cj#968,rn,sm> Chapter 6 – Collaborative internationalism: culture-diversity and the trap of world government


Richard Moore


                    Achieving a Livable, Peaceful World

                            Part II - Chapter 6

                     Copyright 1999 by Richard K. Moore
                  Last update 7 October 1998 - 4810 words
                    comments to: •••@••.•••

Part II - Envisioning a livable world: an inquiry into democracy,
sustainability, and world order
Chapter 6 - Collaborative internationalism: culture-diversity and the trap
of world government

Prolog -- the importance of a national movement focus
The current world system, the one being dismantled by globalization, is
based on the sovereignty of nation states. These nations have constitutions,
infrastructures, and some semblance of coherent civil societies. Given that
overcoming elite domination is an incredibly formidable task, it seems clear
that nations are the best level, the most advantageous scale, for popular
movements to take their stand against the global capitalist regime.

What are the alternatives? There are some who suggest aiming movement
strategy at establishing a benevolent world government, and others who
suggest aiming for devolution and regional autonomy. Both of these
approaches put popular movements in a weaker relative position, compared to
a national focus.

Some suggest that a benevolent world government could first be created and
then could impose peace, sustainability, and democracy on nations. This is
both utopian and counter-democratic. It is utopian, because there is no
basis of power for such a world government. While nations remain under the
control of capitalist oligarchies, there is no means by which a world
government can be magically created nor by which it could enforce its will.
And such a world-government approach is counter-democratic, because it is
centralist -- it is based on top-down central power instead of bottom-up

At the global level, furthermore, the problems of organizing are formidable.
The movement would face all the problems of organizing within nations, and
would in addition need to create a sound infrastructure for world government
-- all the time being actively opposed by the existing power structures.
Even if world government is the ultimate goal, it makes more sense to
establish functional democracies first in nations, and then to use that as a
base to establish a democratic world government.

In fact, the seductive appeal of benevolent centralism has been the bane of
democracy historically. For every problem, from civil rights to
environmentalism, the "solution" has typically been sought in assigning
greater power to central governments. Although there have been temporary
benefits, as with national civil-rights and environmental legislation in the
US in the sixties and seventies, the ultimate consequence has been further
concentration of centralist power in the hands of elite oligarchies. Any
attempt to strengthen the UN, or otherwise build world government under
current circumstances, is simply one more case of falling into the seductive
trap of benevolent centralism.

The approach of devolution and regional autonomy, although it does move in
the direction of democratic localism, suffers from a major strategic
disadvantage. It divides the movement into smaller, weaker units, that have
less hope of overcoming elite power. If Wales, for example, becomes
independent and tries to achieve autonomy from the globalist regime, it
would be in a much weaker position than would be Britain, in undertaking a
similar project. The smaller the unit of sovereignty, the less power it has
relative to the power of TNC's and the forces of globalization generally.

Until functional democracy is achieved, devolution and world government are
both premature endeavors for any movement that wants to achieve global
democracy and sustainability. Nations are existing fortresses, if you will,
that provide a potential power-base for democratic movements. The
world-government approach requires the creation of a new grand fortress in
the face of determined opposition, an impossible utopian task. The
devolution approach fails to take strategic advantage of the more formidable
national structures that already exist. Support for this argument can be
found in the fact that both devolution and world government are being
actively promoted by existing power establishments, while national
sovereignty is being rapidly dismantled.

In Part III we will look in greater detail at movement strategy, and the
relationship between national focus and international movement solidarity.
The point of this preview has been to argue that the soundest strategy for
overcoming capitalist hegemony is to begin by achieving functional democracy
within existing nation states, maintaining the continuity of existing
infrastructures and constitutions.

The United States, due to its overwhelming military power, is of pivotal
global importance in any attempt to achieve global democracy. As long as the
US remains in the control of the capitalist elite, democratic and
sustainable societies cannot be secure anywhere in the world, as is plain
from the long history of US expansionism and interventionism. On the other
hand, if democracy can be achieved in the US, in the heart of the beast as
it were, then it could be expected to follow rapidly in the West generally
and in much of the rest of the world as well.

It is the US which is the major proponent of globalization and laissez-faire
capitalism; if the US were to reverse its position the heart would be taken
out of global capitalism and it could not long survive. Furthermore, it is
the US that props up military dictatorships throughout the world; if US
support were to be withdrawn from such regimes, and diplomatic pressure
brought to bear instead for genuine democratic reforms, one could expect
most of these regimes to crumble as popular movements struggled to achieve
their own versions of locally-based democracy. In much of the Third World,
due to centuries of imperialist domination, democratic revolutionary
consciousness is much more advanced than in the West.

Societal boundaries -- issues regarding the scale of sovereignty
So far in this investigation, the definition of "society", in a livable and
sustainable world, has been intentionally vague. There have been two
implicit assumptions. The first is that such societies may be somewhat
large, in that they must deal with the problem of harmonizing agendas across
many "localities". The second is that there would be more than a single
society, and that issues of inter-societal relations and trade must be dealt
with. The time has now come to justify these assumptions, and to be more
precise about the relationship between societies, as that term is being used
in this investigation, and today's nations.

Let us assume, based on the above considerations of movement strategy, that
functional democracy has been achieved within existing nations, and let us
look at the questions of sovereignty, devolution, and world government
within that context. If locally-based democracies are widely established,
there is a real possibility that changes in the boundaries of sovereignty
will be demanded by some localities and that such changes must be
accommodated if democracy is not to be sacrificed to centralist power. In
order to put the question of sovereignty in perspective, recall the
following two observations from previous chapters:

     (From Chapter 4) -- Trade is one part of a society's wider
     relationship with other societies, and a sustainable society -- a
     society with sustainability awareness -- naturally approaches its
     relationships with other societies from that perspective. For
     example, if timber is needed as an ongoing import resource, then
     the importing society would be eager for its trading partners to
     employ sustainable forestry practices. Non-sustainability radiates
     outward, destabilizing other societies. In a capitalist world,
     there must be competition among societies in pursuit of relative
     advantage; in a sustainable world, there is more likely to be
     collaboration among societies in pursuit of mutual stability and

     (From Chapter 5) -- In today's democracies, people represent
     localities, and society-wide policies are determined by the
     dynamics of centralism and factionalism; in a functional
     democracy, agendas represent localities, and society-wide agendas
     are harmonized from those through the collaboration of delegates.
     At the local level, a community agenda is harmonized from the
     interests of all; at the central level, a societal agenda is
     harmonized from the various local agendas, with the process
     possibly repeated at intermediate levels. This is the meaning of
     localism in the context of a functional democracy, and localism
     eliminates the counter-democratic characteristics of centralism.

In a democratic, sustainable world, the primary organizing principle both
within societies and between societies is collaboration for mutual stability
and benefit. Societies, as a whole, endeavor to harmonize local interests
internally while at the same time they endeavor to work with other societies
to achieve harmonization of their various interests. The principles of
collaboration and harmonization arise necessarily from the requirements of
functional democracy and of sustainability.

There is a sense then in which the boundaries of societal sovereignty are
somewhat arbitrary in a livable and sustainable world. Whether Wales remains
with Britain, to use that example again, or whether it becomes fully
independent, the expectation would be that in either case collaboration and
harmonization of interests would prevail. Whether the entire globe is a
single sovereignty, or whether it is split into sovereign nations, a general
sense of global collaboration can be expected.

Wherever the boundaries of sovereignty might be drawn, the basis of
functional democracy is localism. Collaboration proceeds from the local
toward the central, through the harmonization of agendas. A sovereign
society can be seen as a locality within the larger global society, and
harmonization of global arrangements could be expected to proceed on a basis
not all that different from the harmonization that occurs within each
sovereign society. In each case, delegations bring agendas from localities
(at one level or another) to more centralized deliberations.

Nonetheless, sovereignty does make a difference. Within a sovereign society
there would presumably be greater cohesion and a more systematic
harmonization than would exist internationally. There are four specific
issues that have a clear bearing on modifying the boundaries of sovereignty
from those of today's nation states: cultural cohesion, the desirability of
self-sufficiency, the dangers of centralism, and the maintenance of world
order. World order will be discussed on its own below; the other three will
be discussed in this section.

I am not suggesting that we should ask political scientists or ecologists or
economists to figure out the "optimal" size and boundaries of nations; such
choices should and presumably would be made democratically. If people very
much want to be together, or to be apart, that can be expected to outweigh
considerations of economic convenience. I do suggest that if sovereign
boundaries are to be adjusted, these four issues will be of concern to any
society that desires to be democratic and sustainable.

Cultural cohesion : Peoples with a common language, ethnicity, religion, or
other shared cultural traditions, might desire to live within the same
sovereign society. The principle of democratic localism might lead to
adjustment of national boundaries in order to unite such groups, or it might
lead to devolution of nations into sovereign parts along cultural lines.

Self-sufficiency : If sovereignties are made too small, they are likely to
lack any semblance of self-sufficiency and to be over-dependent on trade for
their essential needs. This does not make small sovereignties completely
untenable, but it does detract from their long-term sustainability and
stability. The principle of self-sufficiency tends to mitigate against
excessive devolution.

Centralism : If sovereignties are made too large, then there must be many
layers in the decision-making process -- local interests become diluted,
democracy is endangered, and factionalism may lead to the usurpation of
power by power brokers and elites. The larger the sovereignty, the greater
the danger that centralist tendencies may creep into the political process.
The principle of localism, and the protection of robust democracy, tends to
suggest that some devolution, in the case of very large nations, would be a
good thing, and that world government, in particular, would endanger the
survival of democracy.

International order and the problem of hold-outs
Based on the requirements of livability and sustainability, and assuming
that societies based on those principles can be somehow achieved, I have
argued that collaboration between sovereign nations could be expected to be
reasonably harmonious. As mentioned earlier, the example of Western Europe
provides considerable reason for optimism. Once a spirit of collaboration
was embraced, following WW2, centuries of bitter conflict and rivalry were
left behind, and the possibility of war between France and Germany, for
example, has become all but unthinkable.

But, even in a democratic world, the possibility of conflict between nations
cannot be ruled out. Intense hostilities currently exist between various
peoples and nations, and those could not be expected to instantly disappear
just because democratic governance has been established. Conflict might also
arise from such causes as contested borders or water rights, and
negotiations might not always succeed in finding a solution acceptable to
all parties. Or an ambitious faction might succeed in usurping power in some
nation, and launch a program of international competition and aggression.

If democracies are established widely, we can presume that one of their
first orders of business would be to take collaborative measures to reduce
the possibility of such future conflicts among nations. Quite likely the
United Nations would be seen as the appropriate venue for such collaborative
deliberations. In the revolutionary fervor of recently achieved democracies,
the UN could be expected to blossom in its effectiveness, with most nations
bringing to it a spirit of collaboration and hope for a livable world for
all. This is the spirit of democratic renaissance that the title of this
book refers to.

The task of these gathered nations would be to harness their fervor into
creating a framework for international relations that could be expected to
last, that would promote harmonious collaboration among nations, and that
could deal with those unfortunate conflicts that might arise between
nations, or for that matter, within nations. Since harmony depends on
democratic governance and sustainability, these principles would need to be
firmly incorporated in the framework.

If we can assume that the West, and particularly the United States, would be
fully in support of creating such a lasting and effective international
framework, the pressure, both psychological and otherwise, for the rest of
the world to cooperate in the endeavor would be very strong. Besides the
fact that cooperation would be in the self-interest of nearly everyone, the
prospect of being isolated from the global community would be highly
unattractive to any hold-outs, whatever their motivation.

But there might be some hold-outs nonetheless. In particular we must
consider the case of China. We cannot readily dismiss the possibility that
Chinese leaders might again successfully suppress a domestic democratic
movement, if another one were to arise, and that they might see their best
interests in maintaining a strong military and competitive national
ambitions. As we noted in Chapter 1, China has said that it considers itself
entitled to a special role, a kind of hegemony, in Asia generally. All in
all, China, based on its size and military power, might be an impediment to
establishing a stable, peaceful, international framework, and might be an
ongoing threat to global stability.

Smaller nations might be similarly inclined, in terms of retaining
competitive national ambitions, but they would presumably be easier to deal
with. Looking into the unfavorable China scenario gives us a worst case to
think about. If this case were in fact to develop, the rest of the world,
probably through the venue of the UN, would presumably focus much of its
attention on what to do about the China question. As long as China remained
uncooperative, general progress toward armaments reductions, elimination of
nuclear weapons, etc., could hardly proceed very far.

If China, or some other major-power hold-out, cannot be persuaded to become
a participant in a livable, sustainable world, and if its current centralist
government cannot be somehow replaced by a functional democracy, then global
stability will not be achieved. Armament levels would generally remain high,
in response to the threat of aggressive behavior by the hold-out, and the
forces of centralism and competitive nationalism might well re-emerge and
destabilize the initial gains of the democratic movement. One of the
requirements of a livable and sustainable world is that all major nations
achieve functional democracy and subscribe to collaborative internationalism
and the principles of sustainability. In what follows, we will assume that
this requirement has somehow been met -- otherwise our investigation ends
here in despair.

The question of world government
Above, under the assumption that most nations had achieved functional
democracy, I observed that the UN would very likely become a hotbed of
enthusiastic international cooperation, and that initial attention would
most likely be focused on the creation of a stable framework for
international order. I'd like to continue that line of investigation with
the additional assumption that all nations, at least all with significant
size or military power, are committed participants in this collaborative

In the fervor of this universal spirit of democratic renaissance, let us
assume that a workable plan for a stable world order could be agreed to and
would be successfully implemented. Let us investigate what the nature of
such a plan must be, if it is to succeed in maintaining order while at the
same time maintaining locally-based functional democracy and global

One of the first projects would surely be to drastically reduce the level of
armaments globally and to all but close down weapons manufacture and
development. Presumably all weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical,
and biological) and their associated materials would be dismantled and
disposed of with maximum attention to the protection of long-term public
health. Whatever arms or arms industry that remains would be minimal, and
would be reserved for emergency use in case some errant nation becomes
aggressive or commits heinous acts against its own people.

Given the central importance of energy use, and in particular petroleum, to
economies and to sustainability, another early project would presumably be
to agree on a global plan regarding the use of remaining fossil fuels.
Although sharp reductions in fossil fuel extraction could be expected
immediately, usage levels would most likely remain high for some period,
while sustainable energy sources, and less energy-intensive infrastructures,
were being developed and deployed. Probably fossil fuels would continue to
be used, at declining rates, until ultimately remaining supplies were
reserved for high-value, relatively low-volume uses, such as lubricants or
essential chemical applications.

There would be additional transition projects, including the collaborative
adjustment of societal borders, rebuilding of fisheries and forests, the
restructuring of global financial arrangements, the phased dismantlement or
restructuring of corporate infrastructures, the phased re-allocation of
corporate-controlled resources and facilities, the establishment of
democratic and sustainable modes of production and commerce, and many more.

Formidable as these projects may be, they are not beyond the capabilities of
a world united by a surge of democratic spirit, and empowered by all the
technologies, productive capacity, and organizational skill that
capitalism's growth-imperative has, for better or worse, endowed it with.
These are all technical projects, and the necessary skills exist to carry
them out. One need only think about the incredible feats that have been
accomplished by modern nations in wartime to realize that when sufficiently
motivated and unified, no mere technical project, if it is reasonably
feasible, is beyond society's ability to carry out.

But not all problems are technical, some are strategic and structural, and
their solutions require careful attention to the principles of global system
stability. Foremost among these are the questions of long-term world
government and of enforcing order in the event of destabilizing behavior on
the part of some nation or other societal grouping.

There are two fundamental systems of world order -- centralized and
distributed. In the centralized approach, military power, albeit minimal,
would be concentrated in a single global police force, under the control of
a democratic world government. In the distributed approach, moderate
military forces would be retained by each sovereign nation. In either case,
if some nation or locality became aggressive or dictatorial, the military
forces of democracies would be used to restore security, and then a
mediation process of some kind would endeavor to restore democratic harmony.

I suggest that either the centralized or distributed approach could be made
to work, at least for a while. Setting up either system is a technical
project, and the organizational skills required are available. The more
important strategic consideration is to compare the relative prospects for
long-term stability of the two approaches.

If there is a world government, with more or less a monopoly over military
power, then the opportunity would exist for the forces of centralism to
prevail. There would necessarily be some kind of central bureaucracy that
maintained the military infrastructure, and some central body of delegates
that was empowered to make use of military forces under certain
circumstances. Throughout history, whenever such central institutions have
been established, they have inevitably led eventually to centralist,
undemocratic governments. Perhaps in a democratic collaborative world such
centralist tendencies could be avoided, but the centralized approach to
world order, I suggest, brings with it a clear long-term threat to democracy
and to local autonomy.

In a distributed (or decentralized) approach, nations retain sovereignty and
each would presumably have a small military force, comparable in power to
its neighbors. Military installations would be always open to inspection,
and strict agreements would forbid any attempt to bolster military forces
beyond allocated limits. If any nation became aggressive, it would not have
sufficient power to wreak significant havoc, and its neighbors could rapidly
rally superior forces in their common defense. In serious cases, worldwide
forces could be rallied to a trouble spot.

Both systems could be made to work, although we have touched here only on
the barest essentials of the problems involved. In both cases, there would
be the formidable problem of restoring harmony after any disturbance,
without violating the long-term democratic integrity of the temporarily
errant population. And in both cases, harmony arises more from the nature of
democratic and sustainable societies than it does from military arrangements
-- militaries in a collaborative world do not maintain order; they restore

I suggest that no system of governance can be considered to be immune from
the forces of centralism nor from the usurpation of power by some ambitious
faction. This is one of the few principles that history demonstrates
unequivocally. If there is a world government, and its power is eventually
usurped by some faction, then the entire world order is threatened. But with
distributed sovereignty, if a single nation succumbs to an ambitious
faction, the problem can be contained and corrected.

In the science of systems, it is well-known that distributed systems are
inherently more robust than centralized systems. No system is perfect, and
behavior under failure conditions is an important aspect of system design.
Distributed systems localize the consequences of failures and minimize the
difficulties in making repairs.

There are many reasons then, why a distributed system of world order -- a
system of sovereign nation states -- offers more hope of maintaining harmony
and democracy than does a central world government. From a general systems
perspective, the distributed approach is more robust in the face of
inevitable failures. From the perspective of democratic localism, a world
government is considerably more prone to centralism and the dilution of
local interests than would be smaller nations. And from what history tells
us, central bureaucracies with a monopoly on military power are highly prone
to the usurpation of power by well-organized factions.

There would certainly be a forum (presumably based on the UN) for global
deliberations, a place where national delegations come together to
collaboratively solve problems of scarce or shared global resources,
international financial arrangements, etc. But it would be up to sovereign
nations to implement the voluntarily agreed-to policies. A community of
nations, collaborating for their mutual benefit, with small and balanced
military reserves, seems to be the most promising model for stable world
order in a democratic and sustainable world.

Cultural pluralism and the evolution of civilization
With good reason, we have so far been considering downside issues -- how to
reduce the chances of something going wrong with world order. Things do go
wrong, with any system, and decentralized systems recover from failures much
better than do centralized ones. The cost of global breakdown of order is
very high, and minimizing the risks of such failure rightfully deserves
highest priority in considerations of world order. But there are several
positive reasons, as well, that suggest preference for a system of sovereign
nations over a central world government.

The most obvious advantage of decentralized sovereignty is that it maximizes
local autonomy, which in turn provides maximum freedom for problems to be
solved by those who are most concerned with the consequences and most
knowledgeable about local conditions. Within nations the principle of
localism maximizes democratic integrity; distributed sovereignty represents
that same principle on a world scale.

In the realm of economics and land use, sovereignty provides maximum freedom
for local variation. Consider for example those remaining indigenous
cultures that are hidden off in such places as the rain forests of Brazil.
Such cultures are self-sufficient and sustainable, provided they are given
sovereignty over their domains, and such peoples ask little from the rest of
the world other than to be left alone. They would presumably have little
interest in participating in global bureaucracies nor in paying taxes to
support a global military. They may have no use for money at all, and their
societies are best protected by giving them sovereignty and leaving them be,
under international protection.

One of the most fundamental advantages of decentralized sovereignty is that
it inherently encourages cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is of
central importance to the evolution of global society, much as biological
diversity is of central important in the health of natural systems.
Different cultures approach problems in different ways, and human knowledge
and capacity are enriched generally by a wide diversity of societal forms.
Greater diversity brings greater evolution of societies generally. From
sustainable technologies, to spiritual enlightenment, to dealing with severe
climate changes -- human progress and survival are best served by cultural

Nationalism reconsidered
If democracy and sustainability are to be achieved and retained, this
investigation has found that a national focus is to be preferred -- both in
the short-term strategy for a democratic movement and in the long-term
strategy for a stable and productive world order. By that means centralism
is minimized, localism is facilitated, diversity is encouraged,
system-breakdowns can be localized and corrected, and long-term stability is
best assured. World government, on the other hand, is prone to the dangers
of centralism and bureaucracy, and any breakdown in the system might have
dire and irreparable consequences on a worldwide scale.

But even readers who are sympathetic to these arguments might still harbor
reservations about national sovereignty. The history of nations, one must
admit, is full of warfare, competition, and exploitation. For the past
century or two the dynamics of national conflicts have been governed by the
dynamics of capitalism, but similar conflicts existed before capitalism came

I've referred to the example of postwar Western Europe, which shows that
traditionally warring nations are capable of harmonious relations, once a
framework of collaboration has been adopted voluntarily for mutual benefit.
In addition, the sovereignty discussed in this investigation is not
absolute: there are agreed limits on armaments, a requirement that
functional democracy be maintained in each nation, and there is a
decentralized system of world order which is capable of enforcing such
fundamental international agreements.

The distinction between such a distributed regime, and a true world
government, is that there is no permanent centralized bureaucracy which has
authority over nations. The enforcement mechanisms of world order are
invoked only to handle emergencies, not to handle routine decisions and
administration. Nations collaborate together to make treaties, not to make
laws, and in a sustainable world all nations find their best interests in
supporting international harmony and stability.

Western nations arose through power struggles among elites -- kings,
nobility, Popes, wealthy interests, etc. From their very beginnings, these
nations were vehicles for the exercise of elite power, and capitalism simply
succeeded in becoming the final master of these vehicles. In the Third
World, nations were set up as vehicles to facilitate imperialism, with
dictators, local privileged elites, artificial national boundaries, and
other mechanisms which worked against democracy and local autonomy.

Nationalism has been manipulated by national elites, by means of propaganda
and the creation of hysteria, in order to support wars and imperialism which
were in fact the expression of power struggles among those elites. Popular
nationalism has been blamed for causing wars, but it has been in fact a
symptom of warfare. The underlying cause of war during the era of nation
states has always been elite ambitions, and the desire of elites to maintain
their political power.

Where elites have not been in conflict, there has not been warfare. There is
considerable reason to assume that in a framework of global collaboration,
and with locally-based democracy instead of elite rule, international
relations would be generally peaceful and harmonious.



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