Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite

Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite

Mini Teaser: America's elites have forgotten the mystic chords of memory. The American people have not.

by Author(s): Samuel P. Huntington

Debates over national identity are a pervasive characteristic of our time. In part, they raise rhetorical questions, but they also have profound implications for American society and American policy at home and abroad. Different perceptions--especially between the citizenry and the more cosmopolitan elites--of what constitutes national identity generate different national interests and policy priorities.

The views of the general public on issues of national identity differ significantly from those of many elites. The public, overall, is concerned with physical security but also with societal security, which involves the sustainability--within acceptable conditions for evolution--of existing patterns of language, culture, association, religion and national identity. For many elites, these concerns are secondary to participating in the global economy, supporting international trade and migration, strengthening international institutions, promoting American values abroad, and encouraging minority identities and cultures at home. The central distinction between the public and elites is not isolationism versus internationalism, but nationalism versus cosmopolitanism.

Dead Souls

In August 1804, Walter Scott finished writing The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Therein, he asked whether

"Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said:
'This is my own, my native Land?'
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned
As home his footsteps he hath turned, . . .
From wandering on a foreign strand?"

A contemporary answer to Scott's question is: Yes, the number of dead souls is small but growing among America's business, professional, intellectual and academic elites. Possessing in Scott's words, "titles, power and pelf", they also have decreasing ties with the American nation. Coming back to America from a foreign strand, they are not likely to be overwhelmed with deep feelings of commitment to their "native land." Their attitudes and behavior contrast with the overwhelming patriotism and nationalistic identification of the rest of the American public. A major gap is growing in America between the dead or dying souls among its elites and its "Thank God for America" public. This gap was temporarily obscured by the patriotic rallying after September 11. In the absence of repeated comparable attacks, however, the pervasive and fundamental forces of economic globalization make it likely that the denationalizing of elites will continue.

Globalization involves a huge expansion in the international interactions among individuals, corporations, governments, NGOs and other entities; growth in number and size of multinational corporations investing, producing and marketing globally; and the multiplication of international organizations, regimes and regulations. The impact of these developments differs among groups and among countries. The involvement of individuals in globalizing processes varies almost directly with their socio-economic status. Elites have more and deeper transnational interests, commitments and identities than non-elites. American elites, government agencies, businesses and other organizations have been far more important in the globalization process than those of other countries. Hence there is reason for their commitments to national identities and national interests to be relatively weaker.

These developments resemble on a global basis what happened in the United States after the Civil War. As industrialization moved ahead, businesses could no longer succeed if their operations were confined to a particular locality or state. They had to go national in order to get the capital, workers and markets they needed. Ambitious individuals had to become geographically, organizationally and, to some extent, occupationally mobile, and pursue their careers on a national rather than a local basis. The growth of national corporations and other national associations promoted national viewpoints, national interests and national power. National laws and standards took precedence over state ones. National consciousness and national identity became preeminent over state and regional identities. The rise of transnationalism, although in its early stages, is somewhat similar.

Transnational ideas and people fall into three categories: universalist, economic and moralist. The universalist approach is, in effect, American nationalism and exceptionalism taken to the extreme. In this view, America is exceptional not because it is a unique nation but because it has become the "universal nation." It has merged with the world through the coming to America of people from other societies and through the widespread acceptance of American popular culture and values by other societies. The distinction between America and the world is disappearing because of the triumph of American power and the appeal of American society and culture. The economic approach focuses on economic globalization as a transcendent force breaking down national boundaries, merging national economies into a single global whole, and rapidly eroding the authority and functions of national governments. This view is prevalent among executives of multinational corporations, large NGOs, and comparable organizations operating on a global basis and among individuals with skills, usually of a highly technical nature, for which there is a global demand and who are thus able to pursue careers moving from country to country. The moralistic approach decries patriotism and nationalism as evil forces and argues that international law, institutions, regimes and norms are morally superior to those of individual nations. Commitment to humanity must supersede commitment to nation. This view is found among intellectuals, academics and journalists. Economic transnationalism is rooted in the bourgeoisie, moralistic transnationalism in the intelligentsia.

In 1953, the head of General Motors, nominated to be secretary of defense, proclaimed, "What's good for General Motors is good for America." He was widely criticized for not saying that what's good for America is good for General Motors. Either way, both he and his critics presumed some coincidence of interest between corporation and country. Now, however, multinational corporations see their interests as separate from America's interests. As their global operations expand, corporations founded and headquartered in the United States gradually become less American. In the 1990s, corporations such as Ford, Aetna, Motorola, Price Costco and Kimberly-Clark forcefully rejected, in response to a Ralph Nader proposal, expressions of patriotism and explicitly defined themselves as multinational. America-based corporations operating globally recruit their workforce and their executives, including their top ones, without regard to nationality. The CIA, one of its officials said in 1999, can no longer count on the cooperation of American corporations as it once was able to do, because the corporations view themselves as multinational and may not think it in their interests to help the U.S. government.

Nationalism has proven wrong Karl Marx's concept of a unified international proletariat. Globalization is proving right Adam Smith's observation that while "the proprietor of land is necessarily a citizen of the particular country in which his estate lies . . . the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the world, and is not necessarily attached to any particular country." Smith's 1776 words describe the way contemporary transnational businessmen see themselves. Summarizing their interviews with executives of 23 American multinational corporations and nonprofit organizations, James Davison Hunter and Joshua Yates conclude:
Surely these elites are cosmopolitans: they travel the world and their field of responsibility is the world. Indeed, they see themselves as 'global citizens.' Again and again, we heard them say that they thought of themselves more as 'citizens of the world' who happen to carry an American passport than as U.S. citizens who happen to work in a global organization. They possess all that is implied in the notion of the cosmopolitan. They are sophisticated, urbane and universalistic in their perspective and ethical commitments.

Together with the "globalizing elites" of other countries, these American executives inhabit a "socio-cultural bubble" apart from the cultures of individual nations and communicate with each other in a social science-y version of English, which Hunter and Yates label "global speak."

The economic globalizers are fixated on the world as an economic unit. As Hunter and Yates report,

All these globalizing organizations, and not just the multinational corporations, operate in a world defined by 'expanding markets', the need for 'competitive advantage', 'efficiency', 'cost-effectiveness', 'maximizing benefits and minimizing costs', 'niche markets', 'profitability' and 'the bottom line.' They justify this focus on the grounds that they are meeting the need of consumers all over the world. That is their constituency.

"One thing globalization has done", a consultant to Archer Daniels Midland said, "is to transfer the power of governments to the global consumer." As the global market replaces the national community, the national citizen gives way to the global consumer.

Economic transnationals are the nucleus of an emerging global superclass. The Global Business Policy Council asserts:

The rewards of an increasingly integrated global economy have brought forth a new global elite. Labeled 'Davos Men', 'gold-collar workers' or . . . 'cosmocrats', this emerging class is empowered by new notions of global connectedness. It includes academics, international civil servants and executives in global companies, as well as successful high-technology entrepreneurs.

Estimated to number about 20 million in 2000, of whom 40 percent were American, this elite is expected to double in size by 2010. Comprising fewer than 4 percent of the American people, these transnationalists have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite's global operations. In the coming years, one corporation executive confidently predicted, "the only people who will care about national boundaries are politicians."

Involvement in transnational institutions, networks and activities not only defines the global elite but also is critical to achieving elite status within nations. Someone whose loyalties, identities and involvements are purely national is less likely to rise to the top in business, academia, the media and the professions than someone who transcends these limits. Outside politics, those who stay home stay behind. Those who move ahead think and act internationally. As sociologist Manuel Castells has said, "Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local." The opportunity to join this transnational world, however, is limited to a small minority of people in industrialized countries and to only a miniscule handful of people in developing countries.

The global involvements of the transnational economic elites erode their sense of belonging to a national community. An early 1980s poll showed:
The higher people's income and education . . . the more conditional the allegiance. . . . They were more likely than the poor and uneducated to say they would leave the country if they could double their income.

In the early 1990s, future Secretary of Labor Robert Reich reached a similar conclusion, noting that "America's highest income earners . . . have been seceding from the rest of the nation." This seceding elite is, as John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge say,

increasingly cut off from the rest of society: Its members study in foreign universities, spend a period of time working abroad and work for organizations that have a global reach. They constitute a world within a world, linked to each other by myriad global networks but insulated from the more hidebound members of their own societies. . . . They are more likely to spend their time chatting with their peers around the world--via phone or e-mail--than talking with their neighbors in the projects around the corner.

Contemporary intellectuals have reinforced these trends. They abandon their commitment to their nation and their fellow citizens and argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large. This proclivity florished in the academic world in the 1990s. The University of Chicago's Martha Nussbaum denounced emphasis on "patriotic pride" as "morally dangerous", urged the ethical superiority of cosmopolitanism over patriotism, and argued that people should direct their "allegiance" to the "worldwide community of human beings." Amy Gutmann of Princeton argues that it was "repugnant" for American students to learn that they are, "above all, citizens of the United States." The "primary allegiance" of Americans, she wrote, "should not be to the United States or to some other politically soverign community", but to "democratic humanism." George Lipsitz of the University of California, San Diego, argued that "in recent years refuge in patriotism has been the first resort of scoundrels of all sorts." Richard Sennett of NYU denounced "the evil of a shared national identity" and judged the erosion of national sovereignty "basically a positive phenomenon." Peter Spiro of Hofstra University approvingly concluded that it is "increasingly difficult to use the word 'we' in the context of international affairs." In the past people used the word "we" with reference to the nation-state, but now affiliation with the nation-state "no longer necessarily defines the interests or even allegiances of the individual at the international level."

Moralist transnationals reject or are highly critical of the concept of national sovereignty. They agree with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that national sovereignty ought to give way to "individual sovereignty" so that the international community can act to prevent or stop gross violations by governments of the rights of their citizens. This principle provides a basis for the United Nations to intervene militarily or otherwise in the domestic affairs of states, a practice explicitly prohibited by the UN Charter. More generally, the moralists advocate the supremacy of international law over national law, the greater legitimacy of decisions made through international rather than national processes, and the expansion of the powers of international institutions compared to those of national governments. Moralist international lawyers have developed the concept of "customary international law", which holds that norms and practices that have wide acceptance can be a basis for invalidating national laws.

A key step making this principle a reality in America was the 1980 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals interpreting a 1789 statute designed to protect American ambassadors. In this case, Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the court held that Paraguayan citizens residing in the United States could bring civil action in American courts against a Paraguayan government official whom they accused of murdering a Paraguayan in Paraguay. This ruling led to a number of similar cases being filed in U.S. courts. In these cases, courts in one country transcend the territorial jurisdiction of their country and assert the authority to act on alleged human rights abuses by foreigners against foreigners in foreign countries.

Moralist international lawyers argue that precedents in customary international law supersede previous federal and state laws. Since customary international law is not set forth in either statutes or treaties, it is, as the noted legal scholar Jeremy Rabkin says, whatever experts persuade a judge to think it may be. For that reason, it is likely to reach more and more deeply into domestic affairs. If a norm in customary international law exists against race discrimination, why not also against sex discrimination? And then why not also against discrimination on the basis of citizenship or language or sexual orientation?

Moralist international lawyers argue American law must meet international standards and approve of unelected foreign judges, as well as American ones, defining the civil rights of Americans in terms of international rather than American norms. In general, moralist transnationals believe that the United States should support the creation of tribunals such as the International Criminal Court and abide by its decisions as well as those of the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and comparable bodies.

The prevalence of anti-patriotic attitudes among liberal intellectuals led some of them to warn their fellow liberals of the consequences of such attitudes for the future not of America but of American liberalism. Most Americans, as the American public philosopher Richard Rorty has written, take pride in their country, but "many of the exceptions to this rule are found in colleges and universities, in the academic departments that have become sanctuaries for left-wing political views." These leftists have done "a great deal of good for . . . women, African-Americans, gay men and lesbians. . . . But there is a problem with this Left: it is unpatriotic." It "repudiates the idea of a national identity and the emotion of national pride." If the Left is to retain influence, it must recognize that a "sense of shared national identity . . . is an absolutely essential component of citizenship." Without patriotism, the Left will be unable to achieve its goals for America. Liberals, in short, must use patriotism as a means to achieve liberal goals.

The Patriotic Public

While elements of America's business and intellectual elites are identifying more with the world as a whole and defining themselves as "global citizens", Americans as a whole are becoming more committed to their nation. Huge majorities of Americans claim to be patriotic and express great pride in their country. Asked in 1991, "How proud are you to be an American?", 96 percent of Americans said "very proud" or "quite proud." The terrorist attacks of 9/11 could not and did not have much effect on these high levels of patriotic assertion; in September 2002, 91 percent of Americans were "extremely" or "very" proud to be American.

These affirmations of patriotism and pride in country might be less meaningful if people in other countries responded similarly. By and large, they do not. Americans have consistently and overwhelmingly been foremost among peoples in their patriotism and their identification with their country. This country ranked first in national pride among the 41 to 65 countries covered in each of the World Values Surveys of 1981-82, 1990-91, and 1995-96, with 96 to 98 percent of Americans saying they were "very proud" or "quite proud" of their country.

The extent of their identification varies, however, with their socio-economic status, race and place of birth. In the 1990-91 World Values Survey, over 98 percent of native-born Americans, immigrants, non-Hispanic whites, blacks and 95 percent of Hispanics said they were very proud or quite proud of their country. When asked about the priority of their national identity, however, differences appeared. Thirty-one percent of the native-born and of non-Hispanic whites said they identified primarily with America, but these proportions dropped to 25 percent for blacks, 19 percent for Hispanics and 17 percent for immigrants. Asked whether they would be willing to fight for America, 81 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 79 percent of native-born Americans said yes, compared to 75 percent of immigrants, 67 percent of blacks and 52 percent of Hispanics.

As these figures suggest, recent immigrants and the descendants of people coerced into becoming part of American society are likely to have more ambivalent attitudes toward that society than the descendants of settlers and earlier immigrants. Blacks and other minorities have fought valiantly in America's wars. Yet significantly fewer blacks than whites think of themselves as patriotic. In a 1989 poll 95 percent of whites and 72 percent of blacks said that they considered themselves "very" or "somewhat" patriotic. In a 1998 survey of the parents of school children, 91 percent of white, 92 percent of Hispanic and 91 percent of immigrant parents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, "The U.S. is a better country than most other countries in the world." Among African-American parents, the proportion dropped to 84 percent. In other surveys, black-white differences have been somewhat less, yet in a September 2002 Gallup poll for ABC News-Washington Post, 74 percent of whites and 53 percent of non-whites said they were "extremely" proud to be an American, a larger difference than between other major social-economic categories.

Overall, however, with only minor variations, Americans overwhelmingly and intensely identify with their country, particularly compared to other peoples. While American elites may be denationalizing, Americans, the conductors of one comparative survey fittingly concluded, remain "the world's most patriotic people."

Unrepresentative Democracy

Growing differences between the leaders of major institutions and the public on domestic and foreign policy issues affecting national identity form a major cultural fault line cutting across class, denominational, racial, regional and ethnic distinctions. In a variety of ways, the American establishment, governmental and private, has become increasingly divorced from the American people. Politically, America remains a democracy because key public officials are selected through free and fair elections. In many respects, however, it has become an unrepresentative democracy because on crucial issues--especially those involving national identity--its leaders pass laws and implement policies contrary to the views of the American people. Concomitantly, the American people have become increasingly alienated from politics and government.

Apart from business and the military, contemporary American elites in categories such as the media, labor, religion, law and bureaucracy were almost twice to more than three times as liberal as the public as a whole, according to a 1980s survey. Another survey similarly found that on moral issues elites are "consistently more liberal" than rank-and-file Americans. Governmental, nonprofit and communications elites in particular are overwhelmingly liberal in their outlooks. So also are academics. The radical students of the 1960s have become tenured professors, particularly in elite institutions. As Stanley Rothman observes, "Social science faculties at elite universities are overwhelmingly liberal and cosmopolitan or on the Left. Almost any form of civic loyalty or patriotism is considered reactionary." Liberalism tends to go with irreligiosity as well. In a 1969 study by Lipset and Ladd, at least 71 percent of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant academics who identified themselves as liberal also identified themselves as being "basically opposed to religion."

These differences in ideology, nationalism and religion generate differences on domestic and foreign policy issues related to national identity. The public is overwhelmingly concerned with the protection of military security, societal security, the domestic economy and sovereignty. Foreign policy elites are less concerned with these issues and more concerned with U.S. promotion of international security, peace, globalization and the economic development of foreign nations than is the public. There is, as Jack Citrin concludes, a "gulf between elite advocacy of multiculturalism and stubborn mass support of assimilation to a common national identity." The parallel gap between the nationalist public and cosmopolitan elites has its most dramatic impact on the relation between American identity and foreign policy. A 1994 study by Citrin and others concluded that

the dwindling of consensus about America's international role follows from the waning of agreement on what it means to be an American, on the very character of American nationalism. The domestic underpinnings for the long post-World War II hegemony of cosmopolitan liberalism and internationalism have frayed, quite apart from the fact that the United States no longer confronts a powerful military adversary.

The public and elites agree on many foreign policy issues. Yet overall the differences between them far exceed the similarities. The public is nationalist, elites transnationalist. In 1998, for instance, differences from 22 to 42 percent existed between the views of the public and those of a representative group of foreign policy leaders on 34 major foreign policy issues. In six polls from 1978 to 1998, the proportion of foreign policy elites favoring an active U.S. role in the world never dropped below 96 percent; the proportion of the public favoring such a role never rose above 65 percent. With a few exceptions, the public consistently has been much more reluctant than the leaders to use U.S. military force to defend other countries against invasion. On the other hand, the public is more concerned with upheavals closer to home, willing to support an indigenous uprising against Fidel Castro's regime and to use force in Mexico if it were threatened by revolution. A substantial majority of citizens also believe, however, that the United States should not act alone in international crises without support from its allies, as compared to less than half of elites saying it should not do so. Fifty-seven percent of the public have also approved of America taking part "in UN international peacekeeping forces in troubled parts of the world."

The gap between public and elite is especially great on America's economic relations with the rest of the world. In 1998, 87 percent of leaders and 54 percent of the public thought economic globalization was mostly good for America, with 12 percent of the leaders and 35 percent of the public thinking otherwise. Four-fifths of the public but less than half of foreign policy leaders think protecting American jobs should be a "very important goal" of the U.S. government. Fifty percent or more of the public but never more than a third of leaders have supported reducing economic aid to other countries. In various polls, 60 percent or more of the public have backed tariffs; comparable proportions of leaders have favored reducing or eliminating them. Similar differences exist with respect to immigration. In two 1990s polls, 74 percent and 57 percent of the public and 31 percent and 18 percent of foreign policy elites thought large numbers of immigrants were a "critical threat" to the United States.

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