The Politics of World Federation

Joseph Preston Baratta



1.  This book is a history of the practical, political efforts to establish a constitutionally limited, democratically representative, federal world government in order to effectively abolish war.  Historically, during the coming, waging, and aftermath of World War II, a number of people in and out of government in America and in the eventually 51 allied countries in the wartime “United Nations” urged that the failed League of Nations not be simply revived, even with U.S. membership, but be transformed into the beginnings of a representative world government.  In principle, they argued that the moment had come to guide international organization through a transition like that when the United States under the Articles of Confederation (1781) passed to a more perfect union under the federal Constitution (1787).  Europeans, too, looked to federation as an end to endemic wars, and in time the European Union would be the practical realization of such dreams [p. 1].

2.  The closest the United States has ever come to support for a world federation was in the State Department during deliberations about the shape of the U.N. organization in 1942–43, and again, after first use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during negotiations over the Baruch plan for the international control of atomic energy in 1946.  There were hearings on world federation in Congress in 1948–50, but amity among the victorious allies of World War II could not be maintained, and the Cold War emerged as the reality of international life for 40 years [1].

3.  The Baruch plan was the nearest approach to a world government proposal offered by the United States; such a proposal could have been more “fair” to the Russians, who in the circumstances of 1946 probably would still have rejected it but would at least not have been alarmed by the deceptiveness of the plan actually offered; and the story of the failure to make the plan a complete world government proposal casts a sidelight on the origins of the Cold War and offers some guidance for a way out of the present arms race [179].

4.  Long study of great power politics may incline us to forget the hope and willingness to create new international institutions that characterized the last year of World War II and at least a year thereafter.  The war had been a “people’s war” not only in the Soviet Union but also in the United States, Great Britain, and the other United Nations.  About 125 million people had been put into uniform on all sides during the war.  Soldiers and people on the home front throughout the world were determined that never again would there be another general war.  “Practically every soldier has asked for the elimination of war,” Baruch noted in an early policy draft [179].

5.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill made an actual offer, not often remembered, of British union with France on 16 June 1940; Arnold Toynbee was coauthor of this proposal.  The offer was the inspiration for Jean Monnet’s leadership to form the first European Community in 1951 [4].

6.  In a survey of the literature worldwide, Strengthening the United Nations, we have found substantial works from 72 nations and five intergovernmental organizations on systemic U.N. reform and world federalism.  Outside of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, the next most fertile countries for federalist thinking were, in this order: India, Japan, Mexico, and so on down to Paraguay, Tunisia, and Zaire.  It has not been an “American” movement [5].

7.  By the end of World War II, a number of people in Europe and America judged that the problem of war and the world–wide spread of industry and democracy made so great an innovation in world affairs as the establishment of world federal government both necessary and possible.  It is necessary to protect the people, to make a reality of collective security, and to solve global problems beyond the capacity of sovereign national states.  It is possible because of the global expansion of Western industrialization, finance, and economic techniques, the spread of European forms of liberal and socialist democracy, the counter-flow of non-Western cultural ideas from the post-colonial world, the shrinking of distances by modern transportation and communications, and, in short, the interdependence of civilized life today on the planet.  The world is already one, federalists say; only law and politics lag behind [9–10].

8.  The limitation of national sovereignty for the purpose of participating in higher unions, to secure the common defense and promote the general welfare, is not unprecedented but rather is quite widely recognized in the fundamental constitutions of numerous states.  Shortly after World War II, the constitutions of France, Italy, and West Germany were expressly changed to permit delegations of sovereignty to a European federation (or, by legal implication, to a world federation); the constitution of Japan renounced war.  Some 37 states have so amended their constitutions, not counting ten more to enter the widened European Union under its draft constitution [11].

9.  World federalists say that they, who wish to extend the rule of law, are the realists, while those who put their faith in a league of sovereign states or, worse, who suppose that peace can long be maintained by deterrence or competition in arms are the utopians [11].

10.  In our survey, The United Nations System, on the literature since the end of the Cold War on U.N. reform, most writers seem to see three general directions for the future of the United Nations, analogous to the three fundamental bases of international politics—balance of power, collective security, and rule of law:

 1. Cautious development of the state system, utilizing the U.N. as at present only when bilateral diplomacy must avail itself of the services of multilateral diplomacy.

 2. A non-hierarchical system of perhaps 100 international organizations, including a much more effective United Nations empowered to achieve the purposes in its Charter.

 3. A world federal government, preserving the nation–states but providing a higher level of legislative, executive, and judicial authority, probably on the model of the emerging European Union.

 A non-hierarchical system (alternative 2) is now overwhelmingly preferred, not only because statesmen (and -women) are reluctant to part with national power, but also because the peoples of the states are fearful, after over 40 years of the Cold War, to centralize power in a world state, even if it could be designed as a federal system with such checks and balances as not to become a threat to liberty.  But a non-hierarchical world system of organizations that could be effective in keeping the peace and in providing the negotiating forum for cooperating to solve global problems would practically amount to the same thing.  If it keeps the peace and respects the independence and diversity of modern states and their restive peoples, what is its difference from a world federation?  The present world situation, we find, can be seen as a period of political creativity no less inferior to that at the founding of the United States [17].

11.  The achievement of the rule of world law will largely depend on new, enlightened national leadership and on massive public opinion ready to undertake the responsibilities no less than to enjoy the benefits of world citizenship.  Jean Monnet used to say that, for the hard work of uniting sovereignties, people will act only when faced by a crisis. Thomas Jefferson said much the same when he wrote, “All experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than they are to right themselves by changing the forms to which they are accustomed” [26].

12.  The day after Operation Catapult, 4 July 1940, the Pétain government severed diplomatic relations with Britain, and by the 12th the constitution of the Third Republic was abolished.  In its place was created a semifascist state directly under the personal authority of Pétain, who, at age 84, feeling betrayed by the democracies and in the power of the totalitarianisms, tried to prevent his country from being ruled directly by Nazi Germany.  If we take a broad view, Pétain was faced with dreadful choices between two primitive unions produced by modern forces of integration but in protean political forms whose consequences could barely be foreseen.  Churchill’s Anglo–French union meant that France would remain in the war and suffer a violent and tyrannical German occupation.  The alternative was Hitler’s “New Order,” in which national boundaries would be opened and economies integrated under the hegemony of a “master race” [91].

13.  Was the State Department unwise to rely on Big Four unanimity and enforcement by armed force?  In retrospect, it is striking how confident the planners were in moving toward so unworkable a design of a general international  organization charged with the maintenance of world peace and security.  No doubt it would have been defeatism to suggest in 1943 that the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union would not last, and it would have been lacking in realism to suppose that the peoples of the world were ready for world federal government [104].

14.  After announcement of the Truman Doctrine and establishment of the Cominform in 1947, the Cold War arrived.  That is the principal explanation for the decline of the world federalists.  In the years particularly from 1947 to 1951, frustrated atomic scientists after defeat of the Baruch plan, baffled intellectuals at the University of Chicago, Europeans split between the ambitions of the Crusade for World Government and the fragile beginnings of European Union, and organized World Federalists mobilizing the public behind state and U.S. congressional resolutions to at least declare world federal government the long-term policy of the United States—all engaged in principled dissent from the reversion to massive rearmament, universal military service, and defensive alliances that policy makers on both sides, schooled in war, treated as alone realistic and prudent.  The conventional wisdom in the West drew its lessons from Munich, the suppression of the London Poles, the Chinese Revolution, and the Czech coup—in the East from the slackness of de-Nazification in West Germany, the threat of atomic bombs, and the ringing of the communist world with armed capitalist allies.  Lost were the lessons of the alliance systems that led to World War I, the failure of the League of Nations, and the presumption of “great power unanimity” in the new United Nations.  Preparedness was the order of the day.  Si vis pacem, para bellum.  If you want peace, prepare for war. [300].

15.  In such a hostile atmosphere, all world federalists could do was to quietly affirm, as did Grenville Clark and United World Federalists, “There is no peace without justice, no justice without law, no law without government” [299].

16.  A historian may find it hard to escape the view that justice was what, as Borgese said, the Cold War was really all about.  Because men and women could not agree on the nature of justice, on the powers to be delegated to a world government, they had to endure a longer period of strife whose end threatened to be world war [330].

17.  These people had just won a world war for democracy.  They had just escaped isolationism— meaning Washington and Jefferson’s tradition of building up a free country far from Europe’s quarrels.  They were citizens of the world.  They sensed the long–term threat to all humanity of nuclear war and were acting responsibly to abolish war.  They felt their American government had begun to do the right thing (United Nations, Baruch plan), then lost its way.  They were exercising their First Amendment right of assembly to save their government and the world.  At Pocono, they were understandably vitally concerned with the question, What would be the nature of the peoples’ world constitutional convention? [387].

18.  Nevertheless, there was notable progress of the ideal of world federation, now usually forgotten in national history.  Probably the climax of the political efforts was passage of world federalist resolutions in some 22 American states and introduction of 16 resolutions in the U.S. Congress, which led to instructive hearings in the House of Representatives in 1948 and 1949 and in the Senate in 1950.  Federalists were still not numerous enough in the public to pass the bills in Congress, but such legislative successes—threatening to elevate world federalism from a principled ideal to a political reality—provoked the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Veterans of Foreign Wars by 1949 to organize in desperate opposition to world federalism.  The ideal had emerged onto the plane of politics [300].

19.  World federation, as an idea that might contribute to the security and prosperity of the United States, appealed to Democrat and Republican, North and South and West.  It was a movement in the center.  It assumed that what divided people were not left and right, communism and capitalism (for all polities are now mixed); the real issue was devotion to national sovereignty versus openness to federal world government to inaugurate the rule of world law [448].

20.  American public opinion was ready enough to support a policy of ultimate world federation, concludes the most acute student of federalist public opinion, Francis S. Bourne.  The people followed the president into war after Pearl Harbor, and then again into the United Nations, and again, in a time of seeming desperate peril, into NATO.  Bourne cautioned that congressional committees and their staffs gather most of their information and evidence from executive agencies, Library of Congress, lobbyists of interest groups, and experts.  Hearings assist in “clarifications of points of view through the interrogation of witnesses,” that is, “more in its public relations aspect than in its fact–finding.”  As for the world federalist hearings, argued Bourne, “the most significant evidence from the [Foreign Relations] Committee’s standpoint was that presented by the State Department, which had set a firm course in advance opposing world federation on other grounds than a mere lack of consensus among the American public, although this argument was used to gild the lily.”  State contended that the resolutions were “not in the best interest of American foreign policy at those times.”  Leadership provides the difference [482-83].

21.  The idea of the rule of law throughout the world has not died.  Objectives of building the “rule of law” in all nations are commonplace in foreign policy documents.  The idea of the rule of world law reaching individuals, as distinguished from international law reaching no further than states, has not died, though it is still a dream.  That the rule of world law, commonly enacted by representatives of the people from every nation and civilization, must be based on more than treaties, customs, principles of law, and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists, that is, on international institutions that would resemble a world federal government or a world republic, is also still a dream.  What has died is the notion that world federation can be established by a daring manifesto of principles, or by one national leader taking up the cause, or by the stroke of the world constitution drafter’s pen, or by victory in another world war [527].

22.  Atomic fear has proven too shallow a motivation for the great work of establishing world government.  Humanity will not be frightened into delegating its sovereign powers to a common or federal government. Something like love of country—love of the earth—is needed.  People must want a higher level of government to guarantee their liberties, their property, and their security.  A positive vision is needed [528].

23.  The political process of the transition is barely begun by sending a cultivated and articulate lawyer into every state legislature and winning passage of a world federalist resolution in the final rush of legislation shortly before adjournment.  The public must learn what is going on, the press must help articulate the question, the legislature must be engaged in open debate, and finally—the real test —politicians must run for office on the issue of world federation.  Something like Franklin Roosevelt’s campaigns against the “economic royalists,” against the “forces of selfishness and of lust for power,” will be needed [528].

24.  The time for so fundamental a change in international life is surely not when nations are mobilizing for war and nuclear missiles are either being readied or actually flying.  No doubt, as Jean Monnet used to say, a crisis will be necessary for uniting sovereignties, but the opportunity lies in the period when preparations for making the peace are in progress, not long after they have again failed.  In this history, the opportunity for the world federalists was in 1942–43, long before they were even appreciably organized.  After that, they were too late.  Public opinion must be brought to bear before policy is changed, not afterwards.  Absolutely the worst time was after the containment policy was announced in the Truman doctrine and demilitarization was reversed [528].

25.  On the matter of timing, surely it was a mistake, though understandable and even creditable, to think, as did Mortimer Adler, that humanity had only five years after Hiroshima to undertake the great experiment in world government.  The argument was that as soon as the Russians developed atomic weapons, a third world war would become inevitable.  “One World or None!” as a cry of hysterical urgency now rings very flat.  There was plenty of time, as even Stringfellow Barr and his associates in the Foundation for World Government sensed.  History does not move by logic; it moves by events.  Although the choice made by the United States, certainly by 1949, was to attempt to maintain leadership in the arms race within an anarchic world, instead of setting a policy goal of strengthening the United Nations on the model of a world federation open to all, in the 45 years of Cold War national leaders of the nuclear weapons states exercised restraint, preserved the United Nations, negotiated arms control treaties, and generally, as Alfred Mahan used to say about the function of force, gained time for moral ideas to take root.  There was a middle way between world war and world government.  The gradual approach makes political sense [528-29].

26.  What about Russia?  What about the Communist party?  There were, it is true, signs of Russian willingness to federate—as among the “rootless cosmopolitans” and in the Gromyko plan for control of atomic energy—but after 1947 the Soviet government was unmistakably opposed, for the very plain reason that, as Gromyko said, a majority–rule world legislature, at that historical epoch, could not be trusted to protect the Soviet peoples.  This was the real reason for opposition—not that world federalists were agents of American imperialism, though this too was said to steel the faith [529].

27.  A working union of peoples—as opposed to an association of states—must be based on liberal democracy first, history concludes.  Any elements of economic democracy would have to added to that foundation, as in mixed economies everywhere.  Anarchy is not the sole cause of war; putting equality before liberty also proved another [529].

28.  The U.S. government, it is also true, was opposed to world federal government, for the plain reasons given repeatedly by the State Department that such changes in international relations were premature and that the public was not prepared to exercise the contemplated new duties of world citizenship [530].

29.  Sovereignty is nowhere absolute.  In years to come, some 37 nations modified their constitutions to permit limitations of sovereignty in order to participate in regional unions, as in Europe.  Even the U.S ended its no entangling alliances tradition by signing the Atlantic pact in 1949, which diplomatic historians still treat as a “revolution.”  The next step of entering a political union would be a far greater revolution [530].

30.  Were the peoples of the world not ready for world federation by the mid–20th century?  There were signs of rather surprising readiness, as in the 73 national and associated organizations from 22 countries in the World Movement, the 22 states in the U.S. that passed federalist legislation, the 16 federalist resolutions introduced in Congress after 1947, the outpouring of editorial opinion and testimony in the House and Senate hearings of 1948–50.  The number of federalists throughout the world at the peak in 1950 was on the order of 151,000.  But, historically, compared to the public that followed the lead of those who brought about the Cold War, popular federalist preparedness was, just as the politicians said, very thin. There were never the million members in Britain’s Federal Union or in Clarence Streit’s organization of the same name to prevent World War II, nor the 50 million estimated by Raymond Gram Swing in 1947 as necessary to produce a world federation in the atomic age [530].

31.  To admit that is to raise again the question, Could the people have been led?  No people spontaneously produce great, concerted changes like the independence of the 13 colonies from the mother country or the eradication of slavery:  they bring forth leaders to achieve these popular goals.  Judging how rapidly the American people were disabused of their sympathies for their brave Russian comrades in the year 1947, or how swiftly they were brought into an entangling alliance with Europe in 1949, it is enticing to think that wise national leadership in the direction of world federation was possible.  But surely that would have required the wartime alliance between the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the remaining allies in the United Nations to hold.  It would have required Stalin to trust the West after the failure to open an effective second front until 1944, or after they failed to unite and stand fast in the League of Nations in the face of early Japanese, Italian, and German aggression in the 1930s.

32.  If Roosevelt had lived, would the Cold War not have emerged as it did?  Truman was overwhelmed with the problems of making the peace after 1945; he supported the U.S. plan for the international control of atomic energy, but he could not prevent the navy from getting a piece of the action from the army at the Bikini tests, which destroyed Russian trust for the Baruch plan.  Henry Wallace, it is true, tried to lead the people away from Truman and lost utterly.  Henry Usborne was the only national politician to campaign openly and persistently in favor of world government, and he won reelection to Parliament one last time in 1950.  So as a historical matter in the circumstances of the early Cold War, we are constrained to doubt that national leadership would have made the difference between success and failure for the world federalists.  Ask the question today, and the answer would probably be but a few more millions of potential world citizens.  Clearly immense works of preparing world public opinion for new political leadership will be needed for anything like world federation to emerge [530].

33.  The great problems for world federalists were membership, representation, powers, and transition.  In their deep struggles over principle, a certain resolution of these problems developed by the end of the Cold War.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the first statements by Georgi Shakhnazarov recognizing the necessity for world government, the universalists and those who demanded democracy before union effectively merged.  On powers, virtually all workers on international organization now speak not only of security but also of economic development and social justice, so it could be said that the maximalists have prevailed.  Those in the mainstream, like Grenville Clark, who dared to ask for but minimal powers for a world federation, thought that all that was possible was to keep the way open for maximal ones later, as by amendment of the U.N. Charter.  On representation, weighted voting as in the Bretton Woods institutions seems all that is now practicable in majority–rule international organizations, although one hears little of it. Weighted voting is not in accord with strict democracy, but it is not nearly as offensive to democratic values as the Big Five veto.  As for the transition, the peoples’ convention, unguided by national leadership, has been utterly discredited.  The gradual, U.N. reform approach is the only one viable by popular pressure and someday by associations of parliamentarians, complemented by enlightened national leaders [531].

34.  Measured by the standards of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. federal Union, as we have often done, the world federalists of the 1940s and thereafter were hardly able to animate all humanity with their new political ideal, nor to exercise the political leadership to establish a world constitution and to set in practical motion the first government of the world.  Yet the world federalists of the mid–20th century deserve respect for clearly analyzing the problem of international anarchy, alerting the world to the dangers of atomic weapons, devising model world constitutions to establish the rule of world law, entering the political process at the grassroots, state, and national levels, risking (some of them) to enter presidential politics, meeting hostile nationalist and isolationist opposition, and trying by their lights to expand democracy and exercise the sovereignty of the people.  They showed the way into the future [532].

35.  The unity slowly being forged out of diversity in the future will probably be as novel in comparison to the historic national federations as the federations were to the confederations and monarchies that preceded them [2, 17, 536].