Toward a Necessary Utopianism

The contemplation of a benevolent world government is an idle daydream that we as humans concerned for the future can currently ill afford.

Unless the emergence of an effective form of global governance is adequately democratized it will not only reproduce existing acute inequities and exploita- tive patterns of the present world order, but will almost certainly intensify these malevolent features.

Such forebodings are based on the assessment of present global trends that document increasing disparities among peoples, races, and classes, but also call to our attention the growing struggle over dwindling oil supplies and the overall harmful effects of global warming and various associated forms of environmental deterioration. Without drastic normative adjustments in the interaction of states and regions, as well as an accompanying social regulation of the world economy, global governance is almost certain to adopt highly coercive methods of stifling resistance from disadvantaged societies and social forces.

The Bush presidency in the United States, while bringing to the fore an extremist leadership that is likely to be repudiated by the American electorate in the short run, may still be a crude forerunner of future hegemonic efforts by the United States to stabilize the unjust global status quo to the extent possible. There are no indications that any plausible new political leader in the United States will draw down the American militarization of the planet under its sovereign control, including oceans, space, world network of military bases, global intelligence, and special forces presence. Global governance under any such auspices, even if less manifestly dysfunctional than this currently failing neoconservative experiment to provide security for the world as administered from Washington, is almost certain to falter without ambitious moves to establish an inclusive consensual, cooperative, multilateral, and constitutional framework built around a truly operational global rule of law. At present, there seems to be grossly insufficient political agency avail- able to support mounting a credible challenge along such transformative lines to existing world order arrangements. That is, the neoconservative American vision of global governance has been defeated by resistance, but as matters now stand there is no alternative and it is likely that this vision will be altered to accommodate a more liberal style of promotion. It is due to this inability to depict a plausible path leading from the here of dysfunctional Westphalianism to a more democratically constituted and institutionally centralized global governance that makes any current call appear “utopian,” that is, not attainable except imaginatively.

Against such a background the advocacy of world government seems constructive and responsive, yet I would argue that to push for world govern- ment at this time is dangerously premature. Such a post-Westphalian gov- ernmental restructuring of global authority, particularly in relation to war-making, in the unlikely event that it were to become capable of enactment, would almost certainly produce a tyrannical world polity. Such a result seems almost certain unless the realization of world government was preceded by economic, social, and cultural developments that reduced dramatically current levels of material unevenness, poverty, and inter-civilizational antagonisms. So long as this unevenness persists any centralization of political authority is certain to be coercive, exploitative, and oppressive. Perhaps, in the decades ahead, the raw struggle for human survival may yield this kind of outcome misleadingly described as “world government,” and may make it seem an acceptable or even the best attainable world order solution for the peoples of the world. This survival scenario is a rather realistic expectation, given the likelihood that pressures in relation global warming and energy supplies and prices will soon reach emergency levels. What is politically possible in a circumstance of imminent catastrophe or at the early stages of an unfolding catastrophe cannot be foretold, but given our best understanding of present political realities, the present advocacy of world government is both utopian (unattainable) and dystopian (undesirable). If this is correct, then the contemplation of a benevolent world government is an idle daydream that we as humans concerned for the future can currently ill afford.

Achieving Human Rights by Richard Falk

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