Peace and World Government
JUNE 01, 1956 by EDMUND OPITZ
Filed Under : War
The Rev. Mr. Opitz is a member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education.
Wars aren’t what they used to be. Men went off to the Spanish-American War with all the excitement of campfire boys on a picnic. Some of them got hurt, of course, and a number succumbed to various diseases. But, as wars go, the Spanish affair was just barely big enough for heroes. One of the heroes of the fracas in Cuba was Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke deprecatingly about the venture. “It was not much of a war,” he said, “but it was the best we could do at the time.” Such levity was not entirely out of keeping with the temper of the period, but that was three big wars ago. Now, after the experience of the past half century, it is unnatural to jest about war. The next world war which looms on the horizon holds out the prospect of unrelieved horror; little heroism, no glory. Hence the urgency behind our search for any device which gives promise of staving off the impending catastrophe.
World government is one Such device, and it has captured the imagination of many intelligent and dedicated people. There are different schemes of world government, but they are alike in advocating a world military police. This gendarmerie is to have a monopoly of the world’s military weapons to enforce the universal peace which the world government is established to maintain.
There are many questions of a practical nature that come to mind, such as the basis of national representation in a world government, the kind of charter a world police will operate under, and so on. But these are not basic questions. The basic question is the idea of a world police force itself and the global government which it implies. Is international war due to the absence of a supranational political government which comprehends all nations; and is a world police the kind of device we can rely on to achieve peace?
Proponents of world government often compare their plan to the process by which the original thirteen colonies formed the United States of America under a federal government. If the colonies could federate, so runs the argument, why can’t the nations of the world? There are two answers to this argument: one specific, one general.
John Jay provided the specific answer to this question in the second Federalist Paper by saying, in effect, that the thirteen colonies were already one nation de facto, so why not make them one nation de lure? “America was not composed,” he writes, “of detached and distant territories . . . one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty . . . . Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence. This country and this people seem to have been made for each other . . . . To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people; each individual citizen everywhere enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protection. As a nation we have made treaties, and entered into various compacts and conventions with foreign states.”
Not even the most enthusiastic world federalist could maintain that the above description of the condition of the colonies applies even remotely to the nations of the world. These are distant from one another, with widely different languages, customs, and religions; full of ancestral antagonisms and often actively hostile. They are not naturally one people as the colonists were one people.
The general argument for world government uses the logic of simple arithmetic: If a local police force is a feasible arrangement to deter individuals from disrupting the peace of the local community, why not a world police to deter nations from disrupting the peace of the world community? The first step in answering this question must refer to the facts mentioned above, which point to the conclusion that world government is impossible for geographic and ethnic reasons. “Maybe it’s impossible,” comes the rebuttal, “but that does not prove it is illogical.” How does one answer the person whose “logic” is undismayed by the impossible? Consider an analogy from engineering, the case of a suspension bridge. In a giant bridge, something like 90 per cent of the strength of the materials is used to bear the weight of the bridge, and only about 10 per cent is used to bear the weight of the traffic. It is in the order of nature that there is no more than 100 per cent of anything, and with the structural materials now available there is a limit to the length of a suspension bridge. It is somewhat under one mile. One may speak of “a two-mile suspension bridge” but it refers to no reality other than black marks on paper or vibrations in the atmosphere. “World government” is in the same category and for much the same reason.
The point may be driven home by the oyster, whose powers of multiplication are such, we are told, that if all the progeny of a single pair lived and bred for one year there’d be a mass of oysters larger than the earth. It is neither the oyster’s logic nor lack of it that prevents this from happening, but the realities of the oyster’s environment. In a brilliant essay on “The Size of Living Things,” biologist Julian Huxley tells us that “size, which we are apt to take for granted, is one of the most serious problems with which evolving life has had to cope.” We are not overwhelmed by oysters or other things because Nature employs the “feed back” principle; it maintains an ecological balance with its built-in governors.
Man is not his own law; he is a creature of limited possibilities. Neither he nor his societies can escape the limitations reality imposes on everything. From the fact that a thousand-foot suspension bridge is an easy feat of engineering there is no logical way to draw the inference that a thou-sand-mile bridge is possible. Similarly, the fantasm of world government has no logical connection with either the theory or the fact of local government.
But this is not to dispose of the possibility of a world police authorized by a coalition of nations. This is more than a possibility, as witness Korea, but is it one that recommends itself to thoughtful people? Some doubts come to mind.
The projected world military police force—unless it frightens everyone into submission, in which case it will be the most extensive tyranny in history—will conduct military operations. It is possible to gain a hollow semantic victory for “peace” by labeling war a police action, as was the case with the episode in Korea. But the peace men want is not merely the absence of war much less is it the “peace” gained by the cheap expedient of calling war by another name. Peace is the enjoyment, by persons in society, of the full exercise of their faculties within the limits set by the equal rights of others.
This condition is easy enough to visualize, as an ideal; it is impossible or next to impossible to achieve in practice—for this reason: Man has predatory impulses, and in some men these impulses predominate. Peaceable men desire to exercise their faculties and enjoy the fruits of their labor, but predatory men want to enjoy the same fruits. There is a conflict here, which well-disposed men seek to resolve in their favor by setting up a police force to protect the peaceful business of society against predators. In order that this constabulary may do its job, it is given a social grant of power to curb predation.
So far this is very simple. But the next question has never been answered satisfactorily: Who will police the constabulary? In other words, what is to be done when predatory men gain control of the constabulary, or when predatory impulses begin to crop out in its personnel? There is no weapon devised for defensive purposes which cannot be used for aggression. Likewise, a police force and an army: organized for defense, either may be used offensively.
This problem of defensive force turning aggressive has not yet been solved on a small scale where the constable is your next door neighbor and thus pretty much under the collective thumb. How much more complicated is a world constabulary, even in conception! Imagine all the weapons of the world melted down and reforged into a gigantic gun capable of blowing us all to smithereens. Who will aim this gun? Who will pull the trigger? It is just conceivable that an American and a Russian might not find it easy to come to any agreement on either of these questions. But it is inconceivable that the very existence of such a weapon would not touch off a struggle to gain control over it. Whatever the label pinned on this struggle, it will actually be world war. Which points up the dilemma facing any effort to gather up a monopoly of world force in advance of any effective public opinion as to the manner in which this force shall be used.
It will be answered that there is just such an effective public opinion in the almost unanimous desire of the world’s people for peace, but this answer has to be qualified in important respects. Peace is a by-product of other conditions; and while many people say they want peace, few know or want the things that make for peace. Moreover, the peace each man or nation wants is peace on his own terms; what looks like peace to Smith does not look like peace to Voronsky. Public opinion on behalf of peace is either nonexistent or too feeble. Where it does muster some strength it almost always relies on wrong means.
How else can we account for this century’s deep involvement in senseless war while all the while it proclaims its dedication to peace? Some wars in history have had at least the surface appearance of rationality; the results could be measured by additional territory, slaves, gold, and the like. War is one instrumentality for the attainment of such ends; not the best one perhaps, but neither is it an entirely incongruous one. But to invoke world war as a means of achieving brotherhood, eliminating aggressor nations, and establishing perpetual peace is little short of insane! World Wars I and II produced their evil results utterly heedless of the grandiose official and popular declarations of why these wars were fought.
Both wars received official and popular endorsement as crusades to stamp out “aggressor nations.” But the military action in neither case had the precision which marks a successful police action. Each was characterized by the brutal, senseless, and purposeless force that marks a natural cataclysm like an earthquake. In short, these wars are symptomatic of social ills which lie beneath the surface. They indicate that western society is in various stages of disintegration as its main ideas lose their power over men’s minds.
The League of Nations was a reaction to World War I, as the United Nations was a reaction to World War II. Both organizations were based on a faith in large-scale political action which is entirely unwarranted by experience. “An assemblage of states will no more produce a universal moral order than a lot of lobsters thrown into a pound will produce a republic of lobsters,” William Aylott Orton tells us in his book The Liberal Tradition (pp. 238-239). He continues, “If you pretend that such ethical values as peace, freedom, justice are going to be secured by an international assemblage of bombing planes: then you merely multiply the occasion on which physical force may be plausibly invoked, and invite a perpetuation of that political chicanery of which, this past quarter century, all decent men have had a bellyful. The relation of political realities to ethical values is not one of means to ends. To suppose that the tangible aims and purposes of the great powers will be subordinated to ideal ends by the creation of an international assembly that they themselves will convoke and control is naive in the extreme.”
This problem is too deeply rooted to be affected, let alone cured, by the application of external political panaceas. Modern societies lack cohesion. The natural ties that bind men in community have weakened, and the resulting damage cannot be repaired by external patching. A barrel is held together by hoops around the outside; but conceivably the staves could also be held in place by interior lines of force. Only something analogous to these internal fasteners can hold society together; lacking these, society has nothing comparable to barrel hoops to hold itself together. The problem would be serious even if things were static; but they are not. If an irresistible force is exploding inside the barrel, no strengthening of the hoops around the outside will prevent the staves from flying apart. Our society is in the grip of just such a centrifugal force, and although it appears benign, it is actually tearing society apart. Unless it can be annulled, the erection of a world-wide political mechanism to prevent society from committing suicide will be as futile as trying to heat a room by holding a match under a thermometer.
“All men desire peace,” remarked Thomas a Kempis, “but not many desire the things that make for peace.” Unless men know what things make for peace, they cannot desire them. Without this knowledge they may unwittingly start off on a course of action whose first steps seem innocent enough but whose last step is war. Almost no one intends the last step, but it is difficult to avoid this end if one takes the first steps toward it.
There is a core of natural pugnacity in all of us, more than likely, and some of us are more adequately supplied than others. So there are going to be brawls and minor riots—which we can pretty well take in our stride. Even a riot involving scores of men, bad as it may be, is a far cry from war, which is a carefully calculated conflict between groups of specially trained men. This kind of conflict requires rationalization, exhortation, and pressure. Occasionally there is moral justification for such a conflict in the matter of defense. When this is the case, the individual does not need someone else to volunteer his life and property for him; he is competent to decide for himself.
In most persons, the desire for peace overrides natural belligerency. So much is this the case that the continuous war we are engaged in must be sold to us as a means of attaining universal peace. How does it happen that even as we declare for peace we prepare for war? To the extent that our aversion to war is genuine—and this is largely the case—it becomes obvious that the war we don’t want is an unforeseen consequence of our efforts to get something else. If we analyze our predicament further, we can detect a similarity of principle between the operations of the Welfare State or other varieties of collectivism, and the operational imperatives of a nation at war. We would do well to examine the inference which may be drawn from this observation: that the first steps to war are taken when society adopts a mischievous domestic policy.
The purpose of war, according to Clausewitz, is to impose your will on the enemy, or prevent him from imposing his will on you. In a Welfare State, or under fullblown socialism, the mass of men are guided, regulated, directed, and controlled by those wielding political power. On principle, the wills of a large segment of the nation are bent to conform to the master plan imposed on them by those who believe themselves competent to plan the lives of others. When this occurs in a society as a permanent peacetime policy, that society has taken the first steps of a course whose last step is war. The principle of socialism or the Welfare State has in it, inevitably, the germs of war.
Conscription for military service is but the more immediate application to military purposes of the control of individuals which is inherent in socialist policy. Some socialists oppose conscription but endorse its logical counterparts; conscription follows theoretically from the rest of their beliefs. These people object to the use of a lot of force on foreigners; they advocate the use of a little force on domestics. But if you start doing the latter, there is no stopping place short of the former.
Control merely for the sake of control soon loses its zest. The popularity of socialistic and Welfare State schemes is due to the use of control for the redistribution of goods. Goods can be had by production, trade, or gifts. But other peoples’ goods can also be had as a result of political privilege. All varieties of collectivism traffic in political privilege. So do other societies, but not on principle, and therein lies a major difference.
If the producers of a nation are to be exploited on principle by the political class, it follows that the political class can better its circumstances if it has more producers and more territory to exploit. It gets more producers and more territory by conquest. Thus, the first steps to war are taken in the setting up of a system of political privilege as a means of acquiring other men’s goods. When men rely on political privilege to acquire economic goods, they have already embraced the near end of a principle whose far end is war.
If we don’t like the last step, we shouldn’t take the first. In the matter of modern war, the first step is the acceptance by almost all men everywhere, of the false assumption that political committees are competent to run peoples’ lives. The first steps to peace are in the direction of a voluntary society in which each person is free to direct his own energy so long as he allows the same right to others. There is no Utopia in this direction, but in striving for a voluntary society we may at least avoid such debacles as now plague our world.
Hence, our dilemma. If we can revolutionize opinion about social organization so that we rid ourselves of arbitrary political interventions in economic and social life, we won’t need a world police; if we can’t change opinion in this area in favor of a strictly limited government, a world police would either be helpless to prevent war or would itself be the worst tyranny history has known.
Ideas have only one source: the free mind. They develop and spread as interpersonal communication between individuals is facilitated. No social force is so powerful as the healthy contagion of ideas. For good or ill, they will have their way in time against any obstacle.
The only lasting antidote to war consists of extending limited government ideas to the nations of the world; and the first step is for these ideas to capture the minds and loyalties of men. Not only other men, but us. Even in the United States, wrong ideas about social organization have allowed our several governments at different levels to get out of hand. Desire for a world government stems from the same errors which have pushed us off base domestically. There is no recovery save in a changed climate of opinion—no short cut to peace. A world society, in contrast to a supergovernment, is a worth-while objective; but there is no way to attain it except as ideas of personal liberty gain ground and push government into the limited role of curbing aggression.