Sunday, June 2, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Eleven

“World Government,” pages 89-95

Industrial and agriculture societies need each other, just like the butcher and the baker need each other. So it would seem that doux commerce should reign – except that trade is now generally managed by governments: “…if the butcher is one sovereign State and the baker is another, if the number of loaves that the butcher can exchange for his joints depends upon his skill with the revolver, it is possible that the baker may cease to regard him with ardent affection [p. 89].” So economic interdependence, mediated not through the market but through nation-states, causes strife, not fellow-feeling. Politics is the master – and contra Marx, politics itself is not determined by economics. Marx did not understand that impoverishing others is more important to many people than enriching themselves.

The advantages of large size are most apparent in war, and war has served to expand social units, up to nations and combinations of nations. War used to offer profits to victors, but now it has become too expensive. (As a percentage of the population, war was often more costly in the past, when disease deaths are considered along with battle deaths.) “The population of Japan increased by about five millions during the Second World War, whereas it is estimated that during the Thirty Years’ War the population of Germany was halved [p. 91].” But the radioactivity of atomic weapons might wipe out all life on earth, though we can’t be sure until it is too late.

Ages when defensive forces have the upper hand over offensive forces tend to be happy ages. We have to worry that technological advance might give a considerable advantage to offense, perhaps through biological weapons. Modern wars also put more of the civilian population at risk, diminishing the attractiveness of urban life. “I am an old man, and I can remember a time when it was not thought quite the thing to make war on women and children; but that happy age is past [p. 92].”

All in all, war is more of a menace now than it has been in the past. The prevention of war, therefore, takes on paramount importance, and justifies thinking about massive political reforms. Simply continuing with our present nation-state system will, with high likelihood, bring what it has always brought, war. So a global sovereign power, one possessing a monopoly on the most lethal weapons, is required.

How would such a world authority work? Besides its monopoly control of advanced weaponry, it must command the loyalty of troops. Inter-national disputes must be submitted to its jurisdiction, and any unsanctioned military offensive will make the aggressor nation a pariah, and subject to armed retaliation from the global forces. Various judicial and legislative powers will evolve naturally in the wake of the requisite military authority.

The world government may well not be democratic, and it may be foisted on some nations unwillingly. [Russell made a similar point in Unpopular Essays.] Humanity is probably too politically immature to achieve world government in a wholly consensual manner. Over time, defeated powers can join the winning partnership. But for stability to reign, the great conflictual issues of race, population, and creed will have to be defused. “It will be impossible to feel that the world is in a satisfactory state until there is a certain degree of equality, and a certain acquiescence everywhere in the power of the world Government, and this will not be possible until the poorer nations of the world have become educated, modernized in their technique, and more or less stationary in population [pages 94-95].” Western progress in the past half-century shows that this pleasant prospect is not a pipedream.

The chain of logic leads to the conclusion that a stable global government can only exist if the major countries are not under population pressure. Today’s leading nations have reduced infant mortality, enlarged lifespans, and improved living standards. Their success provides a template for poorer nations. So the conclusion is one of hope: men at this time are masters of their fate. They possess the means to achieve a better world.

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