Saturday, April 08, 2006


Towards a Transnationalism?

Columnist John Leo wrote a piece last week about immigration and “transnationalists” within our society. Leo puts forth the idea that those elites who adopt a transnationalist viewpoint are “increasingly detached from their fellow citizens and drawn to an international culture.” Leo draws from the ideas of Christopher Lasch, writing in his 1995 book "The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy." Lasch introduces this idea of transnationals, which Leo summarizes in this way:

The term "transnationals" specifically refers to those working in and around international organizations and multinational corporations. More broadly, it indicates a cosmopolitan elite with a declining allegiance to the place where they live and work, and a feeling that nationalism and patriotism are part of the past.

Leo maintains that this transnationalism informs the immigration debate, and suggests that the broad chasms between opposing positions are more due to fundamental differences in base assumptions and world views, rather than mere policy differences.

Here’s how Leo sees this play out in the debate:

In the transnational view, patriotism, assimilation and cultural cohesion are obsolete concerns. Borders and the nation-state are on the way out. Transnational flows of populations are inevitable. Workers will move in response to markets, not old-fashioned national policies on immigration. Norms set by internationalists will gradually replace national laws and standards. The world is becoming a single place. Trying to impede this unifying process is folly.

This rings true for those who argue for liberalized immigration, guest worker programs, various forms of amnesty, and descriptions of an undocumented but essential labor force responding to global economic imperatives. This is the basis of the transnationalist appeal to our sensibilities in the debate. The global economy from which we benefit so greatly, as a necessary side effect creates these demographic flows of labor resources. It would be unethical, so the rationale might go, for us to receive all the fruits of globalism, yet deny the labor force dependencies such economic forces necessarily create.

Leo detects the transnationalist perspective throughout certain segments of society, not tied to specific political parties, but with big political implications:

Old-line one-worlders and enthusiastic supporters of the United Nations hear the siren call. So do many academics, judges and journalists who attend international conferences and tend to adopt a common consciousness and world outlook.

The interplay between immigration and transnationalism is a flourishing subspecialty in the academic world. Ethnic studies departments, once conceived as a sop to campus minorities, increasingly stress transnationalism, though exactly what professors mean when they use the word is often not very clear.

I remember taking an international relations course in the 1980s. The class brought together military, dependents, and an American exile or two. During classroom discussions, prompted by assigned texts that I do not recall, often touched on globalism and what must have been precursors to the academic trends to which Leo alludes.

I remember too, a couple of my fellow students expressing appreciation (one might almost say fervent hope) that a “global world view” would transcend the boundaries and limitations of the Nation State. Many of our discussions seemed to orient around propositions like, “is the Nation State obsolete,” and much reflection on the effects and implications of failed states. Not to make it sound like we were wildly omniscient, but I remember clearly pieces that focused on the threat posed by radical Islam. Of course, in those days, the fear was that such would spread from and due to the imminent collapse of the USSR. Sovietologists long viewed fundamental Islam as the predominant threat the Russians faced.

Within a short period of time new President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) spoke of the “New World Order,” which was seen as greatly confirming to those emerging “transnationalists.” This caused no small consternation for conservatives in the United States, both religious and secular, who began to see the initial effects of such views on academic and political elites. It remains to be seen if the current transnationalist perspective has greater appeal or traction with the American public.

Those who ascribe most fervently to transnationalism see the collapse and evolution away from Nation State as inevitable. Leo concludes his piece:

John Fonte, of the Hudson Institute, notes that "transnationalism," like "global governance" and "multiculturalism," are presented by advocates as irresistible forces of history. Not so, he says. They are "ideological tools, championed by activist elites."

The astonishing aspect of the immigration debate is that the elites think they can override the clear and huge resistance of the American people.

Again, that remains to be seen. There is a large and significant segment of our public for whom cultural relativity, multiculturalism, and frankly, anti-Americanism has emotional appeal. We see expressions of transnationalist viewpoints by members of our own US Supreme Court. We have a President sensitive to the appeals of those who want the flow of labor to be viewed in transnational terms. Surely we see the pervasive influence of the globalized economy, with off shore outsourcing, transnational provision of services, and of course, more traditional evidence of a shrinkage of “Made in the US” manufacturing.

It remains an open question if those who think we are better off citizens of the world, than citizens of the United States, will gain the upper hand in the immigration debate.

How much do how many, really want to retain our identity – and sovereignty – as Americans? Is there a middle way? Is it possible to adopt an American First, world citizen second, or do all roads lead to Brussels (or other World capitol)?

Links: Mudville Gazette

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