"Community" by coercion: behind the Bush administration's "compassionate conservatism" and revolutionary foreign policy is a dangerous collectivist ideology called "Communitarianism.".
"I ... have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country's gift to the world," pronounced President Bush during his April 13 news conference. "Freedom is the Almighty's gilt to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom. We have an obligation to help feed the hungry."
"We have an obligation to lead the fight on AIDS, [in] Africa," continued the president. "And we have an obligation to work toward a more free world. That's our obligation. That is what we have been called to do, as far as I'm concerned. And my job as the president is to lead this nation and to making [sic] the world a better place. And that's exactly what we're doing." The president did not explain how the socialist principle of compelling taxpayers to feed the world and fight AIDS would spread freedom.
While the concept of a global democratic revolution deals in grand abstractions, the "obligations" and "responsibilities" it entails for our nation involve very tangible costs--in wealth, liberty, personal security, and irreplaceable individual lives.
Asked by NBC's Tim Russert during a February 8 television interview about the hundreds of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, Mr. Bush sought to palliate "the parents of the soldiers who have fallen who are listening" by urging them to understand that such sacrifices are dictated by "history's call to America":
It's historic times.... I've got a foreign policy that is one that believes America has a responsibility in this world to lead, a responsibility to lead in the war against terror, a responsibility to speak clearly about the threats that we all face, a responsibility to promote freedom, to free people from the clutches of barbaric people such as Saddam Hussein ... a responsibility to fight AIDS, the pandemic of AIDS, and to feed the hungry. We have a responsibility. To me that is history's call to America. I accept the call and will continue to lead in that direction.
This sweeping revolutionary vision stands in stark contrast to the stance espoused by George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign, during which he promised a more "humble" foreign policy. It also represents a complete inversion of our nation's founding premises, both foreign and domestic.
The Founders, most notably Washington, advised our nation to eschew foreign entanglements and crusades. John Quincy Adams memorably elaborated on Washington's wisdom in his 1821 Independence Day address to the House of Representatives: "America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."
George W. Bush's global democratic revolution ignores those founding admonitions. And his self-appointed role as the definer of our nation's foreign obligations and responsibilities likewise discards the constitutional assignment of powers in which the president's role is that of executing legitimate congressional enactments--including, when necessary, declarations of war.
In fact, for all of his incessant talk about "freedom" and "obligations," Mr. Bush rarely invokes the Constitution. And while he is widely perceived as a unilateralist, the president's trade policy is designed to build a hemisphere-wide regional government--the so-called "Free Trade Area of the Americas"--modeled on the socialist European Union. And on scores of occasions, Mr. Bush explicitly said that the invasion of Iraq was intended to enhance the power and credibility of the UN.
Obviously, the term "conservatism"--even of the "compassionate" variety--is unsuitable to describe Mr. Bush's perspective. This is why, early in his term, some astute observers pegged the president's ideology as "communitarian" rather than conservative.
"Third Way" Collectivism
During the Clinton era, political theorists in both Europe and the U.S. became enchanted with a concept called the "Third Way"--a supposed middle path between free market capitalism and socialist central planning. The notion was embraced by "ex"-socialist leaders overseas, most notably British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Early in Bill Clinton's presidency, the term "communitarian" gained currency as a way of describing his version of the "Third Way," which traded heavily in rhetoric extolling personal responsibility and limited government even as government's role both at home and abroad expanded dramatically.
Upon assuming the presidency in January 2001, George W. Bush, despite his Christian-conservative image, picked up where his dissolute liberal predecessor had left off. White House adviser Don Eberly told the February 1, 2001 Washington Post that Mr. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" represents "the ultimate third way. The debate in this town the last eight years was how to forge a compromise on the role of the state and the market. This is a new way to rethink social policy--a major re-igniting of interest in the social sector." For "social," read "government."
Mr. Bush arrived at the White House describing himself as a "uniter, not a divider," and pledging a pragmatic "new tone" in dealing with the Democrats. But by abandoning even the familiar Republican pretense of devotion to limited government, the Bush administration offered a change in substance, as well as style--a fact that was quickly noticed by key observers.
"Until the last few weeks, the communitarian agenda was the provenance of the Democrats," observed Charles A. Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in a March 9, 2001 op-ed column. "A host of mostly liberal scholars, with the help of the Clinton administration, has been seeking to reverse the decline of civic engagement in the United States. The restoration of a communal spirit and the nurturing of a new civic responsibility, they have been arguing, are central to social cohesion and the effective functioning of liberal democracy."
Despite appointing such "libertarian" cabinet members as Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Kupchan opined, George W. Bush was "picking up" on communitarian themes by "taking on the Republican preference for letting the individual and the market operate in unfettered fashion. He is also adding religion to the equation, presuming that faith-based institutions offer the best way to rebuild social capital."
That last observation is crucial, in that it recognizes that the Bush administration's embrace of "faith-based" organizations was intended to use religion to accomplish federal ends--a standard theme in communitarian circles.
President Bush's inaugural address was applauded by communitarian "godfather" Amitai Etzioni (about whom more later) as "a communitarian text." This is hardly surprising in light of the fact that it was vetted by Harvard Professor Robert D. Putnam (CFR), an outspoken exponent of the communitarian worldview, which he summarizes thus: "We need to connect with one another. We've got to move a little more in the direction of community in the balance between community and the individual."
Putnam's notions of "community" and "connection" are made vivid in his affiliations. The Stansfield Professor for International Peace at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Putnam sits on the Advisory Council of the Environmental Development World Bank, and is also a member of the Trilateral Commission.
Other key advisers to the Bush White House include former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith (appointed by Mr. Bush to head AmeriCorps, a key communitarian program); University of Maryland professor John DiIulio, briefly head of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives; the above-mentioned Don Eberly; and speechwriters Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. The Washington Post observed that "Putnam held a series of seminars on communitarianism, attended at times by Goldsmith, DiIulio, and the Rev. Kirbyjohn Caldwell, a Bush friend."
The Communitarian Pedigree
It's useful to consider communitarianism as less an ideology than a tendency toward favoring collective "obligations" over individual "rights," and government-designated objectives over private preferences. As Amitai Etzioni explains in his new book From Empire to Community the communitarian worldview "assumes that collective decision making often entails imposing on various participants sacrifices for the common good." To legitimize those sacrifices, a "consensus" must be defined and either accepted by the masses through consent or imposed on them by force.
In his 1995 book Managing Globalization in the Age of Interdependence, which was written as a primer for corporate leaders, Harvard Business School professor George C. Lodge offered a telling glimpse of communitarianism's pedigree and premises. And like his fellow Harvard communitarian Robert Putnam, Lodge's affiliations offer telling clues about his ideology and objectives: He is a member of the CFR and a Trustee for the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace.
Lodge correctly notes that America's constitutional republic is built on "individualist" foundations, in which governments are assigned limited and specific duties defined by written charters. Communitarianism, by way of contrast, dispenses with clear definitions of, and limits on, government powers, embracing instead the idea of an evolving "consensus" defined by a ruling elite, which invites private actors--businesses, religious leaders, community groups, charitable organizations--into the process as "stakeholders."
Since the Clinton era, federal policy has placed a growing emphasis on the phenomenon of "public-private partnerships." Lodge identifies this growing alliance between big government and big business as communitarianism at work: "Partnership between government and business serves communitarian goals, but it also may bring on fascism, so care must be taken to define clearly the terms of the partnership...." From Lodge's statist perspective, the corrupting element in public-private partnerships is business, rather than government, and so government must be the senior partner in the relationship. Ironically, the arrangement Lodge prefers is Mussolini's precise formula for fascism.
The most important distinction between individualists and communitarians, Lodge asserts, has to do with the role of the state in achieving a ruling "consensus." "The communitarian may or may not value democracy, regarding it as only one way of defining community need," he writes. "Individualism argues for a voluntary consensus; the communitarian believes that it may be necessary to secure consensus through coercion (e.g., prisons)."
As Etzioni points out in his own book, From Empire to Community, "The normative positions championed by the East might be called 'authoritarian communitarianism.' While the Western position is centered around the individual, the focus of the Eastern cultures tends to be a strongly ordered community ... [as well as] submission to a higher purpose and authority...."
Indeed, communitarianism embraces every variety of tyranny, from the relatively benign forms of bureaucratic socialism to the most murderous variants of totalitarianism. "There is nothing inherently good--or bad--about communitarianism," wrote Lodge. "No ideology has a monopoly on sin or virtue. Stalin and Hitler were communitarians as are Lee Kuan Yew [then-dictator of the city-state Singapore] and the leaders of Japan and Israel; even, it seems to me, Bill Clinton." Had Lodge updated his book after the 2000 election, he could easily have listed George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" as a variant of communitarianism as well.
Building the Network
The most urgent task of diplomacy in the 21st century, Lodge insists, is "the challenge of meshing--not merging--the various national brands of communitarianism to create a legitimate basis for the transnational governmental mechanisms required to manage globalization." Fortunately, he observes, there are "energetic and creative individuals in government, interest groups, and corporations [who] are quietly assembling global arrangements to deal with crises and tensions. For the most part, they work outside of legislatures and parliaments and are screened from the glare of the media in order to find common interests, shape a consensus, and persuade those with power to change."
George Washington University sociology professor Amitai Etzioni is perhaps the most influential of the "energetic and creative individuals" to whom Lodge refers. Like Putnam and Lodge, Etzioni is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also a self-described former terrorist who "served in an underground unit (PalMach) of the Jewish community" prior to the founding of the State of Israel. In that capacity, he recalled in a July 12, 2002 op-ed column, he conducted bombings and other lethal acts of sabotage against British officials, slinking away afterwards to take refuge in the civilian Jewish population.
Incredibly, Etzioni has invoked his terrorist background as supposed authority to recommend imposition of garrison-state counter-terrorist measures in the U.S. He is an unabashed proponent of disarming everyone apart from military and police personnel; summary, open-ended detention of terrorist suspects, including U.S. citizens, as "unlawful combatants"; and the use of biometric identification technologies.
A fervent Fabian socialist, Etzioni came to the U.S. in 1958. Brought to the Carter White House as a special adviser in 1979, Etzioni has since advised every subsequent U.S. president, except for Ronald Reagan. He went on to found the Communitarian Network, the defining charter of which is the "Responsive Communitarian Platform"--which could be described as an updated version of the notorious 1976 "Declaration of Interdependence."
"At the heart of the communitarian understanding of social justice is the idea of reciprocity: each member of the community owes something to all the rest, and the community owes something to each of its members," declares the platform. "Neither human existence nor individual liberty can be sustained for long outside the interdependent and overlapping communities to which all of us belong.... The exclusive pursuit of private interest erodes the network of social environments on which we all depend, and is destructive to our shared experiment in democratic self-government." (Emphasis added.)
Although larded with generalities, some of the platform's scanty specifics are very revealing:
* "Moral voices achieve their effect mainly through education and persuasion, rather than through coercion." Note the qualifier "mainly."
* It describes "National and local service"--that is, government-mandated "volunteerism"--as a social necessity.
* In its section on "cleaning up the polity," the platform calls for central government control over elections, declaring that "the role of private money in public life [must] be reduced as much as possible. All candidates should receive some public support, as presidential candidates already do, as well as some access to radio and TV."
* "There is little sense in gun registration. What we need to significantly enhance public safety is domestic disarmament of the kind that exists in practically all democracies."
Predictably, the platform builds to a globalist crescendo:
We believe that the human species as a whole would be well-served by the movement, as circumstances permit, of all polities toward strongly democratic communities.... Although it may seem utopian, we believe that in the multiplication of strongly democratic communities around the world lies our best hope for the emergence of a global community that can deal concertedly with matters of general concern to our species as a whole: with war and strife, with violations of basic rights, with environmental degradation, and with the extreme material deprivation that stunts the bodies, minds, and spirits of children. Our communitarian concern may begin with ourselves and our families, but it rises inexorably to the long-imagined community of mankind.
The Responsive Communitarian Platform boasts "founding endorsements" from scores of academic and political luminaries, including Putnam and Lodge and a host of other like-minded leftist establishmentarians. However, that roster includes a surprising number of nominally conservative social activists as well, such as Institute for American Values president David Blankenhorn and such academic defenders of the traditional family as Bryce J. Christensen, Rutgers University's David Popenoe, and author Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. This illustrates one of the most insidious aspects of communitarianism--namely, its appeal to social conservatives so desperate to preserve our embattled natural communities that they can be seduced into a movement devoted to building the total state.
Etzioni's book From Empire to Community suggests various ways that the Bush administration's version of communitarianism is helping to build "a de facto world government," albeit one presently "limited in scope and authority." Like President Bush, Etzioni insists that our nation has an obligation to collaborate in global crusades against terrorism, transnational crime, weapons of mass destruction, and diseases such as AIDS and SARS. He also views the UN as a "deeply flawed institution" in need of renovation (as opposed to abolition, the only truly sound approach).
Tellingly, Etzioni's book focuses on the role played by supranational "integrational bodies" such as the European Union (and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is alluded to but not specifically named), regional alliances such as NATO and ASEAN, transnational judicial bodies such as the International Criminal Court, and UN-recognized "non-governmental organizations" in building a communitarian world order. Eventually, he writes, the UN will serve as a global parliament, but only after these global building blocks are firmly in place:
In the process of getting there, the United Nations is going to benefit not only from increased transnational bonds and networks but also from [an] evolving normative synthesis.... [A]s various Global Authorities evolve, a reconstituted United Nations could credibly address the question of whether their actions are legitimate....
Anne-Marie Slaughter (CFR), dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, has likewise referred to "global policy networks" revolving the European Union, NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and various non-governmental organizations as a means of bringing about global governance. (Slaughter, not surprisingly, gave Etzioni's book a glowing endorsement.) She also points out that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has praised "global policy networks" as a means of "bringing together all public and private actors on issues critical to the global public interest."
George W. Bush's chief accomplishment has been to redefine conservatism in communitarian terms, and the "obligations" of American citizenship in terms of our nation's supposed mission to advance a global communitarian order.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||World Government|
|Author:||Grigg, William Norman|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||May 31, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Rogues' Gallery: false opposition: this is the second installment in a series of articles looking at the forces behind the scenes propelling us...|
|Next Article:||The Passion of The Christ hits a home run.|
|COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM BUSH'S ALBATROSS.|
|George W.--master of disguise: spouting patriotic rhetoric and enjoying the support of fellow Republicans, George W. Bush has masqueraded as a...|
|Why conservatives can't govern.|