Getting it wrong on democracy, Part Two

Yesterday, I argued that Dan Balz of the Washington Post missed the point in an article bemoaning the fact that “traditional politics, of the kind practiced in Western democracies for decades after World War II, is on shaky ground nearly everywhere.” The point Balz missed, as he complained about “instability and popular unrest,” is that the politics practiced by Western democracies are under attack mainly because these politics haven’t been democratic enough.

I noted that leaders of Western democracies have imposed key policies that voters plainly do not support. As examples, I cited immigration policy and criminal justice policy. Racial preferences is another.

But John Fonte calls attention to another even more fundamental example — one that Balz missed and that I noted only in passing — the assault on national sovereignty. Fonte made this point at Texas National Security Review Roundtable on “The Future of Conservative Foreign Policy” in a paper called “The Trump Doctrine: The Future of Conservative Foreign Policy.” That paper, and those of the other participants, can be found here.

National sovereignty is a precondition for democracy. Without it, the people don’t have a say in public policy or, indeed, in who will govern them. These decisions are exported to international bodies.

National sovereignty has come under attack throughout the West, including here. As Fonte says:

Within the democratic world itself exists a deep division over where ultimate authority — that is to say, sovereignty — resides. Is it with sovereign democratic nation-states, or is it with evolving transnational and supranational institutions and rules of global governance (e.g., new concepts of customary international law) that nation-states have either delegated authority to or permitted to expand.

To put it bluntly, the democratic family is in an argument over the single most important question in politics: Who should rule? While conservatives embrace America’s democratic sovereignty and the U.S. Constitution as the highest political authority for Americans — others, including allies such as Germany and many other nation-states in the European Union, as well as a considerable number of American progressives, tout the transnational institutions of global governance and the evolving concepts of international law as the final arbiters of legitimate authority above the sovereignty of any nation-state, including democracies like the United States and Germany.

Some of the “instability and populist unrest” Balz decries is a reaction — well-justified, in my view — to the assault on sovereignty. In the U.S., where the erosion of sovereignty is (so far) less pronounced than in Europe, the blatant disregard by our indigenous political class of the electorate’s will on key issues is, I think, the primary source of unrest. But attempts by the political class to export decision-making authority on key issues is a factor, and one that helps explain the victory of Donald Trump.

And it’s a growing factor. Fonte writes:

This global ideological conflict over core values between what one might call “sovereigntists” and “post-sovereigntists” — or, as the president puts it, between “patriotism” and “globalism”. . .will continue well into the future and no doubt intensify in the decades to come. It will intensify because “globalism” (what I have labeled “transnational progressivism”) is not a chimera, an apparition, or the moniker for a conspiracy theory. On the contrary, transnational progressivism is a real actor in world politics, complete with a workable ideology, a strongly situated material-social base among global elites, and, in some areas, the backing of nation states.

Transnational progressives dominate major international and transnational institutions, including the leadership of the United Nations, the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, international non-governmental organizations (e.g., Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc.), the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, CEOs of global corporations, major universities throughout the West, and even organizations such as the American Bar Association, which actively promotes global legal rules that transcend U.S. sovereignty.69 Most significantly, globalist ideology is predominate in many European nation-states including Germany and Emmanuel Macron’s France.

Once we take transnational progressivism into account, we see that Balz has it backwards when he complains that “traditional politics, of the kind practiced in Western democracies for decades after World War II, is on shaky ground. . .” The traditional politics of Western democracies did not include transnational progressivism. It was more than 40 years until this approach began to dominate in Europe and another 20 or so until it became highly influential here.

Thus, it can easily be argued that the problem Balz describes stems from the fact that Western elites — not the public — became disillusioned with traditional politics of the kind practiced in Western democracies after World War II. Or maybe they never liked such politics and were simply lying in wait.

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