The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

A cosmopolitan case against world government


The World Government Research Network has just published my new article, "A Cosmopolitan Case Against World Government." Here is an excerpt, which briefly summarizes the rest:

The debate over world government and "global governance" typically pits cosmopolitan supporters of globalization against nationalist champions of state sovereignty. The latter fear world government because of the threat it poses to nationalism and the autonomy of nation-states. They also typically view free trade and international migration with suspicion.

However, one need not be a nationalist to oppose world government. I am a cosmopolitan supporter of free trade and an advocate of a strong presumption in favor of open borders immigration. In addition, I am no fan of nationalism….

Yet I also take a dim view of world government and other similar proposals. These positions are not contradictory; indeed they are mutually reinforcing. Precisely because I see great value in free migration and the opportunity to "vote with your feet," I oppose the creation of a global state whose authority would be almost impossible to escape.

A world government would close off opportunities for foot voting. It would also undermine valuable interjurisdictional competition and exacerbate some key weaknesses of the democratic process. In the worst-case scenario, it could establish a global tyranny from which there may be no escape. Despite the claims of advocates, it also probably is not necessary to solve the world's great problems. Indeed, it might even exacerbate those dangers.

In the article, I also explain why the debate over world government matters, despite notable recent political trends that cut against it:

Concern about the perils of world government may seem ridiculous at this point in history. Critics of world government always run the risk of looking like paranoid members of the black helicopter brigade who believe that the UN, the Council on Foreign Relations, or the Zionist-Masonic conspiracy is about to take over the world. This may be even more true in light of recent events such as Britain's vote for Brexit, the rise of right-wing nationalist movements in several European countries, and Donald Trump's unexpected victory in the 2016 US presidential election….

But it is important to look beyond the immediate political moment. The nationalist surge may not prevail, and may indeed be cresting even now. Right-wing nationalist parties have suffered defeats in recent elections in France and the Netherlands, and a similar outcome is expected in this fall's German election. Donald Trump is the most unpopular president (at this stage in his first term) in the history of public opinion polling. His brand of xenophobic populism may turn out to be one of the last gasps of a fading past, rather than the wave of the future.

Survey data indicates that younger voters in both the US and Europe are less nationalistic than their elders….

While the establishment of world government is unlikely in the near future, trends favoring it could easily accelerate over time, while opposition might gradually wane. At the very least, it is an idea worthy of serious consideration.

I would like to thank the World Government Research Network for inviting me to provide a perspective that contrasts with the positions taken by most of the other scholars who have written for their site. The future of global governance is one of the most important medium to long-term issues facing humanity, and it is important to consider a wide range of views on the subject.