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Ruling Classes

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I can’t excuse myself for not checking in yesterday by blaming it on the weather.  It was a nice enough day, but I got up at two thirty in the morning, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep.

In other words, I was walking into walls.

And this means I’m even more behind than I was the day before yesterday.

So, for a head’s up–

I’m going to talk about the John Fonte today, and then I’ve got another book I actually want to comment on after that.

I am counting books on the list by when I finish them.  That means if I start a book in January and finish in February, it goes on the February list. 

Right  now, I’ve got the Fonte and one other finished and both seem interesting.  I’ve started another, but I don’t know if I will finish it before the first. 

And I don’t know that I’m going to want to comment.

All that established, let me get to John Fonte’s Sovereignty or Submission:  Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled By Others?

As I said last time, the book is about the project for “global governance” and how it affects life, law and policy in the US (and, by extention, other places).

Cheryl looked up the book and got the impression that it was positing some kind of conspiracy to bring about t his global goverance.

I got no sense, from the book itself, that conspiracy had anything to do with it.

In fact, the author denied that any such conspiracy existed, and in several places.

What he does suggest–and what I think is undeniable from any look at the facts on the ground–is that a consensus has grown up among a broad category of people that 1) global governance is both necessary and a good thing and 2) that t his goverance should be based on what is generally called “global norms” about “human rights.”

You can find lots of people in this camp who are not conspiring with each other at all.  They are simply part of a political and cutural subculture that, at the moment, has wide currency and influence in most of the West and, through the United Nations, in much of the rest of the world.

These people/groups include the the faculties of most of the world’s most prestigious universities, the administration and staffs of most of the most influential NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross International, the ACLU).  the administrative staff of  the EU project, a large proportion of the prestige media (NYT, Washington Post, BBC) and others.

There doesn’t need to be a conspiracy here, just a common understanding, a common culture, and a common recognition of a simple fact:

The “global norms” being pushed by people in the global governance camp are not global.  They’re highly parochial, extending only to a small group of people (relative to the population of the earth) who do not even have the support of the majorities in their  home countries, never mind majorities of the world.

That does not matter  to the people involved in this project, because the project itself is by definition inherently anti-democratic.

That is, it bases its legitimacy  not on the consent of the governed, but by its sense that it represents Real Morality–a set of norms that is morally better than anything else, and that the Moral Good should trump any considerations of national, ethnic or religious sovereignty.

People should not be allowed to govern themselves if they will make the Wrong Moral Choices when they do.

I think that, as a description of what is going on with a certain sub section of the human population at this moment, this would be hard to beat.

I think it avoids, for one thing, the attempts to explain this project by saying it is supported only by people who expect to be able to run things once democracy is destroyed.

I do not doubt that there are some people who hope or expect to be in the saddle when they bring their preferred  form of government about, but if they were the only people we had to worry about, we wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

The problem is that there are a lot of people out there who think that their preferred moral ideas are in fact The Whole Moral Truth, and who are hostile to real (individual, natural) rights to the extent that such rights give free reign to their opponents to advocate for t hings that the WMT people believe to be evil.

This is true not only of the global governance people, but also to Islamists, for instance, who reject freedom of speech and press because it allows people to say things that attack or criticize their faith.

I t hink Fonte would say that the Islamists are less dangerous than the global governance people because the Islamists are straightforward about what they want, why they want it, and what it would mean for day to day life if they got it.

The global governance people tend to make their arguments first in the language of “rights,” which is a word we in the West tend to associate with Good Things, and then in the vein that what they are asking for is just a little extenuation of our “core values” anyway.

The problem with the “core values” argument is that it all depends on definitions.

Equality is a core value of the West, certainly–but what does equality mean, exactly?  There’s a vast difference between equality before the law and equality of condition, for instance, and an even vaster one between equality of opportunity (as originally  understood) and the “substantive equality” that means making sure that every minority population has “proportionate representation” in everything.

The underlying definitional change is, as I’ve noted on this blog before,  the redefining of the word “right.”

Rights as originally, and properly, understood are negative only–they are restrictions on government’s power over you. 

Since under the original (and proper) understanding of rights, nothing can be a right that somebody else has to provide for you, there are no conflicts in natural rights. 

Your right to free speech is your right to be free of government control of what you say. 

You have no right to not be offended by what other people say–the government cannot control their right to free speech any more than it can control yours. 

A right is a right.  If you are only allowed to exercise your rights in ways that the government approves of, then your rights have been violated, and in that particular system you don’t have them.

Unlike real rights, “human rights” are constantly in conflict, because they are inherently contradictory.

You have a right to free speech, but you also are supposed to have a “right” to things like “nondiscrimination,” which does not mean equality before the law but to an environment where  your identity, beliefs and personal integrity are always to be affirmed no matter what you do (unless you hold an idea (like thinking homosexuality is a sin) that contradicts the definition of rights…

Okay, anybody who looks at this must realize, in thirty seconds flat or less, that the project is so inherently  incoherent that it cannot mean what it says it means.

What it actually means is that “rights” are to be defined as your “right” to live under that set of cultural conditions that the ruling party has decided constitute the Whole Moral Truth.

Now, the first thing to notice about this is that it is not a “progressive” stance.  In fact, it’s a highly regressive one.

It is, in fact, very old.  In the Catholic Church, it was the position that “error has no rights.”  Therefore, “free speech” meant that you could speak the Truth about Catholicism, but you had no right to criticize the institution of the Papacy.  This was an error, and since error has no rights,  you have no right to freely speak it.

The “error has no rights” thing has been resurrected, recently, by Muslims in the Cairo Declaration, which includes a provision pretty much like the one about.  You can speak the Truth about Islam–but not criticize it, because that would be an error, and not proselytize for another religion, because that would be an error, too.

The thing to notice here, though, is that the “error has no rights” position is essential to the “human rights” people, because it is the only way in which their project can be made workable. 

Your right to free speech, therefore, is only the “right” to speak what has already been decided to be the Whole Moral Truth.

Your attempt to speak anything else is automatically a violation of the “human rights” of people who don’t want to hear it.

We’ve talked a lot about things like this here, but one of the things this book explained to me was the ways in which this sort of thing can be imported into the law of democratic societies in spite of a clear rejection by a nation’s constitution and its population.

This is what is going on when a Supreme Court justice–Ginsberg and Breyer are both on record both doing this and declaring it’s a good thing–consults foreign law to “inform” a decision in an American court case.

Both Ginsberg and Breyer have declared that this is perfectly natural, and of course the Constitution would be the “controling” factor in the eventual decision–but the more you look at the way this looks in actual practice, the less savory it actually looks.

It is especially disturbing when it results in SCOTUS and other court decisions in favor of policies the US electorate has already firmly rejected. 

The global goverance people would say that if the US electorate has rejected these policies, then that is reason enough for courts to overrule them.  These policies are, after all, the Whole Moral Truth, and no nation should be allowed to flout them.

The book changed my mind about something.  I no longer think that citing law in the EU, or wherever, is a minor legal annoyance.  I think that any judge that does so should be impeached, period.  The US Constitution should not be “controlling” for US law.  It should be absolute for US law.

The “living Constitution” is a way to deny that the Constitution says anything at all.  This is a way to say it should be irrelevant in any case where it conflicts with the “new global norms.” 

But this does not, I’ll repeat, a conspiracy.  It is, rather, the result of a culture that has taken over most of our prestige law schools, and produced a cohort of like minded people.

The next time we have a SCOTUS nomination, it might make sense if we stopped asking the candidate about his opinions on abortion and began asking, instead, his opinions on this.

The other thing that this book explained to me is the whole argument about the “Geneva Conventions.”

And whether or not the Bush administration was violating them.

It turns out that the original Geneva Conventions–signed in a final form in 1949–were followed in 1972 by a new set called the Additional Protocol I.

Additional Protocal I turns out to be a very interesting document, largely reducing the protections for civilians in war while claiming to increase them and largely skewing the rules to provide cover for the terrorism favored by “indigenous movements.”

Jimmy Carter signed thing, but it was not ratified, and by now we have decided never to ratify it.  And we’re not the only ones.  I think it’s something like   61 countries that have refused to touch the thing, including France.

It is under the provisions of  Additional Protocal I that the war in Iraq could be called “illegal”–but under the usual international rules of sovereignty, a nation that has not signed a treaty is not subject to its provisions.

Part of the global governance project is exactly to get around such an understanding, and to impose  its rules even on nations that have rejected them.

I’ve never been a fan of the International Criminal Court, because I don’t want my government signing away my rights of due process as they are outlined in the Constitution, but now I’m really against it.

There’s more, of course, but it’s late and this syllabus has to be fixed. 

There are no tales of conspiracy here, but the book is very definitely very interesting and informative. 

And it’s not the usual same old same old about global politics.

It is, instead, a book about who decides.


Written by janeh

January 29th, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Ruling Classes'

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  1. I think the last time we did this was Johnson’s INTELLECTUALS and the time before that was Codevilla’s THE RULING CLASS. It’s not that I disagree. It’s just that I’m not surprised any more.

    The distinction between “I’ll get to run things” and “things will be run by someone who thinks exactly like me” is a little subtle. I will happily exchange my vote for a guarantee that henceforth all elected officials will be middle-aged ex-military men from the libertarian end of conservatism.

    I’ll say it again, though: the WMT is what the humanities majors are taught in our most prestigious schools. If we do not change what is taught there, and continue to draw our “leadership” from those departments of those schools, we can only expect one result. To call the critics of these schools yahoos and insist that only there can the necessary LAE stil be found, and then to complain that the graduates act as they are taught is like insisting that the national leadership can only come from Notre Dame, Fordham and Loyola and then complaining that it’s mostly Catholic.

    To get a different result, we have to try different behavior. Purging our national leadership of Harvard and Columbia graduates seems like a good first step, because we can’t change the schools.


    29 Jan 13 at 2:04 pm

  2. The Forde book is now on my Kindle. I don’t guarantee to read it right away.

    Speaking of Reading, I have finally finished the Parkinson book on evolution of political thought. He makes a point that I learned years ago in Philosophy but had forgotten. Liberty and equality are inconsistent.


    29 Jan 13 at 4:44 pm

  3. I’ve just started the Forde book but Jane’s comments have me confused. The cultural elite she is talking about tend to be atheists and are (or used to be) multiculturalists. So where do they get the idea that there is a “Whole Moral Truth”?


    30 Jan 13 at 12:56 am

  4. JD, welcome to the world of secular moral philosophy–and Jane’s going to kill me for this. But it seems to me that the adherent of a revealed religion can either expand his moral code outward–Talmudically, if you will–from a start point, or attempt to derive a general principle from a mass of detailed regulation. The essentially coservative philosopher–Aristotle as the prime example–can observe what his society does and values, and derive a moral code from that. But breaking new moral ground is essentially and inevitably arbitrary. Anyone can, with greater or less skill, say “behaving in X manner leads to THIS type of society” but without religion or tradition, one has no exterior way of determining that the society is good or worth the cost.

    In this case, I think the adherents aren’t even competent enough to foresee the society which will result from their-as Jane notes, incoherent–“principles.” But I also think she’s understating a central but seldom voiced point: that it is more important for these people that the Good be whatever they say it is than that any particular thing be found good.

    Maybe Kant. In English, certainly Matthew Arnold. But it’s going to be very hard to root out in any event.


    30 Jan 13 at 7:32 am

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