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World government

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A world government is a hypothetical entity consisting of a single government with authority over the entire world. No such world government has ever existed, although large empires and superpowers have attained something of that level of power; historical examples have generally been hindered by the fact that insufficient communications and travel made a world organisation of any sort, much less an entire government, unfeasible. This article will examine what moves have been made towards a world government, and which movements have advocated such a state.

Some internationalists seek the establishment of a world government as a way of establishing freedom and a benign rule of law over the world. Some (including internationalists) have some concerns that a world government would need to respect the diversity of the nations or peoples it includes. Others regard a global government as a nightmarish possibility, with a malign World Government creating an endless totalitarian state without the prospect of escape or revolution. The alternative term global political monoculture emphasizes the latter fears and the parallels to global economic monoculture perceived by some to be developing via such institutions as McDonald's, the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank.

Internationalists present the argument that present shortcomings in the international order may be redressed not by merely opposing globalization, which they see as an inevitable and even welcome process, but by counterbalancing the ills brought by overcentralization or domination by corporations and vested interests (such as violation of human rights (including labor rights) and sociocultural and environmental integrity) with genuinely representative institutions with supranational authority.

The idea of world government is often explored in science fiction, either as a central theme or as part of the "furniture" of a vision of the future.

Table of contents
1 History: Multinational Empires, Federations and Unions
2 Theories of International Integration
3 The Current Situation
4 Relevant Ideologies
5 World government in science fiction
6 External links

History: Multinational Empires, Federations and Unions

Effective governance of multiple nations has been accomplished in the past either by empire or by federation.

The Roman Empire (1st century BC to 4th century AD) ruled most of the Mediterranean rim, as well as the Celtic regions of Northern Europe.

The Mongol Empire of the 13th century was probably the largest empire of all time, ruling about half of the world population.

The British Empire reached its peak in early 20th century, ruling over about a quarter of earth's population.

The Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)) stretched over large parts of the northern Eurasian continent from 1922 to 1991. It was an empire based on a centralized dictatorial form of communism, but the Soviet States had some degree of self rule. During World War II it joined the alliance against Nazi Germany. In the post war era it became one of the two nuclear superpowers of the Cold War era, and took part in the huge buildup of nuclear arms and weapons systems to be even in the Balance of Terror with USA. Part of that arms race led the Soviet Union to achieve the first breakthrough in human space exploration, with the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth Sputnik in 1957, and the first manned space mission with Yuri Gagarin in 1961 on the Vostok_1 space ship.

The United States' current global presence and influence is frequently termed the American Empire. The U.S. maintains approximately 700 military bases in 130 countries (of 190), as well as 13 floating naval task forces, ensuring its capacity to inflict lethal violence is omnipresent. The U.S. military expenditures in 2003, at about $400B, approach the total of all other countries' military expenditures combined (compared to $13B in non-military foreign aid, of which $5B are to Israel and Egypt). Further influence over the affairs of other countries is employed by leveraging the U.S.'s dominant economic power, especially as the world's largest importer.

With the increasing global awareness of individual human rights and freedoms, it appears that any classic form of empire, which requires governance by coercion, is unsustainable. Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition demonstrated the difficulties faced by military initiatives taken without international legitimacy, regardless of intent (See Worldwide government positions on war on Iraq).

Countries like Switzerland, Belgium and Canada demonstrate the possibility of bringing nations together to peacefully form a stable and effective shared federal government lasting for centuries, without erasing internal linguistic and ethnic diversity. India, the largest democracy, is a federation of dozens of peoples, each with its own culture and language.

More recently, the evolving and expanding European Union has been inspirational in demonstrating the possibility of uniting a large group of widely diverse, formerly hostile, nations spread over a large geographical area. The EU's lead is being followed by the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and MERCOSUR. These multinational associations are at different stages of development, but they are all growing, both in coverage and in extent of economic and political integration.

The total population currently aggregated under mutli-national political governance organizations, either a full federation or an evolving regional integration process, is approximately 3 billion, about a half of humanity.

Theories of International Integration

A number of scholars have theorised as to how a world government might come into being peacefully. Two general schools of thought on this are functional and regional integration. According to the functional school, world government would arise through all the nations of the world gradually establishing international bodies to deal with particular issues (trade, communications, health, etc.) -- these bodies would slowly grow in power, and, having succeeded their parent states in terms of importance, finally be federated to form one world government. According to the regional school, the formation of a world government would be preceded by the formation of regional governments in different parts of the world, these regional governments later joining together to form one world government. Looking at international organizations today, we can see what might be the early stages of both theories of development -- functional organizations like the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, and many others -- and regional organizations such as the Organization of American States, the European Union and the Caribbean Community.

Both these schools of thought see the peaceful establishment of a world government as a slow and gradual process, that will take decades, if not centuries. However, others argue that a world government could come about very quickly, through an agreement between all the nations of the world. Such a view was quite popular in the idealism of the post-World War II era (one famous proponent being Garry Davis), but by the end of the 1950s had been revealed to be quite unrealistic, at least in the climate of the times. Although there is no reason theoretically why it could not happen, the practical rules of politics (especially in today's world) makes the sudden establishment of such a body highly unlikely, and the gradual route holds much more promise. Many who see the establishment of a world government as desirable still hold out hope.

Of course, both possibilities can operate. Just as human society has evolved in progressively larger units of cohesion despite many setbacks--and while pushed forward rapidly at times by the results of occasional calamities and/or ingenuity and opportunity, many have proposed that this tendency toward stronger coordination, yet with decentralized control, is an inevitable path. The United States government, for example, did not come immediately into being (nor, its advocates would argue, at the expense of individuality). The states of the union were initially quite resistant to the idea of supplying many resources at all to the national government (if they supported one at all). However, certain events such as impending war with England drew its constituent elements closer to each other along another global trend, self-determination. Although self-determination may seem the opposite of unification, federalists (whether national or international) argue that it is actually a prerequisite to true unification (though empires have undoubtedly achieved some measure of standardization and unification). Once "liberated" to sufficiently govern their own affairs, states can associate with others in balanced relationships which allow mutual benefit. However, such a unification brought about by war as the United States experienced was not sufficient to weld its constituent elements firmly together. Through experience with too weak a system (see Articles of Confederation) which could not respond adequately or efficiently to serious crises and with innovation (and, it is argued, borrowing), the "Founding Fathers" of the United States devised a system which managed to maintain a fairly steady equilibrium (though with great give-and-take) between states and nation except through the period of the Civil War where this equilibrium was greatly tested. It has been argued that this test of the system was due to its being tied in its own contradictions of "self-determination" regarding the issue of slavery. Despite this challenge, it may be argued that the Civil War strengthened the nation's unity. Much effort was also spent through educational avenues to inculcate a new sense of national unity amidst the people who had previously felt no special loyalty to those from other states.

Parallels have been drawn to the current state of weak world governance (through the United Nations and other related regional or international institutions) with the United States' Articles of Confederation. In the current system of the United Nations, many have argued that the present system gives too much weight to state sovereignty and too little to cohesive action. For example, any of 5 permanent members of the Security Council can veto any matter brought before it (not only security matters). The World Parliament--the General Assembly--it is argued, hardly represent the people, in that they are not elected by the people in a separate election for international governance (nor in many cases are the governments currently choosing the representatives), they are not proportional in any manner to population (unlike most bicameral legislatures, including the U.S. House of Representatives, and their decisions are not in any way binding (besides expressing opinion). Moreover, the participating nations admitted into the United Nations General Assembly are in many cases oppressive dictatorships not accountable to their own people (perhaps parallel to the states of the U.S. South before the Civil War not allowing black people basic economic or political freedoms such as the right to vote). The World Court, likewise, is severely limited in its powers in being able to adjudicate in matters not agreed to be brought before it by both parties, or if the parties are not states. Even those belonging to permanent member countries have argued that such sovereignty only begets anarchy in getting things accomplished (especially during the Cold War. While federalists are equally wary of the dangers of overcentralization, they argue that many aspects of the United Nations system (or a new system) should be sufficiently strengthened to allow effective action, whether dealing with security (or ancillary issues argued to be related to security).

(Besides federalism, some internationalists point to the model of a commonwealth for the future patterning of a world government which can offer another type of balance between national and international control.)

The Current Situation

Many hurdles remain to be overcome to allow the institution of a World Government. None of them, however, are fundamental or insurmountable.

In Western systems which place high value on individual autonomy, visions of absolute control are often counterposed to reassert the prized value of independence. Ironically, on the other hand, non-Western systems may tend to demonize the anarchy of individuality and are themselves suspicious of world government for fears that Western powers unduly control these institutions. Religion also has its skeptics of world government, who interpret their religious scriptures as foretelling a conquest of the planet by evil forces. Despite this opposition from various quarters, intellectuals and idealists (and some religionists--see Bahá'í Faith) have dreamt of a peaceful New World Order where force was subverted to serve the ends of justice in international relations, e.g., where aggressors were repelled or violators of security agreements/universal disarmament treaties were directly and collectively opposed through international agreement and the force to support it, in order to provide a secure environment (buttressed by greater social equity, etc.) and where essential individual and national autonomy and rights were also secured.

However, given the temptations of states to usurp power even resulting in their own loss (see Prisoner's dilemma), as alluded to earlier, sometimes only gradual or calamitous changes tend to prompt the desired reforms. 

More specifically, with its empire-like dominance over world affairs, the most significant current hurdle is the reluctance of the U.S. government to relinquish some control to a higher authority. Such reluctance would be best overcome through an increased awareness of future U.S. administrations of the benefits of constructive global collaboration and an enforceable international law.

Despite the slow progress, many remain hopeful that ingenuity, education, statesmanship, and other proactive efforts would continue to advance support among nations and their leaders for a greater political and social union based on justice, consultation, and respect for state and individual rights. Activist organizations, such as the World Federalist Movement, continue to promote the idea amongst national governments, and are constantly seeking to expand their membership.

International (functional) institutions

There are a large number of international organizations under the umbrella of the United Nations, as well as international treaty organizations, but none of these claim sovereignty over any part of the world. There is also a body of international law.

One of the most encouraging recent developments towards the establishment of the rule of global law is The International Criminal Court (ICC). This is the first ever permanent, treaty based, international criminal court established to promote the rule of law and ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished. Of ninety-two countries who signed the treaty, forty-seven - including the United States - have not ratified it, citing various concerns about sovereignty and legal jurisdictions.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) - an organ of the United Nations - is another attempt at achieving an international judiciary. The ICJ hears only cases between states and judges on issues of territorial integrity and international disputes - as opposed to the ICC which deals with criminal cases. The ICJ's complete jurisdiction - compulsory by international law under the UN charter - has not been accepted by many states the world over, including the United States and many developing countries.

The United Nations as a budding Federal World Government

The United Nations currently mainly serves as a forum for the world's sovereign states to debate issues and determine collective courses of action. As such, it is not set up to easily evolve into a federal world government. The two most critical attributes lacking are (1) legitimacy and (2) power.

Legitimacy is lacking in that the operation of the UN is not based on widely accepted democratic principles, such as proportional representation (each country has one vote regardless of population size), or the equality of all adults before the law (some countries have permanent seats and veto power in the security council).

Power is lacking in that implementation of its decisions is entirely dependent on the goodwill of its members. It has no legal power to directly collect taxes to fund operations, maintain an army or a police force, or directly impose economical penalties on national governments refusing to comply with its decisions.

More on U.N. reform proposals:

Relevant Ideologies


Adolf Hitler attempted to establish a "thousand year Reich" that, at the very least, would at least have encompassed Europe and Russia. It seems probable that had Hitler been successful in this, he would have eventually attempted to conquer the rest of the world. However, he believed that a state was at its strongest when at war, so perpetual or recurring war would probably have been something he would advocate; thus negating the possibility of a complete world government.



The communist movement had an ideal of world government emerging from the co-operation of idealised communist regimes, although this broke down when the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China realised that their national political aims were incompatible.

Leon Trotsky is famous -- and probably foremost among authoritarian communists -- in advocating a "world revolution," as opposed to the single-state communism of Stalin and Mao. His followers have suffered alienation within the communist/socialist movement, however, due in large part to the propaganda of the Soviet Union against Trotsky.


Although anarchists advocate a world not divided by borders, which they regard as nothing but artificial boundaries, and are generally against nationalism, they do not advocate a world government as such, because government itself is an institution they believe to be morally wrong and harmful. Instead, anarchists propose a world order based either on free association and mutual aid, in the case of libertarian socialists, or on free competition, as in the case of anarcho-capitalists. (There are other branches of anarchism, which are discussed in more detail on the anarchism page and on their individual pages.)

Conspiracy theory

A number of
conspiracy theories postulate the existence of a mysterious global cabal that controls the world, or large portions of it, from behind the scenes. Other theories prophesy (or warn of) domination of the world by a single entity; these conspiracies generally warn against a One World Government.

See also:

World government in science fiction

In both science fiction and utopian/dystopian novels, authors have made frequent use of the age-old idea of a global state and, accordingly, of world government. In tune with Kant's vision of a world state based on the voluntary union of all countries of this planet in order to avoid colonialism and in particular any future war ("Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht", 1784; "Zum ewigen Frieden", 1795), some of these scenarios depict an egalitarian and environmentally sustainable world supervised (rather than controlled) by a benevolent world government. Others, however, describe the effects of a totalitarian regime which, after having seized power in one country, annexes the rest of the world in order to dominate and oppress all humankind. James L. Halperin's novel The Truth Machine (1996) is an example of the former while Ira Levin's This Perfect Day (1970) and the evangelical Christian Left Behind series are examples of the latter.

This Perfect Day is set in a seemingly perfect global society whose genesis remains vague ("Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei led us to this perfect day" is what schoolchildren have to chant). The world is ruled by a central computer called UniComp which has been programmed to keep every single human on the surface of the earth in check. People are continually drugged by means of regular injections so that they can never realize their potential as free agents. They are told where to live, what to eat and which job to take. Everyone wears a bracelet with a scanner which tells them where they are allowed to go and what they are allowed to do. At 65, they receive a lethal injection. Even opposition against such a life by those few who happen to be resistant to the drug and who consequently wake up to a day which for them turns out to be anything but perfect is dealt with by the programmers of UniComp who, in their underground hideaway, constitute the world government. Their ideology seems to be basically communist.

The Truth Machine envisages the future of humankind after the invention of a device which is much more reliable than conventional lie detectors. Mass marketed and as small and cheap as a mobile phone, the truth machine is available to everyone so that lying has become something which just does not pay any longer and, consequently, is generally considered erratic behaviour which used to occur in the past. Also, crime has become almost obsolete. As politicians are in no way exempt from being continually checked, no economy with the truth can be found in their speeches or soundbites any longer, and only those who really wish well are prepared to take office. As the only remaining superpower, the United States of America takes the lead and all the other nations readily join in to form a truly global society.

The Left Behind books are a series of novels that tell the story of the Rapture according to evangelical Christian theology. The stories center around the quick rise to power of a charismatic, populist Romanian politician named Nicholae who is eventually appointed Secretary General of the United Nations. Once in power, Nicholae advocates a series of popular proposals, such as a global currency and massive international disarmament. Eventually, all countries unite into one "Global Community." However, things quickly turn sinister, and although Nicholae remains increasingly revered (now as "Global Pontiff") he institutions increasingly totalitarian measures to unite the world, such as allowing only one legal religion, and only one global media outlet. Nicholae is eventually seen as the antichrist, and is rejected by the books' Christian protagonists. The idea that the antichrist will be the leader and chief advocate of a world government is a popular theory among believers in Christian Rapture theory.

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