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“American Conservatism Meets Globalization: The Challenges from the Transnational Left and Transnational Right”


Philadelphia, PA

April 28, 2007


Speech by John Fonte, Ph.D.

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 concept.”


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 “post-democratic.”

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 crimes¾and 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 integration.  


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”


Why?  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 states.


Some in this room may think, that this is a good thing¾individual 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 super-state.




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 include:


(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 administratively. 


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 hand¾and 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. 

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." 

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."

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 government


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 declared:


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


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. 


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


Gutierrez declared, explicitly:


"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."


Gutierrez 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 other.


One 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 allegiance¾of 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 state. 


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 then¾ 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 regime—“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 themselves.


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”¾which means eventual amnesty accompanied by massive increases in low skilled immigration¾without 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.


Conservatives should remember that we are a nation of citizens before we are a market of consumers.


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 1826—“Independence Forever.”

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