The prime minister of Britain says a lot of good things about global coordination to overcome shared, global problems in his recent op-ed. But I am pretty stunned at his concluding remark that we should ‘create the first truly global society.’
The idea of course has a lot to recommend it. The global scale of some problems (global warming, terrorism, drugs) suggests we need globally-scaled solutions, and a global society, or ideally a world government (WG), would be able to coordinate that a lot more easily than the messy, choppy circus of multilateral meetings that passes as ‘global governance’ today. When I teach International Organization, I spend a week or two on the counterfactual of WG. We talk about what the benefits might be, why it has not happened, what its prospects are, how it might be organized, etc. (If you are curious about some detailed ideas, try here.) The economies of scale and efficiency benefits of WG are basically the same as those of any integration scheme – NAFTA, the EU, ASEAN, etc. And there is a great logic question in why human political organization has risen to the level of the sovereign state, but no further. In other words, we progressed from families to tribes to city-states to nation-states, and some of our nation-states are continental-sized. But we have not moved to WG. Why not?
The best answer I can think of is nationalism. And this is why Brown’s remark shocked me so much. The big reason we don’t have a ‘global society,’ much less WG, is because no one wants it. People remained deeply psychologically wedded to their nation, even if those nations are recent, artificial, rickety, etc. Look at how much the Iraqis want the US to leave even though the Iraqi ‘nation’ feels like a myth. Or consider how hard European integration has been. Yes, there are organizational problems with the EU that hamper more integration. The EU is a bureaucratic morass that only specialized academics fully grasp, but this is a second-order reason. The EU would work better if the EU’s citizens really wanted it to, if they really felt like ‘Europeans,’ not Irish, French, Poles, etc. Then they would vote to give it real constitutional and organizational clarity. But the Eurobarometer evidence does not suggest that Europeans are shifting their cultural-national allegiance and identification from their national community to the European one.
If the postmodern, ‘we’don’t-have-militaries-anymore’ Euros can’t forge a continental identity, then how can the rest of us possibly build a ‘global society’? And certainly, the US, the audience of the Brown op-ed, is dead-set against this. The American Right thinks state health care is the beginning of socialist tyranny, and before 9/11 John Bolton called global governance the greatest threat to the United States. The American Right is deeply committed to American exceptionalism. Serious talk of a ‘global society,’ much less a WG, would provoke a huge backlash. To the US right, Kyoto was a major breach of US sovereignty, and even NAFTA may be a bridge too far. I can only imagine American conservatives flipping out on reading that line by Brown. Can you picture the Fox News hysteria if an American official actually concurred with the leader of our most important ally? Glenn Beck would be in tears again, and there’d be rioting in the streets…