Perhaps some readers will be conversant with a controversy, simmering beneath the surface of our mundane political discourse, concerning a hypothetical/proposed/aborning/fantastical North American Union, modeled after the European Economic Community and entailing similar economic, regulatory, administrative, and legal "harmonizations". The ostensible centerpiece of this union, a 'NAFTA superhighway' bisecting the continent, running from Mexican ports on the Pacific Ocean right through the American heartland to Canada, is said to exist in embryonic form in the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, a colossal white-elephant boondoggle of the age of globalism. Left-wing and progressive political movements in Canada and Mexico perceive the high-level, international conferences, in which representatives of both government and business participate, as a nascent continental corporatocracy; right-wing populists in America, stinging from the obsession of the American establishment with mass immigration and a New Economy which benefits Wall Street, but not Main Street, perceive in these consultations a plutocratic subversion of national sovereignty. Of course, the principals of these proceedings, who often seem to adopt a "whatever it is, which we're not quite going to say, it isn't what you think it is" posture towards their critics, must exist under the clouds of left and right-populist suspicion arising from growing awareness of the profoundly unrepresentative character of the European Union.
Regardless of one's position on this discrete controversy, it would seem logical - yes? - given the manifest logic of globalization, to contemplate the prospects for deepening integration among the three North American nations. If globalization is what its proponents claim for it, then something akin to what the critics allege either is occurring, or will occur, or is likely to occur, with or without those international junkets for bureaucrats, executive branch appointees, and CEOs from richistan.
Reihan Salam, proprietor and contributor at The American Scene, has posted a response to a debunking-style piece published in The Nation. Christopher Hayes, the author of the Nation article, portrays the movement against the North American Union and NAFTA superhighway as the product of the 'paranoid style in American politics', a stitching together of isolated facts which can be rebutted by simply hearkening unto the words of the people involved in the intergovernmental panels. (Incidentally, for those interested in learning a little something about the debate, this is an interpretation which runs counter to that of The Nation. Links abound, so that the reader can analyze the information and arrive at his own conclusions.) Reihan, noting the dismissive tone of the Nation article, says that the point is being missed:
By now I hope you've read Chris Hayes excellent piece on the so-called NAFTA superhighway, but I fear some of its fans, including Matt Yglesias, are missing a key point: the real bogeyman is deeper economic integration in North America, particularly undemocratic integration. The Canadian nationalist left fears a "North American Union," the American populist right fears it, and the Mexican populist-nationalist left also fears it. The trouble is that some form of integration, particularly integration that pays careful attention to agriculture and intellectual property rights, is likely the only sustainable alternative to mass migration.
And here, alas, is where the intellectual mischief, in my judgment, begins. For there hangs over even a brief paragraph such as this one, an atmosphere of destiny, of fatality, if inevitability: history possesses an immanent compass, and our only choice is whether we will heed it, or make things hard on ourselves by endeavouring to set out on our own. First, consider the presupposition that integration is somehow inevitable; it is after all, the only 'sustainable' alternative to mass migration. Integration is, in other words, the animating logic of globalization; it is going to transpire, leaving to us the option of managing it well or flubbing it badly. After six long years of untethered historicist progressivism, have we not grown weary of the consoling fiction that history not only has a direction, but lets us in on its secret? And if that is not considered apropos, what of the decades-worth of rhetoric that preceded the Bush presidency, replete with talk of a new global order, of trade and international comity born of that commerce and intercourse among nations and peoples? No, the countertrends can only be regarded as speedbumps by those who have already presupposed the answer, begged the question of history. In fact, given that Islam and its restiveness is the principal countertrend, or at least the most visible one, we might state that both forms of progressivism coalesce in the conviction that Islam will accede to the democratic-capitalist order because such accession is ordained by the logic of globalization. There will be An End to Evil because The World is Flat. No, the bottom line on the talk of inevitability is that one cannot conjure fate from series of contingent decisions; every decision which has contributed to globalization has been contingent, and so the process itself, and its outcomes, are contingent themselves. We are either rational beings, or economic processes - mere mammon - sits in the saddle and puts the spurs to our sides.
Second, increasing North American Integration is supposedly the only sustainable alternative to mass migration. Since, however, there is no necessity of either refusing to enforce immigration law or failing to do what sovereign nations do - control their borders, and determine who shall be admitted to the nation - it is difficult to apprehend how economic integration is the only alternative to uncontrolled (yes, I know, they already are) immigration flows. Is the implied argument that Americans will not sit idly by as Mexico collapses into an anarchy presided over by Carlos Slim and drug cartels? It must be, since Reihan does head off in this direction, but, once more, it is difficult to apprehend how Mexico becomes an American responsibility (Are we kidding!? We are responsible for the resentful?). Perhaps it might be argued that America will not suffer Mexicans to endure the deprivations of their own corrupt political and economic systems, that Americans are too altruistic for that. But it seems to me that Americans - majorities of them - have already determined that Mexicans are responsible for Mexico, and that they are desirous of reiterating this point by enforcing immigration law. In any event, it is difficult - I would say impossible - to argue that one nation is morally obligated to undertake wide-ranging and disruptive transformations of itself and its people, merely because a neighbouring nation is sunken in a torpor of sclerotic corruption.
Finally, although we need not grant the necessity of either mass migration or deepening economic integration, what of that bit about the integration itself occurring 'democratically'? It is not merely that what integration we have experienced has not exactly been democratic in impetus - surely not politically, as the requisite policies have never enjoyed majority support outside the offices of favour-owing congressmen, and surely not in some consumerist, voting-by-purchasing sense, for this is a category mistake, plainly and simply, whatever business books and right-wing marketeers may have to say - but that, by the nature of the case, by the logic of integration, it is irreversible. At least if one does not believe in revolutions. Which is to say, that as the process advances, and the deeper it proceeds, the greater the constraints that will be imposed upon deliberative politics; more and more issues and controversies will be stripped from the arena of public debate, more and more issues will simply be considered settled, because the political and economic interests invested in those settlements will be entrenched, structurally. The logic of opposition will not be to challenge a policy or two, or a cluster of policies, but to challenge an entire system, inasmuch as this will be the only possible means of altering or eliminating legions of smaller issues that will rile segments of the population. The logic of both integration and opposition thereto will be increasingly totalized: all or nothing, winner takes all, loser takes it good and hard. This will obtain regardless of whether one contemplates the scenario under the aspect of politics, or under that of economics. The structural tendency of integration, therefore, is towards one nation, one vote/chance/process, one time. A nation can gradually relinquish sovereign powers, but will find it increasingly difficult to reassert or reacquire them, even should this be necessary in extremis; beyond a certain, but indefinite point, it can only regain them by revolution - or by the collapse of the integrated system.
Integration, by its very logic, is undemocratic, unrepresentative, even if it occurs with the "consent" of the people at the time (which it seldom, if ever, has). It is unrepresentative because, by the lights of the profoundest conservatism, it tramples on the wisdom of our ancestors, and preemptively disenfranchises our posterity, and that on the most consequential decisions concerning the ordering of our common life. On top of that, it would require the conservative to become a revolutionary if he is not to be ruled by a despotism, benign though it may be, stamping upon his patrimony - forever.