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World Federal Government

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This article discusses the idea of a democratic federal world government (FWG), as presented by its proponents (often called "world federalists").

At its core, FWG is simply an extension of the idea of democratic federation to the global level. In most ways, its operation should resemble the operation of existing federal governments, with the exception that no military force would be needed to protect the global citizenship against external societies (barring the discovery of such societies).

Support for FWG is rooted in mundialism, the view that all humans are interdependent members of a single global community, and humanism, the view that all humans, regardless of ethnic and national association, deserve an equal degree of dignity and respect. Globalism is often contrasted with internationalism, which divides the world into sovereign independent nations, and humanism is contrasted with nationalism, which assigns a far higher worth to the rights and interests of members of one’s nation than to members of other nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is often referenced as the best expression of the most fundamental values motivating FWG supporters.

A key motivator for seeking FWG is the desire to see wars and the threat of a nuclear holocaust permanently eliminated. Other motivators include the establishment of more effective mechanisms to guarantee basic human rights everywhere, and to address trans-national issues, such as the deterioration of the environment, global warming, trans-national terrorism and crime, etc.

The rapid increases in international trade, communication and travel over the last few decades have resulted in corresponding increases in inter-dependency between nations. These globalization trends are expected to continue and accelerate in the coming decades. The end of colonialism and, subsequently, the end of the cold war, resulted in a nearly universal acceptance of democracy, coupled with socialist capitalism, as the desirable form of government. Especially when viewed in the context of the long-term trends in social evolution, proponents suggest that FWG is not only desirable, but also inevitable. They further point to the recent appearance and rapid growth of the European Union as evidence that, should the political will be strong enough, a FWG can be incrementally established in the next few decades.

Detractors of FWG either believe that a FWG is undesirable, or see it as an unrealistic, utopian, proposition. Key concerns include excessive governance complexity leading to confusion, waste and corruption, and the disappearance of cultural diversity. Some fear a global tyranny from which there is no escape. Skeptics suggest that conflicting cultural values, a deep-rooted sense of national identity and the self-interest of national governments would cause all attempts to establish a shared global government to fail in the foreseeable future

Principles of world federalismEdit

While substantial differences exist between advocates of world federalism regarding the best approach to take in bringing about a world federation (see Activism), there is consensus regarding the principles underlying the operation of such a government. These principles include the following:

  • Enforceable secular global law principally aimed at protecting individual human rights. (In contrast with current international law, global law would apply to individual persons, not nations, ie, there would be no collective punishment of populations for their government’s acts).
  • Direct responsibility and accountability of FWG offices to the individual people of the world (in contrast with the UN, where it lies with national governments).
  • Separation of the legislative, executive and judicial functions, in line with modern concepts of democracy.
  • Funding independent of national governments.
  • Allocation of control between national (or regional) and world government levels according to the principle of subsidiarity.
  • Respect for cultural and linguistic diversity and protection of minority rights.
  • (Eventual) universal membership of all countries.
  • (Eventual) elimination of all national military forces (not all world federalists agree with this as a principle or ultimate vision).

The question of whether it is desirable to have an intermediate regional/continental government level between a FWG and the national level remains open.

There have been many suggestions regarding the detailed constitution of a FWG. Lacking a realistic prospect of legitimacy, their value has mainly been in highlighting the potential practical difficulties involved in negotiating a legitimate FWG constitution and in actually operating a government elected by and for billions of people.

History of the ideaEdit

The need for a supranational authority to preserve the peace between nations has been recognized in ancient Greek and Roman times, and, in modern times goes back at least to the early 14th century (Dante, for example, discusses it in his book Monarchia, 1329). In 1625, the great Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius wrote De Jure Belli ac Pacis (The Laws of War and Peace), which is commonly taken as the starting-point of modern international law. The idea of a federation gained much momentum during the late 18th century, a period in which the first modern democratic federation, the USA, was established (1787), and in which Immanuel Kant wrote the essay “Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch” (1795). In his essay, Kant describes three basic requirements for organizing human affairs to permanently abolish the threat of a future war:

  • The civil constitution of each state shall be republican (ie, representative democracy ensuring the rule of just law).
  • The law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free states.
  • The rights of people, as citizens of the world, shall be limited to the conditions of universal hospitality (ie, people would be allowed to visit other countries, but not to stay unless invited).

In 1811, another German philosopher, Karl Krause, suggested, in an essay titled “The Archetype of Humanity”, the formation of five regional federations, Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia, aggregated under a world republic. In 1842, the English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, published the often-quoted lines (“Locksley Hall”): For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see / Saw a Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be /... / Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer / and the battle-flags were furled / In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world. / There the common sense of most shall hold / a fretful realm in awe / And the kindly earth shall slumber / lapt in universal law.

Between 1852 and his death at 1892, Mirza Husayn Ali, an Iranian later known as the Baha’u’llah, founded the Baha'i religious movement, which set as its key principle the establishment of global unity, obtained via a global commonwealth of nations. He envisioned a set of new social structures based on participation and consultation among the world's peoples, including a world legislature, an international court, and an international executive empowered to carry out the decisions of these legislative and judicial bodies. The Baha’i movement currently counts about 5 million members spread across the globe.

Following the U.S. experiment, Switzerland (1848) and Canada (1867) formed the first multi-national federations, uniting distinct ethnic/cultural/lingual regions under a common government.

International Peace Congresses were held in Europe every two years starting in 1843, but lost their momentum after 1853 due to the renewed outbreak of wars in Europe (Crimea) and North America (U.S. Civil War). International organizations started forming in the late 19th century – the International Red Cross in 1863, the Telegraphic Union in 1865 and the Universal Postal Union in 1874. The increase in international trade at the turn of the 20th century accelerated the formation of international organizations, and, by the start of World War I in 1914, there were approximately 450 of them. Support for the idea of establishing international law grew during that period as well. The Institute of International Law was formed in 1873 by the Belgian Jurist Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, leading to the creation of concrete legal drafts, for example by the Swiss Johaan Bluntschli in 1866. In 1883, James Lorimer published "The Institutes of the Law of Nations" in which he explored the idea of a world government establishing the global rule of law. The first embryonic world parliament, called the Inter-Parliamentary Union, was organized in 1886 by Cremer and Passy, composed of legislators from many countries. In 1904 the Union formally proposed "an international congress which should meet periodically to discuss international questions".

Unsuccessful attempts were made throughout the first half of the 20th century to establish global institutions to resolve international disputes peacefully, or, when these fail, to establish laws in the conduct of wars between nations. The most remarkable ones include the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, which failed to prevent World War I, and the League of Nations (1919-1938), which failed to prevent World War II.

World War II (WW2), 1938-1945, resulted in an unprecedented scale of destruction of lives and limbs (55 million dead, most of them civilians), and the availability of city-destroying atomic weaponry. Some of the acts committed against civilians during the war were on such a massive scale of savagery, they came to be widely considered as crimes against humanity itself. As the war’s conclusion drew near, many shocked voices called for the establishment of institutions able to permanently prevent deadly international conflicts. This led to the founding of the United Nations (1945), which adopted the UDHR (1948), perhaps the most important political declaration of the modern age. Many, however, felt that the UN, essentially a forum for discussion and coordination between sovereign governments, is insufficiently empowered for the task. A number of prominent persons, such as Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell and Mahatma Gandhi, called on governments to proceed further by taking gradual steps towards forming an effectual FWG.

The years between 1945, the conclusion of WW2, and 1950, when the Korean War started and the Cold War mindset became dominant in international politics, were the "golden age" of the world federalism movement. Wendell Wilkie’s book "One World", first published in 1943, sold over 2 million copies. Another book, Emery Reves’ "The Anatomy of Peace" (1945) laid out the arguments for replacing the UN with a FWG and quickly became the "bible" of world federalists. The grassroots FWG movement in the US, led by people such as Grenville Clark, Norman Cousins, Alan Cranston and Robert Hutchins, organized itself into increasingly larger structures, finally forming, in 1947, the United World Federalists (later renamed to World Federalist Association, then Citizens for Global Solutions), claiming membership of 47,000 in 1949. Similar movements concurrently formed in many other countries, leading to the formation, at a 1947 meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, of a global coalition, now called World Federalist Movement. By 1950, the movement claimed 56 member groups in 22 countries, with some 156,000 members. In France, 1948, Garry Davis began an unauthorized speech calling for a WG from the balcony of the UN General Assembly, until he was dragged away by the guards. Mr. Davis renounced his American citizenship and started a Registry of World Citizens, which claimed to have registered over 500,000 people in less than two years. Opinion polls carried out by UNESCO in 1948-1949 found world government favored by a majority of respondents in six European countries and rejected in three other countries (Australia, Mexico and the United States).

While enthusiasm for multinational federalism in Europe incrementally led, over the following decades, to the formation of the European Union, the onset of the Cold War (1950-1990), eliminated the prospects of any progress towards federation with a more global scope. The movement quickly shrunk in size to a much smaller core of activists, and the FWG idea all but disappeared from wide public discourse.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, interest in FWG and, more generally, in the global protection of human rights, was renewed. The most visible achievement of the world federalism movement during the 1990s is the Rome Statute of 1998, which led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002. In Europe, progress towards forming a federal union of European states gained much momentum, leading, in 1992, to the Maastricht Treaty that established the European Union (EU). The EU expanded (1995, 2004) to encompass, in 2005, 450 million people in 25 member states. Following EU’s example, the African Union was founded in 2002 and the South American Community of Nations in 2004.

The current world governance systemEdit

The United Nations (UN) is the primary formal organization coordinating activities between states on a global scale. In addition to the main organs and various humanitarian programs and commissions of the UN itself, there are about 20 functional organizations affiliated with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), such as the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, and International Telecommunications Union (chart). Of particular interest politically are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were formed together in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States, 1944, to foster global monetary cooperation and to fight poverty by financially assisting states in need. The World Trade Organization (WTO) sets the rules of international trade. It already has a semi-legislative body (The General Council, reaching decisions by consensus), and a judicial body (The Dispute Settlement Body). Another influential economical international organization is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with membership of 30 democratic members.

A less formal organization, but highly influential in global politics, is G8, an association of eight of the richest and most technologically advanced democracies and the EU. The leaders of the G8 countries meet annually in person to coordinate their policies in confronting global issues, such as poverty, terrorism, infectious diseases and climate change.

International law encompasses international treaties, customs, and globally acceptable legal principles. With the exceptions of cases brought before the ICC and ICJ (see below), the laws are interpreted by national courts. Many violations of treaty or customary law obligations are overlooked.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) (also known as World Court) is the judiciary organ of the United Nations. It settles disputes submitted to it voluntarily by states (only), and gives advisory opinions on legal questions submitted to it by other organs of the UN, such as the General Assembly or Security Council.

A recent development towards the establishment of the rule of global law is The International Criminal Court (ICC). This is the first ever permanent, treaty based, international criminal court established to ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished.

In addition to the formal, or semi-formal, international organizations and laws mentioned above, many other mechanisms act to regulate human activities across national borders. In particular, international trade in goods, services and currencies (the "global market") has a tremendous impact on the lives of people in almost all parts of the world, creating deep interdependency amongst nations (see globalization). Trans-national (or multi-national) corporations, some with resources exceeding those available to most governments, govern activities of people on a global scale. The rapid increase in the volume of trans-border digital communications and mass-media distribution (eg, Internet, satellite television) has allowed information, ideas, and opinions to rapidly spread across the world, creating a complex web of international coordination and influence, mostly outside the control of any formal organizations.

Recognized deficienciesEdit

  • The UN falls far short of its charter and is in an urgent need of reform.
  • While trade and finance treaties are mostly well enforced, agreements on social, human and ecological issues have very limited effect.
  • Poor populations, especially in Africa, do not much benefit from, and contribute to, the modern world economy. Explanations for this differ: some argue that it is structural, others that poor populations are held back by protectionism and other acts of the states that exert control over them.
  • There are many overlapping, sometimes conflicting and confusing, international treaties and jurisdictions.
  • International mechanisms for protecting basic human rights, or even preventing wide-scale atrocities, are weak and inadequate.

The case for FWGEdit

There two principal arguments in favour of establishing a FWG are that it would (1) eliminate the need for violent means in resolving large-scale conflicts; and (2) improve the effectiveness of handling global issues.

No more wars, no more oppressionEdit

A FWG would provide more effective means for resolving large-scale conflicts without the use of force, thereby eliminating the need for large national military forces. The reduction of national military forces would also enable:

  • redirecting a major part of the world economy currently spent on maintaining a military force (about 1 trillion USD in 2004) towards more constructive goals; and
  • putting the means required for producing nuclear weapons under strict universal supervision, eliminating the threat of a large-scale nuclear holocaust.

The transition towards the reduction of national military forces could be pursued by establishing or increasing the role of regional and international military forces (i.e., European Union Security force, the AU peacekeeping force, NATO), concurrent supervised disarmament over a period of time, and/or accession to a global security regime for governments that pursue complete disarmament.

More effective handling of global issuesEdit

There are many examples of issues requiring effective means of efficient coordination across national borders, such as regulation of the global economy, global warming, ecology preservation, transnational terrorism and crime, infectious diseases, management of scarce global resources, etc. Experience at the national governance scale clearly shows that the existence of laws enforceable by a government accountable to its people provides the most effective means known of handling the same type of issues. There is much reason to believe this approach would similarly prove the most effective at the global level as well.

Common critiquesEdit

Objections to promoting the idea of a FWG fall into two categories: (1) FWG is not a desirable goal for humanity, and (2) a FWG is not obtainable in the foreseeable future and is, therefore, not worth pursuing. This sections details the main objections in each category, each with a typical response of FWG advocates.

FWG is not desirableEdit

  • A FWG would require establishing a substantial and expensive bureaucracy. A global parliament representing six billion constituents or a global "cabinet" of government agencies would require substantial staffing. Such bureaucracy would be so far removed from the electorate or employed through patronage, it is more likely than not to be corrupt, inefficient, and to cater mostly to the powerful and rich who would solely have the means to influence decisions on such a huge scale.
Response: Any large scale structure — whether federal government or McDonald's — will require bureaucracy, particularly if it encompasses a vast and culturally diverse electorate. Corporations have relied on market forces to moderate excesses, whereas democratic countries have relied on the rule of law and increased scrutiny by civil society. James Madison, in Federalist #10, argued that a large republic lessened the potential for corruption by including more partisan factions which checked the ambitions of each other. Though current international institutions have had incidents of corruption or scandal, the fact that such has come to light is important to note. Such UN agencies as the World Health Organization and World Food Organization have been lauded for their efficiency on stringent budgets and staffing — but have also being criticised for being vehicles of corruption, traffic of influence and for helping imposing the worldview of élites.
  • Global democracy would allow Asian nations with large populations, such as China, India and Indonesia, to impose their cultural values on other countries, such as ones with more European cultures. It would also enable poor populous nations to siphon welfare money and resources from rich economies.
Response: Few proponents of world federalism would advocate for international norms that fail to protect diverse cultural and minority rights or provide for illiberal democracy in which the larger populated countries could "out-vote" or impose their values on others. Most proponents in fact strongly discourage global democracy based on national delegations, preferring instead ideological or partisan groupings which argue for values regardless of national origin. Over the long term, these partisan groups would argue the merits of accelerating the development in poorer nations, enlarging markets, reducing refugee flow, and how to eliminate the root causes of violence and terrorism or how to bolster economic opportunities for all.
  • The establishment of FWG will accelerate the creations of a "monoculture", erasing the cultural diversity that enriches the arts and provides humanity with resilience and flexibility.
Response: While some have criticized economic globalization for allowing some corporations to "go global", few point out that such corporations distinguish themselves in different countries by appealing to local cultures and values. Few also recognize globalization's not-so-obvious benefits, i.e. increased sushi availability in the U.S. and other countries. It is true that increased trade, travel and communication may force harmonization of some cultural distinctions, but it can also inspire cultural differences to be celebrated through tourism, sales of local crafts and other distinctive opportunities previously unavailable to many peoples. A FWG would be more likely to increase trade, ease travel and reduce barriers to cultural differences than squash such distinctions.
  • With global jurisdiction, the laws imposed by a FWG would form a type of "global tyranny" from which there is no escape.
Response: As with the development of the European Union and the International Criminal Court treaty, national governments have proved themselves capable to delimiting the reach of transnational norms or actors. The principles of subsidiarity and complementarity are strongly defended by national governments and promoted by world federalists as a proper and necessary check on the development of global legal norms. In areas such human rights, basic universal norms have been defined and agreed to (if not strongly enforced) by all but a handful of the world's governments for decades. Such standards took years to craft and new global rules will likewise grow out of existing norms over time.
  • Some religious adherents view a world government (and, indeed, powerful international organizations in general) as antithetical to their religious views (e.g. fundamentalist Christians fear it would be organized or governed by the Antichrist, and that it would reenact the Babel Tower history from Genesis). Thus, they oppose it for moral and spiritual reasons.
Response: This belief appears to be rooted in the objection to the creation of a “heavenly” social order by secular humanists rather than by direct intervention of God. One can present the view, however, that the secular humanists are being used as God's means in executing God's plan, and, therefore, deserve the support of anyone believing in that plan; only that this disregards the principle, for example in Christianity, that God wants to be glorified and won't share His glory with anyone, and that in the episode of the Tower of Babel He Himself divided the nations.

FWG is not a realistic goalEdit

  • It would take many centuries of small incremental change in international relations to bring about a FWG. The nations of Europe, all Caucasian Christian living under democratic regimes, spent more than half a century taking steps towards federation, and they still have a substantial way to go to complete the process. Integration across continents, religions and races would take far longer.
Response: A century is a very long time for change in modern politics. A hundred years ago, there were very few democracies and the idea of universal human rights did not exist. Even in the last two decades alone there have been a remarkable unification of political value systems. Liberal capitalistic democracy designed to guarantee basic human rights has obtain a nearly universal support as the desired form of governance. International border disputes all but disappeared. Mass media became global, beaming detailed, uncensored, news stories to the most remote corners of the world. The Internet is providing free flow of idea, views and information between people of all nations, and the volume of international trade is growing exponentially. If the will to strengthen the current governance system towards a FWG would be strong enough, most of the FWG characteristics could be in place in two or three decades.
  • Self interests of governments and nations would act to sabotage all attempts to establish FWG. Powerful countries, for example, would not agree to limit their freedom to act by subjecting their plans for approval by other countries. Furthermore, it is enough for a single government not to join, or comply with, a disarmament plan for the plan to collapse.
Response: This is certainly a central issue to consider in charting out a plan towards the incremental establishment of a FWG (see alternative approaches below). An increased interdependency between nations increases the motivation of governments to accept restrictions and compromises in order to participate and have a say in global institutes (see, for example, the success of the WTO). Increased exposure to other cultures via travel, media, and immigration increases empathy, understanding and willingness to expand the boundaries of inclusiveness in richer societies worldwide.
  • There is not much sense in discussing democracy at the world level until all individual countries are open democracies themselves.
Response: Modern capitalistic democracy spread rapidly (although unevenly) in the second half of the twentieth century, and, by all indications, is likely to continue to spread in the coming decades. Economic and military power currently resides with democratic societies, which can immediately start taking incremental steps towards a FWG in anticipation of further change towards open democracy in other countries.

Approaches to effecting a FWGEdit

While sharing a similar objective, FWG activists promote a number of different, sometimes conflicting, approaches, which may be broadly grouped into the following categories:

Regional integrationEdit

Geographical federations would form in all parts of the world, serving as an example and an inspiration for the subsequent formation of an additional (or alternative) global layer of government. Opponents of this approach fear that competition between such regional blocks could descend into conflicts and wars.

Incremental reform Edit

Pressure on national governments would lead to increased transfer in power to international functional institutions under the UN umbrella. A directly elected assembly could, for example, be formed in parallel to the UN General Assembly, thus establishing a bi-cameral global parliament, which would obtain increased legislative power. Opponents believe this plan is unrealistic, since national governments will refuse to yield their power.
See "reforming the UN" section in the United Nations article, world presidentialism, world democracy and Reform of the United Nations.

Integration of democracies firstEdit

The open democracies should federate first and admit other countries only as they adopted political reforms. Opponents are concerned that exclusivity will alienate important countries, such as China, and unnecessarily divide the world.

Direct creation of FWG by the peopleEdit

A grass-roots movement would create, for example by a global referendum, a constituent assembly to bypass national governments and form a world government directly. Opponents believe the resources required to collect sufficient global support to obtain sufficient legitimacy are out of reach for any grass-roots movement.

In practice, it is quite conceivable that much progress would be made pursuing all those approaches concurrently, and that the evolution of the world governance system towards a FWG would be chaotic and uneven.


Published WorksEdit



See also Edit

More linksEdit

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