The Business End of Transnational Progressivism

According to John Fonte, “transnationalism is a concept that provides elites with both an empirical tool (a plausible analysis of what is) and an ideological framework (a vision of what should be).”  What is, is humanity divided into groups along racial, ethnic, and gendered lines, with a fundamental line to be drawn between them, not in terms of spiritual or intellectual contributions to a common humanity, but rather between dominant and oppressed groups, victims and victimizers.  Alas, however, not all groups or members of groups see themselves that way. Hence, the reference to “elites” in the foregoing statement: they are the ones in possession of the requisite gnosis.

Fonte, accordingly, devotes a section to “Transnational Progressivism’s Social Base: A Post-National Intelligentsia.”  While we are more interested in its worldview than its institutional strongholds or individual proponents, a broader view would include all three.  His general statement reports that “the leaders … include many international law professors at prestigious Western universities, NGO activists, foundation officers, UN bureaucrats, EU administrators, corporate executives, and practicing politicians throughout the West.”  He also provides some particular names: sociologist Anthony Giddens, philosopher Martha Nussbaum, former diplomat Strobe Talbot, and the pair of Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, Italian Marxist theorist and Duke University literature professor, respectively, who published the best selling Empire in 2000.   Each one can be taken, however, in Charles Péguy’s apt phrase, as a cas eminent, an instance that illustrates a type, a general attitude.  The wholes thus exemplified can be a discipline in academe, a type of diplomatic endeavor, innocuously entitled philanthropy and activism, and so on.[1]  They, however, should not be viewed in splendid isolation.  They form a more and less coherent “network.”

Earlier in connection with the Durbin Conference, we saw how NGOs and major foundations collaborate.  Thanks to Manent, we are not surprised to hear that “EU administrators” are part of the network of collaborators, while Fonte adds “UN bureaucrats” to the list, again not a surprise.  Fonte fills out his list with corporate captains and unnamed politicians, while Manent would add certain European jurists and courts.  Academe, business, politics, law, diplomacy, and activism — all have their transnational progressivists, all contribute to a network of “theory and practice.”  Well in place in America before the shock which was the electoral victory of Donald Trump, after that shock they are doing their best to make sure no electoral defeat goes to waste.   It is an opportunity for further recruitment and organization — and indoctrination — of troops.

I broadened our consideration for a moment, which till now has been a series of attempts to consider the worldview of the Resistance, because of the special character of the TP worldview.  It is theory for the sake of practice, it is intrinsically agenda-driven, binary, oppositional, and revolutionary.  It aspires to be what Bertrand Russell called “power-thought.”

As a result, designation is ipso facto a call to indignation, resentment, and resistance on the part of some, or shame, repentance, and abnegation on the part of others.  It is a constant j’accuse.  As such, it has neither the character of Socratic elenchus (productive refutation), nor of Aristotle’s equitable weaving together of the parts of the body-politic by way of a consideration of various partial understandings of justice.  Rather, it is presumptuous and contemptuous, presumptuous that it knows justice, contemptuous of those it identifies as privileged oppressors (or subjects of false consciousness).  It is particularly fueled by animus against enemies.

The Enemy in America is tripart, forming an unholy trinity:  straight white males; the fundamental institutions of America as a liberal democratic nation-state; and the national “symbols and narratives” that tacitly justify the rule of the white race and males, while explicitly appealing to some combination of Enlightenment thought and Protestant Christianity.  Thought and culture are thus racialized and genderized, and human universalism is neither sought nor to be found.  Rather, the national symbols and stories are to be unmasked, “complicated,” and replaced.

Assimilation, for example, is oppression, solely teaching English in public schools, likewise.  Multilingualism must be the order of the day. Historical narratives must be broadened to include the contributions of all races and ethnicities and genders to America.  But this must be done in the proper way, first, in the binary optic of oppression and, second, with the aim of strictly equal billing, culturally speaking (at least for previous and current victim-groups).

Something similar is called for at the political level.  Proportional representation for the marginalized and disempowered must be guaranteed, and groups must participate in new forms of “power sharing.”  In other words, traditional practices of coalition-forming and, more importantly, representation itself must be abandoned, and the character of democratic legitimacy and authority recast.  One must bid adieu to constitutionalism, majoritarianism, and national sovereignty.

National sovereignty must go because, with transnational progressivism, multiculturalism has gone global.  Now humanitarianism comes back into view.  Nations are to become open sites for migration and immigration, to be administrative units rather than self-determining political communities (“one node in a postnational network,” according to one proponent).  From this vision arises a host of efforts to “reimagine” citizenship as “postnational,” “transnational,” and “global.”

Topping things off would be some sort of “global governance” structure, involving or being served by “transnational organizations” and “transnational jurisprudence.”  As Fonte indicated earlier, the EU and UN are anticipatory sketches, as well as suitable instruments, for the furthering of this goal.

Manent has pointed out that “governance” is the preferred term of European elites, rather than “government” or “governing.”   The latter two are still wedded to the archaic forms of national sovereignty and democratic self-rule, and they smack too much of authority, which means authoritarianism.  The new humanitarian order requires a kinder, gentler term.

Between Manent and Fonte, we have two versions of a post-liberal democratic humanitarianism.  The one analyzed by Manent is rather soft, the one considered by Fonte, hard-edged and hard-driving.  The former focuses much more on the individual, while the latter is emphatically group-focused.  The first believes humanity is in principle unified, with no significant differences to trouble us, the second maintains fundamental oppositions between groups, and its theory is designed to expose and upend them.  Reconciliation would seem to be a major problem.

Still, they have common enemies — the nation as a sovereign community, liberal democracy in its constitutional version —, so they can, as often happens in war, make common cause while their enemy is still in the field.  For example, soft humanitarianism informs a good deal of immigration insouciance found in the Democratic-Progressive Resistance, while the hard version likewise wants to advocate for those immigrant groups it deems victims (and according to Fonte, “immigrant groups [are] designated as victims”).

Moreover, there is no need for the Resistance worldview to be monolithic.  Its members are more likely to share “family traits.”  Hence the need to move in somewhat concentric circles from the Democratic Party to Progressives and Progressivisms.  But it is quite striking what they share in common, chiefly as expressed in their common condemnatory terms and language:  “illegitimate”; “racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic”; “anti-X, Y Z”; “fascist”; and worse.  These bespeak a worldview, by way of violated moral-political criteria.

The key is to see that it is not just Donald Trump’s manifest personal faults and failings — intellectual, moral, temperamental, and other — that are targeted, it is what he (imperfectly!) represents.  He claims to speak for Americans marginalized by global neoliberalism and contemporary political correctness, and for the proposition that American politicians should attend to the American people first, and even aspire to American greatness as America.  These are the core views that are anathema to the dominant voices of the Resistance.   To investigate why they are is an urgent task, as one considers America’s present, and its possible futures.

[1] Fonte instances “the American Sociological Association.”  Christopher Smith would concur.  See his The Sacred Project of American Sociology (Oxford University Press, 2014).