America: Empire or global welfare provider?
Recently on Ether Zone, there has been some debate over whether “empire” is an appropriate word to describe the United States, either presently or as some would like to see it reconstituted in the future. Columnists such as Justin Raimondo have argued that increasing American interventionism points to a nation that is becoming an empire rather than the republic of its founding. Other columnists, most notably Sentry, have contended that the U.S. is behaving precisely the opposite of an empire, by ceding power, sovereignty and wealth to the rest of the world. Can such divergent analyses possibly be reconciled?
There are reasons to take both viewpoints seriously. Let us first posit that however little regard one has for our government, Americans tend to want to do the right thing even if they do not always do so. There is little American enthusiasm for achieving malevolent world domination. Such designs have no place in our foreign policy.
Nevertheless, there are two very different trends at work that deviate from the American constitutional republic. One suggests that national sovereignty is an outmoded model that should be replaced by supranational organizations like the European Union or the United Nations. The other suggests that U.S. national interests dictate an ever-expanding projection of American force across the globe to both combat and prevent countless threats.
Sentry notices an outflow of foreign aid and other expenditure of U.S. treasure on behalf of other countries and globalist causes. He recently wrote, “Global welfarism is antonymous to imperialism.” This global welfarism is fed by the idea that the U.S. is an oppressor that should compensate a larger number of victim nations.
I have written about this idea in a previous article. Hudson Institute senior fellow John Fonte has named this transnational progressivism. Although this ideology is anti-Western – or at least explicitly seeking the development to post-Western societies – it is Western in origin. Its core doctrines include a preference for group identity over individuality, the Orwellian notion that some groups are more equal than others and post-nationalism or trans-nationalism that offers allegiance to governing units that transcend the nation-state. Proportional representation and group coalitions would therefore replace more conventional democracy, assimilation into a preexisting civic culture would cease to be a valid immigration policy goal for Western nations and the “evolving norms of international law” would increasingly become more important than the laws of nation-states, including the U.S. Constitution.
Transnational progressivism has most obviously taken root in Europe, where the EU clearly is based on several of these key premises. But that does not mean that there is no support for it within the U.S. Post-national and transnational concepts are currently fashionable in American academia. In the debate over Iraq, we hear political leaders warn us of the importance of “world opinion” and heeding U.N. mandates. Others support international agreements like the International Criminal Court and the economically dangerous Kyoto accord, irrespective of concerns about national sovereignty and sound arguments that these treaties are inimical to U.S. interests.
Whether those advancing these positions realize it or not, these arguments are influenced by transnational progressive ideas. Similarly, such ideas influence immigration policy, where the traditional concept of “Americanization” is starting to be questioned and there is talk about a migration deal with Mexico that would make our borders more “transparent.” However, as Fonte observed, taken to its logical conclusion, transnational progressivism is not only post-national, but also post-liberal democratic, post-constitutional and post-American.
There is another movement afoot relevant to this discussion. It seeks to promote liberal democracy but beyond the duration of the nation-state, and it would have the U.S. do the promoting. Unlike transnational progressivism, it is less easily categorized and no intellectual has yet named it – although it is what Ether Zone columnists like Raimondo would likely call imperialism.
While transnational progressives would like to subject the U.S. to various international norms of their own choosing, many neoconservatives would like to use U.S. power to set international norms. Their main objective is to promote “benevolent American hegemony” in world affairs. They would do so by attempting to export their version of democratic capitalism into the unlikeliest of regions through a series of nation-building efforts ambitious by the Clinton administration’s standards.
Not only do these neoconservatives seek to rebuild a conquered Iraq along democratic lines (a not entirely unsupportive John O’Sullivan laid out some of the obstacles and challenges to “democratizing” Iraq and similar nations in the October 14th issue of National Review), but they ultimately view such intervention as the first step in reshaping the politics of the entire Middle East. The result would be a pugnacious foreign policy, replete with the talk of “rolling back” hostile or tyrannical regimes one heard so much of during John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. (When he was cheered by many of the same neoconservatives.)
Some may object that spreading democracy and capitalism is not the activity of an empire. But empires have often justified their actions on the basis of altruistic goals, such as promoting Christianity, Western civilization and the abolition of slavery. Many empires can point to positive things that they have accomplished in their former territories (and how some of these territories were worse off once they began governing themselves). It is also important to note that these neoconservatives hope these new regimes will be pro-American and seek to remake the governments of these countries out of what they perceive to be our national self-interest.
The incessant military intervention and occupation envisioned by some neoconservatives is likely to further remove us from limited government under the Constitution. Instead, we would see more troop deployments and more power arrogated by the federal government. This would not advance national greatness; it will impose upon America the costs of empire while increasing the size and power of its state apparatus.
This should not be misconstrued as the categorical anti-any-war-at-any-cost position taken by some libertarians, or even the reflexive neocon-bashing that is sport among some on the traditional right. Nevertheless, distinctions need to be made between just wars and whatever postwar occupation they may necessitate and the hubris of attempting to remake the entire world – much of which has little precedent for liberal democracy – in our image, or the image of a group of intellectuals.
The U.S. does not have to give up its sovereignty and be subsumed by international – or post-national, as the case may be – organizations. Nor does it need to go its own way and seek to impose its own values by military force. The third option is to preserve the American republic, governed according to the Constitution, as “a friend to liberty everywhere and guarantor of ours alone.”
“Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”