Transnational Progressivism and U.S.

John Fonte’s groundbreaking analysis of the new version of humanitarianism details its privileging of racial and gender categories and divisions in its vision of Humanity. He refers to it as “Transnational Progressivism.” It is very much an American phenomenon (although with European collaborators, as we might suspect).

Fonte’s 2002 article, “Liberal Democracy versus Transnational Progressivism:  The Future of the Ideological Civil War Within the West,”[1] begins with his own eye-opening phenomenon: the 2001 “United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance” held in Durbin, South Africa, shortly before 9-11. Fonte was struck by the following: In the run-up to the conference, about 50 (!) American NGOs, including some of the most prominent and well-funded, petitioned Mary Robinson, then UN Human Rights Commissioner, to have the United Nations compel the United States to address “the intractable and persistent problem of racism” that “men and women of color face at the hands of the U.S. criminal justice system.” They thereby sought to subordinate the institutions, processes, and results of American self-government to a higher instance. This was quite intriguing.

Then during the conference itself, the same NGOs produced a series of “demands” on the United States that, collectively, would entail, according to Fonte, that the country “would have to turn its political and economic system, together with their underlying principles, upside-down—abandoning the free speech guarantees of the Constitution, bypassing federalism, and ignoring the very concept of majority rule—because practically nothing in the NGO agenda is supported by the American electorate.”

All in all, he had discovered something new, coordinated, and potentially revolutionary: a new political vision and agenda for America and the world. It was, to say the least, worth further study. In time, he gave it a name, “transnational progressivism,” and penned the eponymous article, “Liberal Democracy versus Transnational Progressivism,” foreseeing a coming “civil war” at home and abroad. It is not implausible to see the Resistance, as a noun, as combatants in that war, and as a verbal noun, a battle in it. Let’s head down that road.

Fonte sums up this worldview or “ideology” in nine traits. His discussion of each is prefaced by an italicized thesis-phrase or statement. Here is the list:  1) The ascribed group over the individual. 2) A dichotomy of groups: Oppressor versus victim groups, with immigrant groups designated as victims. 3) Group proportionalism as the goal of “fairness.” 4) The values of all dominant institutions to be changed to reflect the perspective of the victim groups. 5) The Demographic Imperative. (By this he means the view that, because of domestic demographic changes and global population flows, “the traditional paradigm of American nationhood [is] obsolete” and “must be changed into a system that promotes ‘diversity,’ defined, in the end, as group proportionalism”). 6) The redefinition of democracy and “democratic ideals.” 7) Deconstruction of national narratives and national symbols. 8) Promotion of the concept of postnational citizenship. 9) The idea of transnationalism as a major conceptual tool.

There is a good deal in this sketch of the transnational progressive ideology (TP), including elements we have seen in previous installments. It will take a couple of installments to unpack them. The major new element is “groups,” which figure, in various ways, as the prime unit of analysis. The novelty of the envisaged configuration they will form is indicated by the telling prefixes ‘post-’ and ‘trans-.’ This is progressivism marching forward to a new world order. The loaded terms “oppressor and oppressed,” not to mention “fairness,” indicate that the vision is far from realized, that it is fueled by indignation (at current and past injustice), and that it claims justice as its justification. In all these ways, it is a prime candidate for political and philosophical analysis and critique. I will begin with three elements we have seen in previous installments: “preferences”; the trinity of “race, ethnicity, and gender”; and binary thinking, now become a “dichotomy of groups.”

In the TP optic, “equality under the law is replaced by legal preferences for traditionally victimized groups.” We saw this earlier with the betrayal of Hubert Humphrey’s promise “to eat [his] hat” if affirmative action became “quotas.” Now, however, the groups have multiplied, they no longer are just African Americans, or even only racially defined, and the “materialization” of the various qualities (racial, ethnic, sexual, cultural) making for a distinctive group is required for the head-counting demanded by “proportional representation.”

As Pierre Manent has pointed out, this requires a stable, static object, one that cannot enter into greater, elevating, wholes. Fonte adds that the individual as such is deemed to be ensconced in that group-set of characteristics and that these characteristics are deemed the most important, the defining ones for public purposes. Individuality thus suffers, as does—to return to Manent—the possibility of conversion, or transcendence by participation in a common good.  We all know that these are false to the reality of being-human. The ideological lens skews human reality, and hence possible community.

This last point thus pointedly raises the issue of “the common” in connection with this groups-focused mode of analysis. What form, or forms, of community can such groups pursue, achieve, and share? Of course, one form of community, admittedly rather external, is having a common enemy. The language of “oppressor” and “oppressed,” of “victim” (and thus “victimizers”), makes that possibility quite actual in this optic.

William Voegeli introduced us to the trinity of “race, sex, and gender” informing the Democratic Party’s identity. Fonte too recognizes their centrality for this broader ideology. He writes of individuals being assigned to an “ascriptive group (racial, ethnic, and gender)” in the ideology’s optic, its overriding “emphasis on race, ethnicity, and gender.”

Despite the necessary multiplicity (and ongoing multiplication) involved in considering humanity in terms of racial, ethnic, sexual and gender groupings, another number—two—tends to trump, or importantly define, them. Here again we find the binary thinking characteristic of Resistance and progressive thinking, now cast in terms of a “dichotomy of groups.” At this important juncture, Fonte invokes a certain intellectual authority, political philosophy, and one of its most expert practitioners: “As the political philosopher James Ceaser puts it, multiculturalism is not ‘multi,’ concerned with many groups, but ‘binary,’ concerned with two groups, the hegemon (bad) and ‘the Other’ (good) or the oppressor and the oppressed.” Here, Fonte himself provides a bit of an intellectual genealogy: TP did not appear ex nihilo.

To begin with, “in a certain sense, transnationalism is the next phase of multicultural ideology—it is multiculturalism with a global face.” But merely recognizing a global context and its impact upon the many cultural groups does not generate the full ideology. “Binary” must be added. And binary of a certain sort, involving oppressors and oppressed. Fonte traces this key element and thought to “Hegelian Marxism” and provides the name of Antonio Gramsci, honoris causa (although he cites other thinkers as well).

Now the whole comes into view: The past and the present are seen through 1) the frame of “culture” understood in racial, ethnic, sexual and gender terms and categories, with 2) the overriding feature being their being assorted into two starkly opposed categories, those on top and those on the bottom. Implicit in this Manichean view of History’s phases, however, is a radiant Future that can be discerned and pursued.

This happy result, however, will require warfare of many sorts. Between it and the analyses of the past and present, revolutionary strategies and tactics will have to be derived and implemented. And, since it is warfare, a close analysis of the enemy is required. The enemy is liberal democracy and the nation-state, especially their chief contemporary embodiment, America. In this optic, Resistance is de rigueur against anyone who claims to make America great again, or who puts country and people above select groups.

[1] John Fonte, “Liberal Democracy vs. Transnational Progressivism: The Future of Ideological Civil War within the West,” Orbis, Summer 2002.