These are must-read articles if you are interested in the way the world is heading and how it is being led in these directions. The problem is that for the rest, that is, for the vast vast majority, there is not only no interest, there is not even enough knowledge to understand why they should be interested or what difference it will make. First is “Gramscian Damage” by Eric Raymond, and then following below is “The Ideological War within the West” by John Fonte. If you want to understand the times in which you live, these will give you what you need to know.
Posted on 2006-02-11 by Eric Raymond
Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use “extremist” as a negative epithet. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.
We don’t expect ideas to matter — or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists’ very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed.
By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the “German-American Bund” that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.
The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.
On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US’s public spaces would become arid and ugly.
Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.
Accordingly, the Soviet espionage apparat actually ran two different kinds of network: one of spies, and one of agents of influence. The agents of influence had the minor function of recruiting spies (as, for example, when Kim Philby was brought in by one of his tutors at Cambridge), but their major function was to spread dezinformatsiya, to launch memetic weapons that would damage and weaken the West.
In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union’s memetic weapons. Here is that list again:
There is no truth, only competing agendas.
All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.
The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.
Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.
Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.
The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.
While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.
In this context, Jeff Goldstein has written eloquently about perhaps the most long-term dangerous of these memes — the idea that rights inhere not in sovereign individuals but identity groups, and that every identity group (except the “ruling class”) has the right to suppress criticism of itself through political means up to and including violence.
Mark Brittingham (aka WildMonk) has written an excellent essay on the roots of this doctrine in Rousseau and the post-Enlightenment Romantics. It has elsewhere been analyzed and labeled as transnational progressivism. The Soviets didn’t invent it, but they promoted it heavily in a deliberate — and appallingly successful — attempt to weaken the Lockean, individualist tradition that underlies classical liberalism and the U.S. Constitution. The reduction of Western politics to a bitter war for government favor between ascriptive identity groups is exactly the outcome the Soviets wanted and worked hard to arrange.
Call it what you will — various other commentators have favored ‘volk-Marxism’ or ‘postmodern leftism’. I’ve called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it’s now being used against us by another. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden so often sounds like he’s reading from back issues of Z magazine, and no accident that both constantly echo the hoariest old cliches of Soviet propaganda in the 1930s and ’40s.
Another consequence of Stalin’s meme war is that today’s left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin’s hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon — it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.
The first step to recovery is understanding the problem. Knowing that suicidalist memes were launched at us as war weapons by the espionage apparatus of the most evil despotism in human history is in itself liberating. Liberating, too, it is to realize that the Noam Chomskys and Michael Moores and Robert Fisks of the world (and their thousands of lesser imitators in faculty lounges everywhere) are not brave transgressive forward-thinkers but pathetic memebots running the program of a dead tyrant.
Brittingham and other have worried that postmodern leftism may yet win. If so, the victory would be short-lived. One of the clearest lessons of recent times (exemplified not just by kaffiyeh-wearing western leftists but by Hamas’s recent clobbering of al-Fatah in the first Palestinian elections) is that po-mo leftism is weaker than liberal individualism in one important respect; it has only the weakest defenses against absolutist fervor. Brittingham tellingly notes po-mo philosopher Richard Rorty’s realization that when the babble of conflicting tribal narratives collapses in exhaustion, the only thing left is the will to power.
Again, this is by design. Lenin and Stalin wanted classical-liberal individualism replaced with something less able to resist totalitarianism, not more. Volk-Marxist fantasy and postmodern nihilism served their purposes; the emergence of an adhesive counter-ideology would not have. Thus, the Chomskys and Moores and Fisks are running a program carefully designed to dead-end at nothing.
Religions are good at filling that kind of nothing. Accordingly, if transnational progressivism actually succeeds in smothering liberal individualism, its reward will be to be put to the sword by some flavor of jihadi. Whether the eventual winners are Muslims or Mormons, the future is not going to look like the fuzzy multicultural ecotopia of modern left fantasy. The death of that dream is being written in European banlieus by angry Muslim youths under the light of burning cars.
In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin’s memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism — Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism. The self-panicking leftists who think they see that in today’s Republicans are comically wrong (as witnessed by the fact that they aren’t being systematically jailed and executed), but it is quite a plausible future for the demographically-collapsing nations of Europe.
The U.S., fortunately, is still on a demographic expansion wave and will be till at least 2050. But if the Islamists achieve their dream of nuking “crusader” cities, they’ll make crusaders out of the U.S., too. And this time, a West with a chauvinized America at its head would smite the Saracen with weapons that would destroy entire populations and fuse Mecca into glass. The horror of our victory would echo for a thousand years.
I remain more optimistic than this. I think there is still an excellent chance that the West can recover from suicidalism without going through a fevered fascist episode and waging a genocidal war. But to do so, we have to do more than recognize Stalin’s memes; we have to reject them. We have to eject postmodern leftism from our universities, transnational progressivism from our politics, and volk-Marxism from our media.
The process won’t be pretty. But I fear that if the rest of us don’t hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing. I don’t want to live in that future, and I don’t think any of my readers do, either. If we want to save a liberal, tolerant civilization for our children, we’d better get to work.
And then there is this, equally lucid and important.
The Ideological War Within the West
In this preview of an article due for publication in the Summer issue of FPRI’s Orbis, the author takes a markedly conservative position on a controversial question that has arisen since September 11, 2001. He suggests there has arisen a conflict within the democratic world between liberal democracy and transnational progressivism, between democrats and what he calls post-democrats. Countering views, anyone?
Nearly a year before the September 11 attacks, news stories provided a preview of the transnational politics of the future. In October 2000, in preparation for the UN Conference Against Racism, about fifty American nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) called on the UN “to hold the United States accountable for the intractable and persistent problem of discrimination.”
The NGOs included Amnesty International-U. S.A. (AI-U. S.A.), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Arab-American Institute, National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and others. Their spokesman stated that their demands “had been repeatedly raised with federal and state officials [in the U. S.] but to little effect. In frustration we now turn to the United Nations.” In other words, the NGOs, unable to enact the policies they favored through the normal processes of American constitutional democracy—the Congress, state governments, even the federal courts—appealed to authority outside of American democracy and its Constitution.
At the UN Conference against Racism, which was held in Durban two weeks before September 11, American NGOs supported “reparations” from Western nations for the historic transatlantic slave trade and developed resolutions that condemned only the West, without mentioning the larger traffic in African slaves sent to Islamic lands. The NGOs even endorsed a resolution denouncing free market capitalism as a “fundamentally flawed system.”
The NGOs also insisted that the U. S. ratify all major UN human rights treaties and drop legal reservations to treaties already ratified. For example, in 1994 the U. S. ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), but attached reservations on treaty requirements restricting free speech that were “incompatible with the Constitution.” Yet leading NGOs demanded that the U. S. drop all reservations and “comply” with the CERD treaty by accepting UN definitions of “free speech” and eliminating the “vast racial disparities… in every aspect of American life” (housing, health, welfare, justice, etc.).
HRW complained that the U. S. offered “no remedies” for these disparities but “simply supported equality of opportunity” and indicated “no willingness to comply” with CERD. Of course, to “comply” with the NGO interpretation of the CERD treaty, the U. S. would have to abandon the Constitution’s free speech guarantees, bypass federalism, and ignore the concept of majority rule—since practically nothing in the NGO agenda is supported by the American electorate.
All of this suggests that we have not reached the final triumph of liberal democracy proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama in his groundbreaking 1989 essay.
In October 2001, Fukuyama stated that his “end of history” thesis remained valid: that after the defeat of communism and fascism, no serious ideological competitor to Western-style liberal democracy was likely to emerge in the future. Thus, in terms of political philosophy, liberal democracy is the end of the evolutionary process. There will be wars and terrorism, but no alternative ideology with a universal appeal will seriously challenge the principles of Western liberal democracy on a global scale.
The 9/11 attacks notwithstanding, there is nothing beyond liberal democracy “towards which we could expect to evolve.” Fukuyama concluded that there will be challenges from those who resist progress, “but time and resources are on the side of modernity.”
Indeed, but is “modernity” on the side of liberal democracy? Fukuyama is very likely right that the current crisis with radical Islam will be overcome and that there will be no serious ideological challenge originating outside of Western civilization. However, the activities of the NGOs suggest that there already is an alternative ideology to liberal democracy within the West that has been steadily evolving for years.
Thus, it is entirely possible that modernity—thirty or forty years hence—will witness not the final triumph of liberal democracy, but the emergence of a new transnational hybrid regime that is post-liberal democratic, and in the American context, post-Constitutional and post-American. This alternative ideology, “transnational progressivism,” constitutes a universal and modern worldview that challenges both the liberal democratic nation-state in general and the American regime in particular.
The key concepts of transnational progressivism could be described as follows:
The ascribed group over the individual citizen. The key political unit is not the individual citizen, who forms voluntary associations and works with fellow citizens regardless of race, sex, or national origin, but the ascriptive group (racial, ethnic, or gender) into which one is born.
A dichotomy of groups: Oppressor vs. victim groups, with immigrant groups designated as victims. Transnational ideologists have incorporated the essentially Hegelian Marxist “privileged vs. marginalized” dichotomy.
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. If not, there is a problem of “underrepresentation.”
The values of all dominant institutions to be changed to reflect the perspectives of the victim groups. Transnational progressives insist that it is not enough to have proportional representation of minorities in major institutions if these institutions continue to reflect the worldview of the “dominant” culture. Instead, the distinct worldviews of ethnic, gender, and linguistic minorities must be represented within these institutions.
The “demographic imperative.” The demographic imperative tells us that major demographic changes are occurring in the U. S. as millions of new immigrants from non-Western cultures enter American life. The traditional paradigm based on the assimilation of immigrants into an existing American civic culture is obsolete and must be changed to a framework that promotes “diversity,” defined as group proportionalism.
The redefinition of democracy and “democratic ideals.” Transnational progressives have been altering the definition of “democracy” from that of a system of majority rule among equal citizens to one of power sharing among ethnic groups composed of both citizens and non-citizens. James Banks, one of American education’s leading textbook writers, noted in 1994 that “to create an authentic democratic Unum with moral authority and perceived legitimacy, the pluribus (diverse peoples) must negotiate and share power.” Hence, American democracy is not authentic; real democracy will come when the different “peoples” that live within America “share power” as groups.
Deconstruction of national narratives and national symbols of democratic nation-states in the West. In October 2000, a UK government report denounced the concept of “Britishness” and declared that British history needed to be “revised, rethought, or jettisoned.” In the U.S., the proposed “National History Standards,” recommended altering the traditional historical narrative. Instead of emphasizing the story of European settlers, American civilization would be redefined as a multicultural “convergence” of three civilizations—Amerindian, West African, and European. In Israel, a “post-Zionist” intelligentsia has proposed that Israel consider itself multicultural and deconstruct its identity as a Jewish state. Even Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres sounded the post-Zionist trumpet in his 1993 book , in which he deemphasized “sovereignty” and called for regional “elected central bodies,” a type of Middle Eastern EU.
Promotion of the concept of postnational citizenship. In an important academic paper, Rutgers Law Professor Linda Bosniak asks hopefully “Can advocates of postnational citizenship ultimately succeed in decoupling the concept of citizenship from the nation-state in prevailing political thought?”
The idea of transnationalism as a major conceptual tool. Transnationalism is the next stage of multicultural ideology. Like multiculturalism, transnationalism is a concept that provides elites with both an empirical tool (a plausible analysis of what is) and an ideological framework (a vision of what should be). Transnational advocates argue that globalization requires some form of “global governance” because they believe that the nation-state and the idea of national citizenship are ill suited to deal with the global problems of the future.
The same scholars who touted multiculturalism now herald the coming transnational age. Thus, Alejandro Portes of Princeton University argues that transnationalism, combined with large-scale immigration, will redefine the meaning of American citizenship.
The promotion of transnationalism is an attempt to shape this crucial intellectual struggle over globalization. Its adherents imply that one is either in step with globalization, and thus forward-looking, or one is a backward antiglobalist. Liberal democrats (who are internationalists and support free trade and market economics) must reply that this is a false dichotomy—that the critical argument is not between globalists and antiglobalists, but instead over the form global engagement should take in the coming decades: will it be transnationalist or internationalist?
TRANSNATIONAL PROGRESSIVISM’S SOCIAL BASE: A POST-NATIONAL INTELLIGENTSIA
The social base of transnational progressivism constitutes a rising postnational intelligentsia (international law professors, NGO activists, foundation officers, UN bureaucrats, EU administrators, corporate executives, and politicians.) When social movements such as “transnationalism” and “global governance” are depicted as the result of social forces or the movement of history, a certain impersonal inevitability is implied. However, in the twentieth century the Bolshevik Revolution, the National Socialist revolution, the New Deal, the Reagan Revolution, the Gaullist national reconstruction in France, and the creation of the EU were not inevitable, but were the result of the exercise of political will by elites.
Similarly, transnationalism, multiculturalism, and global governance, like “diversity,” are ideological tools championed by activist elites, not impersonal forces of history. The success or failure of these values-laden concepts will ultimately depend upon the political will and effectiveness of these elites.
HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS
A good part of the energy for transnational progressivism is provided by human rights activists, who consistently evoke “evolving norms of international law.” The main legal conflict between traditional American liberal democrats and transnational progressives is ultimately the question of whether the U. S. Constitution trumps international law or vice versa.
Before the mid-twentieth century, traditional international law referred to relations among nation-states. The “new international law” has increasingly penetrated the sovereignty of democratic nation-states. It is in reality “transnational law.” Human rights activists work to establish norms for this “new international [i.e. transnational] law” and then attempt to bring the U. S. into conformity with a legal regime whose reach often extends beyond democratic politics.
Transnational progressives excoriate American political and legal practices in virulent language, as if the American liberal democratic nation-state was an illegitimate authoritarian regime. Thus, AI-U.S.A. charged the U. S. in a 1998 report with “a persistent and widespread pattern of human rights violations,” naming the U. S. the “world leader in high tech repression.” Meanwhile, HRW issued a 450-page report excoriating the U. S. for all types of “human rights violations,” even complaining that “the U. S. Border Patrol continued to grow at an alarming pace.”
ANTI-ASSIMILATION ON THE HOME FRONT
Many of the same lawyers who advocate transnational legal concepts are active in U. S. immigration law. Louis Henkin, one of the most prominent scholars of international law, calls for largely eliminating “the difference between a citizen and a non-citizen permanent resident.” Columbia University international law professor Stephen Legomsky argues that dual nationals holding influential positions in the U. S. should not be required to give “greater weight to U. S. interests, in the event of a conflict” between the U. S. and the other country in which the American citizen is also a dual national.
Two leading law professors (Peter Spiro from Hofstra and Peter Schuck from Yale) complain that immigrants seeking American citizenship are required to “renounce all allegiance” to their old nations.” Spiro and Schuck even reject the concept of the hyphenated American and endorse what they call the “ampersand” citizen. Thus, instead of traditional “Mexican-Americans” who are loyal citizens but proud of their ethnic roots, they prefer postnational citizens, who are both “Mexican & American,” who retain “loyalties” to their “original homeland” and vote in both countries.
University professor Robert Bach authored a major Ford Foundation report on new and “established residents” (the word “citizen” was assiduously avoided) that advocated the “maintenance” of ethnic immigrant identities and attacked assimilation as the “problem in America.” Bach later became deputy director for policy at the INS in the Clinton administration.
The financial backing for this anti-assimilationist campaign has come primarily from the Ford Foundation, which made a conscious decision to fund a Latino rights movement based on advocacy-litigation and group rights. The global progressives have been aided—if not always consciously, certainly in objective terms—by a “transnational right.” It was a determined Right-Left coalition led by libertarian Stuart Anderson, who currently holds Bach’s old position at the INS, that killed a high-tech tracking system for foreign students that might have saved lives on September 11. Whatever their ideological or commercial motives, the demand for “open borders” (not simply free trade, which is a different matter altogether) by the libertarian right has strengthened the Left’s anti-assimilationist agenda.
THE EU AS A STRONGHOLD OF TRANSNATIONAL PROGRESSIVISM
The EU is a large supranational macro-organization that embodies transnational progressivism. Its governmental structure is post-democratic. Power in the EU principally resides in the European Commission (EC) and to a lesser extent the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EC, the EU’s executive body, initiates legislative action, implements common policy, and controls a large bureaucracy. It is composed of a rotating presidency and nineteen commissioners chosen by the member-states and approved by the European Parliament. It is unelected and, for the most part, unaccountable.
A white paper issued by the EC suggests that this unaccountability is one reason for its success:”[the] “essential source of the success of European integration is that [it] is_independent from national, sectoral, or other influences.” This “democracy deficit” represents a moral challenge to EU legitimacy.
The substantive polices advanced by EU leaders on issues such as “hate speech,” “hate crimes,” “comparable worth” for women’s pay, and group preferences are considerably more “progressive” in the EU than in the U. S. The ECJ has overruled national parliaments and public opinion in nation-states by ordering the British to incorporate gays and the Germans to incorporate women in combat units in their respective military services. The ECJ even struck down a British law on corporal punishment, declaring that parental spanking is internationally recognized as an abuse of human rights.
Two Washington lawyers, Lee Casey and David Rivkin, have argued that the EU ideology that “denies the ultimate authority of the nation-state” and transfers policy making from elected representatives to bureaucrats “suggests a dramatic divergence” with “basic principles of popular sovereignty once shared by both Europe’s democracies and the United States.”
In international politics, in the period immediately prior to 9/11, the EU opposed the U. S. on some of the most important global issues, including the ICC, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Land Mine Treaty, the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty, and policy towards missile defense, Iran, Iraq, Israel, China, Cuba, North Korea, and the death penalty. On most of these issues, transnational progressives in the U. S.—including politicians—supported the EU position and attempted to leverage this transnational influence in the domestic debate. At the same, the Bush administration on some of these issues has support in Europe, particularly from parts of the British political class and public, and elements of European popular opinion (e.g., on the death penalty.)
After 9/11, while some European nation-states sent forces to support the U. S. in Afganhistan, many European leaders have continued to snipe at American policies and hamper American interests in the war on terrorism. In December 2001 the European Parliament condemned the U. S. Patriot Act (the bipartisan antiterrorist legislation that passed the U. S. Congress overwhelmingly) as “contrary to the principles” of human rights because the legislation “discriminates” against non-citizens. Leading European politicians have opposed extraditing terrorist suspects to the U. S. if those terrorists would be subjected to the death penalty. Even a long-time Atlanticist, like the Berlin Aspin Institute’s Jeffrey Gedmin, questions the “basis for a functioning alliance” between the U. S. and Western Europe.
Both realists and neoconservatives have argued that some EU, UN, and NGO thinking threatens to limit both American democracy at home and American power overseas. As Jeanne Kirkpatrick puts it, “foreign governments and their leaders, and more than a few activists here at home, seek to constrain and control American power by means of elaborate multilateral processes, global arrangements, and UN treaties that limit both our capacity to govern ourselves and act abroad.”
Talk in the West of a “culture war” is somewhat misleading, because the arguments over transnational vs. national citizenship, multiculturalism vs. assimilation, and global governance vs. national sovereignty are not simply cultural, but ideological and philosophical. They pose Aristotle’s question: “What kind of government is best?”
In America, there is an elemental argument about whether to preserve, improve, and transmit the American regime to future generations or to transform it into a new and different type of polity. We are arguing about “regime maintenance” vs. “regime transformation.”
The challenge from transnational progressivism to traditional American concepts of citizenship, patriotism, assimilation, and the meaning of democracy itself is fundamental. If our system is based not on individual rights (as defined by the U. S. Constitution) but on group consciousness (as defined by international law); not on equality of citizenship but on group preferences for non- citizens (including illegal immigrants) and for certain categories of citizens; not on majority rule within constitutional limits but on power-sharing by different ethnic, racial, gender, and linguistic groups; not on constitutional law, but on transnational law; not on immigrants becoming Americans, but on migrants linked between transnational communities; then the regime will cease to be “constitutional,” “liberal,” “democratic,” and “American,” in the understood sense of those terms, but will become in reality a new hybrid system that is “post-constitutional,” “post-liberal,” “post-democratic,” and “post-American.”
This intracivilizational Western conflict between liberal democracy and transnational progressivism accelerated after the Cold War and should continue well into the twenty-first century. Indeed, from the fall of the Berlin Wall until the attacks of September 11, the transnational progressives were on the offensive.
Since September 11, however, the forces supporting the liberal-democratic nation state have rallied throughout the West. In the post-9/11 milieu there is a window of opportunity for those who favor a reaffirmation of the traditional norms of liberal-democratic patriotism. It is unclear whether that segment of the American intelligentsia committed to liberal democracy as it has been practiced on these shores has the political will to seize this opportunity. In Europe, given elite opinion, the case for liberal democracy will be harder to make. Key areas to watch in both the U. S. and Europe include immigration-assimilation policy; arguments over international law; and the influence of a civic-patriotic narrative in public schools and popular culture.
I suggest that we add a fourth dimension to a conceptual framework of international politics. Three dimensions are currently recognizable. First, there is traditional realpolitik, the competition and conflict among nation-states (and supranational states such as the EU). Second is the competition of civilizations, conceptualized by Samuel Huntington. Third, there is the conflict between the democratic world and the undemocratic world. My suggested fourth dimension is the conflict within the democratic world between the forces of liberal democracy and the forces of transnational progressivism, between democrats and post- democrats.
The conflicts and tensions within each of these four dimensions of international politics are unfolding simultaneously and affected by each other, and so they all belong in a comprehensive understanding of the world of the twenty-first century. In hindsight, Fukuyama is wrong to suggest that liberal democracy is inevitably the final form of political governance, the evolutionary endpoint of political philosophy, because it has become unclear that liberal democracy will defeat transnational progressivism. During the twentieth century, Western liberal democracy finally triumphed militarily and ideologically over National Socialism and communism, powerful anti-democratic forces, that were, in a sense, Western ideological heresies. After defeating its current antidemocratic, non-Western enemy in what will essentially be a material-physical struggle, it will continue to face an ideological-metaphysical challenge from powerful post-liberal democratic forces, whose origins are Western, but, which could be in the words of James Kurth, called “post-Western.”