that,  “By  definition,  NGOs  should  be
independent from government. However,
today 3,000 NGOs, including the National
Organization of Women and Greenpeace
International, have consultative status with
various U.N. bodies. NGOs are promot-
ing new international arrangements that are
indifferent to the U.S. Constitution, which
safeguards our liberties and guarantees our
national sovereignty.11 A hypothetical exam- ple of what NGO Watch sees as NGO
interference with the natural sovereignty
of the State and the legitimate operation of
the free market would be an environmen-
tal  group  that  organizes  against  an  oil
agreement between a large U.S. oil com-
pany and the Peruvian government. If the
oil company agreed to adopt some of the
NGOs demands, the Right would accuse
it of interfering with “government sover-
     NGO Watch is a subtle attack on the
United Nations, which legitimizes and lis-
tens to NGOs. NGO status is granted by
the United Nations, an institution long
opposed by the Right as a threat to U.S. sov-
ereignty and an impediment to U.S. inter-
national economic interests. The United
Nations symbolizes bilateralism in foreign
policy, sets the standards (and hence the
limits) of international adventurism, and
gives voice to less powerful countries in
international  affairs.  By  targeting  both
U.S.  and  international  NGOs,  NGO
Watch is accomplishing its goal of advanc-
ing the public critique and damaging the
U.N.’s international legitimacy.
     NGO Watch places the philanthropic
sponsors  of  NGOs  under  increased
scrutiny by accusing them of promoting
an activist agenda that is “unaccountable”
and challenges the “legitimate” agendas of
governments and the free market. In the
case  of  government  funders,  such  as
USAID, pressure from NGO Watch could
discourage  government  agencies  from
using NGOs as their agents in aid, relief,
and democracy-building projects. In the
case  of  public  and  private  foundations,
NGO Watch  could  harass  foundations
with  unflattering  critiques  packaged  as
“research,” mobilize public opinion against
foundations, or even pressure Congress to
hold public hearings on foundation grant-
     NGO Watch is a subtle attack on civil
society  itself.  By  drawing  a  distinction
between  civil  society  practices  that  are
acceptable and those that are “unaccount-
able,” the sector of the Right that is spon-
soring NGO Watch is attempting to strip
civil society of its core feature—a space
where voices that are independent of gov-
ernment or free market economic institu-
tions can be heard and can exert influence.
Not all rightist organizations are ideolog-
ically opposed to civil society. Most are sim- ply opposed to those organizations within
civil society that oppose their goals. How-
ever, AEI and The Federalist Society see
only two legitimate sources of power in
society:    the  government  (legitimate  in
genuine  free-market  democracies),  and
the  free-market  system  (which  operates
by “the invisible hand”). One scholar has
described AEI’s ideology as “business fun-
damentalism.” The  Federalist  Society,
which in its mildest form, advocates strict
constitutionalism in legal decisions, could
be described as supporting a form of “judi-
cial fundamentalism.”12
     AEI bases its belief that an unfettered
free-market system is the only legitimate
economic system on its faith in “the invis-
ible hand” that controls market decisions
and directions for the greatest benefit of
society. Introduced by Adam Smith (1723-
1790) in his book, The Wealth of Nations,
the concept of the invisible hand currently
refers to a notion that, although consumers
choose the lowest priced goods and entre-
preneurs  seek  the  highest  profits,  con-
sumers control entrepreneurs through the
open market of competition. Economic
prosperity and individual satisfaction are
maximized, if consumers are free to seek the
best products produced by entrepreneurs
at the lowest cost. The system is self-regu-
lating,  unless  government  regulations,
taxes, unions, and pressure from mobilized
“interest groups” distort the workings of the
free market.
     According to the true believers of NGO
Watch, free market capitalism in its pure
form is unquestionably the best economic
system, and the legitimate expression of
public opinion occurs only through the
institutions of government in a democracy.
From their perspective, all other expressions
reflect the will of a tiny minority and are
symptomatic of the danger posed by civil
What Can We Learn about the
Right from This Campaign?
NGO                                 Watch has been launched
                                in the midst of a consol-
idation of the Right’s political power in
Washington and at the state and local lev-
els under the umbrella of the George W.
Bush Administration and Republican con-
trol of both houses of Congress. It is also a
time  of  consolidation  of  the  Right  as  a
social  movement.  Given  these  favorable
conditions, this historical moment is the
Right’s chance to chill and roll back the work of liberal and progressive NGOs.      The  Bush  Administration  creates  an
opportunity for the Right, one in which it
must use all its muscle to push through
“reforms” that will perhaps go further than
the American people know or support, but
which, once established, will be hard to
reverse. A strategic division of labor is the
key to success when a social movement has
its representatives in positions of power.
How a Social Movement Works
when it has Governmental
A n effective social movement exploits its
connections with power-holders and
policy-makers. If it has the sympathetic ear
of federal and state legislators, and is aligned
with the party that holds a Congressional
majority or the Presidency, its voice is mag-
nified  enormously.  In  this  case,  each
group—the movement organizations and
the elected and appointed official power-
holders—has a role to play.
     NGO Watch  is  sponsored  by  two
organizations that have a strikingly sym-
biotic relationship with the Republican
Party and especially the George W. Bush
Administration.  It  attacks  opposition
groups that might hold back or even stand
The Public Eye THE PUBLIC EYE SPRING 2004 6