Organizers and participants in the upcoming “Creating a Workable World” conference (Friday and Saturday at the University of Minnesota) are undoubtedly sincere. No one wants to live in an unworkable world. The sponsoring World Federalist Movement has historically exercised a strong attraction on progressives, appealing to their generous sentiments and wish for world peace.
However, such a grand, overarching ideal as world federalism or global democracy must be evaluated in light of current circumstances and its track record.
At the end of World War II, it was widely believed that nationalism was the main cause of the horrors that had just devastated much of the world. It was easy to imagine that abolishing nation states would be a step toward ending wars by removing their cause. This sentiment was particularly strong in Western Europe, forming the ideological foundation of the movement that led to European integration, now embodied in the European Union.
In that same period, there was a historic movement going in the opposite direction: the national liberation movements in various colonized countries of the Third World. The political drive for national liberation from European powers — Britain, France, the Netherlands — contributed to establishing national sovereignty as the foundation of world peace, by outlawing aggression. Newly liberated Third World countries felt protected by the principle of national sovereignty, seeing it as essential to independence and even to survival.
But today, 70 years after the end of World War II, experience has provided lessons in the practice of these two contrary ideals: supranational governance and national sovereignty. Not surprisingly, the official voices of the hegemonic world power and its allies tend to cite internal conflicts, especially in weaker Third World countries, as proof that national sovereignty must be violated in order to defend “human rights” and bring democracy. The danger from “genocide” has even become an official U.S.-NATO pretext for advocating and launching military intervention. With disastrous results.
It’s therefore not surprising that Workable World’s keynote speaker, W. Andy Knight, was a supporter of the infamous regime-change war that virtually destroyed Libya, under the guise, paradoxically, of the U.S. and NATO’s “responsibility to protect.” That is not just a side issue: It signals the dirty business of wars and regime-change intrigues currently underway behind the scholarly façade of “global governance.”
We fear that opposing arguments in favor of national sovereignty will probably not be discussed much during this conference. And yet, the European Union has served as an experimental laboratory testing what happens when a large and growing number (now 28) of sovereign states turns over a major part of their rights to supranational governance.
Unified institutionally, the weaker members find themselves dominated by the powerful. Despite decades of speeches proclaiming that “we are all Europeans,” when it comes to the crunch, people revert radically to their national identity. Germans resent Greeks for being debtors; Greeks resent Germans for keeping them in debt. All the more so in that there is no way out.
Elections are increasingly meaningless within the member states, because major economic decisions are taken essentially in Brussels, by the E.U. institutions. This is causing increasing disillusionment and depoliticization in Europe. Europeans take virtually no interest in the European Parliament. They do not feel represented by it, and indeed they are not. Democracy works best in small circumscriptions: Greek city states, Iceland, villages. The bigger it gets, the less “democratic” it can be.
Half a century ago, the functioning ideal was to bring eternal peace to Europe through unity. Today, that institutional unity is creating new divisions and hostility. To put it simply, experience is in the process of killing the ideal and showing why “worldwide parliamentary democracy” may bring more harm than good, at least in the real world as it exists today and will for some time to come.
Diana Johnstone, a Paris-based commentator, is author of “Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions” and “Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton.” Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI agent and former legal counsel.