In his speeches before both CPAC and the U.S. Congress, President Trump described with pinpoint accuracy the sovereign state system of today. But might we see a global anthem tomorrow, and a world flag, and even a United Earth? This posting is a short version of Tad’s longer article posted on AlterNet on March 10, 2017. Click here to read his full article and join in the discussion taking place there.
“We will serve the citizens of the United States of America, believe me,” said President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24th. “There is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag.” Four days later, in his first speech before a joint session of Congress, he continued, “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”
But someday, is it possible that people around the world might actually sing a global anthem together? And hoist a global flag? And dwell together as citizens of a United Earth?
Our world grows smaller and more interconnected every day. No grand historical development is more defining of the modern age. Can we imagine the same feelings of camaraderie, kindred spiritedness, and tribal solidarity about our single human community? Can our loyalty to the world as a whole — as it does for many for one’s nation -- make our blood rush a little more quickly through our veins? Might our allegiance to our nations be accompanied by an allegiance to humanity?
There’s no reason why people cannot declare right now that they see themselves as both citizens of their countries and citizens of the world. That their national patriotism is for them transcended by their planetary patriotism. And that all of us on this fragile planet must now consider ourselves, in the science fiction author Spider Robinson’s memorable phrase, to be “crewmates on Spaceship Earth.”
These ideals of larger loyalty have been promulgated by some of the greatest figures in the human heritage. It’s what Voltaire called "the party of humanity." It’s what Victor Hugo meant when he said, “I belong to a party which does not yet exist — the party of revolution and civilization.” It’s what the signatories of the 1955 "Einstein-Russell Manifesto" were describing when they claimed to speak "not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt."
Who Does “Represent the World?”
President Trump is not wrong about who he “represents.” It’s that way for every president. There’s nothing unusual or unprecedented or groundbreaking about it. The oath an American president swears is about protecting the United States of America and its constitution — nothing else!
But this leads to a rather severe problem in our ever shrinking world. Some 200 separate sovereign units, each pursuing their own individual national interests, can hardly guarantee optimal outcomes for the common human interest. And we see this in cold, hard realities, from the massive displacement and refugee flows generated by economic hopelessness, to transborder cyberattacks and runaway climate change. Stronger multilateralism, robust support for international institutions and enhanced mechanisms of global governance are the optimal policy tools.
So who, today, which individuals in which elected offices, can we identify whose raison d’etre is to serve the larger collectivity, the whole of the human community, the global public good?
The answer is no one. It’s not Donald Trump’s job … but it’s no one else’s either. There is no supranational authority that stands above the nation state. There is no institution, no elected official anywhere, whose job it is to “represent” the human race.
It’s hardly self-evident that what political scientists call the “Westphalian state system” (originating in the peace treaty of 1648 that ended Europe’s calamitous wars of religion) will endure as a permanent feature of human history.
We can imagine a redesigned and democratized and empowered United Nations. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently co-chaired a “Commission on Global Security Justice and Governance.” It proposed a “World Summit on Global Governance” during the UN’s 75th anniversary year in 2020. Further down the road it’s not impossible to envision that the same basic structures of governance long established almost universally at city, state, and national levels worldwide — a legislature and an executive and a judiciary — might someday be fashioned and founded at the global level as well.
This vision too — not just the intangible ideal of global citizenship but the tangible idea of a world state — has been put forth by some of the greatest figures in the human heritage. “I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be … Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furl’d, In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World." That’s Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate to Queen Victoria, in his 1842 masterpiece Locksley Hall. “The Earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” That’s Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, in 1857. (By most accounts it’s the first or second fastest growing religion in the world today.) "Without some effective world supergovernment … the prospects of peace and human progress are dark ... (But) if it is found possible to build a world organization of irresistible force and inviolable authority … there are no limits to the blessings which all men may enjoy and share.” That’s conservative hero Winston Churchill in 1949.
These kinds of possible future developments might someday give tangible content and historical meaning to the planetary patriotism that, perhaps, more and more Earthlings might over time declare. Perhaps this hypothetical future entity might be established, some distant day, by a duly negotiated and legally enacted world constitution. They might call it an “Earth Union,” or the “Federal Republic of the World,” or a “United Earth.” In the fictional future history of STAR TREK, after all, the “United Federation of Planets” in the galaxy was preceded by a “United Federation of Nations” on Earth. Hundreds of science fiction novels contain similar depictions of a politically unified human race. If writers can make such a future seem so plausible and believable, is it really so ridiculous simply to ask whether we can aspire to it as an actual historical goal?
“We are one people with one destiny,” said President Trump toward the end of his speech to Congress — addressing himself, of course, exclusively to Americans. But perhaps it is not too much to suppose that someday, some political leader will sit in a position, and maintain the responsibility, and show a sufficient elevation of the human spirit, to say not just to the citizens of one particular country but to all the people of Planet Earth, “We are one people with one destiny.”
The Road to One World
So which comes first? A sentiment of planetary patriotism or an actually politically unified planet? It's sort of like the proverbial question about the chicken and the egg -- only prospective instead of retrospective. It may be that we'll never see any kind of tangible progress toward world political unity until a substantial number of people feel, deep in their bones, something like an ethic of human unity. Or it may be instead that we'll never have a great many people who see themselves primarily as citizens of the world until every living human being has in fact become a citizen — with both rights and responsibilities — of a United Earth.
Tad Daley, author of APOCALYPSE NEVER: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World from Rutgers University Press, is a fellow with the Center for War/Peace Studies. He’s currently writing his second book, on the extraordinary history and possible future of the idea of a world republic. Follow him on Twitter @TheTadDaley.