John Leo
In his 1995 book "The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy," the late Christopher Lasch argued that America's political and cultural elites had opened up a gap between themselves and ordinary Americans. "Many of them have ceased to think of themselves as Americans in any important sense, implicated in America's destiny for better or worse," he wrote. They are increasingly detached from their fellow citizens and drawn to an international culture, Lasch said, or what we would today call a transnational culture.

Consider the current immigration debate in this light. In the transnational view, patriotism, assimilation and cultural cohesion are obsolete concerns. Borders and the nation-state are on the way out. Transnational flows of populations are inevitable. Workers will move in response to markets, not old-fashioned national policies on immigration. Norms set by internationalists will gradually replace national laws and standards. The world is becoming a single place. Trying to impede this unifying process is folly.

The term "transnationals" specifically refers to those working in and around international organizations and multinational corporations. More broadly, it indicates a cosmopolitan elite with a declining allegiance to the place where they live and work, and a feeling that nationalism and patriotism are part of the past.

To some extent, their worldview cuts across Democratic-Republican and liberal-conservative lines, and reinforces the other concerns that prevent immigration control: the desire for cheap labor and Hispanic votes. Old-line one-worlders and enthusiastic supporters of the United Nations hear the siren call. So do many academics, judges and journalists who attend international conferences and tend to adopt a common consciousness and world outlook.

The interplay between immigration and transnationalism is a flourishing subspecialty in the academic world. Ethnic studies departments, once conceived as a sop to campus minorities, increasingly stress transnationalism, though exactly what professors mean when they use the word is often not very clear. It is now common to hear that transnationalism will be to the first quarter of the 21st century what multiculturalism was to the last 25 years of the 20th.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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