“World Government vs. World Community,” by Richard M. Fagley
April 15, 1946

One effect of the atomic bomb has been to revive and reinforce a number of idealistic efforts for world government in some form. For a short and now almost forgotten time following the San Francisco Conference, there was an unprecedented solidarity within the peace movement for ratification, reflected in the 89 to 2 vote in the Senate. A fortnight later, however, the Atomic Age was announced and the old controversies over the structure and strategy of world organization broke out in new and sharper form. The major groups committed to the cooperative machinery of the United Nations as the attainable next step were confused or dismayed over the new insecurity. The world government groups, on the other hand, saw in the threat of atomic war an overwhelming argument for world federation now.

On the whole, it has been the proponents of the world state in one form or another who among secular groups have carried on the more energetic programs since August. They have worked closely with many of the nuclear physicists, helping to circulate their warnings and finding new allies among the scientists. They have held strategy conferences at Dublin, N. H., and Princeton, seeking a common front. They have utilized with considerable success the media of public information. For these reasons, and for their possible repercussions on church efforts in this field, it seems important to examine the problem of world government, in the light of certain Christian perspectives.

Dual Concern for Government and Community

It should be said at the outset that world government has become part of the goal for international society set forth by church leaders. World government, as the pooling of national sovereignties in a higher sovereignty of mankind, and world community, as the sharing of common moral principles and experiences, form the twin long-term objectives of Christian world order strategy. This dual concern might be traced back to Paul, who in Romans 13 stressed both obedience to the governing authorities and love to one’s neighbor. The restraint of evil and the practice of brotherhood have remained as objectives, and in recent years have been applied to international life as previously to national affairs.

The Oxford Conference pointed out the need to abrogate absolute national sovereignty, at least to some extent, to promote the rule of law. The Report also stressed that law must be based on a common foundation of moral convictions. In this two-fold demand we see the dual concern for government and community. Again in the Statement of Guiding Prin­ciples adopted by the Federal Council of Churches in 1942, we read:

We believe that the principle of cooperation and mutual concern… calls for a true community of nations… A world of irresponsible, competing and unrestrained national sovereignties… must make place for a higher and more inclusive authority.

Moral convictions and law; community and authority; trust and international controls; fellowship and government—these are the dual guiding principles churchmen have advocated. Men need, in international as well as national life, both a fellowship of effort and ideals and “a Common Power to keep them in awe, and to direct their actions to the Common Benefit,” as Hobbes put it. Thus, world government is not an ideal alien to Christian thinking. What seems strange and naive is the complete reliance of the federationists on government as the solution of the problem of world order.

The Spirit of Peace

The thesis of the federationists is that “the nation-state structure produces war” and that “something will cause world peace… it is world government.” As Emery Reves puts it: “War takes place whenever and wherever non-integrated social units of equal sovereignty come into contact… Wars between these social units cease the moment sovereign power is transferred from them to a larger or higher unit.” In other words, if the particular devil of national sovereignty can be exorcised the problem of war is solved. But peace is more than a question of structure. It is at least as much a question of spirit. Behind the phenomenon of national sovereignty lies the greed and pride of man. Unless there is a moral transformation of life, no effort to deal with the symptom of sovereignty offers much hope. To put it in another way, a world monopoly of power will not bring a just and therefore durable world order unless it is based on a world community of values.

The oversimplification of the world government theory leads to consequent errors in strategy. Thus, some of its advocates seem to think that if they can work out a world constitution which will avoid the mistakes and compromises of past federal constitutions, they will somehow enable the nations to avoid the struggles which have beset the history of actual federations. Yet these constitutional imperfections and compromises were not the product of stupid drafting: they were the result of conflicting interests. Without them, there would have been no American federation, no Swiss confederacy. In his final Federalist paper, Hamilton defended the proposed Con­stitution as the “best which our political situation, habits and opinions will admit.” He explained:

The result of the deliberations of all collective bodies must necessarily be a compound, as well of the errors and prejudices, as of the good sense and wisdom, of the individuals of whom they are composed. The compacts which are to embrace thirteen distinct States in a common bond of amity and union, must as necessarily be a compromise of as many dissimilar interests and inclinations.

The drafting of paper constitutions which neglect these “dissimilar interests and inclinations” seems harmless. The same cannot be said, however, of current demands for the quick transformation of the U.N.O. into a world government, as the political answer to the atomic bomb. The consequences of this campaign require particular attention.

Fear of Atomic War

The argument is that however suitable the gradual evolution of world government may have been in the pre-atomic period, only immediate achievement of this goal will save us now. The race for atomic weapons, as Norman Cousins says, is “not only based on the distrust but generates distrust.” Therefore, he goes on to argue, “this is the propitious moment, the grand moment… to take the moral leadership in bringing the atomic solvent into play” to achieve real government. In other words, the common fears of atomic war can be made to outweigh not only the old fears and suspicions which stand in the way of a common sovereignty but the new fears and suspicions as well.

But the evidence hardly supports this hypothesis. The fear of atomic war is not a general fear so much as a specific fear of the United States with a stockpile of atomic bombs, or of the Soviet Union with a potential stockpile. It is a fear of opposing powers, or competing cultures, rather than fear of war in general, which motivates most strongly public opinion and major lines of policy. The deterioration of great-power relations since the atomic bomb and the end of the war has far outstripped the slow and very cautious efforts to establish international controls over atomic energy.

The idea that the fear of war can serve as an “atomic solvent” of national sovereignty and thus produce world federation, does not have historical support. “The fear of war or the fear of risk,” as John Foster Dulles has said, “is not enough to bring nations to reconcile their conflicting interests.” It has been concrete fears of other nations rather than the abstract fear of war, which have helped men in the past to establish “a Common Power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of Foreigners.” The first of the Federalist papers deal with the “dangers from foreign arms and influence,” the specific menace of Britain, France, and Spain to the commerce and borders of the confederation. As John Jay summarized the argument:

Weakness and divisions at home would invite dangers from abroad; and… nothing would tend more to secure us from them than union, strength and good government within ourselves.

Hamilton went on to argue that probable alliances between the separate states and foreign nations would gradually entangle the states in “the pernicious labyrinths of European politics and wars.” The separate states “would be likely to become a prey to the artifices and machinations of powers equally the enemies of them all.” The fear of war which served as a solvent in the establishment of the American Constitution, as in other unions, had a local habitation and a name.

Thus the hope that the fears produced by the new insecurity of all nations will be enough to win their consent to a world state seems unrealistic. The fears divide more than they unite, and unilateral proposals for establishing a common sovereignty merely intensify the growing distrust. A few of the federationists like Dr. Einstein have recognized this danger and suggested that the Soviet Union, as the major power presumably still lacking the secrets of atomic weapons, be invited to make the initial proposals for a world government. But for the most part, quite a different approach has been made. The objective has been to sell the American people on the idea. How a “thousand Patrick Henrys” on the street corners of this country would persuade the security-conscious Russians to consent voluntarily to a world state is not very clear.

In fact, the publicity for world government proposals here and in Britain have already widened the distances between the Soviets and the West. The Soviet press has attacked “reactionaries” who use the atomic bomb as a threat to compel alteration of the San Francisco agreements. Mr. Gromyko said in the opening Soviet address before the U.N.O. in London:

Already now, when the Organization is just being born, voices are being heard from some places speaking as if the Charter had already become obsolete and needed revision. Such allegations must be decisively rejected… Such allegations are dangerous, and under certain conditions may lead to serious consequences.

Two Worlds Within One

The fundamental fact with which strategy must reckon is the existence of two worlds within this one world. The difficulties of bringing this gulf in understanding, interests and ideals, always enormous, have increased as a result of victory and of the new insecurity. Consequently the idea that world gov­ernment can be a “first step” at a time when even the methods of collaboration agreed upon at San Francisco are difficult, disregards the limitations of the historical process. It may be possible, given an increase of fellowship in other areas, to evolve an inspection system for weapons of mass destruction which would curb national sovereignty to some extent. Such a system, however, would be only a start towards world government, and it would be confusing to call it anything more, or to overlook the real obstacles to any common government. At the present time, as Senator Vandenberg has said:

The Soviets would not agree to a world state unless they ruled it. Neither would we, or those who believe in our type of democracy. Our hope is in evolution and the U.N.O. is the only available starting point.

Some of the federationists have reckoned with the real obstacles to world government in our time, and have argued for a more limited federation of Western states. The minority report at the Dublin Conference, for example, spoke of exploring “the possibilities of forming a nuclear union with nations where individual liberty exists, as a step toward the projected world government.” The use of the term “nuclear” in this connection seems rather odd, for if Russia fears proposals for world government, it is not clear how the threat or reality of a federation of the democracies would attract her to join. Perhaps the group had in mind the uranium nucleus, since no proposal seems better calculated to intensify the explosive elements in the present international situation.

According to some reports, many of the “nuclear” federationists have in fact lost hope in winning the peace, and regard the proposed union as a method not to win the next war since any victory would almost surely be Pyrrhic, but to avoid losing it. A step toward “the projected world government” which does not offer real hope of averting the “war, which in this atomic age, would destroy civilization,” but rather seems calculated to make such a war more likely, is no step towards world government. Coercion offers even less hope than consent as a quick means to this goal.

Even if a world state could be established in our time, there would be no assurance in this that would prevent the catastrophe of another war. Tyranny or weakness might lead to world-wide civil war, with consequences as fearful as international conflict of the present pattern. As William Fox of Yale has pointed out, there would be real danger in creating a world monopoly of force before achieving a world community of values to be served.

The Path of Advance

The immediate issue is that concentration on the problem of world government may help to defeat he feasible steps which can be taken, by diverting attention from the attainable, and thus may help to block the long road not only to world community but world government as well. A head-on attack on the “veto,” for example, might well wreck the machinery for continuing collaboration of the United Nations. The restraining hand which each of the great powers keeps on the Security Council will be relaxed only as new understanding, cooperative effort and trust are established.

This is the sound approach which has been made in Protestant pronouncements on world order, before and since the atomic bomb. The economic and social problems which constitute common threats to the general welfare offer new opportunities for united action, according to the Commission on a Just and Durable Peace in its latest statement on Four Fronts for Peace:

If the peoples of the world respond… then by striving together, they will develop a sense of fellowship in the world community. That is the only reliable preventive of war. It is the only foundation upon which close political association can be built.

Through the development of world community there is hope for the eventual attainment of world government. Here, rather than in proposals for federation, lies the path of advance.

Richard M. Fagley is the author of The Population Explosion and Christian Responsibility (1960).