On September 24, Donald Trump told the United Nations General Assembly that “the future does not belong to the globalists. The future belongs to the patriots.” Four days later, as if in a rebuke to his assertion, the Great Lawn in New York’s Central Park was the site of the “Global Citizen Festival.” This event brought together “top artists, world leaders, and everyday activists to take action” (in the words of its website) and offered free tickets to “Global Citizens who take a series of actions to create lasting change around the world.” Those “actions” included writing tweets and signing petitions affirming their dedication to “changing the world.”
Featuring such entertainers as Alicia Keys and Hugh Jackman, the Global Citizen Festival was organized by a group called Global Citizen in partnership with firms such as Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, and Cisco Technologies. Rarely have so many heavyweight corporations described their activities in such benign language: Verizon stated on the event’s website that “we focus our business and resources to uplift people and protect the planet.” Who knew?
Covering the festival live, MSNBC hosts kept insisting—between interviews with Democratic politicians and recitation of DNC talking points—that it was “not about politics.” Hurricane Sandy, Central American drought, and the fall of Venezuela, we were informed, were all caused by climate change. A Mexican official announced her country’s new “feminist foreign policy.” The head of some activist group took credit for the decline in U.S. poverty. Politicians from Norway, Barbados, and elsewhere waved their globalist credentials, while America’s withdrawal from the Paris accords was cited as a sin against globalism and thus against humanity itself.
At the heart of the whole event were the repeated reassurances by those onstage that everybody present was a “global citizen”—and that this was something for which they deserved endless congratulation. Gesturing at the folks lolling around on the sunny Great Lawn, one reporter enthused over the magnificent “commitment” they were making. Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), calling the audience members a “powerful” image of “global citizenship,” was asked what, exactly, they could do to change the world. Glancing back at them lying on the grass, he enthused: “They’re doing it now!” To quote one MSNBC talking head: “Tonight is about community, connection—the world coming together!”
Welcome to the vapid but dangerous new world of global citizenship. I was introduced to it a decade ago while walking in Amsterdam. A rally was taking place on the Dam, the large cobbled square in front of the Dutch Royal Palace. As I approached, some signs and banners came into view. A person cannot be illegal! read one. There is no such thing as an illegal person! read another. (They were in Dutch, with misspellings.) There were many other signs, communicating the message that the term “illegal alien” should be replaced by “undocumented aliens” and that people should be allowed to live wherever they wished.
I knew some basic statistics. I knew how wonderful the Netherlands was, how small it was, and how crowded it was already with its population of 15 or so million. I also knew how many people were out there, in the not-so-wonderful world beyond the West. India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and the Philippines: Each of these countries had a population (a fast-growing one, at that) in excess of 100 million, a large percentage of whom would doubtless be thrilled to relocate to this tiny kingdom.
The pronouncement that “a person cannot be illegal” made no sense. What else could be said of a citizen from one country living unlawfully in another? Little did I realize that within a few years, such thinking would be mainstream. Little did I realize that in the view of many Americans, “undocumented persons” would not only deserve all the rights of American citizens but would actually deserve special treatment in matters as significant as health care, schooling, and housing—to which they would be considered entitled without being subject to any of the obligations actual citizens of the United States are required to perform.
In the past decade, the very concept of citizenship has become not only passé but déclassé. We should all be global citizens.
It’s not a new concept. The first person to call himself a “citizen of the world” was Diogenes, the founder of cynicism. He lived in the fourth century B.C.E. and has been cited in support of the idea. He made this pronouncement, however, only after being stripped of his citizenship in his native city of Sinope and moving, in disgrace, to Athens. In ancient Greece, citizenship was deeply prized. It was inextricable from the idea of civilization. Never before had individuals been afforded the protection of an identity beyond that of family or tribe. The Romans borrowed it from the Greeks and made it something of absolute value. To be a Roman citizen conferred protection and prestige throughout the ancient world. Citizenship meant order. It meant, at a bare minimum, a degree of respect and rights and security that was without parallel in the world of the day.
Ironically enough, the contemporary enthusiasm for global citizenship has its roots in the historical moment that marked the triumph of modern national identity and pride—namely, the World War II victory of free countries (plus the Soviet Union) over their unfree enemies. Citizens of small, conquered nations resisted oppression and, in many cases, gave their lives out of sheer patriotism and love of liberty. As Allied tanks rolled into one liberated town after another, people waved flags that had been hidden away during the occupation. Germany and Japan had sought to create empires that erased national borders and turned free citizens into subjects of tyranny; brave patriots destroyed that dream and restored their homelands’ sovereignty and freedom. And yet a major consequence of this victory was the establishment of an organization, the United Nations. Its founding rhetoric, like that of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, was all about the erasure of borders, even as it hoisted its own baby-blue flag alongside those of its members.
On December 10, 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The rights it enumerates emanate from the DNA of modern Western nation-states; they can be traced to Magna Carta and were articulated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. But the UN Declaration departs from its British and American antecedents in significant ways. While affirming freedom of speech and due process, noted E. Jeffrey Ludwig in an article posted at the American Thinker, it “point[ed] the way towards intervention by the UN in the daily lives of people” by, for example, “assert[ing] the right to food, clothing, medical care, social services, unemployment and disability benefits, child care, and free education,” plus more abstract rights, such as the “right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community…and to enjoy the arts.”
The chief force behind the Declaration was Eleanor Roosevelt, the chair of the UN’s Human Rights Commission. In a 1945 newspaper column, she had had some interesting things to say about patriotism and what we would now call globalism. “Willy-nilly,” she wrote, “everyone [sic] of us cares more for his own country than for any other. That is human nature. We love the bit of land where we have grown to maturity and known the joys and sorrows of life. The time has come however when we must recognize that our mutual [sic] devotion to our own land must never blind us to the good of all lands and of all peoples.”
“Willy-nilly”? “Bit of land”? Didn’t America deserve better than that from its longtime first lady? Didn’t America’s armed forces, who had fought valiantly for their own “bit of land”? One part of Mrs. Roosevelt’s testimony was ambiguous. When she referred to “the good of all lands and of all peoples,” did she mean that Americans should care about what’s best for other peoples? Or was she saying that all lands and peoples are good? She couldn’t possibly be saying that, could she? Hadn’t the Holocaust just proven otherwise? It’s striking to recognize that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote this only months after the bloody end of the crusade to restore freedom to Western Europe—and at a time when our erstwhile ally Joseph Stalin’s actions in Eastern Europe were underscoring precisely how evil our fellow man could be, and just how precious a gift to the world the United States was.
Although the Universal Declaration passed in the General Assembly, 48–0, eight nations—the USSR, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia—abstained. This rendered the document essentially pointless, a statement of Western values that much of the Soviet bloc and one of the most powerful countries in the Arab world rejected. Other Muslim nations signed on, and their insincerity in doing so was later reflected in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which defines human rights in a way that is founded entirely on sharia law and is utterly at odds with Western values.
Another would-be global citizen was Wendell Willkie, who had challenged FDR for the presidency in 1940. In 1943, Willkie published One World, an account of a round-the-world trip he had made and a plea for the nations of that world to accept a single international order. Willkie wanted more than just a UN: He wanted world government, based on the Atlantic Charter. It is said that his book was the biggest non-fiction bestseller in history up to that time, inspiring an international One World movement to which both Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi belonged. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Willkie was determined to build a new world founded on specifically American notions of rights and freedoms. Like Mrs. Roosevelt, too, he was convinced that postwar feelings of goodwill toward the U.S. by other governments would lead them to embrace those notions. On his world trip, wrote Willkie, he had discovered that foreigners knew that America had no desire for conquest, and that the U.S. therefore enjoyed their respect and trust—a respect and trust, he argued, that America must use “to unify the peoples of the earth in the human quest for freedom and justice.”
Needless to say, the world didn’t end up with Willkie’s One World. But it got the UN—where, from the outset, there was more talk of peace than of freedom and where the differences between the West and the Soviet bloc were routinely glossed over in order to present a façade of international comity. Behind the Iron Curtain, captive peoples weren’t citizens, global or otherwise, but prisoners. Yet in the West, the UN’s language of what we now call global citizenship started to take hold, and the UN began to be an object of widespread, although hardly universal, veneration. In reality, the UN may be a massive and inert bureaucratic kleptocracy yoked to a debating society, most of whose member states are unfree or partly free; but people in the free world who grow starry-eyed at the thought of global citizenship view it as somehow magically exceeding, in moral terms, the sum of its parts.
You can’t discuss the UN and global citizenship without mentioning Maurice Strong. “A very odd thing happened last weekend,” wrote Christopher Booker in the Telegraph in December 2015. “The death was announced of the man who, in the past 40 years, has arguably been more influential on global politics than any other single individual. Yet the world scarcely noticed.” What Strong, an extremely rich Canadian businessman, did—almost single-handedly—was to create, out of the blue, the global-warming panic that is now a cornerstone of left-wing ideology. Although he never was secretary-general of the UN, Strong wielded massive power within that organization and innumerable other international bodies, serving, for instance, as a director of the World Economic Forum and as a senior adviser to the president of the World Bank. He also played pivotal roles in a long list of programs and commissions that were nominally dedicated to the environment—among them the UN Environmental Programme and World Resources Institute, the Earth Charter Commission, and the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development.
But although he was nicknamed “Godfather of Global Warming,” Strong didn’t really care about climate. His real objective was to transform the UN into a world government—a permanent, unelected politburo composed of elders such as himself. At first, indeed, climate played no role in his plans. To fund the all-powerful UN of his dreams, in 1995 he proposed a 0.5 percent tax on every financial transaction on earth—a scheme that would have netted $1.5 trillion annually, approximately the entire annual gross income of the United States at the time. When the Security Council vetoed this move, Strong tried to eliminate the Security Council. The failure of such stratagems led Strong to focus increasingly on climate. By promoting the idea that the planet was in existential peril, he was able to argue that a looming disaster on the scale he predicted could be solved only by vesting in the UN an unprecedented degree of authority over the lives of absolutely everyone on earth.
To this end, Strong concocted Agenda 21. Formulated at the 1992 UN Earth Summit (or Rio Conference), of which he served as secretary-general, Agenda 21 proposed a transfer of power from nation-states to the UN. “It is simply not feasible for sovereignty to be exercised unilaterally by individual nation states,” Strong explained. “The global community must be assured of global environmental security.” What kind of regime did Strong wish to establish? Suffice it to say that he disdained the U.S. but admired Communist China, where he maintained a flat—to which, incidentally, he relocated after being implicated in the UN “oil for food” scandal in 2005. Another one of the many financial scandals in which he was implicated (but for which he repeatedly managed to get himself off the hook) involved funneling massive sums to North Korea, of whose regime he was also fond.
Strong was the spiritual father of all those global citizens who today fly thousands of miles in private jets to swanky conferences at which they give speeches chiding their inferiors for not recycling. One such personage is Al Gore, whose house is known to have one of the largest carbon footprints in Tennessee. Another is Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who promotes an initiative, Global Citizen Year, which seeks to “engag[e] young Americans in global issues.” With his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, Kristof wrote the 2014 book A Path Appears, described by its publisher as “a roadmap to becoming a conscientious global citizen.” Kristof has argued that Americans should contribute to foreign rather than domestic causes, because “an aid group abroad can save more lives more cheaply than an organization in the United States, and generally can do more good with less money.” Never mind the ample proof that foreign aid more often than not does more harm than good—encouraging dependency, fostering resentment, crushing initiative, lining the pockets of dictators and their cronies, and preventing poor countries from developing healthy economies.
After the UN came the European Union. As a free-trade zone gradually morphed into a would-be superstate, the EU’s supposed raison d’être was that nationalism had almost destroyed Europe in World War II. But this was wrong. Europe had been torn apart because of two totalitarian ideologies, one based on racial identity and the other on a utopian universalist vision. Communism’s end goal was, indeed, nothing more or less than a kind of global citizenship under which everyone except for a handful of elites would be equally controlled, spied on, and oppressed.
The global-citizenship mentality ramped up with the 1960s. No one expressed it more memorably than John Lennon in “Imagine,” a 1971 song whose influence has been immeasurable.
“Imagine there’s no countries,” Lennon wrote, going on to imply that without countries there would be “nothing to kill or die for,” so that “all the people” on earth would be “living life in peace” and, indeed, the world would “be as one.” The song, which to this day remains a ubiquitous protest anthem, has led millions of starry-eyed idealists to equate nationhood with war and patriotism with killing and to believe that a borderless planet would be a peaceful one. The song has also helped spread the view that simply imagining a perfect world is equivalent to, or even better than, doing the hard work of creating a better, if still imperfect, world—hence the inane comments at this year’s Global Citizen Festival to the effect that the attendees, just by being there, were actually accomplishing something.
The concept of global citizenship now pervades our politics. During her 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton envisioned a Western hemisphere, and ultimately a world, without borders. Barack Obama, in reply to a question about American exceptionalism, said that, yes, he saw America as exceptional, but that people in other countries, too, saw their countries as exceptional. The last sentence of his Nobel Peace Prize citation contained the word “global” not once but twice: “The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that ‘Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.’” What U.S. president had ever been more global? A Kenyan father, an Indonesian boyhood: his bestselling autobiography conveyed his affection for both of those countries; it was the U.S. for which his feelings were ambivalent.
The concept of global citizenship also dominates our popular culture. In a 2018 book, Hollywood Heyday, David Fantle and Tom Johnson write about attending a 1981 church service with film director Frank Capra, then 93. To honor the recently released Tehran hostages, the recessional hymn was “America (My Country ’Tis of Thee).” All four verses, three of them obscure, were sung. Congregants were handed lyric sheets. Capra didn’t give his sheet so much as a glance. He knew every word of every verse by heart, and sang with emotion. What member of today’s Hollywood elite could do that? More typical of the attitude of movie people nowadays was a remark made during an onstage interview at the 2016 PEN World Voices Festival by screenwriter Richard Price. Asked about American identity, he replied: “I always feel like I live in the country of New York.” The interviewer replied: “Whenever I’m traveling and people ask if I’m American, I say I’m a New Yorker.” Price replied: “I always say I’m Canadian because I don’t know who I’m talking to.”
One of the conceits of America popular culture is the idea that the human race would come together in a trice—the ultimate pipe dream of global citizens—if confronted by a common enemy. In Independence Day (1996), the world responds as one to an attack by space aliens and the U.S. president gives a pep talk to American participants in the common defense:
In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.
Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences any more….Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July….Should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, “We will not go quietly into the night!”
In Independence Day, as is almost invariably the case in such films, international cooperation is premised on American values—just like the founding of the UN. Routinely, people call themselves global citizens without recognizing in the slightest the extent to which their sense of the global is rooted in uniquely American ways of thinking.
Global citizenship is also big at America’s most prestigious colleges. “Global engagement” is a featured category on the main page of the Brown University website. Type in dartmouth.edu and you’ll find the category “Global” alongside “Admissions,” “Schools,” “Centers,” “Arts,” and “Athletics.” On the main page of Columbia University’s site, “Global” is right up there with “Libraries,” “Arts,” and “Athletics.” On Duke’s main page, the categories are “Admissions,” “Academics,” “Research,” “Arts,” “Schools & Institutes,” and—yes—“Global.” The same is true of the websites of any number of other major U.S. colleges.
What do you get when you click on “Global” on these sites? Well, at Columbia’s site you’ll encounter a comment by its president, Lee C. Bollinger: “We all need to be explorers again, rediscovering what the world is like and what it means to think globally.” (Recall that Bollinger’s own most prominent contributions to “thinking globally” were his speaking invitations, in 2007, to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, earlier this year, to Mathatir Muhammed of Malaysia—both virulent Jew-haters.) Bollinger’s bemusing rhetoric typifies the way in which these institutions discuss global citizenship. When I checked the Yale website recently, front and center on its main page was the statement that Yale “engages with people and institutions across the globe in the quest to promote cultural understanding, improve the human condition, delve deeper into the secrets of the universe, and train the next generation of world leaders.” Oh, is that all? The site quotes Yale “partner” Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s minister for the environment: “Partnerships like the ones we have forged today are especially critical when addressing complex global challenges.”
The words complex and challenges get a real workout on these sites. The pitch for Columbia’s M.A in Global Thought calls it “an interdisciplinary academic course of study that challenges students to explore new concepts and categories intended to encompass and explain the complexities of our interconnected and changing world.” M.A. students will come to understand “global thinking as a process rather than a product” and be supported “in their development of insights about the changing world.” One course, “Global Governance Regimes,” “explores the challenges of thinking about and effectuating governance in a global era.” Globalization, you see, “poses new challenges for thinking about the concept of governance.” Meanwhile, on Dartmouth’s site, you can read an item entitled “How Can Students Be Good Global Citizens?” The Dartmouth campus, we learn, features the “Global Village,” a “residential community” that “holistically equips students to thrive as ethical, engaged, and responsible world citizens and scholars” and enables them “to explore complex international issues” and engage in “focused reflection.”
Decades ago, American curricula included a subject called “civics.” Students learned about responsible citizenship—understanding how government worked, knowing one’s constitutional rights, following current affairs, and voting intelligently in elections. Describing these courses was not problematic; students weren’t “invited” or “challenged” to “figure out” what citizenship means. They were told. They were given specifics. They experienced something known as education. Alas, those civics courses have long since disappeared. The contemplation of global citizenship has filled that vacuum. Its apparent purpose is to undo any sense of responsible citizenship that a young person might have acquired and to replace it with a higher loyalty.
I began this article by mentioning the Global Citizen Festival. One of its two co-founders is Hugh Evans, described on his Wikipedia page as “an Australian humanitarian.” He gave a TED talk in 2016 titled “What does it mean to be a citizen of the world?” Evans praised this “growing movement” of “global citizens” who identify “first and foremost not as a member of a state, a tribe, or a nation, but as a member of the human race.” Saying that “the world’s future depends on global citizens,” Evans maintained that if we were all global citizens, we “could solve every major problem in the world,” because those problems are all “global issues” and can therefore “only be solved by global citizens.”
How did Evans become a global citizen? It happened, he recounts, during a brief stay in a Philippines slum whose residents wore rags and slept on garbage heaps. Why, he wondered, was his life so much better than theirs? The answer he came up with was this: Their poverty was the result of colonialism. International economics, he concluded, is a zero-sum game: If some countries are rich, it’s because they’ve exploited countries that are poor. Granted, this belief hasn’t led Evans to give up his wealth. But he’s certainly made a great show of guilt about it. It’s barely an exaggeration to say that he makes a career out of traveling from place to place, standing at lecterns and expressing solidarity with people who sleep on rubbish heaps. Note, however, that you’re not likely to hear those slum dwellers describing themselves as global citizens. They’re tied by poverty to the places where they were born.
One wonders: Would any Brit who went through the Blitz ever have called himself a “global citizen”? Would any American whose father died in a Nazi POW camp ever have called himself a “global citizen”? I doubt it. Global citizenship is a luxury of those who’ve reaped rewards earned by the blood of patriots. Global citizens pretend to possess, or sincerely think they possess, a loyalty that transcends borders. It sounds pretty. But it’s not. By the same token, to some ears a straightforward declaration of patriotism can sound exclusionary, bigoted, racist. It isn’t. To assert a national identity is to make a moral statement and to take on a responsibility. To call yourself a global citizen is to do the equivalent of wearing a peace button—you’re making a meaningless statement because you think it makes you look virtuous.
Think of love. To say that you care first and foremost about your own family doesn’t mean that you hate other families; it’s merely a question of being honest about something that, in the real world, entails commitment and sacrifice. In matters of loyalty, as in matters of love, there are hierarchies. To love everyone is to love no one. To say that you love all humanity is a pretty lie. As former British Prime Minister Theresa May said in 2016, in one of her rare deviations into sense, “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”
To be American is to partake in the benefits that flow from American freedom, power, wealth, and world leadership. Very few Americans who call themselves global citizens ever actually back up their proclamation by relinquishing any of these benefits—that might be worthy of respect. No, they gladly embrace the benefits of being an American; they’re just too virtuous, in their minds, to embrace the label itself. They’re like young people living off a generous trust fund while sporting an “Eat the Rich” button.
One way of looking at the aftermath of 9/11 is to recognize that many Americans who were simply unable (for very long, anyhow) to dedicate themselves to country were thrust by that jihadist assault into the arms of the only alternative they could imagine—namely, global citizenship. Instead of being usefully dedicated to the liberty and security of their own country in a time of grave threat, they have bailed on America and have found, in global citizenship, a noble-sounding illusion of freedom from patriotic obligation. And in fact they are floating free, hovering above the earthly struggle between good and evil and refusing to take sides—and, moreover, presenting this hands-off attitude as a mark not of cowardice but of cultural sophistication and moral superiority.
To a large extent, the project of global citizenship is about trying to replace the concrete with the abstract, about exchanging the real for the idealistic. It’s a matter of trying to talk Americans into rejecting the pragmatic and industrious patriotism that, yes, made America great, and pushing on them, instead, yet another pernicious utopian ideology of the sort that almost destroyed Europe in the 20th century. It’s a matter of endlessly talking up ideas for radical change on every level of society—from ecological measures that would bring down the world economy to a neurotic obsessiveness with hierarchies of group identity that threatens to destroy America’s social fabric—instead of implementing practical reforms that enjoy popular support and would improve everyone’s life. It’s a matter of trying to persuade ordinary citizens, in the name of some higher good—whether world peace or world health or protection of the planet’s environment—to relinquish their freedom and obey a small technocratic elite. In the final analysis, global citizenship is a dangerous dream, a threat to individual liberty, and an assault on American sovereignty—a menace not only to Americans but to all humanity, and one that should therefore be rejected unambiguously by all men and women of goodwill and at least a modicum of common sense.