On Going the Way of World Government | Mark Brumley | Catholic World Report
Abstract principles and ideal scenarios don’t grapple with the real world.
World government. Thirty years ago I read Mortimer Adler’s How to Think About War and Peace and was convinced. If world peace is ever going to be achieved, Adler argued, there would have to be something like a world federation of democratic states. I found concurrence in statements by Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, as well as the Second Vatican Council. To this day, I acknowledge world government as the ideal. If, in order for autonomous individuals consistently to achieve their common good, some form of government is necessary, then in order for autonomous governments consistently to achieve their common good, some form of world government is necessary.
I say world government is the ideal. Whether the ideal is practicable is another matter. Suppose it isn’t. Suppose in the real world human beings are such that, while in principle they could work together internationally to achieve peace, in practice they simply won’t acquire sufficient moral virtue to will as they ought for their own real good and the common good of the human family? Suppose they simply won’t ever attain the practical wisdom and moral virtue to organize six billion plus people into one political/economic community of mutually respecting nations, all collaborating for the global common good? Surely, that possibility shouldn’t take a Catholic by surprise. A whole strand of Augustinian political thinking is skeptical about the long-term viability of democratic government on a national scale, much less on a global one. Indeed, one may well argue that given man’s sinful proclivities, a peaceful one-world democratic community won’t be seen this side of the Eschaton.
Even Adler, ever the optimist about the possibilities of democratic government, insisted that it would take 500 years to achieve the goal of a moderately peaceful, democratic world federation, assuming human beings didn’t manage to destroy themselves in the meantime. Toward the end of his life, he reduced that to 300 years, arguing it had to happen more quickly if it was to happen at all.
In any case, as Adler and many other political philosophers make clear, establishing a truly democratic world government is no mean feat, requiring transnational agreement about fundamental ethical questions and human rights, not to mention a minimum of universal education, moral virtue, and economic stability. We are, the optimistic Adler insisted, distant from anything like a global culture, with commonly shared ethical principles. To which I say, if commonly shared ethical and democratic values are necessary for democracy to thrive in a nation- state, what does that mean for the prospects of a world democratic state, in the world as it is today and is likely to be for the foreseeable future?
As things stand today, achieving a world democratic federation in half a millennium looks like a best-case scenario.