Skip to main content

Fonte – American Conservativism Meets Globalization

Fonte, Ph.D.
American Conservativism Meets Globalization:
The Challenges from the Transnational Left and Transnational Right
Speech to The Philadelphia Society
April 28, 2007

Senior Fellow
Director of the Center for American Common Culture
Hudson Institute, Washington, DC

I want to thank
George Nash and Bill Campbell; it is a great honor to be addressing the
Philadelphia Society.

Who Governs? Who
Rules? These are the ultimate questions of politics. From time immemorial
prominent figures have promoted some form of global political rule whether world
empire or the currently fashionable global governance.

In 1837 Alfred Lord
Tennyson, wrote :
" Till the war-drum throbb’d no
longer, and the battle flags were furl’d In the Parliament of man, the
Federation of the world."

Tennyson was not
alone. Dante, Victor Hugo, Arnold Toynbee, Albert Einstein, William O.
Douglas and Walter Cronkite have all advocated some form of global government

During the past few
decades the more sophisticated champions of global political authority have
shifted from support for world government to “global governance.” As
Princeton Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter writes, “it is a less threatening

Global governance
advocates insist that issues war and peace, nuclear proliferation, climate
change, violations of human rights, are “global problems” that require
“global solutions.”

Global governance is based on the ideological premise that all
individuals on the planet possess human rights. International law determines
those rights. International law (which is always evolving) is superior to any
national law, including the US Constitution. International agreements expand new
rights and norms. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs, such as Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch and Greenpeace) represent “global civil
society” and help develop the norms for global governance.

Global governance is not really “international”, but
“transnational.” It is not concerned with relations between nations, but
with political arrangements above and beyond nation-states. Indeed, global
governance could also be described as “post-international.” In the American
context it could be described as “post-constitutional” and

Throughout the Western world the progressive Left in the US, Britain,
Israel, Australia, and continental Europe, has attempted to use transnational
instruments including laws, institutions (the UN, for example), international
bodies, and NGOs to enact measures that they could not normally obtain through
the regular democratic process in their own nation states. These include demands
for: gender preferences in elected legislative bodies, Geneva “laws of war”
protection for terrorist combatants; the curtailment of hate speech and the
expansion of hate crimes and
complete universal human rights for all children including the “absolute human
right” to correspond with anyone in the world on the internet without
interference from their parents.

This last measure contained in the UN Convention on “The Rights of the
Child” means that ten year olds have the universal human right to be in email
correspondence with pedophiles without parental supervision. Only two countries,
the United States and Somalia, have refused to ratify this treaty. Needless to
say, the progressive Left gleefully chides the US for “standing alone with
Somalia against children’s rights.”

In the past, I have described this phenomenon as “transnational
progressivism.” But,
today, rather than focusing on the Left, I thought it would be more interesting
to see if our own conservative house is in order.

There are serious tensions and
fundamental disagreements within American conservatism on globalization. Three
arenas that highlight these conflicts are (1) global migration or immigration,
(2) global trade, and (3) regionalization, specifically North American

The editorial page
of the Wall Street Journal is a major voice of American conservatism.

Last summer during
the immigration debate the Wall Street Journal editors argued for the
McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill on the following philosophical grounds:

"Our own view is that a
philosophy of ‘free markets and free people’ includes flexible labor markets. At
a fundamental level, this is a matter of freedom and human dignity. These
migrants are freely contracting their labor, which is a basic human right."

Thus, the Journal
is telling us that immigration for employment purposes is “a basic human
right.” It is not simply a policy preference but is elevated to the realm of a
universal principle. On the crucial democratic question: who decides American
immigration policy? The answer is clear enough. American immigration policy is
decided by autonomous individuals who are foreign citizens in places like
Mexico, Pakistan and Ireland. These decisions are made without the consent of
the governed. Policy is not decided by ordinary American citizens in Ohio or
Oklahoma. Nor on principle, the Journal editors tell us, should this
policy be decided by the elected representatives of the American people in
Congress assembled. Clearly, this is a post-democratic, post-constitutional
principle advocated by the editors of the Wall Street Journal.

In examining global
trade many of us would agree that free trade is beneficial. However, for some on
the American Right, free trade is not simply sound policy, but a moral issue. In
this view there is a “human right” to free trade. The Cato Institute
declares that “free trade is a right not a privilege bestowed by
government.” Actually, it is neither. It is a policy (usually a good one) that
democratic people accept or reject in varying degrees.

There have been
plenty of fairly conservative Americans politicians throughout our history who
did not believe that free trade was a “human right” including Alexander
Hamilton, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, William Howard Taft,
Calvin Coolidge, Robert Taft, and, even at times Ronald Reagan, particularly
when security issues were involved. And, of course, Adam Smith himself famously
made an exception to free trade when it came to the necessities of the Royal
Navy and thus, the defense of the British Realm.

In short, free
trade is a good policy, but conservatives should remember that it is subordinate
to self-government. Ultimately, the people have a right to make policy mistakes.

Beyond these
general principles let us examine specific problems for American democratic
sovereignty inherent in the major institution regulating economic globalization,
the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Before the WTO,
there was the GATT, the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade, which was an
international organization to facilitate diplomacy over global trade, Member
nation-states negotiated with each to reduce tariffs. In the US, tariffs were
cut 90% during the period of the GATT from the 1940s to the 1990s. A very good
thing! The structure of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is different from the
GATT; it is more transnational than international. Unlike the GATT, the WTO has
established a permanent tribunal, the Appellate Body (AB) with final authority
over trade disputes.

Cornell University
Professor of Government, Jeremy Rabkin writes that the Appellate Body of the
World Trade Organization “should be taken seriously as threat to sovereignty.”

Because, Rabkin notes, the Appellate Body has declared that it would not
simply examine the trade disputes at issue, but refer to “general principles
of international law,” including international treaties that the US has not
ratified. The Appellate Body has permitted private advocacy groups like
environmental NGOs to file amicus briefs. It could build a body of case law
(from international treaties that the US didn’t sign) as standards for
settling trade disputes. It is already building a constituency of transnational
actors (clearly global corporations, but also social activist NGOs) that could
in large measure by-pass the decision-making process of democratic nation

Some in this room
may think, that this is a good thing — individual
transnational actors bypassing “the State,” a la Ayn Rand. However, this is
exactly how the European nation-states lost a good deal of their sovereignty and
how the citizens of those states lost a large measure of democratic
self-government. What happened in
Europe was that over a 20 year period the European Court of Justice (ECJ)
established a body of independent case law; built a constituency of corporations
and social activists (particularly radical feminists); and gradually, step by
step, became the arbiter; first of economic policy; then of social policy; and,
finally, achieved dominance over European parliaments, including the “mother
of Parliaments, the British House of Commons.

The ECJ also
established dominance over the highest courts of these once sovereign states.
Thus, some who gleefully fought “the State,” the liberal democratic
nation-state, are now stuck with an unaccountable post-democratic European


For several years,
government leaders and business elites in US, Canada and Mexico have been
promoting North American integration. An executive agreement established the
Security and Prosperity Partnership for North America (the SPP). In June 2005
and March 2006 Cabinet members from the US (including Condoleezza Rice, Carlos
Gutierrez, Michael Chertoff) and their counter parts in Canada and Mexico
outlined priorities.

These priorities

(1) The immediate
number one priority was to “facilitate the movement of people” across the
borders of North America.
(2) The “harmonization of security and customs regulations in all three
countries.” This priority is vaguely written and ambiguous, although implicit
is the suggestion that there should be one border for all of North America.
(3) The “formalization” of a “transnational professional labor force”
that could work in any North American country.
(4) The creation of institutions to promote North American integration

On March 31, 2006
the three governments established the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC)
to implement these measures. The US Chamber of Commerce is the Secretariat for
the council.

The Bush
Administration has not involved or even fully informed Congress on North
American integration; even budget figures are almost impossible to come by.
Unlike some, I don’t believe a conspiracy is at work. Nevertheless, the North
American integration project is deeply flawed both conceptually and

Obviously there are
areas of cooperation with our neighbors that are being pursued by the SPP that
make perfect sense in health regulations, trade, and intelligence cooperation.
However, issues of border security and immigration are issues that should be
decided by the Congress of the United States. They should not be delegated to
Canadian, Mexican, and American executive branch officials, the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce and transnational corporate executives.


One challenge of
globalization that American conservatism has not adequately addressed is the
related issues of the patriotic assimilation of immigrants on the one hand and
immigrant dual allegiance on the other hand— and
the relationship of these two issues to healthy republican citizenship.

The response by
elites in general to globalization has weakened the process of assimilating
immigrants and the concept of American citizenship itself. Our policy the last
forty years is the exact opposite of that of the Founding Fathers. The Founders
advocated assimilation.

mso- In a letter to John Adams, George Washington declared that immigrants
should be integrated into American life so that "by an intermixture with
our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs,
measures, laws: in a word soon become one people."

mso- In a 1790 speech to Congress on the naturalization of immigrants, James
Madison stated that America should welcome the immigrant who could assimilate,
but exclude the immigrant who could not readily "incorporate himself into
our society."

mso- In 1801, Alexander Hamilton recommended that we gradually draw newcomers
into American life, "to enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire
American attachments; to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our

For the last forty years our response
to the large-scale immigration, brought on, in part, by increased economic
globalization, has been the opposite of what the Founders proposed. Our elites
have instituted a de-facto anti-assimilation policy through the promotion of bi-lingualism,
multiculturalism, and the denigration of America’s historical narrative and
national identity.

All of this has
consequences. An April 7, 2007 article in the Chicago Tribune tells the
story of Jose Luis Gutierrez. He is a close aide and key advisor to the Governor
of Illinois on immigration policy. He is director of the Illinois Office of New
Americans, and, therefore, in charge of assimilation policy.

In appointing him Gov Blagojevich

“Jose Luis will provide the
leadership the Office of New Americans needs Öto helping immigrant families
achieve the American dream.” The Office will move Illinois forward to better
help immigrants assimilateÖ”

All of this is
boilerplate, and sounds fine. However, reading the Chicago Tribune story
it is clear that Mr. Gutierrez’s concept of assimilation is rather different
than that of Washington, Madison or Hamilton.

the Tribune article, Gutierrez describes a new political consciousness
among Mexican immigrants — a "third nation" of sorts that transcends
the border.

Gutierrez declared,

"The nation-state concept
is changing. You don’t have to say, `I am Mexican,’ or, `I am American.’ You can
be a good Mexican citizen and a good American citizen and not have that be a
conflict of interest. Sovereignty is flexible."

is a dual citizen who is actively involved in Mexican politics. He votes in both
the US and Mexico and is active in political campaigns in both nations. His
political allegiance is clearly divided. He will not choose one nation over the

hundred years ago the President of the United States in 1907 expressed a
different point of view:

“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 man’s becoming in very fact 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. We have room for
but one flag, the American flag — and we have room for but one sole loyalty and
that is a loyalty to the American people."

This phenomenon of immigrant dual allegiance— of
voting and even running for office in their birth nations is a product of
globalization. It is a challenge that American conservatism has not clearly
faced. It is a violation of the Oath of Allegiance in which the new citizen
promises to “absolutely and entirely renounce all allegiance” to any foreign

Vienna-born Supreme
Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter wrote in 1958 that, “Taking an active part in
the political affairs of a foreign state by voting in a political election
involves a political attachment and practical allegiance thereto which is
inconsistent with continued allegiance to the United States.” Justice
Frankfurter was right then—
and his principles are right for a 21st century American conservatism
that is serious about preserving the our democratic republic.


In confronting the
challenges of globalization, American conservatism should return to the core
question of politics: who governs. For all Americans, the answer is clear
enough, “We the People” through our more than 200-year old Constitution that
ultimately trumps all global authority. In The Basic Symbols of the American
Political Tradition
, Willmoore Kendall and George Carey insist that first
and foremost the right of self-government is at the heart of the American
regimeó”the rights of individuals will be safest if first the rights
of the people are assured, and above all the right of the people to govern

In terms of policy
this means support for democratic sovereignty over global governance abroad and
the patriotic assimilation of immigrants at home.
We should recognize the distinction between internationalism
and transnationalism. Moreover, we should not be providing aid and comfort to
transnational institutions and supra-national regimes, including the
International Criminal Court and the European Union, that seek to subordinate
democratic nation-states to their post-democratic authority. On the contrary, we
should, as a matter of principle, in the name of “democratic sovereignty,”
support those democratic nation states that are under pressure from
transnational forces including the new democracies of Central and Eastern
Europe, Australia, and the State of Israel.

On the home front,
it is irresponsible for the Bush Administration, Senator McCain, and the
Democratic Congressional majority to support so-called “comprehensive
immigration reform”— which means eventual amnesty accompanied by massive increases in low
skilled immigration— without first addressing assimilation. What we need to enact first is
“comprehensive assimilation reform” that would end immigrant dual
citizenship voting, bi-lingual education, foreign language ballots and all the
other elements of our current anti-assimilation policies. Once this is
completed, and the border is fully secured, we could begin to discuss the
special interest needs of particular businesses for low skilled workers.

should remember that we are a nation of citizens before we are a market of

In conclusion,
conservatives should be guided by the final two word political testament of John
Adams that he sent to the Selectmen of Quincy, Massachusetts in June
1826ó”Independence Forever.”

© The Philadelphia Society 2022 | Webmaster Contact

The material on this website is for general education and information only. The views presented here are the responsibility of their authors and do not reflect endorsement or opposition by The Philadelphia Society. Please read our general disclaimer.