Sovereigntism (Straight-Up), Courtesy of John Fonte

Sovereigntism (Straight-Up), Courtesy of John Fonte

The Hudson Institute’s John Fonte has a new book out, Sovereignty or Submission: Will American Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others? (Encounter Books).  From the title you don’t have to know John to know what his answer would be.  Fonte is an unabashed sovereigntist, vaunting its “Philadelphian” strain (located in the people, as opposed to the Westphalian variant based in the state).  He’s also a purist on the issue.  Unlike some, he’s against the WTO along with all those other Geneva institutions; he’s philosophically opposed to international institutiona in an admirably non-instrumentalist way.

It’s a good read, full of invective against the “Global Governance Party”, NGOs, trasnationalist academics, and various “post” phenomena (post-modern, post-national, post-constitutional).  I actually agree with a lot of what John has to say, at least as a descriptive matter, and that the struggles he describes are existential.  It’s true that the rise of transnational institutions threatens the nation-state and liberalism as we have known it.

Unlike John, I don’t think it’s a reversible trajectory.  It’s mostly wishful thinking to suppose that we can stick to the vision of the Founders.  The book also tends to fetishize the virtues of state-based governance.  (He likes to point out, for instance, how the faceless EU bureaucracy has taken over the regulation of German beer and sausage; but who among us can name the commissioners of the FDA and FTC?)  He also assumes that the “national idea” remains well anchored in the shared associations, language, and history of a people.  But globalization in my view can’t help but overwhelm those solidarities, so that the notion of popular national sovereignty increasingly rests on artificial foundations.  Philadelphian sovereignty, in short, is an idea that had its moment but is now unsustainable.

But this is an important, honest book.  Along with the work of fellow traveler Jeremy Rabkin, Fonte’s writing is an invaluable point of reference, an intellectual distillation of the old order as its edifice starts to crumble.  And John is always civil even on the attack, which makes for good debating.  One couldn’t ask for a better sparring partner.

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