IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Why (do) we fear world government(?)

Earlier this month I wrote a bit about world government, and I have invoked the topic from time to time.  I see it as closely connected to peace, because even if most people become saints (or close to it) we will need some institutions with global scope to handle problems of global scope, including differences among states and peoples.  However, a brief hop around the Internet reveals that the idea of WG scares many people, and it seems to me important to try to understand why.  When you wade through the various views (and some are very extreme), I think the main issue (xenophobia and conspiracy theories aside) is that most people assume world government will be centralized and oppressive–as many governments at the national level are or have been at one time.  We are not historically very far removed from national dictators (you could argue that there still are some, for that matter), and the idea of having a world dictator is not very attractive.

I can understand these concerns.  They indicate, among other things, that the theory and practice of “governance” at all levels needs to evolve and improve.  However, let me put on my political scientist’s “hat” for a moment, and remind everybody that there are many kinds of government, and many ways to govern.  Furthermore, the fearful image that the term “world government” evokes in many people is probably the least likely form that it could, in reality, take.  Consider, instead, the idea of a confederation . According to my old pal “the Wik“:

“Usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defense, foreign affairs, or a common currency, with the central government being required to provide support for all members.”

This is a sort of minimalist system, which respects the principle of “subsidiarity”,  currently operating in the European Union.  Again, to quote “the Wikster“:

“Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.”

I personally think that a loose confederal system is already emerging at the global level, but that discussion will have to wait for a later post.  My point here is that WG is not necessarily any “scarier” than government at any other level.


December 31, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,


  1. Nice to see someone writing sensibly about world government. I have no time for conspiracy theorists. Please take a look at http://www.voteworldgovernment.org. My recently published book “Rescue Plan for Planet Earth” will tell you more, if you want more, but basically, we need a global referendum to pass if we are to establish this institution, and we need a regime of total transparency for the world government if we are to counter the natural fears of people that what you see is not what you get.

    Best for 2009,


    Comment by Jim Stark | January 2, 2009 | Reply

  2. Right…I agree with you. However, over the years I have come to believe that there is a lot that needs to be done to prepare people for this kind of change. The problem, it seems to me, is not so much world government, but rather government and politics in general. Many people have lost faith in both their leaders and their institutions, and are understandably wary of seeing the same shortcomings at the global level.

    Comment by igbarb19 | January 2, 2009 | Reply

  3. Unfortunately, idealistic advocates of world government can make movement toward that goal as difficult as conspiracy theorists. As laudable an effort Mr. Stark’s site may be, it suggests the establishment of a world government could be as simple as taking a vote. This undermines genuine efforts of those working with progressive government leaders and policy experts in constructing/reforming the necessary transitional institutions toward a federal or confederal global community.

    I do share his sentiment however that it is good to hear the sensible discussion here, and look forward to following the author’s continued discussion.

    Comment by Tony | January 3, 2009 | Reply

  4. Certainly more than just a vote would be involved. Personally, I think that we are already in a period of (very)loose confederal world government (or global governance, if you prefer), under the auspices of the U.N. Charter. It is neither very efficient nor very equitable, but it does represent a structure which future generations may see as an important step toward something more efficient and more equitable.

    Comment by igbarb19 | January 4, 2009 | Reply

  5. You give the UN structure a bit more credit than I would, though I share your support of the institution in what it is able to accomplish everyday. So much of its work goes unrecognized by the media and the general public despite the benefits they receive from it.

    I see the UN structure as caught between the alliances described by Hamilton in Federalist #15 and the early U.S. confederation.

    “There is nothing absurd or impracticable in the idea of a league or alliance between independent nations for certain defined purposes precisely stated in a treaty regulating all the details of time, place, circumstance, and quantity; leaving nothing to future discretion; and depending for its execution on the good faith of the parties. Compacts of this kind exist among all civilized nations, subject to the usual vicissitudes of peace and war, of observance and non-observance, as the interests or passions of the contracting powers dictate. In the early part of the present century there was an epidemical rage in Europe for this species of compacts, from which the politicians of the times fondly hoped for benefits which were never realized. With a view to establishing the equilibrium of power and the peace of that part of the world, all the resources of negotiation were exhausted, and triple and quadruple alliances were formed; but they were scarcely formed before they were broken, giving an instructive but afflicting lesson to mankind, how little dependence is to be placed on treaties which have no other sanction than the obligations of good faith, and which oppose general considerations of peace and justice to the impulse of any immediate interest or passion.”

    The UN represents to me what Hamilton calls in the next paragraph “a general DISCRETIONARY SUPERINTENDENCE” that is above such political intrigues.

    One paragraph further, he prescribes the missing element to counter the political machinations found in leagues and alliances.

    “…if we still will adhere to the design of…a superintending power, under the direction of a common council, we must resolve to incorporate into our plan those ingredients which may be considered as forming the characteristic difference between a league and a government; we must extend the authority of the Union to the persons of the citizens, — the only proper objects of government.”

    As a global Federalist, I am working to support the campaign to establish a UN Parliamentary Assembly. The current effort, http://www.unpacampaign.org, recognizes the necessity of involved policymakers and governments in correcting the structure of the UN system in contrast to previous wildly utopian schemes for global democracy.

    Comment by Tony | January 8, 2009 | Reply

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