The Politics of World Federation:
Vol. 1: United Nations, U.N. Reform, Atomic Control.
Vol. 2: From World Federalism to Global Governance.
By Joseph Preston Baratta
The College (St. John’s College), Fall 2005
In his thorough two-volume history of world federalism, Joseph Baratta (A69) shows that the political climate of the 20th century could have been vastly different, if after World War II the idealists and intellectuals had been effective in drafting a world constitution to unite governments across the globe, if national leaders had seen the necessity of founding a much stronger United Nations to keep the peace, and if millions of people had been prepared to follow wiser leadership. The Politics of World Federation is a comprehensive history of a movement supported by a wide range of people of differing backgrounds and political ideologies. Instead of world federal government, Baratta shows, the world got the Cold War—complete with the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and decades of arms production that consumed resources that could have been directed to more beneficial uses.
The world federalist movement included atomic scientists, such as Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer; intellectuals, including Robert Hutchins and E.B. White; lawyers once connected to U.S. government, such as Grenville Clark; energetic and passionate young students, such as Harris Wofford; and seasoned politicians, like Brooks Hays and Henry Wallace. World federalists were men and women who reacted to the use of the atomic bomb with horror and with the deep conviction that nations must join together or face an inevitable third world war.
The movement also attracted the attention of Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, founders of the New Program at St. John’s, and many others intimately involved with the college, including Mark Van Doren, Mortimer Adler, and Harris Wofford, a close friend of Buchanan, who would go on to establish a new program at SUNY, Old Westbury, inspired in part by St. John’s.
Baratta, who teaches history and international relations at Worcester State College, labored for 25 years on the project. His interest was first piqued by encountering the “Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution” of 1948, republished by Robert Hutchins in 1965. Baratta admired the ideals of the movement for many reasons, first, after serving in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and second, studying works such as the Federalist Papers and Plato’s Republic at St. John’s. “In the Marine Corps, we were told that the purpose of a battle is to reach a decision,” said Baratta. “I wondered if there were not a more rational way to reach a decision. At St. John’s I saw that the reason why wars continue is that the world has no working rule of law.”
Baratta began reading volumes of Common Cause, the journal of The Committee to Frame a World Constitution, written by Hutchins, G.A. Borgese, and Adler. “These people explored the anarchy of the national state system in the spirit of the conversation of the great books,” Baratta says. He combed through thousands of documents and conducted dozens of interviews. He wrote his doctoral thesis at Boston University on world federalism and continued his research for what would become The Politics of World Federation.
“I discovered a movement that hadn’t made it into the history books,” he says. His final product is not only an outstanding scholarly achievement, but also a personal testament for his own strong views that today’s governments must seek out new ways to bring the world together for the benefit of humanity.
Baratta concentrates on the period after the failure of the League of Nations. In 1939, a journalist named Clarence Streit, alarmed by Hitler and the portents of another world war, published a book called Union Now, which proposed a federal union of democracies against the Axis powers. “If ever a book made a movement, Union Now was such a book,” writes Baratta. Publication of the book led to organizations including Federal Union in the U.S. and Great Britain and World Federalists in the U.S. The most active years for the movement were those immediately following the bombing of Hiroshima. Internal dissent, a lack of adequate funding, and McCarthyism weakened the movement, and by 1954, Baratta writes, it was largely defunct.
A pivotal issue in the failure of the movement was the rejection of the Baruch Plan for the international control of atomic energy, presented to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, June 14, 1946. The plan proposed the creation of an International Atomic Development Authority that would manage “control or ownership of all atomic-energy activities potentially dangerous to world security,” ultimately placing America’s nuclear weapons in the hands of an international body, which would have had many attributes of a world government.
If the world federalists had the power and numbers to back the Baruch plan, the story might have been different, but “they didn’t unite themselves until 1947,” says Baratta. “Then President Truman announced the Truman Doctrine, which inaugurated the Cold War. Federalists got organized too late.”
In his second volume, Baratta devotes a chapter to another pivotal time: the events surrounding the Pocono Conference of 1948, when Stringfellow Barr was most actively involved in world federalism. Barr and Buchanan had left St. John’s in 1946, following a successful but bitter fight against a Naval Academy takeover of the campus. They attempted to start a new college in western Massachusetts, but could not attract adequate funding for their vision. Barr took a year off, Baratta writes, but he quickly became very involved in the most revolutionary wing of the world federalist movement. While others worked gradually by U.N. reform, Barr and others felt that the atomic bomb required recourse to a “people’s convention”—a grassroots approach to working outside of national governments by selecting international delegates who would draft a world constitution. McCormick reaper heiress Anita McCormick Blaine gave $1 million to the cause. Barr became chairman of a planning committee, aiming at election of 143 American delegates to a constitutional convention in Geneva in 1950. Britain had a similar movement, led by MP Henry Usborne, to elect 28 popular representatives to the convention.
Scott Buchanan, who later worked with Barr, was opposed to the people’s convention. He believed the place to start was with the U.N. and with national governments: “World government is a revolutionary idea. It would touch every last item of our political life. Most people who believe in it do not realize this. They also don’t realize how much opposition there will be to it. For this reason the PC horrifies me.”
Barr, however, continued the approach. The money was used to establish the Foundation for World Government, but it all came to naught in all the difficulties of the time for forming a more perfect union with adherents of the Communist party. Mrs. Blaine wanted Henry Wallace, the Progressive party candidate for president, to be a board member. Leaders among the United World Federalists feared the Communist strains of Wallace’s challenge to Truman in 1948 and would not take any money. Barr, writes Baratta, “found himself in possession of a million dollar foundation for world government, whose support the American movement would not accept, at a moment when money was never more urgently needed to build up a popular movement for an East-West settlement and permanent peace through world government!”
Nevertheless, the world federalist movement had major achievements. It brought about resolutions favoring U.S. participation in a world government in 22 state legislatures, and some 16 bills were introduced in Congress. Hearings were held on the topic in the House in 1948 and ’49 and in the Senate in 1950. Senators Hubert Humphrey, Wayne Morse, Claude Pepper, and J. William Fulbright supported these bills. A large literature from over 70 nations on fundamental U.N. reform has been produced, including reasonable choices for great books like the Chicago draft constitution and Grenville Clark and Louis B. Sohn’s World Peace through World Law. Even Barr and Buchanan’s foundation pioneered new international fields like functional economic and social cooperation, Gandhian nonviolence, and individual educational field work anticipatory of the future Peace Corps. Most federalists, like internationalists, have today mended their differences in favor of universal membership, representation of democracies, maximal powers affecting both peace and justice, and U.N. reform for the transition.
“I’m an idealist,” Baratta says. “Contrary to so many of my experiences in life, I continue to have faith in human reason. World federation offers a positive vision of peace. Its history exhibits a new kind of world political wisdom.”