Does the Donald Trump supporter in a bright red “Make America Great Again” ball cap have anything in common with the Bernie Sanders–inspired activist who fervently hopes for an end to the “political oligarchy” in America? Maybe on both the left and the right voters have finally had enough of global elites in Washington, Brussels and Davos calling the shots. In his new Acton monograph What’s Wrong with Global Governance?, Robert F. Gorman looks at the rise of a globalist ideology that seeks centralization and regulation of “wide reaching areas of international action.” Gorman is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Texas State University. He spoke recently with Religion & Liberty's executive editor, John Couretas.
Religion & Liberty: In your new book, you make a distinction between globalization and global governance. You say global governance advocates tend to prefer both transnational regulation of markets and the creation of new human rights norms. If I understand you correctly, you’re not saying economic globalization is in itself a bad thing.
Gorman: Yes, I make a distinction. It’s what the scholar Marguerite Peeters would call a new global ethic that emphasizes centralization of decision-making, reducing the influence of national governance in that process and, by definition, other more local forms of government. We’re talking about the subsidiary bodies that do most of the heavy lifting in all the questions dealing with human dignity and economic life and promotion of work and economic development. These are at the core of what has actually been the most staggeringly positive expansion of wealth in the world, with economic globalization, the trade migration patterns, communication and that sort of thing.
R&L: This global economic transformation has occurred in parallel with the rise of a new global ethic, as you call it, that aims to establish a purely secular political and social order. The heavy lifting for this project takes place quietly in the work of NGOs, UN committees and innumerable nonprofits for the most part.
G: What I try to do is point out a little bit of the contradiction. These cultural elites that command the high ground on almost all national and international organizations, and increasingly even local education, tend to claim that centralization of secular institutions at the global level is responsible for this alleviation. And this is partly symbolized through the claim that the Millennium Development Goals and the more recent sustainable development goals developed by the U.N. are largely responsible for the improved economic condition of humanity. And as I point out in the book, that’s simply not true. The subsidiary work of private enterprises through direct investment, trade and private individuals, and remittances of income earned by migrants and sent back to their families in the developing world is really where the dynamic is occurring.
This secular global ethic is an insidious ideology because much of it is accomplished beyond the spotlight, in private conferences, in academic gatherings, even in treaty-making oversight bodies for human rights treaties. The academic expert and the NGO, all of whom pretty much accept the liberal, progressive, secular, humanist anthropology are working to advance this project.
R&L: In your monograph, you say there’s been a complete transvaluation of values, how things are sort of turned on their head. Could you explain how you connect this global governance ideology with Marxist thought?
G: It’s actually utilitarian thinking, the reduction of the human person to simply a material object rather than a personal subject. In practice, Marxists have made it their business to directly attack both the church and family life in an effort to develop direct relationships with individuals. So it’s not surprising to look at China and see that its one-child policy is, in a sense, a way to exterminate the Confucian ethic, which involved all those duties to extended family members. That all disappears when families have only one child.
What the Marxists understood and what more contemporary expressions of postmodern thinking understand is that the real battle for control of societies is predominantly cultural. Paradoxically, the language they use, the principles advanced in the name of human rights and human freedom are actually counterproductive to genuine freedom and the genuine good of peoples and the human dignity of individuals who are most frequently violated in these global governance political systems.
R&L: Your book makes the case that the Catholic Church is in many places the main hurdle to the global governance project.
G: The church is supposed to be the conveyor of the gospel, a sign of contradiction against the novelties of human thought that emerge against that gospel. And so by emphasizing the importance of marriage and family life and freedom of religion and freedom of conscience and practice of the faith, the church upholds traditional values.
R&L: At the same time, divisions within churches, liberal and conservative wings, see this global ethic in both positive and negative lights. How well will the traditional Christian witness be able to keep itself together going forward?
G: I think in some ways that’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict was telling us when he said the church might be a smaller but more faithful remnant. The Catholic Church is not going to go away, but its capacity to influence the world depends on our bishops, specifically, those committed to the propagation of the gospel itself.
R&L: What about the way global elites are redefining the very definition of human dignity? Do you see that as part and parcel of this whole global governance project?
G: They reduce the dignity of the human person to the pursuit of pleasure and predominantly sexual pleasure. And what’s ironic about this is that there’s a tendency on the part of advocates of this new global ethic to attack the church as preoccupied with sex and a guilty understanding of sex. But in fact, these global governance elites are preoccupied with it. They define freedom as radical autonomy.
R&L: There is no sense that human dignity is connected with anything transcendent.
G: It’s a totally warped human anthropology that denies the natural basis of masculinity and femininity of the role of the family as the basic unit of society, without which we don’t even have the propagation of the human species. But again, part of this new global elite is that the human being is, in a sense, the enemy of the ecology, the enemy of the environment, and therefore that’s why they advance the idea of contraception and abortion and sterilization and reduction of human fertility as one of the greatest goods of this global governance movement.
R&L: The human person as the culprit for an exhausted Earth.
G: Right. It’s the idea that human beings and population growth are the number one enemy to sustainable development and to the health of planet earth. And of course, this goes back a ways too, to those limits to growth concepts that emerged in the 1960s with Paul Ehrlich and his Population Bomb thesis. Unfortunately, Ehrlich seems to have some influence even to this day in Catholic circles.
R&L: Is it a coincidence that this demographic decline is occurring alongside a rapid secularization?
G: There’s a cultural dimension of it and a political dimension of it. The political dimension is to get to the establishment of global policies by the global elites themselves and so-called experts who know better than the rest of humanity what’s best for them and for the world at large. The vast majority of people who populate NGOs and the international civil servants at the U.N. and other agencies, the European Union being a prominent one, act as if they know better how to organize the world than families and local communities. The experts believe that if you obstruct the rule of experts, the world will fall apart.
Some years ago I was commissioned to do a multi-volume encyclopedia of events in the 20th century and was asked to edit older articles and provide suggestions for new pieces that could fill out the series. And it struck me as I read the predictions of experts how often, more often than not, they were wrong in their predictions. And most of my edits of earlier pieces concern just updating erroneous predictions that have been made by so-called experts.
R&L: In recent years, we’ve seen populist surges in the United States and in Europe,
on both the left and the right. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Do you see a growing sentiment among voters that time is up for the rule of elites and their experts?
G: I do think so. These are all manifestations in a world where there is greater literacy, where people have freer access to information sources of their own choosing on the internet. We now have a discussion about some of the negative aspects of globalization that people are more broadly aware of. And you look at the coincidence, then, between what was happening in Britain on Brexit and the surge of uncontrolled refugee migration into Europe, which itself stimulated, perhaps, popular movements against this idea that Brussels was imposing rules and regulations on the whole of Europe in a way that was adversely affecting the security and well-being of populations in EU countries. People are only going to put up with that for so long before they just say, “Ok, we’ve got to put some new people in charge here to clean this up.”
R&L: And the Sanders phenomenon rode the same antiestablishment, antiexpert type of wave?
G: Of course, but we’re dealing with it very much on the left. On the left and the right are two different perceptions about
who to blame. But with Sanders supporters, you saw some of the same uneasiness largely focused on Wall Street and elite establishment control of the economy. It’s a similar kind of impulse in that everybody understands there’s something wrong with the way things are playing out.