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February 5, 2005

Sovereignty of Issues

Responding to various reactions to President Bush's inaugural address (yes, I'm behind), Someguy, of Mystery Achievement, writes:

... it is no longer possible to "ride out of town" as Victor Davis Hanson envisions us doing someday. Modern transportation and communications make that impossible. We cannot sit idly by while nations who have declared themselves to be our enemies harbor, train, arm, and otherwise aid and abet people who want to kill as many of us as possible--and will do so if given the chance. And for the foreseeable future, we cannot rely on the United Nations to do anything about this, as long as it clings to the liberal ideal of national sovereignty. Indeed, by so doing, it has for all practical purposes institutionalized the totalitarian anarchy that Harris described.

Because I agree, essentially, with his conclusion, I suspect that Someguy didn't quite capture what he meant by the phrase "clings to the liberal ideal of national sovereignty." He subsequently links to a TCS piece by my fellow Anchor Rising contributor Carroll Andrew Morse claiming that the U.N. is "the trade association for the world's executive branches -- the place where executive branches come together to promote their individual interests to one another, and to promote the expansion of executive authority in general." At issue isn't so much the ideal of national sovereignty — because bureaucratic leanings toward the United Nations as a governing body are manifestly contrary to that ideal — but the question of with whom national sovereignty lies.

The U.N.'s answer is the nation's leaders. The answer inherent in President Bush's vision for an international landscape defined by freedom is the nation's people.

How nations' sovereign people will judge the legitimacy of others' governments is a debate that must follow. And here again, as with terrorism and self-defense, the lines blur between our approach to international affairs and the way in which we handle ourselves domestically. In a system of global federalism laid out in tiers of democratic representation, the United States is not merely a beacon, but a model. How we address the balance of power between branches, between state and federal governments, and between the individual and society will help to determine the character of world government.

Perhaps it is the intellectual destruction of issues' silos — or rather the emerging admission that they were an illusion — that so disconcerts those who've built their worldviews around them. Or perhaps it is a lack of trust in representative democracy itself, which reflects mainly the willingness of those who are untrusting to manipulate it; cultures less bound by principles of reason and individualism will find much to emulate in judicial activism and modern crusades against free association and local piety.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 5, 2005 12:09 PM
International Affairs

Thanks for the trackback, Justin!

I try to keep things at a readable length, and sometimes in the process muddle things up. I think what Morse said dovetails very well with Lee Harris' call for neo-sovereignty (as opposed to the honorary sovereignty that has been granted to the nations of the post-colonial Third World nations). Harris' argument is that because these nations have not earned their independence, they have not learned the need to act according to maxims of prudence. As long as the U.N. continues to protect honorary sovereignty by defending all executive authority without differentiating between democracies, dictatorships, and failed states, the institutionalized chaos that results will remain.

Posted by: someguy at February 5, 2005 12:59 PM

I understand you better now, and I see that part of the problem was that I didn't spend enough time contemplating your paragraph in context. Still, I think the issue continues to boil down to "sovereignty of whom."

We're learning in this country that "maxims of prudence" can deteriorate over time. (Nobody alive literally fought for U.S. independence, and relatively few actually step forward to continue defending it.) That indicates, at least to me, that there's something deeper that must guide how we construct a globalized society, which is what I was attempting to get at here (perhaps not so well).

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 5, 2005 1:11 PM

Thanks, Justin. I could have provided better context had I also cited the section of Harris' essay dealing with what he calls "the honorific nation state." I always worry about testing the patience of the few readers I have. I probably should have referred to that section rather than the one I did. I started with Peggy Noonan's critique of GWB's Second Inaugural, and went off on a tangent.

But this has been a very helpful exchange. Now I'm thinking about another post tying together Morse's essay with the other section of Harris'. You've given me more food for thought.

(And I heartily recommend Harris' essay, "Our World-Historical Gamble" [TCS, March 2003] to anyone who hasn't already read it.)

Posted by: someguy at February 6, 2005 1:54 AM