The Magazine

One World

Are we ready for rule by ‘the party of global governance’?

Jan 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 18 • By JAMES W. CEASER
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Whatever else the grandiose project of “building Europe” may have accomplished—and at this point the entire edifice seems to be teetering​—​it has proven an enormous boon to social scientists and legal scholars. Scores of research centers, study groups, and commissions have been created both in Europe and America to explore the myriad issues relating to “European integration.” With generous funding from numerous universities, foundations, business corporations, and from the European Union itself (under the names of one or another of its countless agencies), researchers have done very well for themselves while making Europe among history’s most studied subjects.

Photo of the Masonic eye above a pyramid

For Americanists like myself, this extravagance has been not only an object of envy—no long weekend jaunts to Budapest for us—but also a matter of perplexity. No one denies Europe’s importance: It is wealthy, cultured, and until recently was the center of power in the world, as well as the source of many of its woes. But how these advanced states, which are no longer inclined to or capable of conducting war against each other, should coordinate their governing structures would seem to be a question of local interest, not a focal point of concern for the world beyond. Even the plan, now in limbo, to append Turkey to Europe, which probably struck many here as being at odds with both geographical reality and common sense, was a matter for the parties themselves to determine.

Except for one thing. To advanced thinkers—those who ponder questions of political philosophy, the future of governance, and the fate of international affairs—the construction of Europe has never really been just about Europe. It has been the keystone of a plan to reconfigure how political life in the world should be organized and how humanity should confront its common problems. Europe was meant to serve as the model for a new world order, one in which nation-states would cede their old, narrow claims to rule themselves and gradually transfer power to supra-national governing authorities.

Building Europe thus proceeded in parallel with an international project designed to create structures of global governance, as illustrated by United Nations protocols and conventions for human rights and for the elimination of racism and discrimination (CERD), and the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Enter John Fonte, Hudson Institute senior fellow, whose excellent new book seeks to explain the nature of this project, describe its development over the past couple of decades, and detail some of its effects on international relations. This analysis serves only as a prelude, however, to Fonte’s larger purpose, which is to render a judgment on this project. Though it has made much progress over the past 20 years, Fonte makes clear that it has not yet won the day. Nations, especially the United States, still have a choice: Americans can live free, or submit.

Fonte has written what the French call a plaidoyer—an analytic work that culminates in advocacy of a point of view and course of action. Against what he sees as the growing threat posed by the multiplying incremental steps to pool or share sovereignty, Fonte defends the integrity of the democratic nation-state, which he sees as the most appropriate unit for structuring political life in our age. As a thinker with a practical bent, Fonte speaks much of the time from the perspective of an American citizen, pointing out how some of the new global institutions have interfered with the pursuit of American policy, as when ICC prosecutors sought to investigate American soldiers for war crimes in Afghanistan, or undermined our friends, as when an NGO Forum held concurrently with the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban in 2001 condemned Israel as a “racist apartheid state” guilty of genocide.

But Fonte also views the issue from a theoretical perspective, presenting the reflections on global governance by Dante, Kant, Alexandre Kojève, and Leo Strauss. His theoretical judgment confirms his practical assessment. World governance, under whatever guise, is incompatible with human liberty: “independent self-government in the sovereign liberal democratic nation-state is preferable to all forms of global governance.”