Ryan, The Historian

The Politics of World Federation:
[Vol. 1.] United Nations, UN Reform, Atomic Control;
[Vol. 2, From World Federalism to Global Governance]
by Joseph Preston Baratta
(Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Pp. xii, 298 [696]. $150.)

The Historian, 68, 2 (Summer 2006): 405.
Stephen Ryan

It is interesting to note that the Second World War did not provoke the same upsurge of peace thinking that followed the end of the First World War.  The value of this book is that it reminds us that optimistic thinking about global political reform did not disappear completely.  It is the first volume of a two–volume analysis of the development of world federalist thought and action.  It reflects the argument of the author that the two key issues for the world federalist movement during this period were the formation of the United Nations and the development of nuclear weapons.

Joseph Preston Baratta begins with a short history of world federalist thought before moving on to a more substantial discussion of the period 1939–1948.  This main focus is on the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom.  The author pulls together an interesting range of individuals and plans.  These include the work of committed federalists such as Clarence Streit, Henry Usborne, Louis B. Sohn, Grenville Clark, and those who flirted with federalist ideas for only a short time.  In the second category is Winston Churchill’s wartime proposal, devised under conditions of extreme emergency, for a British–French union.  It also examines in some detail the Baruch plan for international control of atomic weapons and responses to it.

The author is committed to the concept of a “constitutionally limited, democratically representative, federal world government” (1).  However, even if the analysis is not always balanced, in that not much space is devoted to critics of the federalist idea, it is an honest account.  Indeed, the author is especially strong when investigating divisions within the federalist movement.  Those divisions included disputes between the reformers, who regarded the UN as a stepping–stone to world federation, and revolutionaries, who tended to dismiss the organization as an obstacle to real change.  There were also disagreements between those, such as Streit, who wanted to begin with a union of Western democracies, and others who wanted a more inclusive approach.  There is, of course, an irony here.  If the committed advocates of world federation could not agree on a common front and could not organize themselves in the most effective manner, how could they hope to persuade anyone else about the need for unity?

Even if the federalist writers could be dismissed as utopian, Baratta shows that their criticisms of the UN were often perceptive.  these include the paralyzing effect of the veto, which resulted in an unreliable body; the legitimacy problems that arose from a one–state–one–vote system that ignored population size; and the failure of the UN to develop a strong legal dimension to restrain state behavior.  Skeptics are unlikely to be persuaded by this book that world federation is a practical option, but it is a useful addition to the literature on the history of peace thinking.  It also contains an extensive guide to archives and collections on world federalist thinking that should be a enormous assistance to researchers.

Stephen Ryan
University of Ulster