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It's Not a Conspiracy If Done In The Open

In a characteristically acerbic and trenchant essay over at Chronicles, Thomas Fleming discusses the introduction of the Security and Prosperity Partnership as an issue in the late Republican presidential race:

Ron Paul’s most flamboyant gesture in defense of the republic (one in which he is joined by the estimable Duncan Hunter) has been the denunciation of what is sometimes called the North American Union. The NAU is an alleged plot to merge the three countries of North America—the United States, Canada, and Mexico—into a union that will function something like the European Union. If the first step toward unification is represented by the “NAFTA Superhighway”—a free-trade hole in the American border stretching from Mexico to Canada—the apogee will be the issuance of a new common currency, the Amero.

World government has been a treasured bugbear of the fringe right since the heyday of the John Birch Society, and the current conspiracy has supposedly been cooked up by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bush administration, and the usual globalist suspects. In 2005, the CFR issued a report, “Building a North American Community,” whose aspirations were echoed in the Bush administration’s plan “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America” (SPP), released after a meeting among George W. Bush, Vicente Fox, and Paul Martin. The plan, which is predicated on the idea that “our security and prosperity are mutually dependent and complementary,” calls for a joint task force to implement the goals: common security and a common market.

Representative Paul has denounced the SPP as “an unholy alliance of foreign consortiums and officials from several governments” that does not even enjoy the legal fig leaf of an official treaty. The more general conclusion he draws is that “decisions that affect millions of Americans are not being made by those Americans themselves, or even by their elected representatives in Congress,” but by “a handful of elites [who] use their government connections to bypass national legislatures and ignore our Constitution.”

Ron Paul, whom Fleming characterizes as something of a naif for uncynically espousing the ideals of the Old Republic, and imagining that Americans might actually be roused to political action by such a clarion call, endured snorts of contempt on account of this faux pas. The dismissals of Paul's remarks, however, seem somewhat... odd, even tortured, when considered in the context of the recent vogue of a certain universalism - a subject which has received a measure of coverage here. Perhaps Paul was mistaken about the institutions, players, and details involved; but, manifestly, there are those, within and without our regime, who gaze upon the nation-state as a relic of a bygone era, one better dispensed with (in certain respects, at least), all the more so because its claims are morally invidious.

Fleming continues:

There is no secret plot or conspiracy to undermine our national sovereignty, unless, by conspiracy, we mean the collective will of the political class. (Snip) All right-thinking people, whatever their party or orientation, support globalization. It is a movement whose virtues are so obvious that Cato staffers cannot even understand why anyone could be upset with the idea of a North American Union.

And then, the knife, a quote of a Will Wilkinson editorial delivered on a recent NPR Marketplace broadcast:

There are some who believe a grave threat to American sovereignty looms over the horizon. A shadowy cabal, they say, is planning a massive “NAFTA superhighway,” a new North American currency, and a common market in goods and labor. It will all culminate in an E.U.-like North American Union. It turns out this is mostly fantasy. But the fantasy is more dream than nightmare. Because some aspects of a North American Union would leave Americans and our neighbors both richer and freer.

Those who do come now are more likely to stay. And this has increased the permanent population of undocumented Mexicans. The best solution to America’s immigration problem is not a wall or a new crackdown on the hiring of undocumented workers. It’s NAFTA’s unfinished business: a common North American labor market.

Fleming then concurs in the judgment of some libertarians that the nation-state has a morally dubious heritage, as nationalism has been the inspiration of many an injustice. Quoting Marx on the nation-state -

has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

Fleming suggests that the very process by which the nation-state is now undergoing subversion is a continuation of the process by which the order of nation-states consolidated, often by force, cunning, and repression, the patchwork principalities of the feudal period. The entire process, of course, transpires not because it is consonant with reason or justice, but because the powerful wish it so, for it serves their interests. In America, "a century ago, national business interests used their clout to eliminate the power of state governments to interfere in their ability to expand and monopolize new markets. Now, since at least the 1970’s, transnational business interests are working to eliminate the power of nation-states to interfere in their ability to expand and monopolize new markets."

Nonetheless, even though "some form of international empire will undoubtedly be the result of the current drive toward reducing and eliminating national sovereignty... this is hardly cause for alarm." The nation-state after all, is historically contingent.

To this, I must offer my demurral, for, although in one sense the passing of the nation-state cannot be more momentous than its creation, nor than the devastation policies imposed by such centralized governments inflicted upon family and culture in the Twentieth Century, the weakening of the nation-state will mark a decisive transition in our history, should it come to fruition. The nation-state arrived at its maturity in the summer of ideas of popular sovereignty and representation, and even if such ideas are mythical, their currency kept the nation-state tethered, however loosely at times, to the people; at a minimum, fictions of legitimacy and consent had to be maintained, and on occasion, the deliberate sense of the people was refracted through the darkened prism of governance. But the open elimination of such institutions, rites, and fictions - well, this will mark a new disenchantment of politics. Were the desires of the elites for the taming of the nation-state to be realized, the solitary vehicle left to ordinary people as a vehicle for policy inputs - even if only through a changing of fools at the helm of state - would be removed from them, and their nakedness before power exposed - to all. It is a thought that causes one to tremble; indeed, one need only look upon Europe under the dominion of Brussels, slowly extending its utterly corrupt and unrepresentative rule over the member states of the E.U. It is uncertain that people accustomed to polite fictions - but it must be observed that many chafe beneath them, as a decent percentage of the disaffected will cite the homogeneity of the governing class as a reason for such disaffection, though obviously not in my terms - will regard with indifference the shattering of their illusions.

A governing regime liberated from the necessity of maintaining legitimacy would, to paraphrase St. Augustine, be openly a band of brigands; and the nation-state, which, for all of its faults, at least offers such fig-leaves, and affords the possibility, however meagre at present, of shifting the levers of power. What chance of that under a transnational regime, unaccountable, yet at once remote, and able to interfere in the smallest locality with complete impunity? No, if it is an age of empires, political and economic, that beckons, will we be like the common people in the days of the 'ecumenical empires', as Voegelin termed them, who could do nothing but seek what shelter and solace as they could find from the relentless movements and buffeting of the empires. But, you say, it was an age of faith, and the Faith eventually overcame at least one of those empires? Ah - but after how long a delay? And at what cost? What cost for us, if we must outlast this latest folly of our elites?

Comments (4)

Here's my question, Jeff: Suppose the nation-state weakens considerably in some places, but not others. I see no evidence that Beijing or Moscow labor under the same consensus as Washington and Paris. The assertion of territorial integrity and differentiation remains central to their politics, and indeed serves as a vehicle of legitimacy.

In point of fact, I think that this 'geographical differentiation' in the decline/modification of the nation-state is precisely what is transpiring; Western nations, for a variety of reasons, some economic, some geopolitical (there is the idea that such transnational institutions will lend the West greater heft in dealing with an emerging Chinese superpower, a resurgent Russia, etc.), are surrendering aspects of national sovereignty, along with the representative quality of their domestic political cultures, while other nations are asserting their national identities all the more vigorously. I incline toward the opinion that Western analysts are mistaken in their judgment, and that the shifts in the global balance of power, political and economic, that they hope to counteract are simultaneously inevitable and overstated. Inevitable, because there is nothing that could have been done to preclude China's rise in one form or another, at least not altogether. Overstated, because the relative decline in American power owes largely to contingent decisions in economic policy, finance, and trade, decisions integral with the specific form of the Chinese rise (to stick to that example). In other words, some degree of relative decline would have occurred; but specific policy choices increased the severity of that degree (though this is not acknowledged in these terms, so far as I am aware).

In another sense, it is inadequate to state that the nation-state is withering away; there are senses in which it is, already discussed, and senses in which it is not. Generally, it is declining because this is regarded as desirable by elites in business, finance, and government, whose interests substantially - though not wholly - coincide; but all this means is that the nation-state is supposed to get out of the way of certain things, which elites have offloaded to international institutions and accords (essentially 'appealing' to these after the fashion of local merchants appealing to the central governments in early modernity, for relief from local burdens), while the institutions of the nation-state hang around to guarantee/maintain/enforce the legitimacy of this maneuver. Hence, our dull, dessicated consensus political culture. Additionally, power differentials between integrating nation-states remain, and so the more powerful among those states must still, as nation-states, maintain the global order, either singly, in concert, or through international institutions. Basically, and cynically, for those interested in the new internationalism, the nation-state should get out of the way, except when it shouldn't - which should prompt us to raise the questions, Who? Whom? All the more so, given that we are dealing with ideology in the classical sense of the term - a legitimating social myth for interests that cannot fully disclose themselves.

While I really don't know what to think about things such as the SPP - the boilerplate copy on the website is a mental anesthetic - those who, like Wilkinson, wish to pooh-pooh the so-called conspiracy theorists cannot have it both ways. They cannot maintain, on the one hand, that there is no such movement towards integration that would undermine the nation-state, and, on the other, maintain that our immigration policies are inconsistent with the logic of integration, that such integration is desirable, and that the nation-state itself is morally invidious. They want us to accept a disjunction between what they believe about the awfulness of the nation-state and the policies they advocate, an idea that they have compartmentalized their hatred for the nation-state and their policy advocacy: we hate the nation-state and wish to have done with it, but none of the policies we advocate on immigration and trade have anything to do with our hatred. Um, yeah. Whatever. Are you selling me a bridge, too?

I suppose someone who takes these positions _can_ make them consistent. They could say that they think the withering of the nation-state is a good idea but that the actual policies going forward now make no significant progress toward that end and that trad. conservatives and paleos are exaggerating their effects.

An analogue would be my attitude toward a PBA ban as a pro-lifer: I _would_ like to ban all abortions, but it's ludicrous to say, as the pro-aborts do, that a PBA ban sets Roe teetering on the brink and puts us next door to a ban on abortions. Would that it did, but a PBA ban is more symbolic than anything else, as the children will just be murdered in some other way. So while I do advocate the policies they decry, and I do advocate a PBA ban, I can also say that it's not moving us significantly forrader in the direction of the policies I advocate.

One supposes that they could advance that argument. But it would be a dishonest argument, inasmuch as, for example, bodies such as the WTO do interfere with the authority of nations to establish independent economic and trade policies, even where local conditions render the neoliberal prescriptions disadvantageous, and mass immigration not only reflects a de facto economic integration, but necessitates some measure of political coordination.

Essentially, they argued at the time these measures were debated (to the extent that they were debated) that such integration was the wave of the future, that we were only surrendering things no longer terribly valuable to us, mere trifles. This, of course, was implicit in all of the rhetoric about the imperatives of dismantling the economic arrangements of the old era, which were allegedly stultifying, and would 'leave us behind' in the new global era. When criticisms were raised, all of this was forgotten: there would be no diminution of sovereignty. But now that time has afforded the luxury of assessing the policies, some have begun to suggest that the earlier critics were correct, and so the line now is, "Well, those policies haven't had the effect that you assert, though this further policy would, albeit only conspiracy-freaks believe that it is happening or ever will happen. But it would be glorious were it to happen." There is a combination of goalpost shifting and dissembling in their arguments, without question.

And, with regard to the attempt to dodge the emerging evidence of diminished sovereignty and domestic representation, the dodge in much of the literature of the cosmopolitans is that market institutions and relationships are more representative and more democratic - which is not merely absurd, but an equivocation, as I've discussed elsewhere.

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