[The following essay was first posted at Eternity Road on June 19, 2007. In light of the furious debates over current immigration-reform proposals, it struck me as pertinent for a repost — FWP]
In mid-2004, there was born a Website which proposed to hold an international plebiscite on the upcoming American elections. The thesis was that since what the United States does “affects” the entire world — yes, those are “sneer quotes” — then the world should have as much say in the selection of American officialdom as the American citizens do. Say what you will about the “logic” behind such a proposition, we must grant its audacity at the very least.
That campaign season also featured a letter-writing campaign by British glitterati, including rabid anti-theist Richard Dawkins and hack novelist David Cornwell (a.k.a. “John LeCarre”), to voters in selected American “swing states.” The writers urged their American targets to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry — say, did you know he served in Vietnam? Imagine that! — on the grounds that President Bush was “stupid,” a “bully,” a “theocrat,” was “universally hated,” was waging “an illegal war,” or any possible combination thereof. And with that, your Curmudgeon’s sneer-quote key has breathed its last, at least for today.
The supranationalist assumptions behind these phenomena are easily destroyed. Yes, America has great influence in the world; we Americans, a mere 5% of the population of the world, generate more than 30% of its wealth and wield armed forces that could defeat all the other nations of the world in concert. But that’s not because of our government, but because of the governments of all the other nations of the world. Our government, despite its many flaws and violations of its Constitutional contract, doesn’t exercise the kind of power over American enterprise that other governments do over the productive efforts of their subjects. America’s magnificent military is the consequence of the wealth that flows from our largely free economy and relatively restrained welfare system. Heavily regulated and bureaucratized economies, which must also carry the burden of much larger welfare states, can’t afford worthwhile militaries, which is why ours is so frequently called upon to deal with tyrants and terrors.
(Nota Bene: A citizen is one who retains his individual sovereignty despite his allegiance to a particular polity. His distinguishing characteristic is his right to keep and bear arms. A subject is one who has no individual sovereignty, having surrendered all ultimate decision-making power to the State. His lack of a right to keep and bear arms, which renders him defenseless against incursions on any of his other rights, is the most prominent giveaway. The United States has citizens; most of the rest of the nations of the world have subjects. Food for thought.)
But we can’t expect to defeat supranationalism — broadly, the premise that nation-states are inimical to the general good and should be done away with — with mere logic. The supranationalist is adroit. He argues from his good intentions. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a say in everything that affects him in any way? And since every slightest thing that anyone does, anywhere in the world, affects all of us in some way, however small, doesn’t that imply that democracy should be unbounded by these Westphalian fossils we call nation-states?
Well, if you buy the premise, you buy the conclusion. But the premise is itself unsound. Indeed, it’s about as risible as the arguments made for slavery, with which it has a great deal in common. And Eternity Road readers are unlikely to accept supranationalism anyway, so what’s the big deal?
The big deal is this: whenever a government compromises its nation’s integrity for the sake of another nation, or the subjects of another nation, it’s acting from the supranationalist premise. In so doing, it degrades the interests of its own people, implicitly or explicitly to favor other peoples. It ceases to act as its citizens’ delegated agent, and assumes the prerogatives of their owner, who may dispose of their rights and prerogatives as it pleases, without their consent.
Two particularly egregious cases of this are in motion today.
In the Middle East, the Palestinian irredentists of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are engaged in a particularly bloody civil war. Their quarrel with one another is purely over power. Neither side deserves the support of a decent man; both are committed to the ultimate destruction of Israel. If Israel’s statesmen regarded themselves as the servants of Israel rather than its masters, they would seize this opportunity to perfect the quarantine of the Palestinian zones. They would cease all quasi-diplomatic intercourse with the Palestinians “for the duration,” a period of convenient elasticity. They certainly wouldn’t look for guidance to the supranational United Nations or European Union, both of which have displayed uncompromising hostility toward Israel for many years. But the Olmert government is behaving in precisely the opposite way, attempting to conciliate and buttress Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction in the hope that it will prevail and reach a peace accord with Israel in the aftermath. This is like taking sides in a knife fight between murderers; the only decent course is to root for both sides to lose.
Here in the West, we have the spectacle of a majority of our Congressmen and Senators, and our president himself, bowing to the demands of our neighbor to the south that we not fortify our mutual border. Legislation from 2006 mandates a border fence, but there’s been little funding provided for it and little to no work on it. The disproportionate participation of illegal aliens in felony crimes is widely known, yet there’ve been scant efforts to impede the movement or employment of illegal aliens already in our land. The infamous immigration reform bill gestating in Congress even offers a cheap amnesty to the estimated 12 million illegals to whom we’re already hosts, conciliating them above 290 million born and naturalized citizens to whom our government is supposedly subordinate.
One can suspect corruption and venality, of course. No doubt they play some part in both cases. But the arguments used to rationalize the objectionable postures are almost explicitly supranationalist. It’s the people that matter, not the borders. And anyway, think of the kids.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Borders matter because people matter. Borders are important because there must be a limit on every man’s responsibilities for others, and on every nation’s, too. Every political system binds its citizens in a web of mutual responsibility. Not for everything, but for the really big things commonly delegated to government: the defense of the realm, the maintenance of order in the streets, a common, generally comprehended legal system, and above all the protection of individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. Israel granted the Palestinians autonomy within their zones, or, as Eric Frank Russell once put it, “the right to go to Hell in their own fashion.” Now that they’ve chosen their course, they should be allowed to follow it to its conclusion, out of respect not only for their right to do so, but the right of Israelis not to be involved in it. Likewise, America did not agree to shelter or employ the whole world. If our borders were better secured, not only would our streets be safer, but Mexicans’ interest in reforming their own polity would be greatly increased.
Don’t say any of that to a supranationalist, though. He’ll accuse you of being hard-hearted, a jingoist, possibly a racist. He’ll call you an ingrate for spurning the innumerable contributions of undocumented Americans to our great nation, though if these contributions go beyond cheap lawn care and abundant convenience-store clerks, your Curmudgeon has yet to discover it. He’ll stride away filled with moral superiority and reinforced in his conviction that we grubby conservatives have nothing of substance to say, and must be re-educated or destroyed.
Be not afraid to reject the supranationalist premise. Be very afraid of what might follow in supranationalism’s train. Its advocates are mobilized as never before. Their agenda goes well beyond what’s currently under discussion. We shall see.