All for one

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All for one

The United Nations General Assembly, October 2012. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

World government is back, in geopolitics and in the academy, but what does the future hold for it?

Luis Cabrera is a reader in political theory at the University of Birmingham in the UK. His latest book is The Practice of Global Citizenship (2010).

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Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), recently tried a new tack in his campaign to free Britain from the ‘shackles’ of European Union membership. The EU, he said, should not be viewed as a mutually beneficial economic and political union of 28 countries, but ‘as a prototype for those who would have us be part of one world government’.

One can imagine nods of affirmation from Farage’s mostly far-right, avowedly Euroskeptic supporters, and weary head-shaking from those more in the political mainstream. But actually, he’s not so far off.

As a longtime student of the world government ideal, I have given the EU close scrutiny. I don’t necessarily see it as a prototype or ‘baby world government’, but as an immensely valuable living laboratory for studying the challenges and potential of deep integration between nation-states. Mine is just one of many voices in what has become a remarkable resurgence of academic thought on the world government ideal, including many who look to Europe for a partial model. Not since the world government ‘heyday’ of 1945-50 have we seen so many political scientists, economists, and philosophers giving serious attention to a global government.

In 1945, it was the virtually instantaneous atomic annihilation of two major Japanese cities by the United States that led academics, prominent politicians, and social activists to call for a strong world government. The choice was clear, Albert Einstein said, as part of his consistent advocacy on the issue: create one world, or face the prospect of having no world at all. Social movements advocating for global integration soon claimed membership in the hundreds of thousands and, by the end of the decade, both houses of the US Congress had held hearings on whether the United Nations should be transformed into a world government.

The heyday ended abruptly, however. With the onset of the Cold War and ensuing popular anti-communist hysteria, world government became linked to presumed Soviet designs for global domination. Few political figures then dared breathe a word about it, and through the 1990s it was pushed mostly to the fringes of serious academia.

The renaissance in thinking about world governments can be traced in part to the acceleration of economic globalisation. The 1999 World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle were a watershed moment. More than 50,000 activists converged from around the world, shutting down the city’s central business district and locking the WTO delegates out of their own opening ceremonies. Many in the streets saw the WTO as a shadow global economic government, setting the rules of international trade for most of the world’s countries, but with little direct input from their peoples.

This point has been made in academic circles, too, but it isn’t the only rationale for a single world government. A second camp argues, we’re not nearly as frightened as we should be of nuclear weapons. It is true that both Russia and the US have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons dramatically, from highs of around 27,000 and 25,000 respectively. Today, the global grand total, counting weapons known to be held by the US, Russia, France, China, the UK, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea, is believed to be around 17,000, with 10,000 of those actually in ready stockpiles, and the rest slated for dismantlement. But watchdog groups such as Ploughshares Fund in the US say that the number is still far too large in relation to any practical purpose the weapons have.

Those offering the nuclear security case for world government paint a starker picture: unless some bold, near-term steps are taken towards global union, the remaining arsenal is sure to blow up in humanity’s face. Campbell Craig, professor in international politics at Aberystwyth University and one of the leading security world government voices, offers probably the most unflinching recent version of this argument. ‘In the long term,’ he writes in Glimmer of a New Leviathan (2003), ‘deterrence is bound to fail… When it fails, the ensuing war is likely to kill hundreds of millions of people, and possibly exterminate the human race.’

Many in this camp echo the logic of Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher who described life in the state of nature as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Hobbes prescribed powerful government as the only means of avoiding a perpetual state of civil war, and many think this applies to the international realm as well, especially since nuclear weapons have raised the stakes of conflict. Others offer milder prescriptions from the same threat analysis. Particularly notable here is the Johns Hopkins political scientist Daniel Deudney, whose book Bounding Power (2007) was awarded the highly prestigious ‘Book of the Decade’ prize from the US-based International Studies Association. Deudney argues that we should fear not only global anarchy – a condition that gives states dangerous incentives to enhance their own security capabilities – but also strong hierarchies, including in the form of a powerful global government.

Deudney says we should avoid both of these extremes and create a limited ‘union of mutual restraint’ between sovereign states. The nuclear peace would be kept not by a Hobbesian sword hanging over all, but through a dispersal of state powers to actually use their most destructive weapons. In one such scenario, nuclear states would surrender their launch codes to a global authority. This body would then assess the case for any nuclear strikes and release the codes only if it approved.

Whether it’s used to advocate for a strong world government, or a milder federation of states, I’m not so sure the nuclear case is persuasive. Undoubtedly, authors, politicians and social activists in the 1940s were right to sound the alarm about the atomic threat, and to do all they could to try to put the nuclear genie back into the bottle. And today’s commentators must be right that the threat is still severe and probably underappreciated. But there has long been a ‘cure worse than the disease’ feel to nuclear arguments.

A hastily formed union might bring not global peace, but endless global insurgency and civil wars

In most accounts, the nuclear one-world would be rapidly constructed, given the urgency of the threat. It would also need to cover the entire globe, so that every country could be assured of its own safety. A hastily formed union might bring not global peace, but endless global insurgency and civil wars. You could imagine the emergence worldwide of political figures such as Britain’s Farage, demanding freedom from ‘foreign control’ for their own countries, and claiming sovereign rights of defence and armament against a rapidly imposed global Leviathan.

Most thinkers in the current nuclear camp are pessimistic that an enlightened self-interest will move us to take the necessary steps toward a world government. Deudney and Craig both suggest that it might take a limited nuclear war – some regional conflict such as India vs Pakistan – for us to wake up to our precariously balanced reality and move toward a global union. But even then, a second paradox arises, one that has long been lobbed at Hobbesian arguments: we are said to need a strong government before we can trust each other not to be nasty or brutish, but how can we create such a government without that level of trust already being in place?

In the global context, countries could not be assured of their own security until after a world government had eliminated the nuclear threat. Yet, it is hard to imagine any scenario – perhaps especially one after a regional nuclear war – where every nuclear-capable state would trust every other enough to simultaneously surrender all of its nuclear weapons capacity. This is why some have suggested that it might actually need some powerful state imposing its will on all others to save us from the nuclear threat, which brings us back to our earlier worries about too-quick integration triggering a global civil war.

And so, while it’s true that sovereign states armed with nuclear weapons pose serious threats, I’m not convinced that a global government is the solution to that problem in the near term. But what should we make of the case for global democracy? David Held, professor of politics at the University of Durham, is perhaps the most influential recent advocate of global democracy, though like most thinkers in this area, he does not willingly fly the world government flag. Held and his frequent collaborator, Daniele Archibugi, research director for the Italian National Research Council in Rome, joined forces in the glow of the New World Order-era at the end of the Cold War. They outlined a project of ‘cosmopolitan democracy’, which soon became the term of art for all broadly similar proposals seeking to push democracy above and beyond national boundaries.

Their arguments focus on the same concern voiced by the WTO protesters of 1999. Namely, thanks to globalisation and economic integration, people are increasingly affected by decisions in which they have no democratic input. For Held, this is a violation of a fundamental freedom. All persons should be permitted to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and so, according to Held, global institutions that can make and enforce binding democratic decisions should be created.

Others have followed a similar logic in arguing for a less powerful global parliamentary assembly. Indeed, we have recently seen the emergence of the global social movement that resembles those of the 1940s heyday: the Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, which would create a directly elected advisory parliament meeting parallel to the UN General Assembly. More than 1,300 current and former parliamentarians have formally endorsed the project.

It might be more important to address issues of poverty, inequality and global justice than to try to ensure a democratic say above the state

My primary concern with ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ stems from its presumption that democratic participation will indeed make us free. Of course, few of us that live in democracies would trade participation rights for some form of rule by the benevolent and wise – and rightly so. Strictly speaking, however, in majority decision-making, only the freedom of the winners is enabled. Those on the losing side, especially if they belong to a persistent democratic minority, might see their liberty routinely restricted. This point has important implications for global institution-building, in that cosmopolitan democracy could be putting the cart before the horse. In the near term, it might be more important to address issues of poverty, inequality and global justice than to try to ensure a democratic say above the state.

To see this objection most vividly, imagine how a global democracy would confront an issue such as climate change, which might affect a minority dramatically, and the global democratic majority to a lesser extent. Imagine our representatives follow majority will, and vote to let low-lying island countries sink under the waves, rather than make the sacrifices needed to address the root causes. Democracy will have been done, but what about justice?

This concern is at the root of my position that changes to our global political system should be motivated by global justice, and not by a focus on a particular form of government. Of course, what needs changing will depend a great deal on what we deserve. If we deserve only to see our most basic needs met – minimal food, shelter, health care – then relatively few institutional changes might be needed. If, however, all persons deserve a richer set of life opportunities and the means to pursue them, deep institutional change will be required.

Many political theorists have recently argued for a higher global minimum, but my focus has been on the kinds of individual rights that should be reliably secured for all persons, and especially on the seeming inability of the sovereign states system to safeguard those rights. Our current international system leads to unjust outcomes because, in part, sovereign states are able to claim the right to be the ultimate judges in their own cases about moral obligations.

This is a line of argument that traces not to the Hobbesian sword, but to the 17th-century English liberal thinker John Locke. It wasn’t that life outside government would be nasty and brutish all the time, Locke argued. Social norms and agreements would exist as stabilising forces. The trouble is that individual actors would inevitably come into dispute about various things, and human nature being what it is, both would tend to think that they were in the right. This would lead to some unnecessary and potentially destructive conflicts, and so government is needed to pass fair judgments and back them up.

The logic can be extended to rights protections in a system of sovereign states. Countries claim the right to be their own final judges about their obligations to contribute to development, to support fair trade and investment rules, to address climate change, etc. There is no strongly empowered neutral judge able to set fair terms of co-operation and contribution, and this leads predictably to vast inequalities in rights protection and life chances for people in less-rich countries.

Closely related to this concern is the way that such a system turns the vice of selfishness into a virtue. It encourages us to view ourselves as members of discrete, self-contained moral communities. We are encouraged to assume strong duties of justice to others in that community, whether it is comprised of Nauru’s 9,500 souls or China’s 1.3 billion, but outsiders are said to be owed only charity that can be spared.

Many ‘statists’ who defend this moral arrangement point to the ways that co-citizens make sacrifices for one another, including paying taxes and obeying democratically imposed laws. Yet this does little to justify the boundary lines drawn around our national communities. Those lines put us in relations of co-citizenship and obligation in the first place, but they are often the product of war and other historical contingencies. The ‘is’ of the current system can’t necessarily tell us whether that ‘ought’ to be the system we have.

If we ought to have a system where the key rights of all persons can be reliably protected, then we very likely will need to pursue global integration. We’ll need, in short, to work toward creating a world government, but given the difficulties we’ve already canvassed, how might this actually be achieved?

Outside of the nuclear security camp, most accounts presume a global government must evolve over time. Some have argued this process is already in motion, by pointing to the tendency for governing units to shrink in number. Early on in human history, we lived in some 600,000 kingdoms, tribes and other units, but today that number is just shy of 200 sovereign states. That’s fascinating as far as it goes, but it doesn’t tell us whether the number will shrink further, much less to one. There are, however, other accounts that give us some idea how that could happen.

In the wake of the Seattle WTO protests, the Princeton economist Dani Rodrik argued that the world faces a trilemma, where three possible outcomes are possible, but only two can obtain at once. The points of this trilemma are state control of economic policy, full global economic integration, and democratic policy-making. Picture here the ‘Battle in Seattle’ scenario: states’ representatives want to negotiate deeper economic integration inside their hotel conference rooms, while outside unruly street protesters demand to give input. Rodrik speculated that state control would be the loser of the three. Politics eventually would be shifted upward to more democratic global institutions, giving the peoples of the world more of a say in how economic integration is shaped, and spelling the gradual end of closed-door, state-to-state negotiation as the primary means of global economic policy-making.

A second feasibility theory is offered by Alexander Wendt, professor of political science at Ohio State University, who maintains that the emergence of a world state is not only feasible but inevitable. To make his case, Wendt brings in a third figure from the Modern philosophy canon: not Hobbes or Locke, but the 19th-century German thinker Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel argued that nation-states evolve through struggles for recognition. Individuals and domestic social groups demand from one another the recognition of their own equal worth. As recognition is extended, they gradually come to identify with one another as equals in a common (national) identity, forming a cohesive whole.

Wendt sees nation states as individual ‘people’ locked into the same sort of struggle. He argues that we are in the early stages of a five-stage recognition-and-formation process that will take perhaps 200 years to reach its world state end. Instability in each stage will drive us to the next, though occasional backward movement is also possible.

The only stable system, Wendt argues, is a fully unified world state that has the monopoly on legitimate coercive power

The stages progress from a Hobbesian ‘warre of all against all’, where actors extend virtually no recognition to each other, to a ‘Lockean’ state of nature-type system, much like the current one, where a number of norms are observed but states are the ultimate judges in their own cases, including about going to war. Subsequent stages would see war-making powers and the instability they bring gradually eliminated as states come to extend recognition to one another through ever thicker sets of mutually observed rules and eventually binding global laws. The only stable system, Wendt argues, is a fully unified world state that has the monopoly on legitimate coercive power. In fact, anticipating Farage, he suggests it could look like a more strongly empowered EU.

A third approach, put forth by Robert Goodin, professor of government at the University of Essex, suggests we might already have much more world government than we realise. Goodin points out that the current global system looks very much like the pre-Constitution US did, when it was a union of states joined loosely by the Articles of Confederation. Then, as now, the centre (Philadelphia, or the United Nations) had to effectively beg the states for troops and resources, and tax revenues came mostly through indirect means such as customs duties. Then, as now, integration is pushed along by state actors creating or subscribing to collective institutions that help them achieve economic growth and security.

In my own view, the current global system looks less like the pre-1789 US than a present-day developing country, a pyramid with the relatively rich at the top and a broad base of people leading much more precarious lives. But whether the historical parallel fits or not, the functional argument put forth by Goodin and others makes a good deal of sense to me. Consider how policymakers have sought, especially in the past century, to develop regional organisations in Europe, Latin America, North America, Africa and elsewhere; not to mention international courts and ministry-like international welfare, security and economic organisations. Taken together, these shadow the structure and functions of the domestic state. Global policymakers might reject the world state ideal in their public statements, but pragmatic efforts at ‘world state building’ are well underway.

That said, my suspicion is that it will take a good bit longer than 200 years to reach something that would be broadly recognised as a global government. After all, it took more than 300 years, from the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, for the world to be (almost) fully populated by sovereign states, as opposed to kingdoms and colonies. The EU remains the only deeply integrated regional entity, though economic integration projects are underway in virtually every region, and global governance institutions, while proliferating, remain only shallowly empowered.

Will it take five centuries to form a world government? A millennium? My usual answer is 800 years, though I must admit I haven’t fully worked out the progression. Part of me suspects that ‘never’ might be the right answer, but even if full world government is never realised, a rights-based approach to integration gives us reason to be optimistic. If the ultimate purpose of governing institutions is to promote rights protections, and higher-level institutions can be made to serve this purpose through social and political struggle, then the more world government that emerges, the better.

Read more essays on cosmopolitanism, political philosophy, politics & government and progress & modernity


  • tedpeters

    Seriously? We humans are flailing about just trying to keep our individual nation states together and you are dreaming of a one world government. There's a far greater chance for esperanto to become universal language.

    • Ormond Otvos

      We need a universal primary language also. There's no nuclear sword hanging over linguists, though.

  • Boon Tee Tan

    No matter how much we long for One World where peaceful co-existence and equal rights would reign supreme, it is at best a beautiful dream. Many people lust for power, everyone wants to be in charge, could One World be possible or even realistic? Just look at UN, has it not become to a large extent more irrelevant? (btt1943)

    • Ormond Otvos

      Don't postulate the perfect as the enemy of the best we can do. That's just rhetoric.

  • Pilnox

    My candidates for president would be Barry Hussein Soetoro and Hiterly Cunton, with Cathy "Ugly-bugly Jewhater" Ashton as backup.

  • Derek Roche

    If we humans are to have an indefinitely sustainable future in a viable planetary ecology, we will have to learn to govern ourselves nature's way. Yet in the natural way of self-governance, paradoxically, there is no central controlling authority. The whole thing works organically, rather, through a complex system of feedback circuits. Could we design such a system, in harmony with nature's, just by sitting around and talking about it? I very much doubt it. I agree with the author that it would have to evolve, naturally, but whether we can hang on for another 800 years while it does so is moot.

    • joseph

      Dear Derek Roche,

      there are many examples of centrally governed societies in nature. The main difference for me is that humanity for the first time has created a society that is global in nature. Still I agree with you that a global democracy has to evolve over time and cannot be conceptualized by a single person in an ivory tower. We have to be smart to initiate and support this evolution.

    • MacFly1

      Answer: Nope. Humans want control.

      • Derek Roche

        Answer: Yep, but so do other humans and over the long term that struggle for political power could conceivably evolve into a stable distributed network rather than a central global dictatorship, don't you think?

  • toumanbeg

    World government = 24/7 revolution and terrorism. People want to be free, Government is oppression. Freedom and government are uneasy bed partners. They both cannot be on top.
    IMHO, in 2 centuries the nation state will be dying, replaced by the corporate state. Nationalism is more trouble then it's worth.

    • Ormond Otvos

      The question is how much revolution and terrorism, compared to the aftermath of nuclear war, which would be MUCH more of both of them...

      • toumanbeg

        I had trouble with that sentence. Which them(s)? I would think that nuclear war pretty much excludes revolution. While nuclear war is revolting, Revolution doesn't have to be nuclear.

  • Michael Hanlon

    An unintended consequence of a world government would be a writ-large tragedy of the commons. In a nation state, the sheer limitations of territory mean it is impossible for one individual, group or corporation to exploit common resources to an infinite degree to the detriment of others beyond the boundaries of that state. Thus in a badly-run African country the ruling family might be able to steal all the oil wealth but, beyond setting a bad example, that situation cannot usually spread beyond that nation's borders. The madness of Zimbabwe has not, mostly, affected its neighbours. In a world state it would be easier for the 30th Century equivalent of an oil-despot to emerge. The leviathan is good, but it needs other leviathans to stop it getting too big for its boots. A world state would work if humans were a slightly different animal. Maybe will become this, one day.

    • John Garrett Jones

      The immediate problem is surely how to prevent nations or groups from seeking to impose their will by military means. Assad is doing this against many of his own citizens. One could go on for ever listing the enormities which most "big" countries have committed in recent years - not least the US and UK. in Iraq. Military "solutions" never work - as 50+ million refugees attest.
      In my view it is ouatrageous that politiancs should have command of armies. Why do we not insist that ALL nations surrender their military hardware and personnel to the UN to be deployed to secure the peace, remove illicit weapons and protect human rights?
      If we did that, there would be time to start getting to grips with all the other global problems.which currently cry out for attention.
      I make some concrete suggestions on my website.


  • Newsance

    Interesting article, yet it is hard not to see that in its core it comes down to the old, even withered, idea: what if all people lived in agreement and peace. Who would argue against that? However, this is the very issue when the real question is not 'what' but 'how'.

  • Melody

    I am thinking about the possibilities of universe exploration. In my imagination, space exploration in a way will greatly change the existing world power arrangements, a new space culture will emerge among countries and hence contribute to the making of a world government.

  • gogododo

    The way I see it the world has been in a now almost complete unification process for quite some time now. Crusades, colonization of the new world, the trans Alantic telegraph, planes, internet. Government is slow but it is catching up to this reality. Fighting this is like trying prevent the spring by killing a some random flower. How all this unfolds is the more interesting question. I suspect any place that does not have strong local power to balance the one world government will be harshly trampled. This i already playing out in many sacrifice zones now and will most likely get worst. And I don't have much faith in the nation state structure that at least in the US is nothing more than a front for criminal military/police operations. I really would encourage everyone no matter where they are to build community, not to fight globalization but to negotiate with it. If people are organized and strong this cold be a beautiful synergy but if not it really is you against the world.

    • MacFly1

      "... like trying prevent the spring by killing a some random flower."

      I think of it more like its going to make Adolf Hitler look like a girl scout weaving daisy chains.

    • Luis Cabrera

      Interesting thoughts, gogododo. Very much in line with Robert Goodin's functionalist analysis, but with I think and important additional emphasis on global citizenship or community.

  • Lexi Mize

    WTO = World Tax Organization
    ARS = All Revenue Service
    WPA = World Protection Agency

    "Oh, the bureaucracy!"

    • Ormond Otvos

      Martial law is pretty bureaucratic, so what's your point?

      • Lexi Mize

        Yeah, martial law is quite bureaucratic. So? The larger the entity managed the large the bureaucracy required to support it. And that there is a natural size limitation to bureaucracy. So, can you imagine a World Tax Org? or WPA? And if you can can you imagine how inefficient such entities would be? That's my point.

        • Ormond Otvos

          If your thesis is true, then why is Medicare much more efficient than private insurance? I dispute your thesis that there is a natural limit on bureaucracy.

          Perhaps it's the number of layers of bureaucracy, but that's just a design problem.

          • Lexi Mize

            So you're a defender of bureaucracy? Remember the Vogons from Hitchhiker's Guide? Who say's Medicare is more efficient that private insurance? Maybe private insurance was just never designed correctly.

            I'm no fan of pure market economies, but neither a fan of government intervention. Sure private interests are always competing with public ones, therefore requiring a mix of both concerns to support progress. Like fracking vs the EPA -- private companies providing the infrastructure and impetus while gov bureaucrats police the process. Regardless of your position on fracking, this is evidence of an evolving mix of private and public concerns.

            So imagine a "World Transportation Authority" that fixes roads. If you had a pothole in the street in front of your home would you expect it to get filled in the next decade?

          • Ormond Otvos

            I'm sorry, but I can't respond to that idea salad. Why don't you skip the character assignment and rhetorical questions and talk coherently about bureaucracy design?

            If you don't know enough to have picked up that Medicare is more efficient (try google) what can I say?

          • Lexi Mize

            Bureaucracy design? Sounds like an oxymoron to me. And who doesn't like idea salad? We do have one thing in common, neither of us has anything productive to do on a Saturday morning.

          • MacFly1

            Wow, you're livin' in the bubble. If youi want to know why medicare like everything else is finished google petrodollar.

          • MacFly1

            Medicare is bankrupt, Ormond.

    • MacFly1


  • Mark

    Excuse my ignorance but isn't a one world government just communism on a grand scale?

    • Luis Cabrera

      (Fr Luis Cabrera) That was certainly one of the fears in the early 1950s. Many in the West believed that the USSR had a grand plan for global domination, and that, along with virulent anti-communist sentiment in many countries, meant that world government was equated with a global communist state by many commentators. Full-blooded communism, or even socialism (state control of industry) has very few advocates in the current academy, and none of whom I'm aware among current world government advocates. All of the leading accounts presume that for world government to be desirable, it would ultimately need to be democratic, uphold the core human rights (e.g., in the UN treaties to which more than 160 states have already bound themselves), and follow some strong principle of subdisidiary or perhaps federalism, so that decision-making power is dispersed to the lowest appropriate level. I share the standard concerns about potential tyranny under a world government, especially if it is one designed solely or overwhelmingly to focus on security concerns. If it evolves over time from existing regional integration in Europe, Africa, the Americas and elsewhere, and if individual rights and mechanisms of accountability are foregrounded (by agents of international civil society, which will have a large role to play), then such concerns could be lessened. As with any governemnt, however, it poses risks to the governed even as it can be made to provide important benefits to them. The risks are on a potentially larger scale as governing area grows, which means perhaps that more attention must be paid to separation of powers, veto points and the ability for individuals and social actors to pose formal challenges.

  • MacFly1

    The E.U. is the forerunner of the revived Roman Empire, complete with Arab and North African countries, including Israel. The little beast of the world church will help to put the Beast in power, the anti-christ, and the number of the Beast is 666.

    But that's just me.

  • johnwerneken

    A thermo nuclear world war war would likely be less damaging than the best imaginable world government. Until there is some example somewhere at some point in time of a successful, as opposed to mostly tolerable, government, this will remain true. And the idea that anyone ought to have democratic voice in decisions is very dangerous. The point of democracy is to protect the people from the state, not to empower the mob to become some flavor of decision maker with total power.

  • Steve

    Luis you don't think estalishing a world government could be done in quick order? Look at the leap of progress toward world government after the two world wars in the 20th century. With the right crisis in the 21st century, one that is globally disruptive and destructive, say a nuclear war and global financial crash, could well galvanize the political will to get a world government up and running almost by the following day.

    • Luis Cabrera

      Thanks, Steve. It's a fair question. Some, at least in a couple of workshops in which I've participated, have speculated that climate change could a crisis that could spur world state formation. I would have two concerns: the first would be whether it would be a sustainable world government, especially if it were rapidly created in a time of crisis, or in the aftermath of one (as arguably the League of Nations and United Nations were both after-the-fact responses to the two world wars). The second would be about the character of a world government created in the relatively near term of, say, 50 years. It would probably be far too optimistic to think that the remaining 65-70 non-democracies would see democratic transitions by that time, so we would have to wonder how democratic and representative the global institutions would be, and especially whether they would be capable of checking abuses of individuals or groups within states. To my mind, the primary reason world government would be worth having would be to promote comprehensive rights fulfillment for individuals. So, when I say 500-800 years, what I have in mind is a world system in which any child born anywhere would be expected to have her/his core rights reliably fulfilled. This is not utopia. Bad things would still happen to good people, but a decent world system would be one in which civil, political and economic rights for all persons are reliably protected. (Uniform rights and diversity are important concerns, of course -- the subject of a book in progress). I have offered reasons to think, over several articles and books, that we can't achieve an adequate level of rights protection for all persons in a world of 'separate but equal' states, which encourages us in various ways to look inward and presume we have much stronger moral duties to co-nationals than other persons. Thus, forms of integration are prescribed, up to the global. The EU experience provides insights here, both on how some common rights protections can be enhanced in an integrating region, and how resurgent identity politics within states can provide significant challenges to the integration project. Europe is far from a unified entity in terms of life chances for its citizens, etc. It has made impressive progress in a relatively short span, but I would suggest that there is a great deal more social struggle and contestation ahead, and there are no guarantees that the struggle will result in clear progress toward a more rights-unified end point. Much the same will be true of integration in other regions, and at the global level, where world community at this point (a community of those committed to ensuring rights protections for all persons, rather than a 'global nation') is an idea that has some impressive and inspiring proponents, but which is still far from a powerful political force or presence in our daily lives. Last thing: none of this is to say that we can't and shouldn't work to make progress on promoting rights protections in our daily lives. There are many practical steps we can and must take if we are to move closer to 'that better country' at the global level. I sought to outline some of these in my 2010 book, The Practice of Global Citizenship. Many others have offered very good treatments of global citizenship in the literature.

  • John Bunzl

    There's a different way that global cooperation can be achieved without the need for formal world government. Find it at

  • Lorne Wardell

    If a world government is to be achieved, the form it will take will of course have to be negotiated by all of the nation states .
    It is more realistic to suppose that this will take place if we harness the powers of motivation which are inherent in the individual cultures and religious beliefs.
    It may be possible for the religious leaders of every faith to explain to their members how such world government can be a fulfillment of their particular values and goals.
    If Judaism , Secularism , Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Animism can all claim that what is REALLY being created is the fulfillment of their highest hopes, regardless of the other faiths participation---then the political will to create such a government can be created.
    Of course, the only intolerable "religious" prropaganda would be that of intolerance itself.

  • Mike Comay

    One point left out of the argument has been the EU's demand for democracy (equal voting rights for all within the government's control), human rights, freedom of speech, etc from any state wanting to join. Only when these conditions have been met by ALL or almost all states can an effective world government even be thought about. I think this will take much less than the hundreds of years postulated here. In 1938 such states numbered less than ten (Britain with her empire not included), today democracy is the only recognized legitimate form of government worldwide and all states are moving, some very hesitantly, in that direction.

  • msq

    I'm inclined to believe in Dr. Cabrera's long-view perspective of a world government (the 500-800 year timeframe), though assuming humanity has established off-world colonies/space countries or contacted aliens by then, we would have achieved it long after we would have need for it in the "classic world federalist" sense. Then again, I also agree with Michael Lind and Thomas Weiss that the current buzz around "global governance" and discussions on global government are still a far cry from the 1945-50 period, when it was actually considered a serious enough affair even if for a short time.

    At the same time, I lean towards Dani Rodrik and Kwame Anthony Appiah a dash of Goodin and when it comes to cosmopolitanism, let alone the prospects world government. It's interesting that you brought up Rodrik, author of "The Globalization Paradox" who also happens to be among a growing number of commentators and writers critiquing both the narrative of globalization (for instance, we're not as "global" as we think we are) and global governance. One of his answers to the conundrum is to globalize the nation-state (the gist of which can be found here: ; the short version being "National Governments, Global Citizens" as a means to bypass the messy "chimera" of global governance altogether.

    Borrowing from them, I'm of the opinion that while humanity has obligations for one another, people are more inclined to be closer to, or are "rooted" in the local tribes/communities/countries they are part of; human rights and commonalities suffer when they don't recognize or consider diversity and cultural/social/national/religious identities. Also, as it's not such a good idea, as the author brought up, to forge unrealistic world federations or other organizations that don't (yet) exist, nation-states and alliances remain the best we've got to work with, at least until the 500-800 year mark.

    Still it's a good article.

  • rastech

    Democracies inevitably fail. Just like the other two forms of pure Government. There are only three, they are Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy/Dictatorship. Each of the three offer unique and indispensable features, which is why for millenia philosophers acknowledged that the ideal was a balanced Republic inclusive of all three (therefore denying factionalisation of Society as it was inclusive of all), to act as a system of checks and balances with each other.

    They couldn't see how it could be achieved, as they couldn't figure out how to prevent the inevitable infighting and power grabs though, so reluctantly thought that the best that could be hoped for, was a benign Dictator. This is why Hobbes was a supporter of Divine Right ("The Law is what 'we' say it is") and what is the lawless State. If you think about it, this is no different to the satanist Aleister Crowley's "Do what thou wilt be the whole of the law", and inevitably ends as badly.

    All lawless States inevitably fail, usually catastrophically, and usually accompanied by great bloodshed. The 1688 Glorious Revolution was 'Glorious', because it was that rarity, a bloodless one.

    Then along came perhaps the greatest genius in human history, John Locke, who categorically proved the lie of the despotic tyranny of Divine Right (which doesn't just apply to Kings by the way, it can be the Party, the Mob, the Cleric, the Military Junta, the Technocrats, or anything that assumes that "The Law is what 'they' say it is"), and he invented the Scientific Method - Empiricism - to do it, and he proved the truth of the Rule of Law as well ("If the Law makes the King, then the King is subject to the Law").

    Power is extremely dangerous. Literally nobody can be trusted with it, so it must be placed out of reach.

    It isn't just that power corrupts. Power also attracts those that are already corrupt, and, if absolute power is available (such as with a Global Government), then the absolutely corrupt will end up wielding it. Drawn to it like moths to a flame, because for such people, there isn't enough power in the Universe to satisfy their lust for it.

    Do any of us really want to live in a Global lawless State, under a Dictator that has assumed Divine Right, and then have to put people through the INEVITABLE Global catastrophic collapse and incomprehensible bloodshed that will likely result?

    You can see these tendencies already developing in the EU, with its contempt for people (despite the pretence of concern for Rights and Liberties, a reading of the proposed EU Constitution laid out in black and white what a tyranny was desired - it was the most willful, malicious, malevolent, and truly despicable document, it has been my misfortune to read).

    By every definition, as well as the inadvertent admission of its judges (who admit to 'making it up as they go along, and who think that they 'make Law'), plus its actions and disrespect for Law, ignoring it whenever it suits them, the EU is a lawless State.

    Nothing is safe in a lawless State. Nobody is safe in a lawless State. No matter their means. No matter their station in Society. Think of the Technocratic replacement of even Prime Ministers without election (Italy and Greece), as proof of that, and the dangerous path we are on.

    No Treaty, Agreement, Contract, or Law, is worth the paper it is printed on, when they can be changed on whim, temper, or be bought.

    I did hear Paul Volcker (one of the movers and shakers for the 'NWO') come out of a meeting, and an interviewer asked him about it. His response was "We have come to the conclusion that it cannot work" (and I wish I could find a copy of that, but so far no success).

    My only response to that has to be "What took you so long to spot the glaringly obvious, Paul?".

    Of course undoing the chronic damage that has been done in pursuit of this insanity, might prove to be a trifle difficult and time consuming.

    • rastech

      What Locke did to create the balanced Republic, was put each form of Government into separate Houses (why Black Rod has to knock on the door to ask permission to enter, rather than just walk in) to help prevent otherwise inevitable factionalisation and catfights, and deny Parliament Law making ability. Because making Law is the exercising of power, and they aren't allowed to have any.

      This is why Parliament is a LEGISLATIVE Body, creating legislation instead, and to be lawful, all legislation must comply with the Law, otherwise it is illegal, and void.

      The above is the whole point of why Thomas Jefferson was correctly able to state:

      “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

      It is worrying that our media today, and they are probably encouraged to do it, seem to insist upon calling our legislators 'law'makers.

      There is a terrible war being waged against the Rule of Law today. If we lose this war, nobody is going to like the World that results, until we can restore the Rule of Law (which does have the advantage of actually working).

      IF we can restore it (to be able to do that, we have to understand what it is all about).

  • Derek Roche

    Yep, that's why we have, or used to have, a balanced planetary ecology of equally evolved species with no one calling the shots.

  • toumanbeg

    No, you are saying that. I presume as a leadin to a strawman argument. I'm saying that a good percentage of the human race is already in the information age. That information age social structures will not resemble those of the age of Nationalism.
    Police, Military, etc. evolved to protect the self styled elite of a nation state. The secondary functions of those agencies will be done by other means.
    I have no idea what other means but if the requirements are there, it is social law that society will find some way of filling those needs.
    War won't go away, it will just be more focused. Killing some terrorist lad with delusions of grandeur by drone is much more focused then sending 40,000 men with rifles to kill him and his tribe. Which itself is better then carpet bombing the village he came from.
    The only constant in life is change. When you bet against change, you lose. If you don't believe me, ask John McCain.

  • Don DeHart Bronkema

    H. semper unsapiens will board the mag-lev to global parliamentarism or perish in thermageddon & ecollapse to Toba-like desuetude.

    The first option will eventuate in flashover to transhuman elysium, as Delphi/Oxford-projected for 2085-2120 CE

    Nos vivaturi te salutamus…