By Chris Hamer
A reader in the Guardian recently posed the following question: “Will there ever be world government, and would we want it?”
Will there ever be world government? Yes, but it could be some time before we achieve it! The famous physicist Freeman Dyson guessed in his book ‘Weapons and Hope’ in 1984 that it might take from 50 to 400 years. That estimate would still seem reasonable today, 40 years later. Like nuclear fusion, the target keeps receding into the future as time goes on, unfortunately.
Would we want it? Yes, most definitely, provided it takes the right form, namely a democratic world federation. On the other hand, a world autocracy or tyranny would certainly be a catastrophic disaster. Democracy has to be a fundamental principle of any world government.
Why should we want it? The world is confronted by some huge global problems, including perennials like wars and invasions (as illustrated in Ukraine just recently), human rights abuses, global poverty and starvation, and 80 million refugees numbering about the population of France: plus new ones such as climate change and plastic pollution in our oceans. Dealing with the common problems of society such as these is the province of government, and hence we need a global government. The present UN system is doing its best, but is proving totally incapable of dealing with these issues.
Why is world federation so difficult to achieve? There are some major difficulties in the way, such as the fierce attachment of each nation to its own sovereignty, and the fear of world tyranny aroused by novels such as ‘1984’ or ‘Brave New World’, which makes about one third of the population instinctively recoil from any mention of world government. And most importantly, not all the countries of the world are democratic. A world federation including autocracies would involve intolerable anomalies, including severe human rights abuses. So we may have to wait until the whole world embraces democracy.
How do we get there? The Europeans have shown the way. Starting with a small core group of nations, the original Six, and with limited initial objectives, the European Coal and Steel Community, they have evolved over time through successive Treaties towards the present European Union, and will eventually achieve a full European Federation, as envisaged from the beginning by Jean Monnet and his collaborators. Hopefully, we can begin a similar process at the global level. And since democracy has to be a basic principle, the initial core members should be democracies, in my view at least.