Despite the zippity-doo-dah rhetoric that many conservatives have spouted for the last decade, the United States in the 1990’s will encounter challenges that neither the “right” nor the “left” is prepared to recognize, much less meet. The challenges go far beyond the “relative decline” that Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers prophesied in 1988. Mr. Kennedy argued only that the United States would be unable to keep pace with the redistribution of economic power toward the Pacific Rim and the transfer of military might that will follow it. He never broached the much more serious threats that today signify the rapid unraveling of American society: high school and college students who don’t know when Columbus discovered the New World and who think the slogans of Karl Marx are drawn from the US Constitution; urban murder rates that even idiots savants would find difficult to calculate; drug wars fought with arsenals the Vietcong would have envied; political corruption that makes the senators of ancient Rome look like Eliot Ness’s picked men; and a population so frightened of thrift and sacrifice and so addicted to instant gratification that it often prefers foregoing reproduction altogether to the responsibility of bearing and raising children.

Yet these signs of moral and social decomposition are not as alarming as the prospect, celebrated vociferously by right and left alike, of the United States’ speedy absorption into a transnational or global economy that threatens to extinguish American national and cultural identity itself Ignorance, crime, corruption, and avarice are vices that can be cured, regardless of how drastic the medicine. The danger of economic globalism is that, like the AIDS virus, it destroys the very mechanisms that enable the patient to recover, even as it entices him into the illusion that the disease is harmless.

That illusion is the dream of universal material acquisition that has animated the consolidation of the American Republic into what may be called “MacNation,” a colossal aggregate bound together not by any natural sense of historic community but through the artificial bonds imposed by bureaucratic routines and disciplines, corporate market strategies, mass media, and the mass collective channels in which millions of Americans move, work, play, eat, spend, vote, and communicate daily. Having broken down the institutional distinctions and regional diversity that once characterized the Republic and its cultural identity, the dream and its current material incarnation in economic globalism are now in the process of folding MacNation into MacPlanet.

Last March, the prominent Japanese economist and management consultant Kenichi Ohmae told an audience at Washington’s Institute for International Economics that “national borders are disappearing,” a development Mr. Ohmae welcomes, at least for other peoples’ nations, even as traditional Japanese nationalism enjoys a renaissance. Many self-proclaimed conservatives greeted Mr. Ohmae’s prediction with hearty approval, and the Wall Street Journal‘s Walter S. Mossberg reported on the appearance of conservative “one-worlders,” “economists and academics who believe that in a global economy, with goods and especially capital surging across political borders, the economic fortunes of individual countries aren’t important anymore.”

But if national borders aren’t important anymore, neither are trade deficits, or mass migrations, or even “national interests.” The same logic that dismisses borders and populations as meaningful features of national identity also implies that the nation itself is an artificial abstraction that can possess no interests for which individual “citizens” (another artifice) should be expected to sacrifice. It’s no accident that the “conservatives” who sing the progressive Utopia of the global economy are usually the same ones who drool over a Wilsonian “global democracy” in place of concrete national interests as the proper goal of our foreign policy.

Indeed, the ideology of economic globalism logically involves a kind of social and political nominalism that denies any meaning to groups smaller than “humankind.” Not only nations but also classes, ethnic groups, religious sects, local communities, and families are artificial identities that merely thwart the fulfillment of universalist, cosmopolitan, humanist perfection and that have about as much permanency as a group of Las Vegas poker players. Contemporary globalism, economic or democratist, right or left, has a remote ancestor in the ruminations of the ancient Stoics, who argued for a “city of the world” that would transcend city-states and empires. Closer relatives are the political fantasies of the Enlightenment and their Marxist derivative that “the international party shall be the human race.” But whatever despots the universalist dream could inspire in earlier eras, only in this century has it been able to assume the technological and economic integument to put the flesh of power on its ideological bones.

The exponents of economic globalism defend it with the argument that foreign investments and free trade create new jobs and provide sources of capital otherwise unavailable for economic growth, that the technological and economic integration of the planet will engender peace, fraternity, and opportunity for all human beings, and that democracy and human rights will follow such growth and opportunity as the night the day. Even if a new generation of Japanese warlords should come to power, the globalists argue, it would be unlikely to bomb Pearl Harbor if the Japanese already own most of Hawaii.

Of course, if the Japanese already owned most of Hawaii, it would be problematical to what extent Hawaii could be said to be part of America anyway. And Japanese ownership of the pead of the Pacific is not out of the question. Earlier last year, Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi complained that Japanese purchases of nine billion dollars’ worth of real estate in the islands had caused the price of housing in his city to rise 50 percent between 1987 and 1989. “They’re buying up our homes and farmland,” the mayor said. “Many Hawaiians can no longer afford to live here.” Foreigners, mainly Japanese, already own nearly 75 percent of the office space in downtown Los Angeles, up from 64 percent in 1988 and 51 percent in 1987. In the District of Columbia, foreigners own 23 percent of the office property; in Maine, 10 percent; and in Atlanta, 25 percent. In the Farm Belt of the continental United States, the Japanese bought up 218,000 acres of farmland in 11 months in 1988 and 1989.

Whatever the material advantages of allowing foreigners to buy up our land, close out our industries, steal our inventions, take over our jobs, and move into our country, the economic globalists seem oblivious to the noneconomic implications of their ideology and its practical consequences for the independence and integrity of the nation and its culture. Their large error consists in their adherence to an economic determinism that they are the first to denounce when it pops up among Marxists and other socialists. Globalists assume not only that economic motivations are the chief springs of human action, that the desire for and pursuit of wealth and economic opportunity are what all human beings at all times in all cultures and all countries are seeking, but also that economic considerations are paramount in evaluating social and political arrangements.

Those assumptions bring the globalists close to what both Albert Jay Nock and the German free-market economist Wilhelm Rdpke called “economism,” the “incorrigible mania,” as Ropke defined it, “of making the means the end, of thinking only of bread and never of those other things of which the Gospel speaks.” Nock, a religious skeptic who was less concerned but no less knowledgeable about the Gospel, held that economism “interpreted the whole of human life in terms of the production, acquisition and distribution of wealth. Like certain Philippians in the time of St. Paul, its god was its belly.”

A nation, or even a planet, that recognizes no god other than its belly will quickly start wallowing in the ignorance, crime, corruption, and avarice that today afflicts the United States, and it will find itself unable to free itself of them. “After wealth, science, invention, had done all for such a society that they could do,” wrote Nock, “it would remain without savour, without depth, uninteresting, and withal horrifying.”

What is horrifying about the planetary Utopia the economic globalists envision is not so much the impoverishment that may yet be visited upon the United States as other nations, less enchanted by this dream of days to come, gain wealth and power at our expense, but that Americans, whether they gain or lose, will cease to be Americans at all and find themselves reduced to “resources,” stripped of the distinctive set of norms that unite and identify them as a people and dispossessed even of the memory of how to make themselves one. As resources, they will become interchangeable parts in the global economic mechanism, and their functions in it can be performed just as easily (or better) by workers from Latin America, managers from Asia, or investors from Japan or Europe. If whatever remains of the Middle America core of the American nation and its civilization is to preserve itself from the dispersion and dispossession that the new global economy promises, it will have to assert its national identity and interests in economic no less than in cultural and political terms.