Democratic World Government 2

Democratic World Government – An Outline Structure Essay, Research Paper

Introduction – problems and benefits of World Government

The idea of world government has not received a good press for many years.

It tends to make most of us think of Stalinist dictators and fascist

domination of the globe. I wish to argue, though, that there is a viable

form of democratic world government which could bring many benefits.

A democratic world government that really worked would lead to a major

increase in the freedom enjoyed by all people on the planet. It would also

make more equitable the international balance of power which currently so

heavily favours the rich developed nations and their citizens at the expense

of the much larger numbers of citizens in the underdeveloped world.

The billion-dollar question is, though, whether there could be a form of

democratic world government which was workable and sustainable, not

inefficient and expensive, and above all which was fair?

Conventional ideas about world government, which typically picture it in the

form of a global parliament passing universal laws in order to create an

identikit legal framework for all world citizens, suffer from three severe

problems. Firstly, the near-impossibility of persuading all of the world’s

countries to hand over their sovereignty to a global government of this

sort. Secondly, the risk – of which we are, and must always be, very aware -

of permitting a future global dictatorship of a particularly intransigent

kind (imagine how difficult it would be to dislodge a Hitler if he was in

possession of the kind of absolute power available through such a form of

government). And thirdly, as we see sometimes today in the European

Community, the tendency of such a large-scale government to create detailed,

uniform laws for the entire area it governs; the impetus would be towards a

sort of global standardisation, almost certainly based in the cultural

attitudes of the West, which would massively erode the rich cultural

variations which exist in the world.

A preferable system of world government, if such could be invented, would

meet all of these objections, as well perhaps as providing a global

framework designed to encourage the democratic possibilities of all nations.

Perhaps such a system might look something like the one I shall now


New form of World Government – outline structure

The new World Parliament would be a single elected chamber, possibly similar

in format to the House of Commons in the UK but with places for up to 1000

elected representatives – Members of the World Parliament, or ‘MWP’s. The

MWPs would be elected from national or supra-national constituencies, one

per so many head of population (but probably with a minimum of at least one

per nation, at least in the early decades [There are approaching 200 nation

states in the world at the moment, with populations ranging from 50,000 - St

Lucia - to 5,000,000,000 - China. This represents a variance of a factor of

100,000, so the disparity in representation could not be tolerated

indefinitely. In due course some notion of communal MWPs, shared by small

countries of reasonably alike culture, would have to be introduced.]). They

would be subjected to re-election every 5 years. The world government

envisaged here would have no army and would require only minimal

administrative support. As a result, its costs would be small. It would not

be allowed to raise any taxes, instead being funded in a similar way to that

in which the United Nations is today, by contributions from the

nation-states which make up its membership. Such nation-states would

continue to exist in the new system just as they do now, forming an

essential balancing power to that of the world government, and would be

without significant loss of sovereignty.

Membership of the new system which the world government represented would be

voluntary for each nation in the world, just as membership of the United

Nations currently is [Some democratic nations choose not to join the United

nations even today, Switzerland being a prime example.]. Becoming a member

would involve them adding their signature to a world treaty, which decision

would need to be ratified by the population of the country in a referendum.

Only upon so joining the ‘club’ would a country’s people have the right to

vote into the world government one or more MWPs, and in turn the world

government would only have the right to instigate actions which related to

countries within its membership. Once in the system a country would be able

to extricate itself only by majority vote of its population in another


The world government’s purpose would be to enact laws by normal majority

voting within its chamber, but laws which were couched in general terms.

Because presented in general terms, the laws would permit individual

countries to retain or create their own culturally-based detailed laws and

social practices as long as these did not conflict with the general


The laws, although couched in general terms, would be very real. A World

Court would exist, providing a top-level of appeal for individuals once they

had exhausted their domestic forms of justice and where they thought they

were innocent under the general world law (much as we in Europe can now make

an ultimate appeal to the European court).

But what would the powers of the world government be? The new system must

not permit the world government to enforce its desires in an absolute way

upon the world population because that would immediately raise the twin

dangers of global dictatorship and imposed cultural uniformity.

World Government’s only power – enforced referenda

Instead, nations would be allowed to transgress world-laws – to pass local

laws, or otherwise operate, in contradiction to them – but only where the

population of that country was in agreement with its government in that

course of action. The principal element of the new world constitutional

system would be the provision of just such a check that any country which

went against a world-law was expressing the will of its people. So the world

government’s one and only direct power would be that of requiring any nation

within its membership to undergo a binding referendum on any issue, and

ultimately if necessary a general election, which would be conducted

according to a set of internationally agreed standards. These standards,

written into the world treaty, would include the fact that the world

government must be given equal opportunity to present its arguments to the

country’s people as the host government.

So say, for example, that a generalised human rights law had been passed by

the World Parliament. At some later point in time a majority of MWPs might

come to consider that a particular member country was violating this law,

either in its current activities or in a new law which it had enacted

locally. Then the world government could require a binding referendum to be

held in the offending country, so that the people of that country could have

a democratically-valid opportunity to decide whether they wanted their

national government to adhere to the world-law on this point.

If the result of the referendum was in the local government’s favour then it

could continue to operate as it had chosen, and no further action would

follow. On the other hand, if the outcome favoured the world government’s

view then its general law would take precedence in the nation. If in turn

that fact was not promptly acted upon, then the world government could

enforce a general election. The country’s population would thus become the

final arbiters of the question.

The effects of this sort of setup are fairly clear. On issues where most

human individuals are likely to be in agreement irrespective of their

background, such as on the immorality of torture, the imposed referendum

would ensure that governments tending towards dictatorship would be stopped

in their tracks. But where a putative world government law was based on

cultural prejudices the local population would almost certainly be in

agreement with their own government’s decision to ignore the global law and

would vote in favour of the local decision. In doing so of course they would

have effectively taken their nation out of the world system as regards this

one issue, and would therefore have to forego access for themselves to the

World Court on the global law in question.

Constraint on World Government

How would the world government be constrained to only pass laws couched in

general terms? Well, if it passed laws which were too detailed they would

almost certainly be rejected by many populations supporting their domestic

governments in internal referenda. Concern about high-levels of such

refusals would probably in itself be enough to restrain the world government

from being too precise on many issues. To buttress this impulse, though, a

constitutional mechanism would be built into the world treaty, sucha that

the MWPs themselves would be automatically subjected to a general world

election en masse if more than, say, 10-20% of countries rejected a world

law in national referenda.

But how would a world government which had no military power of its own

impose referenda and elections and make them binding? What if a country’s

government, perhaps tending towards dictatorship, chose simply to ignore the

world government’s requests for it to hold a referendum on some issue?


The answer is simple, and maintains the principle that the world

government’s only direct power should be to enforce referenda. Faced with

this sort of threat the world government would be constitutionally allowed

to initiate synchronised referenda of the populations in, say, 5

randomly-chosen nations in order to sample world opinion at a

statistically-significant level. It would put before those populations its

suggestions as to what co-ordinated sanctions should be used by all

countries against the offending nation. The result of the vote would dictate

what collective world action could be taken. The action to be taken might be

initially an economic blockade by all member countries, but ultimately if

the crisis escalated could become a collective invasion of the offending

country. It would be up to the polled populations, acting as a world jury,

to decide on behalf of the whole world whether they were going to allow the

principles of world government to be upheld by voting for such sanctions, or

were going to let the world slip back into its messy and dangerous old ways.

In practice the mere threat of the tight, global economic sanctions which

could be invoked by this method would in most cases very rapidly bring a

recalcitrant member country back into line. But if not such sanctions could

quickly be put in place after the sampling referenda. If they in turn proved

inadequate and if a sampling world vote upheld military intervention then

ultimately an invasion could be carried out. As the world government itself

would have no army, this would be planned and mounted by a collective

military force made up of units from all, or a selection of, the armies of

each member country of the world – in the same way as the UN Peacekeeping

forces are today. (Once again, in many cases the mere planning of such an

action would persuade the country to drop its resistance.)

If however the sampling votes activated in such a crisis failed to back the

world government then at best the world government itself should be

subjected to an immediate election, and at worst the entire system of world

government would be threatened and might start to unravel. The important

point here is that economic and military action would be decided upon by

vast numbers of ordinary people, rather than by governments swayed by all

sorts of ‘interests’ and biases. In a very clear way a responsibility for

the future of the world would reside with each of us. The fact that it would

so reside with the people of the world would be a safeguard as ultimate as

could ever be achieved against the possibility of a dictator assuming global

power through the apparatus of the world government. The dictates of such a

despotic world government would doubtless very soon cause it to lose such a

sampling referenda, and it would not itself be in possession of any miltary

power on which it could call.

The system of global governance, composed of the world government in

co-existence with multitudinous nation states, would thus embody a balanced

set of powers and checks. Nation states would retain much power, although

subject to the general will of the world government. As long as they acted

in accordance with the wishes of their citizens they would be able to

implement any policies they pleased. They could probably also defy the world

government without the backing of their citizens to a small extent with

ease, but any larger revolt would be prevented by the need to carry a

majority of the population. If they pursued their defiance they would face

the ultimate threat of economic and then military isolation in the world.

Or at least, that is how things would be as long as the world government

confined itself to passing humane and unbiased laws. It itself would be

subject to a strong counter-balance to its powers. If it showed any tendency

to err from such a widely accepted moral basis then the continued existence

in the world of a large number of varied and independently-willed nation

states would guarantee that transgressions of unpopular global laws would

commence fairly rapidly. Referenda would follow, in which local populations

would almost certainly vote against the world government line and thus

eventually force its members to face re-election.

The world government would in fact only be able to operate by sticking to a

very broadly accepted seam of morality. Indeed it is more than likely that

after an initial phase of establishing a basic canon of general world-laws,

the main emphasis of the world government would turn to reviewing the

practices of nations of the world. There would of course always be

occasional requirements for new general laws, or amendments to existing

ones, but much of the work of the mature world government would probably

consist in monitoring national conformance with world-law and deciding upon

appropriate actions in cases of transgression.

Benefits – Reducing militarisation

Could the existence of the world government do anything to reduce

conventional military tensions in the world? Well, there seems no reason why

the world government should not take the view that unsanctioned war between

countries should be totally illegal, and pass a law to such an effect. Then

if war did break out between any two countries, the standard procedure of

global-sampling referenda could be invoked to enforce devastating economic

sanctions against both of the warring nations, or to raise a collaborative

army with which to overwhelm them and enforce peace. In effect this would be

an active version of what is currently the passive UN Peacekeeping Forces.

Furthermore, the world government could impose limits on the size of armies

and quantity of weapons any country could be permitted, and then over time

gradually force these down, so producing a world which in the long-run would

become stable and virtually military-free.

In the absence of a fool-proof ‘Star Wars’ system providing a defensive

umbrella-shield against inter-continental missiles and planes, a

precondition of such action and of the functioning of the world government

as a whole, would be some sort of collectivisation of nuclear weapons and

any other vastly destructive technology. An individual country in possession

of and willing to use nuclear weapons could resist all of the co-ordinated

international power at the disposal of the world government unless at least

a comparable destructive capacity could be rapidly switched against it as a

deterrent. So, as part of signing the world government treaty countries in

possession of such technology would have to agree to make a proportion of it

available for use in such circumstances. Such weapons might be sited in a

neutral, and sparsely-populated territory such as on one of the polar

ice-caps, and would remain under the control of the individual owning

countries. However in circumstances in which an individual nuclear power was

resisting the world government, and agreement on scales of activity had been

defined by a global-sampling referendum, the possibility would exist for

such countries through the world government to co-ordinate their use of them

in retaliation against a nuclear strike. No one country need possess a huge

number of such weapons as long as the collective total would together

outweigh those owned by any individual recalcitrant nation, and as before

there would be every reason to hope that the world government could

gradually force the levels down to their minimum throughout the world.

Benefits – International ecology

Urgent international ecological problems, such as the excessive production

of ozone-destroying chemicals and the destruction of rainforests, could also

be dealt with by this sort of world government. It could pass laws which

acted across countries in mutual ways, backed up ultimately by the

possibility of enforcement via the global-sampling system. For example, the

world government might enact a balanced general law which imposed severe

limits on rainforest destruction, and also appropriately penalised wealthier

economies whose economic activity tends to encourage it. As always such a

law could be neutralised by a population for their own country (although I

would argue that we would be much more likely to see a positively altruistic

response from ordinary people than from their governments, which tend to

react to public pressure, rarely to lead it). But if such a law actively

broke down because of high levels of veto, the world government could try to

resort to a global-sampling referendum to ‘enforce it’ using the threat of

economic sanctions. Again the ‘jury’ of randomly-chosen populations would

become the conscience of the world in deciding how important the problem


There could also be an emergency procedure whereby nations affected in a

negative way by the policies of their neighbours – a good ecological example

of this is provided by the Scandinavian nations, which currently suffer from

acid-rain generated largely in the United Kingdom – could request the World

Parliament to enforce a combined binding referendum of all of the involved

populations on the topic. There might also be a procedure where a petition

signed by 0.1% of the population of a country could lead to a binding

referendum on any issue within that country via the powers of the World


Democratic assumption

It might be argued that such a system of world government, while allowing

considerable cultural variation among its member countries, nevertheless

makes the assumption that democracy is acceptable and desirable within all

cultures. This is true, but there are two mitigating points to be made.

Firstly, it should be remembered that membership of the world system would

be voluntary, depending on governments responding to public pressure to join

it, and in each case would only be deemed to be ratified by a majority vote

in a popular referendum. Where democracy was genuinely not acceptable to a

culture then there would be no such internal pressure, or membership would

fail at the initial referendum stage, and such a country would then

voluntarily remain outside the system. In practice, if people were polled by

fair referendum, it seems most unlikely that there would be any cultures,

except perhaps the most primitive, which would reject the basic

preferability of democracy over dictatorship.

Secondly, the international standards for democratic practice need neither

be uniform nor blindly instantiate the common model of Western European or

American practice. Individual nations could use any method apporved by the

standards – and there would almost certainly at the very least be a spectrum

of possibilities from the ‘one person one vote’ method to many types of

proportional representation – for both the election of their MWPs and the

conduct of internal referenda. There is no reason why forms of fair practice

which arise from other cultural backgrounds should not be incorporated. As

long as some fundamental general criteria were met by a procedure for

establishing the will of a populace then it could be approved. The criteria

might include such things as freedom of expression without fear of reprisal,

and no inequitable influence on the outcome by minority groups [%f: For

example, it is not obvious that some procedures used in small tribal

communities for arriving at consensus, although secret voting is not

involved, are not fair in this fashion].

Indeed it could even be stated in the world constitution that any form of

procedure would be acceptable as long as it was approved once by a member

nation’s population in a referendum carried out using an already approved

practice. It might well be the World Court in which the interpretation of

the standards and the arbitration on practices would best ultimately lie.

Getting from here to there – Step 1

But isn’t this all just a pipe-dream? Could we ever get from where mankind

is now to this seemingly ideal situation? Could it be done without force?

Funnily enough, it may not be too difficult. One of the beauties of this

system is that it threatens the sovereignty of individual countries only to

a minimal degree, making it difficult for them to have grounds for resisting

popular pressure to join in.

The full system could possibly be achieved in three graduated steps over a

period of a number of decades. The process would start with the setting up

through the UN of an international organisation of Electoral Observers,

rather like the current Electoral Reform Society but on a much larger scale

and on a more formal basis. Their aim would be to produce the international

set of standards and procedures for the conduct of democratic referenda and

governmental elections, allowing for the many different systems of direct,

proportional and other representation which might be used. These standards

would no doubt cover issues such as how to keep votes unattributable to

individuals, procedures for fair counting of votes, and safeguards against

victimisation of voters. The job of the UN Electoral Observers would then be

to monitor the actual practices of democracy in the world against them. That

this is all not an unrealistic scenario is shown by the fact that in 1991

the countries of the Commonwealth gave serious consideration to the

development of just such an organisation.

No doubt many democratic countries would have no objections to the UN

Electoral Observers monitoring and reporting on their practices. Over time

they would become a familiar and accepted feature of democratic practice in

numerous countries, although clearly there would remain many countries which

would continue not to welcome them.

Getting from here to there – Step 2

After some years or decades, once the UN Electoral Observers were well

established, a voluntary treaty would be drawn up by the UN to develop the

system to a second level. The treaty would commit signatory countries to

make use of the Electoral Observers for all subsequent elections and

referenda, and to repeat any which the Observers classed as failing to meet

their basic standards of democratic practice. The established, mostly

developed democracies would almost certainly, if there was a sufficient

groundswell of public opinion in favour of such a strategic move towards

underpinning the basic quality of democracy, again tend to accept this

treaty and operate under its regime. As a result a considerable weight of

moral and public pressure would build on other governments in the world to

follow suit. Gradually other countries if they had any pretence to democracy

would be forced by both internal and external opinion into the fold. It has

taken Britain many centuries of the ‘democratic-habit’ to build up genuinely

democratic practices, and such a system of independent international

observers with enforceable standards could go a long way to assuring

populations, especially those of underdeveloped countries in Africa, South

America and Asia, of the viability of proper democracy in their countries.

Getting from here to there – Step 3

It might well take decades before numbers had grown significantly, but

eventually there would come a time when a significant percentage of the

world’s population, living in a considerably wider variety of cultures than

the merely European and American, were enjoying governmental systems which

operated within the system of democratic safeguards. Finally, at that time,

a world government treaty would be drawn up incorporating the full system of

global government described earlier, for countries again to sign

voluntarily. As an additional ’smoothing in’ mechanism, for perhaps the

first 50 years of its life the World Parliament might have the existing UN

as its ‘upper-house’ – able to review its laws and at least suggest

amendments. It would also probably be sensible for global financial

institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to

eventually be brought under the control of the world government. These very

significant global powers would then be under a more direct democratic

control, and would be more likely to make a fairer spreading of the world’s

financial resources into the impoverished underdeveloped world.

As before there is every chance that there would be enormous popular

pressure on most national governments to back this final phase of

development and to join the world government system, because people would

see that its effect would be to ensure deeper and fuller democracy

throughout the world. Perhaps again the initial core of member-countries at

each step would be made up of the mature western democracies, but because of

this pressure it would not be long before membership became wider.


We have all witnessed in recent years the populations of many countries (the

Phillipines, China, the USSR, Eastern Europe, etc.) doing their best to

bring about local democracy. In some cases this seems to have worked

reasonably smoothly (eg. Poland) but in others (the Phillipines) the

resulting government has always been balancing on a knife-edge, threatened

on all sides by despotic forces; in some cases (China) the population has

failed to win through. One of the major benefits of the full world

government system would be that populations would only have to force their

governments to sign the voluntary world government treaty, by the sort of

courageous popular action we have seen so much of, in order to ensure their

country’s future democratic health; from this single action all else would

safely follow. If their government subsequently started to digress from the

democratic path, or was overthrown and replaced by a totalitarian

alternative, no doubt it would soon fall foul of some world government laws,

and would then leave itself open to the full range of sanctions which the

world government could persuade other populations to bring against it.

A fitting plan for the opening decades of the 21st century? Perhaps. If it

worked such a system of world government would almost certainly represent a

quantum leap forward in the levels of freedom enjoyed by the poorer citizens

of the world, as well as to some extent those of us in the developed



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