One world?

I’ve been reading with great interest the 1949 edition of The Outline of History, written mostly (except for the WWII part) by H.G. Wells.  The book provides a nice perspective of the socialist mind in the first half of the last century.  To his credit, Wells makes no pretense of objectivity, and the closer to current times he gets the more opinionated and subjective he becomes.

The book is interesting on a number of levels but one thing that particularly catches my eye is that Wells views all of history as a struggle toward a single, unified society.  Here, let him tell it:  “Sooner or later mankind must come to one universal peace, unless our race is to be destroyed by the increasing power of its own destructive inventions; and that universal peace must needs take the form of a government, that is to say, a law-sustaining organization, in the best sense of the word religious — a government ruling men through the educated co-ordination of their minds in a common conception of human history and human destiny.”  He favored what he called a “world-wide educational government.” 

The questions fairly burst out.  Is such a state possible?  Is it desirable?  Is it, in fact, the only way for mankind to survive the ever-increasing destructive power of its own invention?  If it is desirable, how do we get there from here?  If it is not desirable, how do we prevent folks like Wells from taking us there? I look forward to your ideas and opinions.

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  • 11B40

    I think that I’ll stick with the “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” paradigm.  President Obama’s first two years might be seen as what occurs when too much power falls into the hands of those affected by the zealotry of ameliorating the human condition.  You know, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.”
    A couple of years back California’s Franchise Tax Board withheld part of my tax refund at the nominal direction of the Department of Motor Vehicles which had somehow concluded that i had shortchanged them in some regard.  The notice I received indicated that i should contact the DMV, not the FTB if I wanted to find out the reason/excuse why. As a bit of fun, I wrote to the DMV, the FTB, my State Assemblyman, my State Senator and California’s Attorney General.  The only response that I received came from the last who informed me that he could not help me because if that matter went to court he would have to represent the DMV.  Now envision thirty years from now, sending a couple of missives to Brussels or Moscow or Peking or Mecca. Rots of ruck wit dat.

  • Ymarsakar

    It’s only possible if there is a stellar threat.

  • dicentra

    Ah, yes. H.G. Wells, coiner of the term “liberal fascism.”
    I think that I’ll stick with the “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” paradigm.
    It’s worse than that. Any time you consolidate power in one place, the charming psychopaths inevitably claw their way to the top, because decent people aren’t willing to play as dirty as they, supposing they are able to see through the charm in time to warn the others.
    As for “the ever-increasing destructive power of [our] own invention,” the weapons may be scarier than before, but the actual danger is not in the weapons but in the wielders. A thousand atomic bombs in Mother Teresa’s custody pose no threat at all, but a shard of glass in the hand of a psychopath equals as many slashed throats as he can tote up before he’s stopped.
    We wage war to settle one question only: “Who is in charge of this bit of land: us or them?” Until humans stop wanting to be in control of other people, we will always have war. Does anyone really think we can “educate” that out of people? Puh-leeze. Wells’s dream involves nothing BUT control and coercion, and that will always incite a push-back, which will always lead to upheaval and even to war.
    Wells and his ilk may have been pretty good with the book-larnin’ but they were utter moral imbeciles.


    He favored what he called a “world-wide educational government.”
    So does Islam – it’s called indoctrination and submission. Wells views towards a unified society (cookie cutter with matching houses, too) dismisses free will and reduces the individual to a robotic state. The ‘struggle’ has always been quite the opposite – not to be sucked into a political or social vortex. Can’t think of one society that survived intact.
    How do we prevent it.   The story from 11B40 nicely points out – it cannot be stopped and that the evolution and revolution process is just a built in of humans and creatures. Every living thing on the planet and the planet itself inhales and exhales from plate tectonics to volcanoes, natural bush fires, tsunamis. One can’t control the natural events and so he tries to compensate by controlling the species, believing we are giving order to natural chaos. Sometimes, the best that can be done is to get out of the way of a speeding train or run for high ground in front of a tsunami.

  • Ymarsakar

    The whole point of government is that it has resources only so long as it can control the income, which is vested in the people itself as the source of resources and power.
    Communist revolutionary movements have, throughout the centuries, constantly attempted to figure out the best way to take power from the status quo and then afterwards get rid of anybody else that would do the same thing to them, now that they were in power.

  • jj

    Wells was a man of his time, and he was a representative of a (fairly small, though loud) particular group point of view native to that time.  He’s fun, because he was at least – as you noted – honorable enough not to try to disguise his viewpoint, you never need doubt where he’s coming from.  But the viewpoint is ultimately childish.  However, some of his writing was a great deal of fun, particularly the sci-fi that everyone knows, but he also, as practically no one seems to know these days,  wrote some very good books, and at least two splendid ones (Mr. Britling Sees It Through; and Secret Places of the Heart) as well.
    But the viewpoint was a common one for a time in “thoughtful” England, when socialism was just beginning to gather a vogue.  Which, regrettably, it did, in England.  Now it must all be undone, and I think if Wells were around to witness what a shiftless waste his political system has made of most of the English, he’d repent.

  • garyp

    Governments always produce winners and losers.  Even weak governments make laws, every one of which helps one group and injures another.  As governments become more powerful, their actions become more effective at helping its supporters (i.e. purchasers) and hurting its enemies (i.e. those unwilling, or unable, to pay enough graft).
    This has always been the case and always will.  This effect is minimized when the government is weak and when the interests of various groups being governed are closely aligned.  This argues for relatively small, homogeneous countries.  The disparities in interests of the various groups in a world government would be so large that they could never be reconciled.
    When governments come to be perceived as being unfairly promoting one group’s interests over another, the disadvantaged group(s) begin to become restive.  Usually the government’s response is not to compromise to restore allegiance of the disaffected but rather to punish the disloyal and reward the privileged (i.e. loyal) group(s).
    Eventually, a civil war (either small or large scale) ensues.  The Kurds in Irag and Turkey, the Irish, the Tibetans, many groups in Russia and China; the list is endless.  Even in the face of overwhelming force, disaffected groups will violently rebel due to unfair treatment that is inevitable as central governments grow stronger.
    This would be the fate of any world government.  I have read discussions about how surprising it is that the US has been able to successfully govern such a large and disparate area with only one major civil war.  And this was with a (mostly) homogeneous population (in the early days), and with very strong efforts to merge immigrant people into loyal Americans.
    Certainly, once the iron fist of Stalinism disappeared, the USSR did not last long and the disintegration continues.  Can China hold together without the overwhelming force currently used?  Can the US hold together as “diversity” rather than “melting pot” becomes the watchword.
    Personally, I have no fear of a world government being successful.  The only effect of an attempted world government would be constant ( if perhaps small scale) civil war.
    The USSR could not produce the “new socialist man” with total control and 70 years of repression, murder and propaganda.  The “one world man” will face the same fate.  The “American” will probably prove to, ultimately, be a failed effort also.  Only if we return to smaller government with each state closer to “sovereign” than “federal” do I hold much hope out for the US being able to hold together.
    All politics are local (per Tip O’Neil) and only when day to day power (i.e. law making on things that affect individual’s lives) is local can competing groups give and take effectively enough to keep everyone committed to staying within the system.  As power is concentrated in a distant, central power, that power is, more and more, seen as a foreign (to their concerns) and oppressive government.  We see this in the US today.  Washington is perceived as increasingly “out of touch” with the average American.  Washington doesn’t “listen” to the average American’s concerns.  These are not empty phrases but rather a symptom of growing disaffection with a central government with too much power that constantly favors certain power groups rather than even handedly benefiting (or harming) each group in turn.  It is not a coincidence that the Tea Parties support reducing the size and power of the Federal Govt.  Unless they are successful (not certain as powerful forces that benefit greatly from the largess of the Feds will fight tooth and nail against this), the US will move inexorably toward dissolution.

  • Simplemind

    The Stars Are My Destination  1953  Alfred Bester  addresses these issues  in an entertaining and provocative way.    Is such a state possible?  Is it desirable?  Is it, in fact, the only way for mankind to survive the ever-increasing destructive power of its own invention?  If it is desirable, how do we get there from here?  If it is not desirable, how do we prevent folks like Wells from taking us there? I look forward to your ideas and opinions. It is widely regarded as one of the best Sci Fi novels ever written.

    Go ahead read it. I dare you. Isn’t this called Bookworm room afterall? 

  • Danny Lemieux

    The arrogance of these intellectuals (or “fatal conceit”, as Hayek called it) is that they assume that, should such a one world government evolve, it is they that would run it along their ideas of how the world should be run. They, of course, would be no better at achieving consensus than would any academic department at a major university. World government would soon devolve into petty backstabbing, gossip and squabbling.
    The world, of course, would fail to recognize the intellectual enlightenment of these progressive intellectuals and want to have its own say about how the world should be run. No problem! Fortunately today, in this great age of diversity and multiculturalism, all societies are equal. Thus, we could have an intellectual criminal justice system run by The Hague, human rights dictated by Sudan, the police system dictated by China and Russia, sexual rights dictated by Afghanis and Saudis and economic policy dictated by Benin. It would presumably work as well as the United Nations does today.
    Actually, to apply capitalist principles to world government(s), I would propose that it is in the interest of world progress to decentralize, not centralize, world government. The Flemish don’t like being in Belgium or the Scots in the UK? Secede. The Christians of Sudan are persecuted by the Muslims in the North? Create a new country.
    The great things about such a diversity of governments is that it puts government models into competition. The United States wants to become more socialist? Well, lets look at Cuba, North Korea, the former Soviet Bloc and the EU to see how well that worked. I am amazed that conservatives have not grasped on the incredible economic success of Hong Kong under the British (and today) as a laboratory model for capitalism’s success. Similarly, I believe the political freedom of the United States has been a beacon for democratization in many countries. Finally, competition between government models often results in residents voting with their feet. The economic opportunities presented by the United States has long been an incredible magnet for talent and investment from other countries.

    So, to summarize, world government (even if feasible) is a sure guarantee of, if not tyranny, then mediocrity. We all gain by having competing systems of culture, economics, political freedom and government.
    Great question, DQ!

  • Mike Devx

    > The questions fairly burst out.  Is such a state possible?  Is it desirable?
    Well, sure it is possible, and under the right circumstances, desirable.  Consider a national United States government in 1790, which would have sovereignty over thirteen states.  If you’ve ever driven cross-country, you get a sense of how vast the territory of these states is.  And as we expanded to fifty states, we’ve had no trouble maintaining sovereign control.

    When we succeed, it seems to me we succeed because of federalism – the proper designation of authority to the proper level of government (and restrictions upon each level and branch of government as to what its proper duties are).

    A federalist approach to a “world” government, given today’s telecommunications, seems doable to me.   But it would have to be properly constructed, as was our originalist government – not the monstrous ravening octopus of our current national government.  And it would have to be freely joined, as the States joined our originalist government.  Were it to happen, it would happen over time, with nations joining it over time.  And the citizenry would have to vote to join it.  When our States joined the Constitutional USA, the States gave up sovereignty over quite a few areas of jurisdiction to their new national government, and the same would be true of a “world government”.

    As to being feasible, I don’t see many ways it could be done, myself.  Envision, for example, how the United States and Canada could form a common nation, a single government.  Not possible under normal circumstances, despite the fact that we have far, far more in common than we have differences.  It would require one country to collapse into anarchy, and the other country to agree to absorb the other piecemeal.

    Supposing Canada were the country to collapse, the USA *could* (if it were wise), absorb some of the territories of the former Canadian provinces as new USA States.  Each would be accepted for different reasons, usually economic or military-strategic in nature.  At a certain point in such acceptances, the remaining Canadian territories would naturally fall in, and you’d have one country north of Mexico.

    It’s harder, but possible, to envision a collapsed Mexico being absorbed into the USA.

  • Mike Devx

    By the way, I don’t consider the European Union to be a proper model for how to construct a “world government”. The EU is a Frankenstein of a concept, and totally unworkable.  You can’t simply graft a new level government on top of national governments.
    While you *do* have those European national governments ceding authority to their broader umbrella government (the EU itself), the proper delineation of sovereign responsibilities is, in the EU case, a bitter joke.  Those who attempted to construct the EU were not nearly as wise as our own Founding Fathers were.  It won’t be long, in historical time-frames, before the EU is rightly delegated to the dustbin of history.  It will serve as a useful example of a flawed form of governance, much as pure democracies served as useful examples to our own Founding Fathers.