Tuesday, October 01, 2002

The Future of Post-Liberalism?

Whither the state? Withering dangerously, says John Fonte of the Hudson Institute, thanks to an ideology he dubs “transnational progressivism.” Owing something to Marxism which posited the idea of the withering away of the state, transnational progressivism is giving the nation-state serious competition these days.

Immediate evidence of transnational progressivism may be found in the ideology and political tactics of a group of “NGO”s (nongovernmental organizations) such as Amnesty International-USA, Human rights Watch, the Arab-American Institute, National Council of Churches, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund among others. These groups petitioned Mary Robinson, UN Human Rights Commissioner nearly one full year before September 11, calling for her “to hold the US accountable for the intractable and persistent problem of discrimination” that “men and women of color face at the hands of the US criminal justice system.” Unable to enact their policies through the normal processes of constitutional democracy, the NGOs now routinely appeal to authorities beyond the authority of the US and its Constitution.

Similarly in 1994, the NGOs demanded that the US drop its reservations on items conflicting with the Constitution from its approval the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The NGOs constitute a new challenge to liberal democracy and its traditional home, the liberal democratic nation-state, unforeseen by Francis Fukuyama; history has apparently not ended. This ideological threat to the liberal democratic state comes from within, however; according to Fonte, this is a civil war between the liberal democratic state and a new transitional hybrid regime that is post-liberal democratic.

The key concepts of transnational progressivism include:

(1) The ascribed group over the individual citizen. The key political unit is not the individual, but the group to which the individual is born (race, sex, or ethnicity). Group consciousness and the de-emphasis of the individual’s capacity for choice and transcendence pervade transnational progressivism.
(2) A dichotomy of groups: Oppressor vs. victim groups, with immigrant groups designated as victims. Influenced by Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, and the Frankfurt School of critical and social theory, transnational progressivism posits a rigid social matrix of oppressor and oppressed, privileged and marginalized. Quoting political scientist, James Ceaser, Fonte notes that multiculturalism is really “binary,” concerned with the hegemon (bad) and Other (good).
(3) Group proportionalism as the goal of fairness. Transnational progressivism assumes that “victim” groups should be represented in all professions roughly proportionate to their percentage of the population; it believes in equality of results.
(4) The values of all dominant institutions to be changed to reflect the perspectives of the victim groups. Proportional representation by itself being inadequate, the institutions must adopt the alternative views of oppressed groups.
(5) The Demographic Imperative. New immigrants entering the US and greater global interdependence render the traditional paradigm of American nationhood obsolete. Additionally, concepts such as individual rights, majority rule, national sovereignty, citizenship, and the assimilation of immigrants into existing American civic culture must be replaced by a system promoting “diversity,” defined by group proportionalism.
(6) The definition of democracy and “democratic ideals.” American liberal democracy is not authentically democratic. Real democracy will occur when different “groups” that live in America share power equally.
(7) Deconstruction of national narratives and national symbols. Transnational progressivism requires the de-emphasizing of the particular origins and historical and political uniqueness of nation-states.
(8) Promotion of the concept of post national citizenship. International law professors are arguing that citizenship should be de-nationalized in the name of inclusion, social justice, democratic engagement, and human rights.
(9) The idea that transnationalism is a major conceptual tool. Transnational progressivism seeks the utilization of the word “transnationalism” in a normative sense, Implying that antiglobalists are “backward.”

Transnational progressives include major academics and intellectuals such as Anthony Giddens who favors transnational forms of democracy and opposes the idea of social justice as equality of opportunity, Toni Negri who attacks global corporations and favors transnational democracy, Martha Nussbaum who views patriotism as indistinguishable from jingoism, and Strobe Talbot who favors the devolution of national sovereignty “upward toward supranational bodies” and “downward toward” autonomous units as a positive political development. The conflict between American liberal democrats and transnational progressives consists in the question of whether the US Constitution trumps a new version of international law which is increasingly seeking to advance beyond the realm of affairs among nations into the realm of domestic affairs.

Although many transnational progressives are left-leaning, there is also a significant “transnational right” whose libertarian ideas prevented the Immigration Reform Act of 1996 from limiting unskilled immigration and successfully blocked the implementation of a computerized plan to track the movement of foreign nationals in and out of the US, thereby putting “commerce over country” in George Will’s phrase.

Finally, as Collin has been telling us, The EU is a stronghold of transnational progressivism. The NGOs represent sub-national political associations, while the EU represents suprapolitical transcendence of the nation-state. Typically, the European commission (EC), the executive body of the EU, is un-elected, unaccountable, and independent from national, sectoral, or other influences; and, although this “democracy deficit” Is lamented, the issue persists.

Fonte concludes by showing us what is at stake in the conflict between transnationalism and constitutional democracy and what we should observe in order to follow its developments. First, the conflict is deeper than a “culture war.” It raises Aristotelian questions such as “What kind of government is best?” and “What is citizenship?” This is an intracivilizational conflict about “regime maintenance” vs. “regime transformation” to something “post-Constitutional,” “post-liberal,” “post-democratic,” and “post-American.” Key areas to observe for developments in this conflict are policy statements regarding the conduct of war, the use and non-use of international law, assimilation-immigration policy, border control, civic education in the public schools, and the state of the patriotic narrative in popular culture.

And we thought Islamism was giving us all we could handle.

Incidentally, anyone who wants to see how the decline of the state is playing itself out in American popular culture should read Paul Cantor's Gilligan Unbound which traces the movement from the nation-state as the salient political unit (and, consequently, the source of American confidence) in "Gilligan's Island" to the ascendancy of super- and sub-national forms of association in "The X-Files."


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