as an example: the death penalty. Recall that the death penalty was banned in the United States by the one branch of government that isn’t accountable to the electorate, the courts. What elites had been unable to win in the democratic sphere they did win, at least temporarily, when they had a liberal majority on the Court.
Now that a conservative Court has reinstated the death penalty, what is the argument that opponents make? In a recent case concerning capital punishment for juveniles, even the reasonably conservative Justice Kennedy wrote that “the overwhelming weight of international opinion [is] against the juvenile death penalty” and went on to say that “the opinion of the world community, while “not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions.” Once again, having failed to convince a majority of Americans via normal democratic processes, they resort to external standards.
What’s especially revealing in this regard is that the opinion Justice Kennedy is referring to isn’t popular opinion in the rest of the world–opinion polls consistently show that large majorities of the British people favor reinstating their own death penalty. Rather, abolition of the death penalty is a requirement of membership in the European Union, irrespective of the opinion of a nation’s people and the EU is, of course, a model transnationalist institution.
The Left embraces transnationalism because it enables it to impose unpopular laws and policies on unwilling majorities.
Ed: Is this a relatively new development in international politics?
OJ: Not only is the desire of unelectable intellectual elites to control the masses of people who disagree with them not a new thing, it’s nearly an eternal thing. The important thing to consider though is that it’s not a bad thing, per se, is indeed part of the entirely understandable human desire for security, and is part and parcel of the original reason for adopting the sovereignty standards that had prevailed in the West from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 until just recently.
On the most basic level it’s helpful to think of mankind as being torn between two competing and rather evenly matched desires. On the one hand, each of us wants freedom for himself. On the other, each wants security from his fellow men. In broad terms we might say that to be of the Right is to have a preference for tilting the scales in favor of the former, while to be of the Left is to prefer more of the latter. Viewed through this lens, human history comes into focus as a long and unending struggle among men over where to draw the line between these two impulses. Tilting too far to either side always yields disastrous results and often produces just as unsatisfactory reactions.
Classical sovereignty, or Westphalian sovereignty, came about as a way to end a long period of religious wars between the states of Europe. After a period when princes attacked each other under the color of universalist religious claims, it promised to ends those wars, to provide some level of national security, by enshrining the principle that whoever effectively controlled a political territory would have the corresponding right to determine all matters of governance, religion, etc. within that territory. Each regime would be a left a free hand within its own borders, provided it didn’t violate those borders. While this obviously did not end war in Europe, it did provide an accepted legal framework for leaders to refer to in their disputes.
What we think of as transnationalism today got jump-started by the two World Wars, which obviously represented a complete breakdown of peace in Europe, dragging pretty nearly every state into the respective conflagrations. Institutions like the League of Nations and then the United Nations and the notion of One World Government and the like were not unreasonable attempts to deal with the realization that classical sovereignty had finally failed to provide the desired security. Europeans in particular, after tens of millions of deaths in the wars, were willing to trade some considerable measure of their freedoms in order to obtain the peace and security that transnational government seemed to offer. [It's worth noting here that America, which escaped much of the devastation of the wars and has always been more strongly oriented towards freedom than other nations, did not much succumb to the transnationalist sales pitch, even refusing to join the League of Nations.] It’s hardly surprising that the transnationalists having ceased the upper hand generally should have sought to extend the types of policies and laws that they favor on specific issues, nor that the more nationalist Right, which holds the transnational project in such low regard, should have failed to have its preferences reflected much in the transnational institutions, laws and treaties that were subsequently erected.
Ed: Who are some of the major figures in the movement?
OJ: There are some folks, like University of Chicago Law Professor Martha Nussbaum, who are associated with the idea of transnationalism more closely than others (see her essay Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism). But it’s important to recognize that we are almost all transnationalists when it suits our own ends. Even many on the libertarian Right would like to see us adopt global free trade schemes that provide a transnational legal framework and turn over enforcement of the rules to unelected bureaucracies. And the hawkish Right wants to be able to enforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty against enemies like Iran and North Korea, even though that means we acknowledge that we’re subject to it. However, the strongest transnationalist sentiment is found on the Left, where even democratic presidential candidates and other party leaders insist that we should yield American sovereignty and democracy by joining things like the Kyoto Accords and the International Criminal Court and arguing that the Iraq war could only be legal if the United Nations passed yet another resolution approving of it.
Ed: Why did you choose to edit a book and write introductions to speeches and papers, rather than write your own book?
OJ: There were really two main reasons for that, one lies in the format itself and the other in the content. First, the book is intended to resemble a blog to some extent. These are almost all essays and speeches that we’d posted at our own blog (http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/) and several of them were posted on darn near every blog that existed when they were written (Mr. Fonte’s essay for example was ubiquitous in the blogosphere, likewise Lee Harris’s Our World-Historical Gamble.) Here was an opportunity to gather some of the most interesting pieces on a contained theme, present them in their entirety instead of just in excerpt, and tie them together with introductory essays. Others will have to determine whether I’ve succeeded, but I’d like to think that this is a blog in book form.
Second, and more important, one purpose of the book is to convince Americans in general, but reluctant conservatives in particular, that George W. Bush’s expansive mission of democratizing the Middle East is not just vital to the future of the region and our own national security, but entirely consistent with American history, is indeed quintessentially American.
The section of the book on transnationalism will appeal to everyone on the Right and hopefully awaken even those who aren’t, because it shows how our own sovereignty and capacity to govern ourselves democratically is threatened. The second section though shows that we Americans and our allies represent an even greater threat to the sovereignty of others and to the very idea of classical sovereignty, because of our willingness to impose liberal democracy abroad, to effectively hasten what contributor Francis Fukuyama has dubbed the “end of history.” The essays here add up to the argument that we have ourselves redefined sovereignty so that the right to govern a nation now depends on a regime’s conformity to liberal democratic norms.
The isolationist, or non-interventionist, Right has been quite hostile to this development, which does of course involve us in the internal affairs of states from Syria to Burma to Somalia to Haiti. However, in the third section the essays show that this is not in the least a departure from our American past. Americans after all settled the continent all the way to the Pacific, fought a Civil War at home, and abroad fought Imperialism, Nazism, and Communism successively, all the while requiring other peoples to adopt our own foundational principles.
Whereas some argue that we have no right to tell others how to govern themselves, we always have and our Declaration of Independence makes universalist claims that there is a duty to organize regimes as we’ve organized our own:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
So, in these essays, and in an appendix that features a series of historical documents starting with the Mayflower Compact, I offer the evidence that holding other nations to a standard of democratic legitimacy is the very essence of Americanism and should be a cause that unites patriots of every stripe.
In keeping with both the form and the content, we’ve set up a Sovereignty blog (href=http://www.sovereigntyblog.com/) to go with the book, with further posts on the issues it addresses and links to other essays by and info about the contributors. People are warmly invited to continue the conversation there.
Ed: How long did it take to collate and edit?
OJ: I went into the project with a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to say: classical sovereignty is dead; our own sovereignty is threatened by transationalism; we’re a greater threat to others, having redefined sovereignty so that it requires democratic legitimacy; and that requirement is the end to which American history and ideology has always been leading us. So I had a good idea of what kinds of essays I was looking for, plus I’d written about most of them at the blog previously. Putting the pieces together and writing intros and a conclusion took about three months.
Ed: Was it tough getting permission to use any of these essays and speeches?
The hardest part of the permissions was actually just figuring out who held some of them. Every single author who I was able to contact personally was very co-operative and most of the permissions were granted free of charge. I passed the most difficult–like navigating the UN bureaucracy for a Kofi Annan permission–on to the publisher, Smith & Kraus Global, and they did the heavy-lifting.
It’s an amazing world we live in though, I was to find contact information for most everyone on-line and got prompt, courteous responses from everyone I contacted.
The only disappointment was that there was an ideal essay from Britain’s Spectator by Mark Steyn with which to end the book, one that contrasted how we deal with local problems here in small town New Hampshire on a personal level as opposed to the EU red tape you have to go through now to deal with a local problem in Britain. He was very nice about it but asked that we not use it because townfolk hadn’t been thrilled to have Europeans reading about them, which reticence too is typical of Hampshiremen.
Ed: Which one is your favorite?
OJ: I’d not like to say I have a favorite, but there is one I’m proudest to have in the book: Ronald Reagan’s speech at Bitburg Air Base on May 5, 1985. Lost in all the controversy over his visit was one of his very best speeches, one that stands in especially strong contrast to JFK and the prior American policy of mere containment, as President Reagan declared:
“Twenty-two years ago President John F. Kennedy went to the Berlin Wall and proclaimed that he, too, was a Berliner. Well, today freedom-loving people around the world must say: I am a Berliner. I am a Jew in a world still threatened by anti-Semitism. I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner of the Gulag. I am a refugee in a crowded boat foundering off the coast of Vietnam. I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua. I, too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism.”
Recall that as he said this we were arming the Afghans and the Miskito and helping them defeat totalitarianism.
Ed: Will people be surprised by the breadth of the worldviews in the book?
The essay that seems to surprise folks the most is the one from Kofi Annan, but, despite his failure to rally the UN at the time of the Iraq war, he’s been an important voice for the idea that we have to concern ourselves with the injustices that occur within given countries, even if it means we have to violate the sovereignty claims of their regimes in order to vindicate the democratic/humanitarian rights of their people.
As to the general worldviews, I’d hope that readers would be surprised at the consistency they’ll find in the American worldview, from the Pilgrims landing until the latest speech by George Bush. We are and have been, though we don’t all always like to admit it, the Empire of Liberty that Thomas Jefferson suspected we might be.
Ed: Where do you see transnationalism going?
OJ: I think transnationalism is a more serious threat to our friends and allies than it is to Americans and I think it’s doomed even there. When I finished the manuscript, in March 2004, people assumed the EU was an inevitability, but we’ve seen several countries that were supposedly its biggest backers reject the constitution and when Tony Blair announced that Britain would vote on it he was understood to be killing it. Similarly, folks thought that the United States would be isolated by our refusal to join Kyoto, but instead nations like Australia and Japan have joined us in an alternative Asia Pacific Partnership on Development that focuses on developing technologies to control emissions and Tony Blair recently announced that Kyoto was pretty much a dead letter in light of this new agreement. And one of the most important reactions to the stabbing death of Theo Van Gough in the Netherlands and the British bombings of this past July has been a wholesale reconsideration of multiculturalism, which is an important element of transnationalism. If multiculturalism, rather than affording security, is going to provide a breeding ground in which people with no common culture lash out violently against their neighbors then this aspect of the transnationalist project is toast. Just as World War I shocked Marxists because it revealed that nationalism ran deeper in the working class than the economic security promised by socialism, so too are transnationalists likely to find that the need for a distinctive national culture runs deeper than the desire for the social peace promised by multiculturalism. And the preservation and defense of one’s own culture and national identity is antithetical to transnationalism.
Ed: Can America stop it? Is it in her best interest to do so?
OJ: That’s the interesting thing—it’s not necessarily in our narrow national security interest to stop the transnational project so long as we hold ourselves outside of it. After all, Europe may be dying –economically, demographically, and geopolitically — but it’s also rather quiet these days and pretty insignificant. After a 20th Century in which we fought three world wars in Europe, there’s something to be said for a Europe that we can safely ignore.
But American policy has never primarily been driven by such Realpolitik calculations. We are much more what Walter McDougall has called a Crusader State, engaging in a kind of “global melliorism,” whereby we intervene in the affairs of other nations to make them conform to our own standards of what makes a decent society. This tendency is so deeply imbued in the religiosity of America that I doubt we can stop ourselves from taking on both transnationalism and Islamicism, even if we wanted to. And history suggests that if we do choose to stop them we will. This is likely to be, as George Bush has vowed it will be, Liberty’s Century.