Who's Afraid of World Government?

News Abroad

Dr. Wittner is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. His latest book is Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement (Stanford University Press).

A few weeks ago, Glenn Beck of the Fox News Channel, with that hysterical flourish that has made him the darling of rightwing extremists, proclaimed:  "America, if . . . you're not really into that whole One World Government thing, watch out."  This kind of warning, regularly issued on Fox News, seems rather absurd today, given the obvious weakness of the United Nations and the failure of mainstream political figures to even suggest that this international organization might be strengthened to provide more effective world governance.

Nevertheless, not so long ago the idea of world government had greater influence in the United States.  Amid the enormous destruction unleashed by World Wars I and II, American Presidents successfully championed the establishment of the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations as instruments to curb the narrow nationalism that traditionally had led to war.

During the Second World War, especially, an avalanche of books and pamphlets called for new thinking about global governance.  Probably the best-known of them was One World (1943), a best-seller by Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican candidate for President.  Serialized or printed in brief versions in more than a hundred newspapers in the United States and Canada, One World--within two years of its appearance--sold two million copies in book form. 

When the war culminated in the most shocking action yet, the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world government movement acquired even greater momentum.  In early October 1945, twenty prominent Americans--including Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts, U.S. Senators J.W. Fulbright and Claude Pepper, novelist Thomas Mann, and physicist Albert Einstein--called for a "Federal Constitution of the World."  The movement quickly gathered powerful supporters:  businessmen such as Owen D. Young, W. T. Holliday, and Robert Lund; labor leaders such as Philip Murray and Walter Reuther; university presidents such as Robert Hutchins; magazine editors such as Norman Cousins; and news commentators such as Raymond Gram Swing.

With world government groups springing up across the United States, six of the largest merged in February 1947 to form United World Federalists.  By 1949, that organization--dedicated to working "to strengthen the United Nations into a world government"--had 47,000 members in 720 chapters across the nation.

Furthermore, the idea of transforming the United Nations into a world government was endorsed by 45 important national organizations, including the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the National Grange, the Farmers' Union, the United Auto Workers, the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Young Democrats, the Young Republicans, and numerous religious bodies.  The Communist Party was not among these organizational backers, as the Soviet line of the time was that the world government movement was part of an imperialist plot to invade Communist nations.

Thanks to this broad support, World Government Week was proclaimed in early 1949 by the governors of nine states and by the mayors of approximately fifty U.S. cities and towns.  By mid-1949, twenty state legislatures had passed resolutions endorsing world government.  That same year, 91 members of the House of Representatives (64 Democrats and 27 Republicans) introduced a resolution to have the House go on record as supporting world federation as a "fundamental objective" of U.S. foreign policy.

This proved the highwater mark of the movement.  As the Cold War heightened and as a hot war broke out in Korea, establishing world government began to look increasingly utopian.  To the American Right, in fact, it looked downright subversive.  The House Un-American Activities Committee conducted a grueling investigation of United World Federalists.  Seizing the spotlight, Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cohorts repeatedly attacked the "one-worlders."  In 1952, Senator Pat McCarran succeeded in attaching a rider onto federal legislation barring the distribution of funds to federal agencies that promoted "one-world government or one-world citizenship."  A scramble immediately began to remove suspiciously globalist books from the U.S. government's overseas information centers.

What remains today of the world government movement in the United States is comprised largely of Citizens for Global Solutions, a small organization dedicated to strengthening the United Nations and the scope of international law.  Its modest efforts hardly put this unruly planet on the brink of world government, or even provide much of a counterforce to the rabid nationalism peddled by the American Right.

But let's give Glenn Beck and his ilk their due.  If there were a more effective global organization, that world body would be able to reach across national boundaries to cope with global warming, defend human rights, prosecute war criminals and terrorists, regulate multinational corporations, provide famine relief, enforce arms control and disarmament, and prevent military aggression.  And should patriotic Americans support such practices?   

Why not?

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Arnold Shcherban - 11/25/2009

Bolsheviks, soldiers, and workers who accomplished the so-called putsch were "an elitist hunta"?
One cannot reveal his lies and vicious distortions any clearer than you did by that characterization.
As they say: gotcha ya... with uproars of laughter.
By this I'm done responding to you a-historical baloney.

Peter Kovachev - 11/24/2009

Ooops, I hope I didn't upset you Arnie. With the way things have been going over in Mother Russia, you'll make commissar in no time and I'd rather not have this conversation with you in a cellar at Drzhezinsky Square. Too old to for re-education, you know.

Peter Kovachev - 11/24/2009

Actually, Arnie, my feeble brain didn't register your imaginary rebuff because it doesn't aknowledge that a "revolution" even took place for there to be a "counter-revolution." Dang!

Ya see, old Marxist terms are no longer commonly used to describe reality...unless you are an old Marxist. The Soviet take-over which some of you dinosaurs call a "revolution" bears an uncanny resemeblance to a garden variety putsch by an elitist hunta. In this case, we had a superstitious and vicious populace which switched from Czarist-iniated pogroms against Jews to Soviet-orchestrated ones against select political enemies. The silly proles just went along, switching hymns and icons for the Internationale and garish social realism posters.

I applaud your rejection of world government, but note that your rejection is only based on the assumption that the wrong crowd is in power. So much for the principled approach, I guess.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/23/2009


I read the article you cited before
asking you for the proof... since I didn't see anything in the article that would make an unbiased observer to conclude that the author's resume on Lenin's theory is correct.
(I'll be as brief, as I can.)
First and foremost, the notion that either V.Lenin himself or other theoreticians, or founders of Marxism, have ever claimed (or been given by their successors) exclusive rights on their theories (or even on basic components of the latter) is false, 'cause it contradicts factual historical evidence.
On the contrary, they all (and Lenin, in particular) not only recognized the
rich theoretical heritage they based their theories/analysis on (what is abundantly clear from their works) but specifically pointed out/celebrated the invaluable original ideas/theories and the authors of those ideas/theories, from
ancient Greek philosophers to contemporary to them German, French, British and other philosophers, economists, and sociologists.

Second (and therefore), the Leninist
theory of Imperialism was (I cite):
"the synthesis of the political, economic, and social analyses of the works of Karl Kautsky, John A. Hobson (Imperialism: A Study, 1902), and Rudolf Hilferding (Das Finanzkapital, 1910), which in their turn were the philosophic bases to the pragmatic application of the political philosophy (Leninism) to the new circumstances of the First World War (1914–18) between the German and the British empires — exemplification of imperial capitalist competition, the thesis of his Imperialism disquisition essay.

Third, almost any large-scaled analysis of such type in any field of knowledge invariably involved the borrowing of the ideas and evidence, not, however, making the author of the former one unoriginal, and even less, plagiator.
(Just ask me for pertaining historical precedents, if you're in doubt.)
And, finally, all of the above should not be construed as either blind support of Marxist-Leninist theory(and even less its practice), but an unbiased evaluation of their real, original, and honest investment into immensely complex development of human thought.

Rodney Huff - 11/23/2009

I'm not sure that this is "proof," but this excerpt from the article I cited above provides strong evidence that history is not what it's always cracked up to be. From Rothbard's "The Origins of the Federal Reserve" (pp.19-21) (I still highly recommend that you read the entire essay):

By the late 1890s, groups of theoreticians in the United States were working on what would later be called the “Leninist” theory of capitalist imperialism. The theory was originated, not by Lenin but by advocates of imperialism, centering
around such Morgan-oriented friends and brain trusters of Theodore Roosevelt as Henry Adams, Brooks Adams, Admiral Alfred T. Mahan, and Massachusetts Senator Henry cabot Lodge. The idea was that capitalism in the developed countries was “overproducing,” not simply in the sense that more purchasing power was needed in recessions, but more deeply in that the rate of profit was therefore inevitably falling. The ever lower rate of profit from the “surplus capital” was in danger of crippling capitalism, except that salvation loomed in the form of foreign markets and especially foreign investments. New and expanded foreign markets would increase profits, at least temporarily, while investments in undeveloped countries would be bound to bring a high rate of profit. Hence, to save advanced capitalism, it was necessary for Western governments to engage in outright imperialist or neo-imperialist ventures, which would force other countries to open their markets for American products and would force open investment opportunities abroad.

Given this doctrine—based on the fallacious Ricardian view that the rate of profit is determined by the stock of capital investment, instead of by the time preferences of everyone in society—there was little for Lenin to change except to give an implicit moral condemnation instead of approval and to emphasize the
necessarily temporary nature of the respite imperialism could furnish for capitalists.

Charles Conant set forth the theory of surplus capital in his A History of
Modern Banks of Issue (1896) and developed it in subsequent essays. The existence of fixed capital and modern technology, Conant claimed, invalidated Say’s Law and the concept of equilibrium, and led to chronic “oversavings,” which he
defined as savings in excess of profitable investment outlets, in the developed Western capitalist world. Business cycles, claimed Conant, were inherent in the unregulated activity of modern industrial capitalism. Hence the importance of government-encouraged monopolies and cartels to stabilize markets and the business cycle, and in particular the necessity of economic imperialism to force open profitable outlets abroad for American and other Western surplus capital.


Here's another article that may be of interest to you:


And one more:

Arnold Shcherban - 11/23/2009

<you didn't actually deny that old Vlad was a scheming and murdering gangster.>

Actually, I was given you excessive credit for being a dangerous ideological adversary...
Your feeble brain could not even grasp that by "deadly struggle between revolution and contra-revolution" I have not only rebuffed (though, only rhetorically) yours <Vlad was a scheming and murdering gangster> or other "pearls" of that kind, but also was trying surreptitiously remind about some contra (not counter) "activities" of the US imperialism and its clients, along with the horrors produced by both.

And to be sure, I'm against world government... as long as such ideological zealots as you, mister, have too much power on this Earth.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/23/2009

Listen, you petty lair and ideological crook, who asked for your half-brained "advise"?
Or do you really think that having better command and style of English language, a zealot like you can beat me (one the greatest, if not THE GREATEST, socio-economic and political commentators and oracles alive) in this game?

<kind of like being told that Genghis Khan was a shoplifter.>
No, it's kind of like Jefferson being a slave owner.

Peter Kovachev - 11/22/2009

Oh, come on, Arnold, the chap just laid out your sources on a plate. Surely you can move your kapital-nourished derriere and apply your finely honed dialectic skills to do a bit of primary source analysis. Imagine, old Vladimir Ilyich was not only a deadly player, but a petty plagiarist as well! I think that's funny, kind of like being told that Genghis Khan was a shoplifter.

Peter Kovachev - 11/21/2009

Goodness, a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, slogan-spouting Marxoid! You're among the last of an extinct breed, Arnold; what a rare treasure you are. And such a delighful conversationalist, too. May you live to be 120, of course, but please do specify in your will that your remains need to be preserved in a large jar of Moskovskaya to be displayed in the recently cleaned up Kremlin mausoleum.

I note that you didn't actually deny that old Vlad was a scheming and murdering gangster. That was prudent. As for the Bolshies' empire building with the lubricant of the bodies of millions, well that story is too well known and some of us even fondly remember the waning good old days of that jolly social experiment. Wish you were there, because those were the days, my friend; too bad you were busy looking after yourself in this horrible racist, capitalist imperialist Western hell you're stuck in.

As for your brave challenge, the only "objective and unbiased" analyses out there will be...let me guess...ha! I got it; the ones that agree with you! You're very clever and the world government idea couldn't have a better promoter than you, Arnold. I really do hope that you'll get out there and make your mark. Just make sure to use your best lines, like the one about the "deadly struggle between revolution and counter-revolution" ("contra" sounds too darn furin').

Arnold Shcherban - 11/21/2009

<the tragi-comedic "predictions" of a despotic mass murderer and the father of the Soviet Gulag.>

Since life in general is tragi-comedy,
such predictions are nothing more or less than REALITY - past and modern.

As far as characterization of Lenin as "a despotic mass murderer and the father of the Soviet Gulag" goes, I could have given you dozens of examples of mass murders committed by the fathers of the very Western civilization (based on religious fanaticism and racism) you apparently
so much care and cherish about, but being quite sure that no facts or arguments would make you change your dogmatic ideological zealotry, I just say: that's what people call DEADLY STRUGGLE between REVOLUTION AND CONTRA-REVOLUTION.
By the way, the primary cause of the success of the Bolsheviks in capture and long hold of power in such a huge country as Russian Empire (and expansion of it) is the GREAT MAJORITY SUPPORT they enjoyed there. I challenge anyone to provide a single Western (or Eastern) objective and unbiased historical analysis that rebuffs my last statement.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/21/2009

<Lenin got his theory of imperialism from an advocate of imperialism, Charles Conant.>
Proof, please.

Rodney Huff - 11/20/2009

Here's that link again. I screwed it up first time around somehow.



Rodney Huff - 11/20/2009


Lenin got his theory of imperialism from an advocate of imperialism, Charles Conant. Conant was an agent of the financial elite who spun a theory about the "general" surplus of goods that was destabilizing the U.S. economy. Conant's theory, erroneous as it was (check out Murray Rothbard's "The Origins of the Federal Reserve" http://mises.org/journals/qjae/pdf/qjae2_3_1.pdf)--Conant's fantastic theory was used to justify an expansionist foreign policy as well as a central bank to cartelize the banking system on behalf of the financial and corporate elite.

You can read about how the Progressive era was far from being progressive in G. Kolko's "The Triumph of Conservatism."

Peter Kovachev - 11/20/2009

I'll still take a "defective screaming offspring" ...your words... over a mildewy Marxist, like yourself, who swoons over an outdated 19th century pedant and salivates over the tragi-comedic "predictions" of a despotic mass murderer and the father of the Soviet Gulag.

My suspicion that the lower classes of world government proponents consist of frustrated little lumpen proletariat fascistas, with an unnatuaral passion for what they deem deserved authority, seems to be holding up still.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/20/2009

Mr. Beck is certainly "competent" in ...
He is O'Reily's defective and screaming offspring.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/20/2009

<Corporate socialism>?
That's where your, sir, one-sided education and narrow-minded extreme individualistic views fog up your thinking.
The socio-economic system you talk about now has been predicted and analyzed (to the extent of validity
of the best predictions) by Marx and, especially, by Lenin in his brilliant
work "Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism."
One might not agree (and I certainly don't) with many political and social implications of the Marxist theory, but the depth and accuracy of the Lenin's analytic (not Nostradamus-type) predictions, considering the time passed, is truly amazing.

Rodney Huff - 11/18/2009

You suggest a one world system based on the model of checks and balances analogous to our own federal government?

What checks and balances? More than 50 years ago, C. Wright Mills was railing against the fact that, at the highest levels of power, checks and balances were being undone, as elites found it to their advantage to cooperate with one another rather than compete. This trend towards greater cooperation among elites has only accelerated since Mills's time.

It can also be seen in the Congress, where on fundamental issues of "the economy" and foreign policy the two parties are as one across administrations.

And what kind of "peace" could the elites be talking about? Peace for whom, by whom?

"A world federal government," you write, "would actually help constrict the growth of freedom-hating dictators." This seems extremely naive to me. This is the same kind of apologia Americans were subjected to during the so-called Progressive era, when people were (mis)led to believe that a centralized federal government would help counter centralization of corporate power and monopoly. What a monstrous deception that turned was, as the reforms that were professed to protect free competition had the opposite effect. This is not surprising since the very reforms and regulatory agencies that appeared at that time were pioneered and staffed by the corporate establishment and leaders of industry who sought governmental protection from competition. So what passed as "progressivism" was actually a kind of corporate socialism that arrested the development of the economy in favor of maintaining present power relations. As historian Gabriel Kolko put it, it was a "triumph of conservatism."

This coporate socialism, based on government-supported cooperation, has been the dominant trend of the U.S. political economy of the past century. This triumph has entailed greater centralization of commercial and governmental power.

Of course, this trend has spilled over national borders since the corporate establishment is increasingly international in composition and aspiration, loyal to no single country but willing to use a country's political and military power (not to mention intelligence agencies and black ops) to achieve their objectives.

We need to wake up and see through this smokescreen of ideology. World government will be sold to the people as a remedy for all these terrible problems - most of which have been created (or exaggerated) by the very elites (and their agents) who are promoting world government as a "solution."

The article above is just another example of statist propaganda, an attempt to get people to allign against their own interests.

Peter Kovachev - 11/18/2009

"...the possibility of world federal government as an instrument of peace is probably still 500 years away (or 450, depending on when you want to start counting)."

Whew, that's a tough one, Tim. I vote for 450 years from now..makes more sense than 500. I'd also like to know when to get snow tires for this winter.

Peter Kovachev - 11/18/2009

"I'd like to join, if I'm not already a member!" (Jonathan Dresner, 2009...we think)

I too would like to join too to see what kind of vitamins can trigger such jolly amnesia. Perhaps Mr Fleming, the shy recruiter, can direct us both; you to your commision as a "non-governmental world government organization" commissar, and me to where the party is.

Peter Kovachev - 11/18/2009

Please consider the implications of your messianic vision in your last paragraph, Mr Hainline.

If I understand the broad principles of evolution and natural selection correctly, it is complexity, variety and differences that are hallmarks of evolution and successful adaptions.

In human history we evolved from a fragile, genetically homogenous species living in a narrow ecological niche, with an indistinguishable cuture and perhaps, as some linguists postulate, even a single language. Had we not changed genetically, behaviourally and culturally, it is doubtful we would have survived even minor climatic changes, much less a succession of cooling and warming calamities and other radical changes to our environment.

Even a cursory look at human history and present societies should show you that we appear to be driven by a powerful tendency towards heterogeneity, rather than homogegeneity. It is simply how we evolve, and to imagine that moving "backwards" towards a "single culture" is evolution, would be akin to promoting an "evolution" to a single-celled organism.

I'm rather surprised that Dr Wittner's article is generating little debate or interest here. What he proposes is not just radical, stupid or flaky, but inherently evil. The idea of a world government is not new; in fact it has been the dream of every tyrant, conqueror and genocidal maniac we get cursed with from time to time. As with all grandiose dreams, Wittner's dream is embedded with his own vision of how the world should be run and who should do the running. His assessments of the state of the world and his definitions of justice and how it should be implemented have already been formed. His vision of a world government is simply the old elitist drive for a suitable enforcement mechanism which can "reach" anyone and anywhere.

It would be simply suicidal for people of any culture or opinion to treat such truly regressive (and oppressive) ideologies and messianic visions of a homogenous world ruled by an all-powerful system with anything but disdain and fear.

Peter Kovachev - 11/17/2009

Ok, well, with the horrifing possibility of being cast among the unspeakable "Glenn Beck and his ilk" crowd how is one to answer Wittner's "why not" challenge?

Mildewy old Marxisists get rightfully laughed at whenever they meekly squawk that socialism has never *really* been tried and yet, their equally cooky secular messianic "world government" hobgoblin, which also hasn't been tried, seems to still get a modicum of polite respect.

As with all profoundly inane, impractical and frightfully dangerous ideas which "only an intellectual could support" (to paraphrase Orwell), reality does get in the way of the old "one world" hallucinatuion. And the first reality to slip the banana peel under that one is the pesky little question of just who we'd like to entrust with Mr Wittner's reaching across national boundaries to cope, defend, prosecute, regulate, provide, enforce and prevent. Given the real world examples so far, Mr Beck and his ilk would be the least dangerous and most competent of the lot.

Tony Fleming - 11/16/2009

Hi Jonathan -- who knows to what NGOs she's ascribing such influence, but it's doubtful they would claim such in the manner she suggests nor would want to. However, if you are interested in becoming a member of NGOs which are sought out for their expertise on improving global governance, I'd recommend Citizens for Global Solutions (http://www.globalsolutions.org) if you're based in the United States. If you live elsewhere, contact the World Federalist Movement in New York (http://www.wfm-igp.org) for contact information on similar organizations around the world.

- Tony

TheRightMan ForTheJob - 11/16/2009

The notion of 'what remains of the movement' is hardly comprehensive. Do you think the international bankers that will back such a world system are going to be more benevalent than they are now? Do you think their absolute power won't creep into world government? You are kidding yourself if you don't agree they will. You hardly even touched on the 2 largest and most prestigious world government endorsing NGOs, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trialateral Commission - they are the current movement for the same world governance. These guys have kept that torch burning bright, no doubt about it. Where have you been?

Jonathan Dresner - 11/16/2009

A column -- more of a long letter to the editor -- in our local paper referenced "the top seven non-governmental organizations working to create this Global Government."

Has anyone heard of such a formulation, or can shed light on what NGOs she might be referencing? Apparently these groups more or less monopolize military and bureaucratic authority in this country... I'd like to join, if I'm not already a member!

Tim Lacy - 11/16/2009

Dear Lawrence,

If more people read the actual books produced by folks like Emery Reeves, or even Mortimer J. Adler (*How to Think About War and Peace*), they would see that "one world government" doesn't have to consist of a freedom-curbing, blue-helmet set of controls. And properly constructed (e.g. with checks and balances analogous to our own federal system), a world federal government would actually help constrict the growth of freedom-hating dictators.

As it is, however, I agree with Mortimer Adler's 1944 prediction that the possibility of world federal government as an instrument of peace is probably still 500 years away (or 450, depending on when you want to start counting). Why? Anti-intellectualism and crazy conspiracy theories keep feeding the malicious forms of sovereignty as currently constructed.

- Tim

Douglas Hainline - 11/16/2009

Surely the decline in interest in world government was a result of ugly realities obtruding upon American consciousness.

At the end of WWII, America was overwhelmingly the strongest economic power on earth. Most pro-world government Americans probably saw, naively, world government as basically an extension of American government.

As it became clearer that this wouldn't be the case, the illusory goal of "world government" evaporated.

Perhaps, in the distant future, when (or if) all nations have become prosperous liberal market-based democracies, and the world's peoples have evolved towards a single culture, the idea of world government will live again, on a more realistic basis.