Conservatives & Cognitive Dissonance: Why Rejecting the UN Means Rejecting NAFTA
Lampooning the left is lucrative business, and has become a rite-of-passage for conservative commentators—even politicians.
Pundits like Ben Shapiro, and provocateurs like Milo Yiannapoulos have made millions picking the low-hanging fruit that is exposing liberal cognitive dissonance (holding two mutually exclusive beliefs simultaneously). And of course, President Trump is no stranger to this particular smorgasbord, as his twitter account reveals:
But unfortunately, the right’s ironic sense of humor—valuable though it is—has not inoculated the bulk of conservatives against cognitive dissonance. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the debate over globalization.
On the one hand, most conservatives are firmly against political globalization—supranational organizations like the United Nations, or European Union. They are seen as a waste of money, and a threat to national sovereignty. Yet on the other, the Republican Party has relentlessly pushed for economic globalization—convoluted free trade deals and open markets—since the Nixon administration.
This is the height of cognitive dissonance: economic and political globalization are but two sides of the same coin—both lead us ever-onward into the hands of would-be global tyrants.
Globalization & the Concentration of Power
Conservatives love Lord Acton’s famous, but often misquoted observation: “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
For this reason, conservatives are skeptical of supranational political entities like the United Nations or the European Union (EU).
Said entities are governed by faceless elites with shadowy pasts, by people who are not accountable to voters. Such organizations necessarily concentrate power in the hands of a few and, predictably, are rife with corruption.
A good example is the EU’s (mis)handling of the European Debt Crisis.
For those unfamiliar with the events, a quick summary: the EU appointed a special council, the Troika, to control Greece’s spending and reduce their debt. Of course, controlling Greece’s finances meant controlling Greece itself, and the nation was essentially occupied by EU bureaucrats: elections were overturned, Greece was stripped of its sovereignty, and its population’s property rights were egregiously violated in order to prop-up the country’s illiquid financial institutions.
Nigel Farage, then a member of the European Parliament, compared the EU to the USSR in its Byzantine machinations and authoritarian predilections:
The speech’s key text:
the European project… was about taking away democracy from nation states, and handing that power to largely unaccountable people…
This European Union is the new communism. It is power without limits. It is creating a tide of human misery, and the sooner it is swept away, the better.
Most conservatives agree with Mr Farage: the European Union has concentrated political power in the hands of faceless men, and women without names. The same is true of all other global organizations: although they wield enormous power, few Americans can name the head of the United Nations, and fewer still the head of the World Bank.
This disconnect between the rulers and the ruled is antithetical to the freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution, and to the democratic principle itself.
However, the same people who oppose political globalization for the above reasons often support economic globalization—which causes the same problems, and has the same end result.
A good example is the popular conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. He has argued vociferously against global political entities, going so far as to call the UN a “deep, virulent evil“; yet at the same time he writes glowingly about the European common market, and trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
My question for Shapiro: who negotiated NAFTA? How about the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS)? TPP?
He does not know. Neither do you. No one knows.
In fact, these “free trade agreements” are so insurmountably long an immeasurably complex that no elected representative (or ordinary citizen) will ever read them, nor are they likely to understand them if they tried. Feel free to browse the text of NAFTA and you will get my point. In the end, these deals are negotiated by bureaucrats behind closed doors, written by third-party lawyers—politicians simply rubber-stamp them.
Such absolute and anonymous power is corrosive: consider how recent documents from Wikileaks revealed the multitude of hidden goodies and kickbacks written into the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). If ratified, TiSA would be the most important piece of legislation since the Affordable Care Act, and yet it is literally invisible.
The bottom line: multilateral trade agreements concentrate enormous economic power in the hands of an unaccountable few, and the system is rife with abuse. If you oppose the UN on these grounds, you logically oppose NAFTA too.
The Death of Westphalia: Globalism & The Usurpation of Sovereignty
Aside from King John’s Magna Carta and Emperor Justinian’s Corpus Jurus Civilis, the Treaty of Westphalia is perhaps the most important legal document in Western history.
This is not because it ended the gruesome Wars of Religion, laying the political foundations for the Age of Enlightenment, but because it redefined the notion of sovereignty and created the modern nation-state. The Treaty affirmed, for perhaps the first time since the fall of Rome, that a nation has supreme authority within its borders—to the exclusion of supranational organizations like the Catholic Church or the Holy Roman Empire.
This specific (and new) notion of sovereignty has been the modus operandi for political thinkers ever since. It is this type of sovereignty that conservatives seek to protect from international organizations like the UN or the EU—the stronger they grow, the weaker each nation is.
Nigel Farage made this point in the EU Parliament, questioning who its leader truly was:
This point should be obvious: for a supranational entity to work, each member state must surrender specified powers to said entity—it must surrender a piece of its sovereignty. For example, most nations agree to respect each-other’s territorial integrity or face international discipline. This is fair.
However, it is a slippery slope. How long until the EU commands the independent military it craves? How long until the UN is able to enforce its particular brand of Human Rights on its members?
Conservatives are right to jealously guard their nation’s sovereignty, and cling to every root and branch to avoid falling down the slope.
And yet, conservatives are often the first to advocate for increased economic globalization—which undermines national sovereignty in precisely the same way. In fact, it is even more pernicious than the political variety, because trade deals have build-in sanctions for non-compliance.
For example: Nigel Farage claims some 75 percent of Great Britain’s laws and regulations are either imported from the EU, or must conform to standardized EU codes; while according to Hansard evidence submitted by Boris Johnson the number is 60 percent. Either way, the majority of Great Britain’s laws are not actually British, they are European. Furthermore, they were crafted by unaccountable commissioners no one has ever heard of—the faceless men.
Most importantly: these laws were all adopted in the name of economic efficiency; what began as the European Coal and Steel Community has evolved into a sprawling system with a single currency, open borders, and open markets—Hillary Clinton’s dream.
In surrendering power the EU to facilitate more trade and closer economic ties, the European nations have been completely emasculated, reduced to mere vassal states.
The EU is no outlier. Just consider how TiSA would give multinational firms the right to sell financial derivatives, including those not yet invented, in all participating countries—nullifying domestic laws to the contrary. Likewise, it would ban national restrictions on the transfer of electronic information by financial service suppliers (like Google), thereby voiding national provincial laws.
The surrender of sovereignty is the end result of all trade deals: unified economies require unified governance, trade deals homogenize nations. Period.
Globalization’s Progeny: Fragility & Contagion
The most powerful critique against globalization boils down to the aphorisms “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” because “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. Although this sounds banal, the underlying logic is sound.
Politics is a complex, not a simple system—it works more like the weather than a washing machine. A washing machine is a simple mechanical system governed by first-order causality. That is, we know what causes what—no surprises.
The weather, on the other hand, is a complex system governed by second-order causality, meaning that a known cause interacts with the system in a non-linear way—it may be magnified by subsequent effects, have unpredictable effects, or have no effect at all. For example, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings may do nothing, or it may ultimately cause a hurricane months later—there is no way to know a priori.
It is out of respect for the complexity of political systems, and a fear of an all-encompassing catastrophe, that conservatives prefer strong state governments to a strong federal government—if something goes wrong in California, it will not directly harm Texas.
The same logic applies to international organizations and treaties. Consider how all of Europe was drawn into World War I because of their political connectivity, while distant placed like Argentina and China were barely effected.
Fragmented systems are more robust than connected systems. They are insulated against catastrophe.
But yet again, conservatives ignore their natural inclinations and argue in favor of increasing global trade. Economic globalization is a double-edged sword: while freer trade may increase global economic efficiency, it also increases the risk of contagion. For example, an academic study found that the frequency of economic crashes in America has doubled since the 1970s, when we abandoned the gold standard, dropped tariffs, and began accumulating a trade deficit.
Why is this the case? Because increased connectivity allows the spread of economic contagion around the world—and it often magnifies it. The poster child for this is the European Debt Crisis: debt problems in tiny Greece brought all of Europe to its knees—a butterfly flapped its wings and a hurricane was born.
Shackled Brothers: The Inseparability of Political & Economic Globalization
The final, and most damning, piece of evidence against economic globalization is that it invariably leads to political unification.
The perfect example is the evolution of the EU. The EU’s foundations were laid with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, a trade agreement that harmonized supply chains of said critical resources. Not only would it be economically expedient, it was marketed by its architect Robert Schuman in 1950—and like many another vain hope before it—as something that would “make war materially impossible.” From the beginning, European technocrats realized that economic integration would inevitably lead to political integration.
History proved them right. Trade agreement after agreement followed, each justified on economic grounds, and supported by conservatives—who could say no to free trade or to the prosperity it promised? And perhaps the EU did enrich Europe, but at what cost? A single market requires a single law: European nations sacrificed their political independence upon the altar of economic interdependence—Europe now shares an increasingly powerful legislature, single currency, and constitution.
We laugh at the Left for its cognitive dissonance on a host of issues, but we should be careful not to commit the same sin. Make no mistake, political and economic globalization are more than siblings, they are the two faces of Janus—by placing our faith in one, we venerate the other. It is time we returned to the measured and deliberate isolationism that America’s Founders recommended.