2 One of the great ironies of history and philosophy is that ideas consciously promoted as “noble lies” usually become problematic because people believe in them too strongly, especially their promoters. Indeed it is often overlooked that noble lies are created for the self-deception of the elites at least as much as for the deception of the people.
3 It could be argued that most ideologies promise to benefit everyone in some way. But there is a difference between, for instance, claiming that discarding petty national identities in order to form a global government will make everyone better off versus claiming that “free trade” will benefit America and its trading partners.
4 See, for instance, Wolfgang Streeck, “Europe under Merkel IV: Balance of Impotence,” American Affairs 2, no. 2 (Summer 2018): 162–92.
5 This is seen most obviously in the rhetoric of 2000s neoconservatism, which essentially claims that the entire world both should be and wants to be remade in America’s image.
6 In fact, the promotion of the very concept of “post-nationalism” matches perfectly with Germany’s national interests. Because of their history, Germans are generally prohibited from expressing “normal” nationalism. It is therefore advantageous to Germany if no one else is allowed to, either. On this question, it is worth noting that German nationalism has historically been prone to the pathological, and a unified Germany has always been a source of instability and rancor in Europe. In retrospect, permitting German reunification was probably a mistake, and one could easily make the case for redividing Germany into, say, West, East, and Bavaria. If the Germans are truly post-national, why should they object? The fact that they would object—and that this proposal is never even suggested—further belies the myth of a post-national Germany.
7 See, for example, Harry S. Truman to Bess W. Truman, July 20, 1945 (Truman Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum). Indeed, the successful postwar institutions were only successful because their architects had a firm grasp of their own and others’ interests, and sought to construct these institutions around shared interests rather than moralistic platitudes.
8 The possible exception is the European Parliament, though it is a relatively powerless institution, and its members are still chosen in national elections. It is also far from “global,” limited only to EU member states.
9 In fact, overt libertarian celebrations of hunter-gatherers are becoming increasingly common, as discussed, for example, in John Lanchester, “The Case against Civilization,” New Yorker, September 18, 2017.
10 In foreign affairs, the state might be used to force foreign populations to be free, not through a Rousseauean denaturing and reconstruction, but simply by liberating their internal good impulses from tyranny or Islamism. In a sense, “neoconservatism” expands the conservative cultural utopia to the entire world—all are inherently good and must simply be liberated from “tyranny.” The disputes between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives are essentially over little more than where the American cultural utopia ends.
11 Another reason transnational institutions are seen as equal, if not preferable, to sovereign states.
12 Alexandre Kojève, The Notion of Authority (A Brief Presentation), ed. Francois Terré, trans. Hager Weslati (London: Verso, 2014), 51–52.
13 Kojève, 75–76.
14 In the West, “populists” of various kinds have either taken power or severely disrupted establishment parties in the United States, the United Kingdom (Brexit), Italy, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Greece, and Mexico, and are poised to gain ground in several other countries (while Emmanuel Macron succeeded in France only by reorganizing the political system around his new party). At this point, it could be argued that the “establishment” only maintains that name because of its economic power and control of cultural institutions.
15 And unless the Right abandons its ideological commitments preventing the use of political power to alter the structure of the economy, this mismatch between platforms and constituencies will not change.
16 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 469–72.
17 It is worth pointing out that the partisan moral orientations are often the opposite of their own self-presentations (and their caricatures in opponents’ polemics). Far from being obsessed with hierarchy and sanctification, conservatives are thoroughly liberationist. Even when supporting traditionalist cultural norms, they believe these will be adopted through liberating people’s “natural good sense” from a state imposition. The Left, meanwhile, far from being postmodernist and relativist, displays absolute devotion to a strict moral code and defends permissiveness toward “transgression” primarily by calling for the self-renunciation of majority preferences.
18 Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1989), 403, 417.