citizen world

World government

World government is the concept of a political body that would make, interpret and enforce international law. Inherent to the concept of a world government is the idea that nations would be required to pool or surrender (depending on point of view) sovereignty over some areas. In effect, a world government would add another level of administration above the existing national governments or provide coordination over areas national governments are not capable of adequately addressing as independent polities. The authority granted this level and how it relates to national governments and/or citizens is debated by both adherents and opponents to world government.

Some people see international institutions (such as the International Criminal Court, United Nations and International Monetary Fund) and various supranational and continental unions (such as Organization of American States, European Union, African Union, Union of South American Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as the beginning elements of a world government system. An organization comprising legislators from various nations known as Parliamentarians for Global Action have promoted ideas of democratic global governance, though such promotion has varied in its scope and intensity during the organization's history.

History of the world government idea

Early concepts

The need for a global government to preserve the peace between nations was discussed in ancient Greek and Roman times, and, in modern times the idea has been recognized since the early 14th century (Dante, for example, discusses it in his book Monarchia, 1329). In 1625, the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius wrote De Jure Belli ac Pacis (The Laws of War and Peace), which is commonly taken as the starting-point of modern international law. The idea of a federation gained much momentum during the late 18th century, a period in which the first modern democratic federation, the U.S., was established (1788), and in which Immanuel Kant wrote the essay "Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch" (1795). In his essay, Kant describes three basic requirements for organizing human affairs to permanently abolish the threat of a future war:

  • The civil constitution of each state shall be republican.
  • The law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free states.
  • The rights of people, as citizens of the world, shall be limited to the conditions of universal hospitality (i.e., people would be allowed to visit other countries, but not to stay unless invited).

The 19th century

In 1811, a German philosopher Karl Krause, suggested, in an essay titled "The Archetype of Humanity", the formation of five regional federations: Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia, aggregated under a world republic. In 1842, the English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, published the oft-quoted lines ("Locksley Hall"): For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see / Saw a Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be /... / Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer / and the battle-flags were furled / In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world. / There the common sense of most shall hold / a fretful realm in awe / And the kindly earth shall slumber / lapt in universal law.

Between 1852 and 1892 Bahá'u'lláh founded the Bahá'í Faith, and identified the establishment of a global commonwealth of nations as a key principle of his new religion. He envisioned a set of new social structures based on participation and consultation among the world's peoples, including a world legislature, an international court, and an international executive empowered to carry out the decisions of these legislative and judicial bodies. Connected principles of the Bahá'í religion include universal systems of weights and measures, currency unification, and the adoption of a global auxiliary language. The Bahá'í Faith currently counts in excess of 5 million members spread across the globe.

Following the U.S. experiment, Switzerland (1848) and Canada (1867) formed the first multi-national federations, uniting distinct ethnic/cultural/lingual regions under a common government.

Ulysses S. Grant commented, "I believe at some future day, the nations of the earth will agree on some sort of congress which will take cognizance of international questions of difficulty and whose decisions will be as binding as the decisions of the Supreme Court are upon us.

International Peace Congresses were held in Europe every two years starting in 1843, but lost their momentum after 1853 due to the renewed outbreak of wars in Europe (Crimea) and North America (American Civil War). International organizations started forming in the late 19th century – the International Red Cross in 1863, the Telegraphic Union in 1865 and the Universal Postal Union in 1874. The increase in international trade at the turn of the 20th century accelerated the formation of international organizations, and, by the start of World War I in 1914, there were approximately 450 of them. Support for the idea of establishing international law grew during that period as well. The Institute of International Law was formed in 1873 by the Belgian Jurist Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, leading to the creation of concrete legal drafts, for example by the Swiss Johaan Bluntschli in 1866. In 1883, James Lorimer published "The Institutes of the Law of Nations" in which he explored the idea of a world government establishing the global rule of law. The first embryonic world parliament, called the Inter-Parliamentary Union, was organized in 1886 by Cremer and Passy, composed of legislators from many countries. In 1904 the Union formally proposed "an international congress which should meet periodically to discuss international questions".

Previous attempts

No complete world government has ever existed, but over human history there have been several empires or dictatorships that encompassed substantial portions of the then known world. Famous examples are Alexander the Great and his empire, the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, and the British Empire. In the case of the British, a quarter of the world's land surface and approximately a third of the world's population was part of the Empire. This is the single closest time that the world has come to a total political unification.

Communism tries to disestablish all states by means of a world revolution, so a society can be founded without states and leaders; the Soviet variety was defeated by the end of the Cold War.

Since then, unsuccessful attempts were made throughout the first half of the 20th century to establish global institutions to resolve international disputes peacefully, or, when these fail, to establish laws in the conduct of wars between nations. The most remarkable ones include the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, which failed to prevent World War I, and the League of Nations (1919-1938), which failed to prevent World War II.

Post-World War II

World War II, 1939-1945, resulted in an unprecedented scale of destruction of lives (60 million dead, most of them civilians), and the availability of city-destroying atomic weaponry. Some of the acts committed against civilians during the war were on such a massive scale of savagery, they came to be widely considered as crimes against humanity itself. As the war's conclusion drew near, many shocked voices called for the establishment of institutions able to permanently prevent deadly international conflicts. This led to the founding of the United Nations in 1945, which adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Many, however, felt that the UN, essentially a forum for discussion and coordination between sovereign governments, was insufficiently empowered for the task. A number of prominent persons, such as Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell and Mahatma Gandhi, called on governments to proceed further by taking gradual steps towards forming an effectual federal world government.

"The Golden Age"

The years between the conclusion of World War II and 1950, when the Korean War started and the Cold War mindset became dominant in international politics, were the "golden age" of the world federalist movement. Wendell Wilkie's book "One World", first published in 1943, sold over 2 million copies. Another book, Emery Reves' "The Anatomy of Peace" (1945) laid out the arguments for replacing the UN with a federal world government and quickly became the "bible" of world federalists. The grassroots world federalist movement in the US, led by people such as Grenville Clark, Norman Cousins, Alan Cranston and Robert Hutchins, organized itself into increasingly larger structures, finally forming, in 1947, the United World Federalists (later renamed to World Federalist Association, then Citizens for Global Solutions), claiming membership of 47,000 in 1949.

Similar movements concurrently formed in many other countries, leading to the formation, at a 1947 meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, of a global coalition, now called World Federalist Movement. By 1950, the movement claimed 56 member groups in 22 countries, with some 156,000 members. In France, 1948, Garry Davis began an unauthorized speech calling for a world government from the balcony of the UN General Assembly, until he was dragged away by the guards. Mr. Davis renounced his American citizenship and started a Registry of World Citizens, which claimed to have registered over 750,000 people in less than two years. Opinion polls carried out by UNESCO in 1948-1949 found world government favored by a majority of respondents in six European countries and rejected in three other countries (Australia, Mexico and the United States). On September 4, 1953, Davis, from the City Hall of Ellsworth, Maine, announced the formation of the "World Government of World Citizens" based on 3 "World Laws" — One God (or Absolute Value), One World, and One Humanity. Following this declaration mandated he claimed by article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he formed the United World Service Authority in New York City as the administrative agency of the new government. Its first task was to design and issue a "World Passport" based on article 13(2) of the UDHR. To date, over 800,000 of these documents have been issued to individuals worldwide. They have been recognized de facto by over 150 countries.

The 1950s call for Legal Realism

Legal anthropologist E. Adamson Hoebel concluded his treatise on broadening the legal realist tradition to include non-Western nations: “Whatever the idealist may desire, force and the threat of force are the ultimate power in the determination of international behavior, as in the law within the nation or tribe. But until force and the threat of force in international relations are brought under social control by the world community, by and for the world society, they remain the instruments of social anarchy and not the sanctions of world law. The creation in clear-cut terms of the corpus of world law cries for the doing. If world law, however, is to be realized at all, there will have to be minimum of general agreement as to the nature of the physical and ideational world and the relation of men in society to it. An important and valuable next step will be found in deep-cutting analysis of the major law systems of the contemporary world in order to lay bare their basic postulates – postulates that are too generally hidden; postulates felt, perhaps, by those who live by them, but so much taken for granted that they are rarely expressed or exposed for examination. When this is done – and it will take the efforts of many keen intellects steeped in the law of at least a dozen lands and also aware of the social nexus of the law – then mankind will be able to see clearly for the first time and clearly where the common consensus of the great living social and law systems lies. Here will be found the common postulates and values upon which the world community can build. At the same time the truly basic points of conflict that will have to be worked upon for resolution will be revealed. Law is inherently purposive.

1950 to present

While enthusiasm for multinational federalism in Europe incrementally led, over the following decades, to the formation of the European Union, the onset of the Cold War (1950-1990) eliminated the prospects of any progress towards federation with a more global scope. The movement quickly shrunk in size to a much smaller core of activists, and the FWG idea all but disappeared from wide public discourse.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, interest in a federal world government and, more generally, in the global protection of human rights, was renewed. The most visible achievement of the world federalism movement during the 1990s is the Rome Statute of 1998, which led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002. In Europe, progress towards forming a federal union of European states gained much momentum, starting in 1952 as a trade deal between the German and French people lead, in 1992, to the Maastricht Treaty that established the name and enlarged the agreement that the European Union (EU) is based upon. The EU expanded (1995, 2004, 2007) to encompass, in 2007, nearly half a billion people in 27 member states. Following EU's example, the African Union was founded in 2002 and the Union of South American Nations in 2004.

Existing regional unions of nations

European Union

The most relevant model for the incremental establishment of a global federation may be the European Union, which politically unites a large group of widely diverse, some formerly hostile, nations spread over a large geographical area and 500 million people. Though the EU is still evolving, it already has many attributes of a federal government, such as open internal borders, a directly elected parliament, a court system and a centralized economic policy.

The EU's lead is being followed by the African Union, the Union of South American Nations, the Organization of Central American States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. A multitude of regional associations, aggregating most nations of the world, are at different stages of development towards a growing extent of economic, and sometimes political, integration.

African Union

The African Union (AU) is an organisation consisting of fifty-three African states. Established on July 9th 2002, the AU was formed as a successor to the amalgamated African Economic Community (AEC) and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Eventually, the AU aims to have a single currency and a single integrated defence force, as well as other institutions of state, including a cabinet for the AU Head of State. The purpose of the union is to help secure Africa's democracy, human rights, and a sustainable economy, especially by bringing an end to intra-African conflict and creating an effective common market.


ASEAN, AH-see-ahn in English, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a geo-political and economic organization of 10 countries located in Southeast Asia, which was formed on August 8, 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as a display of solidarity toward communist expansion in Vietnam and insurgency within their own borders. Its claimed aims include the acceleration of economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members, and the promotion of regional peace. All members later founded the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, which aims to unite the entire continent.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an intergovernmental organization which was founded on June 14, 2001 by the leaders of the People's Republic of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Except for Uzbekistan, these countries had been members of the Shanghai Five; after the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, the members renamed the organization.

Union of South American Nations

The Union of South American Nations was founded in 2006-2008 and is modeled on the European Union. It incorporates all the independent states of South America. These states are Argentina , Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The current global governance system

There is today no functioning global international military, executive, legislature, judiciary, or constitution, with jurisdiction over the entire planet.

The earth is divided geographically and demographically into mutually-exclusive territories and political structures called nations which are independent and sovereign in most cases. One may also make the case that political and economical independence although related are not the same and even though former colonies have acquired political independence since World War II, they have become more dependent financially upon each other. There are numerous bodies, institutions, unions, coalitions, agreements and contracts between these units of authority, but except in cases where a nation is under military occupation by another all such arrangements depend on the continued consent of the participant nations. Thus the use of violence is unprohibited throughout the realm and is only checked by the threat of retaliatory violence or nonviolent sanctions (see Gene Sharp), so where no such threat exists a nation may use violence against another.

Among the voluntary organizations and international arrangements the following are:

  • The United Nations (UN) is the primary formal organization coordinating activities between states on a global scale and the only inter-governmental organization with a truly universal membership (192 governments). In addition to the main organs and various humanitarian programs and commissions of the UN itself, there are about 20 functional organizations affiliated with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), such as the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, and International Telecommunications Union. Of particular interest politically are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.
  • The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were formed together at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States in July of 1944, to foster global monetary cooperation and to fight poverty by financially assisting states in need. The World Trade Organization (WTO) sets the rules of international trade. It already has a semi-legislative body (The General Council, reaching decisions by consensus), and a judicial body (The Dispute Settlement Body). Another influential economical international organization is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with membership of 30 democratic members.
  • G8, an association of eight of the richest and most technologically advanced democracies. The leaders of the G8 countries meet annually in person to coordinate their policies in confronting global issues, such as poverty, terrorism, infectious diseases and climate change.
  • Militarily, the UN deploys peacekeeping forces, usually to build and maintain post-conflict peace and stability. When a more aggressive international military action is undertaken, either ad-hoc coalitions (e.g., multinational force in Iraq), or regional military alliances (eg, NATO) are used.
  • International law encompasses international treaties, customs, and globally acceptable legal principles. With the exceptions of cases brought before the ICC and ICJ (see below), the laws are interpreted by national courts. Many violations of treaty or customary law obligations are overlooked.
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) (also known as World Court) is the judiciary organ of the United Nations. It settles disputes submitted to it voluntarily by states (only), and gives advisory opinions on legal questions submitted to it by other organs of the UN, such as the General Assembly or Security Council.

A recent development in international law is the International Criminal Court (ICC), the first ever permanent international criminal court, which was established to ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished. The ICC treaty was signed by 139 national governments, of which 100 ratified it into law by October 2005.

In addition to the formal, or semi-formal, international organizations and laws mentioned above, many other mechanisms act to regulate human activities across national borders. In particular, international trade in goods, services and currencies (the "global market") has a tremendous impact on the lives of people in almost all parts of the world, creating deep interdependency amongst nations (see globalization). Trans-national (or multi-national) corporations, some with resources exceeding those available to most governments, govern activities of people on a global scale. The rapid increase in the volume of trans-border digital communications and mass-media distribution (e.g., Internet, satellite television) has allowed information, ideas, and opinions to rapidly spread across the world, creating a complex web of international coordination and influence, mostly outside the control of any formal organizations or laws.


Depending on one's point of view, a world government could be more or less a sovereign-erasing superstate, an idea that is under heavy debate. Many critics say that any such formation of a world government would be essentially useless unless the reason relates to an event or conflict that could very well lead to a serious threat to the planet. This is based on nationalist ideas, or the fact that world-governmental candidates like the European Union (EU) and United Nations have not succeeded in stopping events like the Crisis in Darfur, or other such worldwide troubles.

Furthermore, the point of contention for many can be seen as to how nationalistic such a formation would be. A common criticism is that it could lead to an effective return of Imperialism; proponents, however, feel that a federated world government could still respect the cultures which contribute to it, and perhaps be more multi-cultural than current nation-states.

A common point of contention is that a dictatorship would be formed to enforce a world government, which can either be seen as beneficial (see H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come) or to be detrimental. This is because of the natural human compulsion for self-determination, which a world government would abolish in national terms. The argument that organisations like the United Nations could work is often criticised by Realists who feel that such an organisation has little or no real control, and is only a de jure World Government and not the de facto needed.

Furthermore, conflicts such as the Second World War involving all of Earth led to the breakup of near World Governmental countries like the British Empire and other Great Powers; this shows that such large organisations and countries only spread problems to a more global scale. Furthermore, The League of Nations could not prevent the Second World War, and thus failed its true mission, having been established following the First World War to prevent such a conflict.

A disappearance of autonomy is perhaps the most widely cited reason for the current disdain for the idea of world government. Euroscepticism, particularly in the United Kingdom is popular, under a general dislike of other countries running their own, with the EU being perceived by many as being run by its more dominant members, and not a true democratic union. It is key to note that parties like UKIP oppose the EU because of its emerging possibility of becoming a superstate rather than a Free Trade organisation as it originally was in the form of the European Economic Community.


Published works

  • The Politics of World Federation by Joseph P. Baratta presents a history of the practical, political efforts to establish a federal world government. Its introduction is available on line
  • The on-line book A Global Parliament - Principles of World Federation, written as a textbook for a course on the subject of federal world government, provides an overview with emphasis on the EU and its history as a practical precedent.
  • Manifesto for a New World Order (aka Age of Consent) by George Monbiot proposes a road-map towards global democracy.
  • Taking Democracy Global: Assessing the Benefits and Challenges of a Global Parliamentary Assembly
  • The on-line book A Better Globalization: Legitimacy, Governance, and Reform discusses needed changes to the current world governance system.
  • The GTI Paper Seriesexamines the potential for the emergence of democratic global governance, see paper #3, Global Politics and Institutions
  • Selected recent global government arguments in scholarly books or journals:
  • Cabrera, Luis. Political Theory of Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Case for the World State (London: Routledge, 2004;2006).
  • Craig, Campbell. Glimmer of a New Leviathan: Total War in the Realism of Niebuhr, Morgenthau, and Waltz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).
  • Deudney, Daniel. Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).
  • Etzioni, Amitai. From Empire to Community: A New Approach to International Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
  • Marchetti, Raffaele. Global Democracy: For and Against. Ethical Theory, Institutional Design and Social Struggles (London: Routledge, 2008).
  • Tamir, Yael. "Who's Afraid of a Global State?" in Kjell Goldman, Ulf Hannerz, and Charles Westin, eds., Nationalism and Internationalism in the Post-Cold War Era (London: Routledge, 2000).
  • Tannsjo, Torbjorn. Global Democracy: The Case for a World Government (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008). Argues that not only is world government necessary if we want to deal successfully with global problems it is also, pace Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, desirable in its own right.
  • Wendt, Alexander. “Why a World State is Inevitable,” European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 9, No. 4 (2003), pp. 491-542
  • Yunker, James A. Rethinking World Government: A New Approach (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005).
  • Yunker, James A. Political Globalization: A New Vision of Federal World Government (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007).
  • Allida Black, June Hopkins, "League of Nations." 2003. (accessed 4/9/2008)
  • Bruner Michael, Melissa Green, Lawrence McBride, The NYSTROM Atlas of World History, Edition 1, The NYSTROM Atlas, Volume 1, World History, Chicago, NYSTROM, 2004.
  • Carr, Karen. "The Roman Republic." March 11,2008. (accessed 3/11/2008).
  • Daniel Chu and Elliot Skinner, A Glorious Age in Africa, Edition 1, None, Volume 1, A Glorious Age in Africa, Tenton, Africa World Press, 2000.
  • Hooker, Richard, “The Mongolian Empire: The Yuan”, 6/6/1999,, 2/14/2008
  • MSN Encarta, "World Government." 2007. (accessed 5/4/2008).
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "World Government." December 4, 2006. (accessed 4/13/2008).
  • Trueman, Chris. "League of Nations." (accessed 4/9/2008).
  • United Nations Staff, "History of the UN." 2000. (accessed 4/10/2008).
  • We the People, The Roxbury Latin School.


  • World Federalist Movement (WFM) is a global citizens movement with 23 member and 16 associated organizations around the globe working towards the establishment of a federated world government. The U.S. member organization is Citizens for Global Solutions, and the Canadian one is World Federalist Movement - Canada
  • The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is a well-funded research and education center in Canada dedicated to the subject. It is preparing to launch IGLOO: "a global online research community focused solely on strengthening governance around the world."
  • One World Trust (OWT) is a charity based in the United Kingdom and part of the World Federalist Movement. Its current work aims to promote reforms of existing global organizations leading to greater accountability.
  • Civitatis international is a Non Governmental Organization based in the United Kingdom that produces legal research promoting increased systems of global governance to policymakers.
  • The Committee for a Democratic UN is a network of parliamentarians and non-governmental organizations from Germany, Switzerland and Austria which is based on world federalist philosophy.
  • Democratic World Federalists is a San-Francisco-based civil society organization with supporters worldwide, advocates a democratic federal system of world government.

See also


  • Ankerl, Guy Global communication without universal civilization. Geneva: INU Press.

External links

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