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Peace through World Government?

Mises Daily: Thursday, September 17, 2009 by

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[First published in 1953]

Is world government truly an alternative to war? Certainly, if we listen to the advocates of world federation and read their literature and attempt to analyze their arguments. Platitudes and pious prating seem to run like a heavy thread through the fabric of the discussions and writings of many persons who seem to feel that the only obstacle to a world government and peace is a perverse desire, on the part of some malevolent individuals, to engage in or profit from war.

Objections to the Superstate

I, too, believe that war is a horrible waste of lives and property, and in common with everyone else in the world, I hope that there can be peaceful solutions to world and local problems. But, I am opposed to world government. I am opposed to any world government, first, because I believe that the realities of international affairs would make a mockery of any attempt to secure peace through a single superstate. Secondly, I am opposed to world government for idealistic reasons.

Let us consider these two objections separately. First, what are the realities we face? The realities are the antagonistic and conflicting national forces in the world today; and the various forms of government which prevail throughout the world—from tribal societies to colossal, monolithic, authoritarian states. Obviously, if we are to set up a world government, we must find some common denominator which will permit all forms of society to meet under one vast umbrella of law; for unless all society submits to world "law," that portion of society which remains outside must be considered "outlaw."

The proponents of world government generally recognize the difficulty of including all people within the jurisdiction of a common government. As a general rule, they state that each country shall have the exclusive right to make its own laws governing its citizens, subject only to the supreme and superior law of a world government.

Essentials for World Government

Mr. Clark M. Eichelberger, Director of the American Association for the United Nations, and the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, has stated that "those who believe in world government want essentially a few definite things. First, the law of the world community must be above the sovereignty of the individual nation. There must be a supreme law against war. Second, there must be an executive authority strong enough to use police force or whatever measures are necessary to preserve the peace. Third, there must be a constant procedure for producing such regulations as are necessary to lessen friction among the peoples of the world and enable them to grow and expand in their world community. It might be called the legislative process."

Let us consider that proposal for a supreme law against war, and an executive authority strong enough to use police force or whatever measures are necessary to preserve the peace. Disregarding for the moment the contradictions implicit in such a proposal, it seems to me that the person or persons in charge of any such world government would need the power to decide when a transgression occurs. In this day and age of Pearl Harbors and Koreas, decisions would have to be instantaneous and the executive in charge of any world government would have to dispatch the police force without delay.

I can easily foresee the time when hostilities may break out and the police force sent into action without consideration of who might be right and who might be wrong. I am not a historian, but it has always been my impression that the government of any nation involved in a war has thought, rightly or wrongly, that the other side was the transgressor; and history would seem to indicate that there are many cases where right and might have been equated. There should be no doubt that a strong executive backed up by power can enforce the will of the sovereignty, but sometimes that will of the sovereignty does not represent justice, even though it may well represent peace.

"Peace in Our Time"

We all remember that prior to the last war, Hitler had shouted about the injustice done to Germany by the Versailles Treaty, and then proceeded to march into the Rhineland. The Allied powers capitulated without a struggle—so there was no war. Then, we all remember Mr. Chamberlain's sincere explanation when he stepped off the plane on his return from Munich—he had secured "peace in our time." Yet everyone agrees that Hitler was in the wrong; that is, everyone but the Nazis. We know, too, that Russia snuffed out the states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and that if the natives of those countries and the rest of the world don't take up arms to object, we won't have war—at least not over those issues. Should we, then, advocate a sovereign superstate which will be prepared to resort to war whenever a maltreated state rebels against a bully state?

This brings me to my second major objection to any world government. To build a world community upon the premise that a law against war will end wars is to build upon a false premise, and my idealistic leanings rebel against any such notion. A law has no meaning unless it can be enforced, and if enforcement means war, then a law against war is worse than a paradox, for it is a delusion. To call a conflict which involves hundreds of thousands of men a police action is idiotic. A local disturbance in a state which involves masses of men is called a civil war, and not a police action.

Peace Cannot Be Enforced

Certainly, if our goal is to be peace, then the possibilities of achieving that goal lie elsewhere than in formulating a supreme law against war. The proposal to have "an executive authority strong enough to use police force or whatever measures are necessary to preserve the peace," is like a proposal to drink carbolic acid to get rid of a respiratory infection. The function of a police force in a civilized community is to preserve justice, not peace. If a stranger robs me and I call the police, they may have to break the peace in order to restore my property. I don't call the police if I am willing to let the stranger keep my property in peace. While peace may not always be desirable, justice is. Moreover, peace can never be enforced, for peace is the absence of force.

"While peace may not always be desirable, justice is. Moreover, peace can never be enforced, for peace is the absence of force."

Many of our advocates of a world government seem to be unaware that history records the existence of many such powerful governments. For example, the Roman Empire in its heyday actually constituted a single sovereign power whose rule extended, for all practical purposes, over the entire known or civilized world at that time. Roman rule was not only directed by a strong executive but was extremely bloody in the exercise of its power. One has only to read Tacitus to realize that the barbaric extermination of masses of people was not a Hitlerian innovation. The rebellions against the Roman executive authority and his police force were not only justified, they were inevitable.

Great Sovereign States

In more recent times we have had sovereign states which, although not worldwide, nevertheless have covered a great portion of the civilized world, and could be considered as rough prototypes of a world government. We in this country were part of the British Empire, but who would be so rash as to say that our war and the Declaration of Independence were not justified? Spain at one time controlled most of South America, Cuba and the Philippines, but there are few outside of Franco's Spain today who would now contend that the breakup of that Spanish World was an evil. Further, within the last several years we have seen India and Pakistan come into existence as independent nations, and most of us would applaud the breakup of British sovereignty over these two nations.

It is to be noted, however, that behind our approval of the disintegration of the sovereignties mentioned above, is the feeling that these states exercised their powers in an unjust manner. The British, to whom the world owes a great debt for concepts like the bill of rights, have learned that the leadership of the Commonwealth is best secured by means other than a strong executive authority over the member states. In fact, the strength of the Commonwealth lies in the weakness of the sovereign power over its members.

World Federalists often point to our own country as an example of how a world government could exist. It would be unthinkable, they claim, for New York State to go to war with Wisconsin, for if New York had a dispute with another state, the federal government would intervene and settle any quarrel.

The argument is not without merit. However, is it not just as unthinkable that we would ever go to war with Canada, or with Great Britain for that matter? If there were ever to come a time of dispute between our country and Canada or Great Britain, it is unthinkable that we could not solve the dispute without recourse to war. This is so, not because we have a common government with them, for we do not. What we do have is a common understanding as to what is right and what is wrong.

World Government Versus Morality

In order to have a world federation, we would first have to determine who should be admitted as members, and what should be done about those not to be admitted; we cannot yet put people in rockets and deport them to another planet. This makes it apparent that we could have no world organization at all, unless we kept our standards so low that we discarded any concept of morality. But that, of course, does not concern the proponents of world government. Mr. Eichelberger, for example, wants "just enough government to accomplish three objectives: political security, economic advancement, and the guaranty of human rights."

The guaranty of human rights and the objective of political security do not in our times mean the same thing; there are many countries where they do not coincide. A world government which would include such states as Russia and her Iron Curtain countries, Franco's Spain, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and other totalitarian states, seems to be the kind of government I would want to escape from. A state where the individual is responsible to the government rather than the government being responsible to the individual, is to me a loathsome state.

What kind of morality can a world government have, and what kind of freedom would its world citizens have, if the world government permitted its members to engage in such practices as the secret police measures of the Iron Curtain countries, or the colonial policies of the French in Africa, to mention only a few of the more obvious horrors? Are we to abandon our efforts, feeble though they are, to combat these practices when committing ourselves to work for political security?

Who is to determine whether a particular state should be guaranteed its political security? The United States takes great pride in its Point Four program. We are helping, so we think, the underprivileged countries in the world. In doing so, we are overly careful in the administration of this program so as not to interfere with the political setup in the country being helped.

Why do we take such pains to keep clear of politics? Presumably for the reason that if we were to meddle in internal affairs, our aid would be rejected with a cry of imperialism. But Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who traveled a great deal in some of the Eastern countries, suggested that we encourage peasant revolts, because the existing political setup in some of these countries was such that no matter what help we gave the country, the people, as opposed to the ruling class, would get very little benefit.

"An authoritarian state can never be peaceful because it can never be healthy; even if such a nation is unable to carry on a war against other nations, it is still at war with its own citizens."

The Cause of War

It seems to me that before there can be a peaceful world, it will be necessary for us to understand why there is no peace. It is too superficial and too sophomoric an answer to say that war is caused by the Hitlers and the Stalins in the world. If it were not a Hitler, it would be a Goering or a Goebbels, and if not a Stalin, then a Malenkov or a Molotov. Wars have been an evil concomitant of civilized society ever since history was recorded. What, then, are the conditions which give rise to wars? Certainly they are not merely the differing political philosophies which are in current vogue, for we had wars long before Karl Marx saw the light of day.

It is my firm belief that the evils of war, and of poverty, totalitarianism and a host of other social maladies, are but the suppurations of a festering economic system, and that the drive toward war is in almost direct proportion to the sickness of the economy. An authoritarian state can never be peaceful because it can never be healthy; even if such a nation is unable to carry on a war against other nations, it is still at war with its own citizens.

Worldwide competition between free men is the condition to be encouraged, for it leads to a virile, strong society! This country, as an example, owes its strength in no small measure to the free market which our founding fathers provided for in our Constitution.

It is unfortunate, but true, that we are fast losing our freedom in this country; there are many in and out of government who keep chipping away at our heritage. We are becoming so befuddled that we tend to lose faith in freedom and confuse liberty with license; we seem to have lost our ideals and no longer seem to know what the words "free society" mean.

Talk about a suppressed intellectual tradition!

Need for Libertarians

In our almost psychotic fear of communism and other totalitarian philosophies, we tend to adopt some of their methods and thinking. Essentially, communism and fascism are ideas, and unless we have a better idea we will never be able to win the battle for men's minds. The Smith Act, the McCarran Act and all the armies in the world can never insulate or isolate us from the onslaught of totalitarianism. As never before in our history, we need men in this country who are willing to defend their liberty by espousing the conditions which make up that liberty.

Unless we can create a healthy, free economy, we will continue to have conflicts; and no amount of government, worldwide or otherwise, is going to bring about a lasting peace. If anything, more government will lead to more distress. I want a world where there will be less, not more laws; where there will be more, not less freedom; where people will travel from one country to another with less, not more immigration restrictions; a world where trade is free and not regulated by tariffs and quotas; where a man can walk in the sunlight without fear of the police, and where his ideas are free and not censored; a world where the individual is supreme and the state is subservient, and not the other way around.