Editor’s note: The following article is based on excerpts from the new book, The New Totalitarian Temptation: Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe, published by Encounter Books. It contends that the European Union’s radically secularist commitment to supranational governance is threatening human rights, eroding democracy, and overriding the sovereignty of EU member states. This has put it on a collision course with the United States. This essay originally appeared in the Winter/Spring 2016 edition of The European Conservative.
Before the summer is out, Britain might decide to leave the EU. Greece has already become a protectorate of the IMF, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank. The Schengen Area is in danger of being abolished. And devastating terrorist attacks have occurred regularly since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, with the threat of jihadist terrorism palpable throughout Europe.
Nevertheless, the European dream is alive. Today, as ever, the European Union—having risen from the ruins of two devastating world wars—embodies an enduring longing for a peaceful and stable world. It is more than a customs union and more than just an international organization through which its member states can pursue their national interests. Rather, it is meant to herald a new era in which a cosmopolitan and harmonious Europe provides a new model for a worldwide system of supranational governance.
In this new world order, power is to be wielded not primarily by national governments on behalf of national electorates but by an ever-thickening web of international organizations administering a growing body of international law and regulation (purportedly in the interests of a global citizenry).
The EU is nothing if not ambitious. It is, in essence, a utopia—albeit a soft, squishy, do-gooders’ utopia. It is a political construct that seeks humankind’s ultimate purpose in a better-than-possible world created by politics. In fact, it puts politics before people, as it seeks to re-make human beings in the service of its political project rather than adapt the project to people as they are.
But as John Fonte wrote recently, ideologies have consequences. And it is not by chance that the EU’s ‘soft utopia’ has been buffeted by crises. The going price for the European Union’s pursuit of its globalist dream is severe economic suffering, the destabilization of domestic politics in EU member states, Britain’s possible withdrawal, the migrant crisis and the increased risk of terrorist attacks in Europe.
The folly of the euro
The introduction of the euro is perhaps the most momentous example of a policy decision made in pursuit of the utopia of European political union. It defied basic economics to introduce a common currency to countries with radically varied levels of productivity and economic development. But the decision was taken because European integrationists thought monetary union would force Europeans to accept a politically integrated EU.
That didn’t happen. Instead, an economic crisis hit the Eurozone like a tidal wave. The common currency created an artificial boom in the weaker economies, which both masked and aggravated their structural deficiencies. This ultimately resulted in concomitant crashes and expensive bailouts which were granted under stringent conditions that exacerbated unemployment, reduced opportunity, and spread misery and unrest.
As Hans-Werner Sinn, President of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich, predicts, the outlook remains bleak. With the economic divergence between the North and South of the Eurozone persisting, efforts to bolster the euro are only leading to more economic “governance”—which has much in common with a planned economy. This approach has been diverting huge amounts of financial resources to troubled economies— and, in the process, has robbed Europe’s more productive economies of the resources that they could otherwise put to good use.
The migrant crisis
Likewise, the ongoing migrant crisis is intrinsically connected to the EU’s utopian supranationalism. In the ‘new Europe’, the misgivings of everyday people about accepting unprecedented numbers of immigrants—the vast majority of whom hold a very different worldview from Europeans—cannot be allowed to stand in the way of a ‘European solution’.
The result is that EU elites have been flirting with cultural suicide by accepting virtually unlimited numbers of immigrants. And they have ignored the fact that in doing so, jihadism in Europe might be greatly strengthened. As manifested in this migrant crisis, Europe’s supranational dream turns out to be little more than a symptom of cultural exhaustion; and their reluctance to manage the migrant crisis better is really nothing more than a self-destructive lack of resolve.
The destabilization of domestic politics
Since the May 2014 European elections, ballots across Europe have shown that people don’t trust establishment politicians anymore. Protest parties have risen virtually everywhere while established parties have declined in popularity. In Britain, mistrust of the EU has reached the point of a possible ‘Brexit’. Despite constant reports about Britain’s desire to reduce benefits for non-British EU citizens or protect the City of London, the heart of the matter is really the British people’s right to govern themselves.
When he promised an ‘in-out’ referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron envisioned an EU “subject to the democratic legitimacy and accountability of national parliaments where Member States combine in flexible cooperation, respecting national differences”, as opposed to an EU in which members relinquish more and more sovereignty to an ever closer political union.
But it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of ‘the European idea’. The European project is now over six decades old and, by now, the EU bureaucracy has permeated every aspect of life in every member state. Any attempt to rein in the supranational institutions and powers of the EU would be a gargantuan task. More importantly, it would be resisted at every turn by the global ‘governancers’. Still, an EU without Britain is a distinct possibility.
The transatlantic clash of visions
For EU elites, the European project is not just about Europe. Their vision of supranational governance is a global one—which is why a political and moral clash between the American idea of democratic sovereignty and the EU’s agenda is unavoidable.
At its core, the idea of global governance cannot be but a sworn enemy to democratic sovereignty as practiced in the American system. This plays itself out every day in real-world policy. If you look at almost any issue in the transatlantic relationship—and certainly at the United States’ main foreign policy challenge in the 21st century: the global struggle against international terrorist groups since 9/11—it is apparent that the difference between the US’s understanding of national sovereignty and that of the EU has weakened the transatlantic alliance. And, what’s more, this could eventually put the US and the European Union on a collision course.
These are some of the kinds of questions in dispute: What confers legitimacy on foreign policy (or, for that matter, on domestic policy)? Who best ensures the security of nation-states and their citizens? Is it the UN Security Council, with the approval of the ‘international community’ and under international law (as interpreted by advocates of a post-nation-state world) that holds governments accountable? Or should democratic national governments be allowed to cooperate freely with any other nations and act in their own legitimate national interests?
The answers to such questions matter. As American legal thinkers Lee Casey and David Rivkin have said, if pursued to its logical end, joining the European cause of global governance, would, “require the American people to accept … that they and their elected representatives must answer to … foreign power[s] over which they have no control and precious little influence”.
The transatlantic alliance rests upon our common values. As is clear from the above, though, the US and the EU affirm fundamentally different visions of government. One of the central reasons for this is the disconnect that exists between a Judeo-Christian-tinged America and a post-Christian EU. In this, it is important to point out that religion is not just about the afterlife. It affects every area of life—and certainly one’s political outlook, given that politics is about ordering society and world affairs for the good of human beings. This undertaking is necessarily rooted in basic presuppositions about human nature, the purpose of life, and the nature of good and evil. Thus, everyone who engages in politics starts from fundamentally religious presuppositions— whether they recognize it or not.
The role of government
In the American system, founded upon principles derived from the Judeo-Christian worldview, the purpose of government is to ensure security and freedom so that people can pursue more important things—such as faith, work, family, and friends. The ultimate source of goodness is God, and perfect justice cannot be realized by humans on this earth. There is an objective truth about human nature and we are subject to it. Human beings, while capable of great good, are inherently awed and limited. They cannot overcome their fallibility.
It is with this understanding of human nature that The Federalist Papers, the quintessential exposition of the American system of government, was written by three of the ‘founding fathers’ of the United States. The text is deeply indebted to this Judeo-Christian worldview. “Why has government been instituted at all?” asks Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 15. He answers: “Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.”
There is no hint in The Federalist Papers of any notion that human nature is malleable in a transformative way. The authors would have seen it as folly to attempt to fashion a new kind of human being through a political project. In fact, the entire point of the US Constitution is to structure a government that is effective yet limited and diffuse in its power so as to constrain the irremediable human lust for power and the tendency to abuse such power.
The EU’s grounding of government, by contrast, is the secularist, transformative spirit of global governance. To see this, one need look no further than the EU’s pronouncements on today’s foremost exercise in global governance, the UN’s post-2015 Development Agenda. These declarations assume human nature is so malleable that through political effort it can break the bonds of tradition and truth. The UN’s post-2015 Agenda goes to the heart of the EU’s entire reason for being: to build the structures of global governance that are needed in order to create a world that will be better than anyone dares to imagine.
The EU Council of Ministers’ declaration of support for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is emblematic. Reading it, one cannot avoid the impression that the EU is positioning itself to do nothing less than save the world:
“The post-2015 agenda should therefore integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development in a balanced way across the agenda; ensure coherence and synergies; and address inter-linkages throughout the goals and targets. It is also crucial to ensure that the agenda has a rights-based approach encompassing all human rights and that it respects, supports, and builds on existing multilateral agreements, conventions, commitments, and processes.”
It continues: “The agenda should leave no one behind. In particular, it must address, without any discrimination, the needs of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, including children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, as well as of marginalised groups and indigenous peoples; and it must respond to the aspirations of young people. We should ensure that no person—wherever they live and regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religion or belief, race, or other status is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities. We emphasise the critical importance of quality education, universal health coverage, and social protection for all, which are central for the achievement of sustainable development.”
Here, politics (or “governance”) is universal, global, all-encompassing, and comprehensive. No checks or balances stand in the way of the good that the global elite can accomplish. There are no constraints and no limits, neither geographical nor aspirational. The post- 2015 Agenda leaves no one behind, no one in the entire world, and calls for all ‘stakeholders’ at all levels to show strong political commitment and undertake determined actions. There is no end to the ‘coherence’, ‘synergies’, ‘inter-linkages’, ‘universality’, and ‘inclusiveness’ that it promises. It is hard to deny the religious fervour that seems to underlie declarations such as these. Thus, global governance reveals itself through such pronouncements as a secularist faith—almost calling for a veneration of ‘governance’ as if it had a salvfiic power of its own.
The new human rights
All of these contrasts—between the post-modern, secularist worldview of global governance and the West’s traditional Judeo-Christian worldview, between the global governance ideology and the commitment to democratic sovereignty—come together in human rights policy. As is becoming ever more apparent—especially as secularism gains the upper hand internationally—what you believe human rights are depends on what you believe human beings are. And in this, the transformation of the worldview of the West, especially in Europe, is readily apparent: in the anointing of relativism, novelty, and ‘choice’ as the new foundations of human rights. This phenomenon is intimately connected with the global governance ideology.
Cursory observance of the human rights-related activities of the EU reveals a pervasive concern for women’s rights, children’s rights, and LGBT rights. There is a profound reason for this: These rights are all based on the notion of the absolute autonomy of the individual. They reflect the notion of choice taken to its ultimate extent. They are transformative and liberationist, like the global governance ideology itself.
The EU’s view of human rights requires a transformation of the idea of what people are, redefining them as radically autonomous individuals who—by choice—can change their very nature and thus liberate themselves from traditional familial and social bonds. In the case of women’s and children’s rights, liberation from the constraints of the family is a core concern. In the LGBT arena, the push for ‘gay marriage’ and the concept of a flexible gender identity aims to transform human beings completely, liberating them from both moral and physical constraints, while ignoring the empirical reality that human beings are either male or female.
This transformative and liberationist model of human rights, which has already taken root among most elites in North America and Europe, is a complete departure from the traditional Western view of human beings out of which the concept of human rights first emerged. Classical human rights are based on the Christian/Enlightenment view of human nature. This view recognizes that human beings are individuals who are embedded in communities; and it acknowledges that it is eminently appropriate for people to live within the roles they have in those communities—in accordance with values and rights that promote societal flourishing.
The importance of the family
The keystone of flourishing societies everywhere is the family. But the family requires considerable subordination of individual interests and rights to the needs of other family members. This is the traditional view of family life. But such a view flies in the face of the transformative and liberationist view of human rights as promoted by the EU and propagated by the global governance ideology, which holds that human beings are radically free to define themselves as they wish, unfettered by traditional values or family obligations.
The global governancers’ view of human rights unavoidably undermines the family. Since the only rights that matter in the EU are the skewed, redefined rights of women, children, and LGBT persons, they must necessarily oppose the family. It is the one institution that militates most effectively against the idolization of personal choice; and with its preference for local control and self-government, it stands in the way of the globalist, top-down view of ‘governance’ that animates the global governance elites.
Similarly, global governance undermines democratic sovereignty, especially in a secularist world without truth. And if truth does not exist, then there can be no restraints on human institutions—and government power is unlimited. This means that not only do governments have unlimited power—in principle—to determine what human rights are, but it becomes impossible to limit governance to a certain geographical area or people. And national sovereignty becomes—again, in principle— an impermissible limit on the power of global elites to decide for everyone everywhere what is just and true. Global governance is thus unmasked to reveal not a benign effort to improve humanity’s lot but instead as a voracious power grab—to define truth and justice under the banner of “universal human rights”.
Liberal democracy or global governance?
At its deepest level, the struggle between liberal democracy and global governance is a struggle to define the human person and the purpose of human life. In broad terms, the ideological roots of liberal democracy in the West are found in the Judeo-Christian view of an unchanging human nature embedded in tradition, religion, and family. But the partisans of global governance come down on the side of a radically secularist, post-modern commitment to individual autonomy and the virtually unlimited malleability of human nature according to each person’s choice—essentially independent of traditional institutions and social relations.
We in the West must decide between self-government, on the one hand, and Fonte’s “slow suicide of liberal democracy”, on the other. The radical opposition of these two alternatives goes deeper than garden-variety political differences—and thus will be harder to overcome. In the end, the struggle is really about the purpose—the telos—of politics. It is about opposing worldviews.
The turning away from the Judeo-Christian worldview to the post-modern secularist worldview is occurring in the US, too, with political and social manifestations related to those in the EU. Still, it is not too late. Reality has begun to force itself upon the EU. The same goes for the US, although that might not be as apparent. Providentially, this could end up reinvigorating the Judeo-Christian tradition. What is needed in the West is a reformation, a return to humble respect for the truths and traditions at the root of Western culture, and thus to the indispensable foundations of self-government.
In Europe, a reformed EU of sovereign nation-states could be a tremendous force for good. But no one can build justice, peace, and prosperity on the basis of a deception. Global governance is a lie, and it will eventually turn on those who have fallen under its spell. In the end, democratic sovereignty—based on a humble respect for truth and recognition of the limits of politics—is the only basis for realizing the promise of the European idea.