I was at a discussion today on the prospects for world government and world peace. It’s an interesting topic, and I intend to tell you all what I think about it, without making that much of an effort to justify it.
So first off, what does world government mean? Is there a sense we can extract from it while dispensing with the ‘government’ bit? Taking a relatively weak interpretation, it would mean standing and established procedures for making decisions and resolving disputes, all the way from the individual level to the world level. At the moment we have established procedures for making decisions up to the national level in many cases, but above that level chance, power, and the looming threat of megaviolence start to take over.
That doesn’t specify what those procedures are, except that they are such as can be part of a well-designed system, not orgies of senseless violence. It is consistent both with world government, extending the coercive and elite nature of current national procedures, and with an ‘anarchic’ world-wide federation. We might lump both together as ‘world order’.
Now in the abstract, I think there’s quite a compelling case that world order is a desirable thing. It’s main difference from the status qup would be to remove the possibility and threat of war international war, and to enable easier global economic planning, which is a necessity for environmental reasons if nothing else.
Now it might be thought that in practice, world government is more likely than world anarchy. But I think actually it’s the other way around. World government is extremely unlikely, because of how states work.
I’ve argued before about why I think the structure of states gives them features (disproportionate concern with power, inability to focus on the needs of, or be pleased by the acheivements of, others for their own sake) that in an individual would qualify them as megalomaniacs and narcissists. One consequence of this, a consequence that was drawn by Hegel as well, in spite of him being quite fond of the state and in that sense opposed to me, is that states will generally only give up power to any higher level if it is necessary in order to safeguard their power from some threat. That is, they only unite against an outside enemy.
Now given this the problem of world government becomes obvious. Who can the whole world’s governments unite against? Who is ‘outside’ that union. There are really two answers: extra-terrestrial life, or their own people. Leaving the aliens aside, it would appear that world government is only to be expected as a last-ditch defense against a global organisation of popular movements – a descendent of the International Workingmen’s Associations.
Now perhaps such a ‘holy alliance‘ would be stable, and successful in suppressing the radicals in its various members parts. But it would inevitably fall away after the threat had succeeded. More optimistically, it might fail, and be blown apart by the glorious revolution (*suppresses urge to sing revolutionary anthems*). Either way, world government is only likely to become a real prospect once world anarchy has become a prospect.
A related and interesting point might be that in a situation of global internationalist revolt, governments might recognise that nationalism was a key tool to divide and undermine that movement, and that nationalism would be contradicted by moves towards world government. In that sense, not even a ‘global holy alliance’ would be possible – instead various frothing patriots would emerge to divert popular energies into butchering the designated national enemy, which might buy capitalism some time, at the cost of millions of lives.
A final point might be made to elaborate why I am optimistic abouts the prospects for world anarchy. The thing is, it’s not at all a natural situation for people to prefer megaviolence to peaceful resolutions of disputes (or, indeed, to pretty much anything – people may be stupid, but not that stupid). The absence of global order is unstable – it could only be maintained either by a simple lack of global interactions, as obtained perhaps centuries ago but not now, or by some systematic derangement that caused the possibility of megaviolence and disorder to seem less threatening to people than ‘giving up national sovereignty’.
What is that derangement? You already know I’m going to say hierarchical society – patriarchy, capitalism, statism, every other form of repression, enforced belligerence, structural conflict of interests, artificial animosity. You don’t solve problems with the same thinking you used to create them.