Global progressives are offering policies that are postconstitutional, illiberal, undemocratic, and yes, post-American.
The conventional wisdom among the foreign-policy elite on America's role in the twenty-first century tells us the following: first, America will remain the leading military, economic, and cultural power in the world. Therefore, arguments about a unipolar or multipolar world, or to what extent the United States remains the sole superpower or the leader of a concert of powers, are questions of degree. Second, Americans are united on political values—on a belief in democracy and individual rights. Moreover, American political values are spreading throughout the world, and our foreign policy in the twenty-first century should (and will) incorporate this reality. Thus, any Secretary of State, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, will speak in terms of "promoting both our interests and our values."
More than ten years ago, Francis Fukuyama presented his theory that since the defeat of Communism and the discrediting of socialism, generally there was not (and would not be) any serious ideological rival to liberal democracy that had a universal or worldwide appeal. Thus, his argument goes, liberal-democratic ideas are triumphant in the West and advancing in the non-West. There may be a "clash of civilizations," but it is the Western ideas of constitutional liberalism and representative democracy that will determine global values and shape the future.
Threat from Western Elites
My argument is very different. I suggest that there is a challenge to constitutional liberal democracy (with universal appeal) that lies within Western civilization. The challenge could be called "global progressivism." The core principles of liberal democracy are limited government, equality of individual citizenship, and rule by a self-governing people. On the other hand, global progressives challenge both individual citizenship and national self-government. Instead of equality of individual citizenship, they call for different forms of "substantive equality" for specific groups (racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities, and women). Instead of national self-government, they advocate supranational administrative and judicial arrangements that supersede national constitutions and democratic legislatures. It is clear that in order to achieve progressive ends a new type of hybrid regime would have to evolve. As one of the intellectual leaders of global progressivism, British theorist Anthony Giddens, explained, "I'm in favor of pioneering some quasi-utopian transnational form of democracy."
Redefining Human Rights
The great theater of global ideological combat between liberal democracy and global progressivism is (and will continue to be) the field of human rights. During the Cold War, human rights proved to be one of the most successful weapons of the liberal democracies in their struggle with totalitarianism. Ironically, today the concept of human rights is being redefined and used against liberal democratic norms—and particularly American constitutional norms—by Western progressives. Leading this assault are the so-called nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). At the forefront are the American elite, lawyers and activists from Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and the National Council of Churches.
The NGOs are the advance guard, the shock troops of the progressive agenda, aggressively promoting the ends of substantive group equality by means that are postconstitutional, with stridently moralistic rhetoric. Thus, Amnesty International/USA and the American Civil Liberties Union decry so-called "human rights abuses" in America in terms of "atrocities, persecution, racism, and xenophobia" and declare that the United States is "the world leader in high-tech repression." In 1999, for the first time, Amnesty International added the United States to its list of human-rights violators, along with Cambodia and Algeria. Pierre Sané, Secretary General of Amnesty International, stated that "human rights violations in the United States are persistent, widespread, and appear to disproportionately affect people of racial or ethnic minority backgrounds."
What are these violations? Amnesty International's "Rights for All" report states that the death penalty itself is "the most egregious violation of human rights." Moreover, by failing to restrict the use of the death penalty, the United States is "violating international death penalty standards." In addition, Amnesty claims that the death penalty is applied in a "racially biased" manner "throughout the United States," because "black and white people are the victims of violent crimes in roughly equal numbers, yet 82 percent of people executed since 1977 have been convicted of killing white victims. Factors such as aggravating circumstances cannot explain this disparity."
Amnesty International's report was particularly critical of the United States for resistance to "international human-rights norms" and demanded that the United States "ratify without reservations all human-rights treaties—specifically those that protect women and children—and withdraw its reservations" to other treaties. It is important that we carefully examine those treaties that were advanced in the name of protecting women and children and signed by most of the advanced countries in the world but not by the United States. In the UN's "Convention on the Rights of the Child," the right to education is defined to include "respect for the child's own cultural identity, language, and values," which has been interpreted as requiring multicultural education, native-language instruction, and rejection of the concept of assimilating immigrant children into the culture of the host country.
It is important to note, however, that America's rejection of this treaty was based in part on the recognition that America is a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious nation that for two centuries has taught the children of immigrants a common language and civic culture; this is how Americans have become one people. George Washington, in a letter to John Adams, wrote that he envisioned immigrants and their children becoming "assimilated to our customs, measures, laws" so that native-born and newcomer would "soon become one people." By insisting that the children of immigrants be taught a separate culture and a separate language, by contrast, the UN Convention presumes that the United States does not have the moral right to perpetuate itself as a free, self-governing people.
The UN "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women" admonishes governments to ensure that women participate in the formulation of government policy and perform all public functions at all levels of government on equal terms with men. This has been interpreted as requiring gender quotas for all government positions including elected offices. This illiberal concept of human rights was endorsed by all Western nations, including the United States, at the Beijing Women's Conference in 1994. In 1991 Argentina passed the world's first gender-quota requirement for a national legislature, and in December 1999 Le Monde reported that France had adopted a 50 percent gender-quota rule for all city-council seats in municipal elections. The issue of gender proportionalism will be sure to surface in myriad global forums in the coming decades.
This treaty conflicts with a core American principle—that the United States is a constitutional liberal democracy with equality of individual citizenship, not a premodern or postmodern corporatist state that delineates different categories of citizenship and representation on the basis of birth. America's elected representatives are chosen by all its people in free elections, and America has long rejected the illiberal and undemocratic concept that electoral results should not be based on the choice of individual voters but on preordained proportional representation for the groups that people are born into—in the manner of a medieval regime. Whereas France seems to be turning the clock back to the principles of 1788 (as opposed to 1789), to the days of estates and ascribed rights, the United States has shown as extreme a reluctance to copy them as has its historical refusal to follow their Bourbons or their Jacobins.
At the end of the day, the major threat from these transnational agreements is not that the United Nations will send black helicopters to Wyoming to enforce its will. The real danger is from judicial activism by American judges who use arguments based on international human-rights standards to override the constitutional limits and democratic accountability of the American regime. As Cornell University Professor of Constitutional Law Jeremy Rabkin has noted, since the 1980s the United States Supreme Court has started to refer to international human-rights norms as interpretative guides to the U.S. Constitution. Justices Blackmun, Breyer, Stevens, Ginsburg, and O'Connor have all on various occasions suggested that international human-rights norms be considered in interpreting U.S. constitutional law. Justices Scalia and Thomas have fiercely resisted this trend, but the doctrine is in place, and America's constitutional democracy may someday be transformed.
Many human-rights advocates openly encourage judicial activism in the name of transnational law. For example, law professor Rita Moran of the University of California at Berkeley (a board member of Amnesty International) has written that even though the U.S. Senate has limited, through reservations, the UN "International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination," this legislative action "would not prevent U.S. courts from using the treaty as a standard for interpreting domestic constitutional and statuary provisions." If the progressive agenda is successful, the American nation-state will be gradually transformed. It will continue to exist, but its core would be hollowed out. It would be, in a sense, post-American, and this century will be a post-American century of global progressivism.
The allegiances of citizens in a hybrid regime based on post-American global progressivism have been described by Hofstra Law Professor Peter Spiro, a resident associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: it is "increasingly difficult to use the word we in international affairs." Spiro notes that we used to mean the nation-state, but now "such affiliation no longer necessarily defines the interests or even the allegiances of the individual at the international level." Thus, NGO activists challenge traditional notions of allegiance and loyalty to one's own nation because they often have interests and values distinctly different from those of the nation-states in which they are nominal citizens.
Response to Global Progressivism
Rectifying this situation depends first on taking the progressive challenge to American liberal democracy seriously. This calls for three basic responses: (1) reconceptualizing international relations, (2) reaffirming American exceptionalism, and (3) revitalizing arguments for American constitutional liberal democracy.
First, as Professor Spiro has warned us, it is necessary to rethink words such as we and us and our interests and our values. This means looking at international relations through bifocal lenses. When considering military and strategic questions, we means America and her allies in opposition to rogue states and various authoritarian regimes that do not have the West's best interests in mind. In viewing issues of metaphysical or soft power, that is, moral, intellectual, and ideological questions, one must recognize that conservatives, centrists, and liberals (who are constitutional democrats) are clearly in conflict with Western and American progressives, multiculturalists, and radical feminists on the most significant issues facing a democratic polity. As Professor Spiro reminds us, the interests, values, and hence allegiances of many American law professors and activists are not necessarily the same as those Americans who wish to perpetuate the nation's liberal democratic regime. Thus, while America leads the West in the traditional geostrategic sense, the entire civilization is enduring an ideological civil war. There are two fronts to this war, and an understanding of global relations must take this into account; otherwise, terms such as "our interests and our values" will be meaningless. If American constitutional democracy does not win the soft-power struggle, the time will come when hard power will not protect them from the erosion of their liberties.
Second, America's civic culture rests on a number of principles and habits that have been described by the eminent social scientist Seymour Martin Lipset in his book American Exceptionalism (1996). Lipset explores this exceptionalism in depth and provides empirical evidence for its foundation. Social science data confirms that America is the most patriotic and religious of any of the advanced industrial nations. This American creed favors (1) liberty over equality, (2) egalitarianism (meaning equality of opportunity, not result) over hierarchy, (3) individual rights over ascriptive group rights, (4) populism over elitism, and (5) the free market over statism. In The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington noted that the multiculturalists have "challenged a central element of the American creed by substituting for the rights of individuals, the rights of groups." He warns that "rejection of the [American] creed and of Western civilization means the end of the United States of America as we have known it." To prevent such an outcome, Huntington calls for the reaffirmation of the American creed, what we used to call the "American way of life," and America's commitment to Western civilization.
Third, American constitutional liberal democrats need to recapture the moral high ground. To do so, they must argue their case on principled grounds. Global progressives are offering policies that are postconstitutional, illiberal, undemocratic, and yes, post-American, and this must be stated clearly. As John O'Sullivan put it in last year's Sir Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture, constitutional democrats in the United States and Great Britain should "mount a clear, vigorous, and principled opposition to the antidemocratic ideas that lie at the root of multiculturalism." O'Sullivan was talking about British Tories, and he noted that practical proposals would differ in Britain and the United States (thus the British would emphasize the importance of the legislature, the democratically elected House of Commons), but, as he noted, the general principles are the same. He argued that constitutional democrats throughout the West should be "inspired by the same general belief that [liberal] democracy is under attack and worth preserving, and that it remains, as Churchill saw, better than any alternative." Whether this century will be another American century will depend on America's ability to restore its commitment to its own foundational principles.