Dedicated Visionaries Keep Faith in World Governance
Worcester Sunday Telegram, Mar 19, 2006
Albert B. Southwick
Joseph Baratta and his wife, Virginia Swain, are true believers. They are convinced that sooner or later the peoples of the globe, for their own survival, must develop some system of governance that transcends the national state system of the past two centuries.
Let’s face it: Many of us who once joined the World Federalists and the United Nations Association and who cheered hopefully for the United Nations in the years following 1946, have fallen out of the ranks. We no longer have the same kind of hopes that we had then. We have become disillusioned as the United Nations has stumbled from one blunder to another.
The Oil for Peace fiasco was just the latest. The election of Libya as chairman of the human rights committee seemed a travesty. The vast bureaucracy on the East River with its thousands of employees exempt from all income taxes has become a symbol of expensive ineptitude.
And yet, despite the accusing headlines, that bureaucracy is engaged in many undertakings that the human race can ill do without: matters of health, education, nutrition, transportation, demography, justice and many others. U.N. peacekeeping has sometimes been ineffective, yet its efforts have highlighted the wracking problems on the globe. It has been an important clearing house for global information.
The U.N. is far from perfect, but it is indispensable. The current effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions is one prime example.
The Barattas have kept the faith. Ms. Swain, director of the Institute for Global Leadership, is described as “an organizational development consultant, mediator, ombudsman … mentor and facilitator.” She served in the Peace Corps and has since been involved in an impressive list of undertakings, most devoted to the “Peace Building Process of Reconciliation” at the U.N. It would be easy to dismiss her as a hopeless idealist far removed from reality, but history has plenty of examples of idealism that became reality.
Mr. Baratta, professor of World Civilization and History at Worcester State College, has long been interested in humanity’s attempts to globalize its government systems. His new book “The Politics of World Federation,” is a magisterial account of those efforts, particularly since Woodrow Wilson’s ill-fated attempt to get the United States Senate to approve U.S. membership in the League of Nations. The goal has always been to establish world peace under the rule of world law, but the practical organizational difficulties continue to override the idealism and worthy efforts that have been made.
The two volumes, priced at $140, will not be a best-seller, which is too bad. But they will be an important resource for researchers. Anyone hoping to comprehend the various efforts to achieve some modicum of world order will be impressed by Mr. Baratta’s prodigious researches.
He gives most attention to the 1940s and 1950s, when the prospects of a third world war seemed menacing and when the ideal of world government was engaging some of the best minds of that generation. He gives thumbnail sketches of many of the main activists — Clarence Streit, Eli Culbertson, Grenville Clark, Cord Meyer, Alan Cranston, Robert M. Hutchins, Albert Einstein, Bernard Baruch, Garry Davis, Henry Wallace, Tom Griessemer, Thomas Finletter, Louis B. Sohn and many others, both the prominent and the now forgotten.
He most admires Clarence Streit, the newspaperman who in 1938 came up with the idea of a Federal Union of the free peoples of the globe, and Grenville Clark, the New Hampshire lawyer who for decades campaigned for some form of limited world government and proposed plans to strengthen the United Nations.
The idea of world cooperation has made some steps, notably in Europe. The European Union, whatever its weaknesses, has achieved more than many skeptics thought possible 50 years ago. The idea of a Europe with a common currency would once have seemed preposterous, but that has been achieved along with much more, including laws that put restrictions on national fiscal practices. The chances of another war between Germany and France are nil. That is a notable accomplishment.
The high point in global political possibilities probably came in 1946 when the United States proposed the Baruch Plan for the control of nuclear weapons. It was in many respects an imaginative and far-reaching idea, but it would have effectively prevented the Soviet Union or any other country from developing their own nuclear weapons, and Joseph Stalin was too paranoid to accept such restrictions.
It was not long before the Cold War and the arms race began. By the late 1950s, American school children were being drilled in preparations for nuclear war by diving under their desks when the alarm bells rang.
Could all that have been avoided? Who knows? The end of the Cold War came with the collapse of the Soviet Union after 30 years of confrontation, some of it dangerous.
Mr. Baratta has written something more than a chronicle of world government efforts. He is not an impartial observer. His text has many references to lost opportunities, and initiatives born too late. He obviously feels that the big nations missed out on many chances to achieve agreements that would have strengthened the chances for peace in the world.
This leads him to a surprisingly favorable view of Henry Wallace, vice president from 1939 to 1941, who broke with President Harry Truman and ran for president in 1948 on a Progressive ticket favoring world government of some sort. His attacks on the Cold War policies of the Truman administration won the approval of the Kremlin, and many of his stoutest supporters were communists and left-wingers of various sorts.
That has left Mr. Wallace with a reputation as a communist dupe, but Mr. Baratta thinks of him as a man basically correct but ahead of his time. Not all will agree.
Fifty years ago, many people, including some in high places, thought that a nuclear war was inevitable. It hasn’t happened yet, and if it does it probably won’t be started by a major nation. The situation today is more complex, with terrorists playing a major role.
Would a strengthened United Nations be able to deal with the kind of problems — Ruanda, the Balkans, Liberia, al-Qaida, etc. — that the world faces today? It may be our only chance.
As Mr. Baratta notes: “The world now is faced by a massive crisis, symbolized by the threat of nuclear war, economic depression, ecological collapse, new pandemics, terrorists … and all the problems of the global problematique … . We hope this book will offer the pilots of the future some charts to steer by. World federation offers a positive vision of peace.”
This book also reminds us of how much the world needs visionaries.
Albert B. Southwick’s column appears regularly in the Sunday Telegram.