Twenty sixteen was not a happy year for globalism. In different ways, Donald Trump’s election and Britain’s decision to exit the European Union represented a rejection of those who view nation-states as a relic of the past and believe that the future belongs to supranational and global institutions.
To be sure, people voted for Trump and Brexit for many reasons. Some, however, mattered more than others. One major factor was surely the sense that the political class—including some who identify as conservative, neoconservative, or classical liberal, and many who live in cities such as Washington DC, London, and Brussels—long ago lost touch with millions of the people they ostensibly serve and represent. The visible disdain with which figures like the European Commission’s outgoing president Jean-Claude Juncker viewed anyone who questioned the wisdom of diminishing national sovereignty only compounded that sense of disconnection.
In retrospect, the only surprise is that such a widespread popular reaction against global governance didn’t come sooner. Precisely how these developments will play out remains unclear. They are, however, an occasion to highlight the deep problems underlying the various ambitions for global governance that have long marked progressive opinion in America and Europe.
Modern global governance projects have manifested themselves in Western thought at least since the eighteenth-century. In 1713, a Catholic priest, the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, published a book entitled Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe (“A Project for Bringing about Perpetual Peace in Europe”). Saint-Pierre was the first modern thinker to make a substantive intellectual case for a type of universal federation of states. This federation, he proposed, would be governed by a Congress and vested with many of the characteristics of sovereignty in order to promote and maintain universal peace among European nations.
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