History of World Government Approaches

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Craig Runde:

"The concept of world government has been around for many hundreds of years.[1] Yet, the combination of cosmopolitanism and the terrors of modern warfare have caused an upsurge in thought about it in the twentieth century.[2] After each of the world wars, international institutions were established to avoid the future scourge of war. World government advocates have usually seen the League of Nations and the United Nations as inadequate organizations, because sovereignty was retained by the national states and the international organizations lacked sufficient coercive power to mandate peaceful resolutions of conflicts.

Both at the time of, and after, its founding, proposals were made to strengthen the United Nations and in effect make it a world government. Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn wrote the most famous of these proposals entitled, World Peace through World Law.[3] Their plan envisioned reapportioned representation in the General Assembly, rapid verifiable disarmament of all countries, and peacekeeping by a world militia under United Nations control. Their work won praise from many quarters, but the advent of the Cold War dampened interest in theirs and other world government work.

Another major postwar proposal came from the University of Chicago. Under the direction of the University’s President, Robert Hutchins, and Italian scholar, G.A. Borgese, a group of renowned scholars were gathered to draft a world constitution, which was first published in 1948.[4] It provided for legislative, executive and judicial bodies. The constitution also created a Tribune of the People to protect the rights of minorities and a Chamber of Guardians to oversee the armed forces of the world government. The University of Chicago constitutional draft attracted considerable attention because of the eminence of its authors, but it, too, suffered from the climate of fear generated by the Cold War.

The Cold War did not end world government movements altogether though. A number of organizations were founded in different parts of the world to carry on advocacy for the concept. One of the best known of these groups was the World Federalists, which, as its name implies, advocated a federalist approach where the world government would focus on common global concerns while other issues would be left to national or local governments. The World Federalists gained followers in many countries and remains today a leading champion for world government.

The major movements generally saw the need for world government as a means to avoid war and maintain peace. This came as a natural reaction to the horrors of the world wars. Over time additional rationales were recognized as new problems arose that transcended national boundaries.

The global concern over the quality of the environment led to a world summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. These ecological issues have now become a part of the basis for the call for world government.[5] Questions of human rights and economic justice, which are admirably portrayed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have also been incorporated in the world government discourse.

A strong statement of these various values has been presented by the World Order Models Project. The project, initiated by Professors Saul Mendlovitz and Richard Falk at Princeton University, joined renowned scholars from around the world to present different cultural perspectives on how to achieve what they called world order values. These included peace, economic well-being, social justice and human rights, environmental quality, and participatory politics. The project began during the Cold War era and initially reflected considerable pessimism about the prospects for achieving these goals. With the end of the Cold War they have shown some growing but still guarded optimism:

Part of what makes global constitutionalism politically relevant at this time is the emergence in rudimentary form of the first global civil society in human history – that is, globally constituted attitudes, social connections, information networks, transnational collaboration, and citizens’ associations – an ensemble of diverse cumulative forces and tendencies that has many innovative potentialities. It is this cumulative profile that is the backdrop – a democratizing project that extends beyond the borders of states and derives its political identity from its primary association with the human predicament at this historical juncture. This perspective is guided by the conviction that global constitutionalism deserves serious study by those dedicated to change for the better of the world. `Global constitutionalism’, as used here, is itself a manifestation of global civil society in a nascent form. These societal roots are important, making the undertaking plausible as a political project at this time, and providing a specific normative grounding, ensuring that whatever emerges as global governance embodies world order values, and does not merely represent a gigantic technocratic fix designed to handle complex forms of interdependence that seem quite ominous if left on their own.[6]

In a parallel but complementary path, several spiritual and religious bodies have promoted visions of world government. World government thinking is found in the Bahai faith[7] and among followers of Indian seer, Shrii Aurobindo.[8] While these sources acknowledge the positive values put forth by the other world government advocates, they also see additional spiritual values stemming from a united world. In some senses, they present the evolution towards world community as a natural outcome of humanity’s unfolding consciousness.[9]

The pace of world government movements picked up dramatically after the end of the Cold War. Two major approaches have been tried. The first envisioned reforming the United Nations. The second involved several different approaches of bringing citizens together to create a new world government.

Having reached its fiftieth anniversary, a number of different reform proposals are being advocated to transform the United Nations into a world governing body. In general, these proposals seek ways of limiting national sovereignty at least in those key areas where global governance is most required. Some of the proposals provide for wide-ranging reforms such as those envisioned in the Clark/Sohn plan.[10] Another recommends strengthening the Security Council and giving it the practical power to govern on peacemaking and other selected matters.[11]

Finally, an eminent group of world leaders has called in its `Stockholm Initiative’ for the United Nations to reconsider charter reforms which would enable it to better address the transnational issues.[12]

While many world government efforts have focused on United Nations reform, a number of others have sought to create new forms. In part, these have been promoted because of their supporters’ skepticism about the prospects of national governments ceding more of their powers to the United Nations.

Several groups have sought to create constitutional conventions among citizens of the world in order to create a new global government. They have frequently taken the original U.S. constitutional convention as a model. The best known of these efforts is the World Constitution and Parliamentary Association founded by Philip Isley. This group, with thousands of members around the world, has drafted a world constitution and has begun a process to promote its ratification.

Another more recent effort called Philadelphia II was initiated by former U.S. Senator, Mike Gravel, and takes its inspiration and name from the original American convention which took place in Philadelphia in 1789.

Both these groups count legislators and jurists as active participants. In addition, legislators (World Parliamentarian Association) and judges/lawyers (World Peace through Law Center) have founded their own organizations which foster global governance principles.

Other groups have sought to instill in people a deeper sense of their status as global citizens.31 This has included creating world citizen identity cards and registries, global passports, peace sites and the like. In addition, the development of non-governmental organizations with international membership has created new opportunities for organizing and lobbying for world government.

In its relatively long history, the movement towards world government has rarely been as active and perhaps has never been as close to actually achieving some breakthroughs. From this background we will now look at the special contributions that Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, an Indian social thinker, has made to this movement. As this article will show, Sarkar’s ideas share in a rich background of world government thought, which has become particularly vibrant in the twentieth century. At the same time, Sarkar brought many new perspectives to the subject stemming from his philosophies of spirituality, Neo-Humanism and Prout."



[1] Georgia Lloyd and Edith Wynner, Searchlight on Peace Plans. New York, Dutton, 1949.

[2] Joseph Baratta, Strengthening the United Nations: A Bibliography. New York, Greenwood Press, 1987; Hanna Newcombe, World Unification Plans and Analysis. Dundas, Canada, Peace Research Institute, 1980.

[3] Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn, World Peace Through World Law. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1960. Second edition.

[4] Committee to Frame a World Constitution, Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1948.

[5] American Vice President Gore recognizes the transnational quality of environmental concerns but does not himself call for world government. Al Gore, Earth in the Balance. New York, Penguin, 1993.

[6] Richard A. Falk, Robert C. Johansen, and Samuel S. Kim, eds., The Constitutional Foundations of World Peace. Albany, SUNY Press, 1993, 14.

[7] J. Tyson, World Peace and World Government. London, George Ronald, 1986.

[8] Samar Basu, Earth is One. Pondicherry, India, World Union, 1983.

[9] J. Tyson, World Peace and World Government; Samar Basu, Earth is One. Compare with the sociological and historical evolution towards world government in John Kiang, One World. Notre Dame, Indiana, One World Publishing, 1984.

[10] Harold Stassen, United Nations: A Working Paper For Restructuring. Minneapolis, Lerner Publications, 1994.

[11] Benjamin Ferencz, New Legal Foundations for Global Survival. New York, Oceana Publications, 1994.

[12] Common Responsibility in the 1990s. Washington, D.C., World Federalist Association, 1991.

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