William O. Douglas
“World Federalism is an idea that will not die. More and more people are coming to realize that peace must be more than an interlude if we are to survive; that peace is a product of law and order; that law is essential if the force of arms is not to rule the world.” - William O. Douglas

World Federalism: A Minority Opinion

World Federalism: A Minority Opinion


“Some men look at Constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment…. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions… But I also know that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…. As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

                        Thomas Jefferson

These are the reflections of a remarkable republican who understood the need for and the dilemmas accompanying historic change. Our times and circumstances now cause us to think in terms of an internationalism based on World Federalism, but efforts to secure those institutions have been frustrated by an artificially divided World Federalist organization. This division among World Federalists is being encouraged through literature and speech, in order to sustain international norms of sovereignty which deny the governed even the most limited of democratic powers, in a global arena that increasingly impacts the governed in a direct and profound way. World Federalists might wonder if they are being compelled to support and perpetuate this limitation, which is not only contrary to the letter, but to the spirit of World Federalism.

There are some basic and troubling questions of how to create a World Federal government, while being dominated by an international elite who are unsympathetic to the democratization, and therefore the public acceptance of World Federalism as a representative institution. The traditional power of the elected, or the tyrant, to exercise control over foreign relations without the advice or consent of those they govern, presents no great obstacle to World Government, or to any particular notion of a new world order. This power however is incompatible with any accepted Federal norm of democratic behavior, in a world context, and may constitute a dangerous impediment to short or long term unified human, or state efforts, to overcome major planetary problems.

Joseph Barratta, a World Federalist historian, published a book in 1987 titled Strengthening the United Nations, A Bibliography on U.N. reform and World Federalism. This book expresses the fundamental differences between traditional and democratic approaches to the achievement of World Federalism, and is typical of literature which in my opinion misrepresents and distorts a vitally important area of World Federalist thought and reason.

Barratta writes “A world federation must be constituted, like democratic republics generally, with representative institutions — primarily a world legislature, plus a world executive and world judiciary so that the people have a sense of participation in the making of the laws, and hence will obey them willingly as rules of action truly in the common interest.[….]The preferred method of most World Federalists to advance these goals, would be to convene a general review conference for the reform of the United Nations, or to convene a new world constitutional convention”. Barratta declares this approach to be “official, legal, and realistic.”

Barratta states that “A World Federation must be constituted, like democratic republics generally, with representative institutions”. The central characteristic of republicanism, as I understand it, would hold that in a republic, the supreme power rests with all of the citizens entitled to vote, or, the electorate. It is apparent in Barratta’s argument that the citizen component of a World Federal government would continue as in the League of Nations and U.N. models to be content, or be forced to be content, with a mere “sense of participation” dependent on the punitive condition of obedience.

An obedient electorate is not supreme, and can have no legitimate authority over a general review conference for the reform of the United Nations, or enforce any edicts of a World Constitutional Convention. What Barratta describes is not so much a republican government as it is an oligarchy dressed up to look like a republic.

The political realities of an oligarchy and republicanism are incompatible in that they are based on diametrically opposed views of who is entitled to vote. An oligarchy reserves that privilege for itself, in the case of the U.N. through representatives which are state appointed and controlled. In a global republic, all of the citizens of member nations would, at minimum, be entitled to elect those representatives, and to hold them accountable. In a more advanced system, that entitlement might even take the form of a limited direct democracy, but obedience to what is essentially an absolute form of power, even if it is federal in nature, is a menacing prospect, unworthy of World Federalist support.

Barratta’s view of entitlement emerges more clearly in his description of the minority opinion. It reads, “A minority of federalists have argued that national governments are natural enemies of a project that would reduce national sovereignty, so an appeal must be made directly to the people in order to produce a wholly new social contract. They propose to hold popular elections […] using state electoral machinery wherever possible”. Barratta dismisses these arguments as “unofficial, revolutionary, and utopian”.

What has existed in place of an international social contract can be described in law as quasi contract. A quasi contract is equivalent to a contractual obligation, created in law in the absence of a contract, to prevent unfair gain by one party at the expense of another. International quasi contract, as expressed by the U.N. model for example, is fundamentally unfair, and is in no way equivalent to an entitling social contract, for dependence on the goodwill of those who will not submit themselves to contractual oversight does not, and never has constituted a fair contractual arrangement.

This lack of accountability in international affairs illustrates the nature of existing power structures which roughly move from the people to the state, or in the case of a tyranny, from the state to the people. In either case, power moves independently from the state to a world government model thus creating an unstable international order. The missing link remains any connection between a world government model and the people, without which there can be no legitimate representative, or accountable World Federal institutions. World Federalism as a foreign policy objective will remain an unattainable goal so long as the construction of this vital link remains dependent on those who see democratic will as an attack on their personal authority.

The representatives Barratta sees as fit to perpetuate quasi contract, in the name of World Federalism, are the Parliamentarians for Global Action. Barratta writes, “A variant on the official approach is the parliamentary approach. It is carried on, with more political realism, by Parliamentarians for World Order [PWO], now Parliamentarians for Global Action “[PGA], co-founded by Douge Roche when he was a Canadian M.P.

In his review of Douge Roche’s Politicians for Peace, a book describing the aims of the [PWO], David Taras, writing in the summer 1984 edition of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, offers a criticism of Roche’s views. “Mr. Roche’s vision of a future world order must be questioned seriously. Although the United Nations system has been discredited in the minds of many people who are concerned with democratic values and human rights issues, he sees the international organization as a cornerstone of future achievements …. The classical argument against a central global authority is that if that body becomes tyrannical or unjust, then freedom is endangered everywhere. In proposing to deliver us from our many problems Mr. Roche’s plan might have within it the seeds of an even more perilous future.” It should be noted that when Mr. Roche was asked what he thought of the democratic inducement and oversight of World Federalism, at the 1985 Canadian World Federalist National Conference, he publicly replied, “We have no time for any such nonsense.”

In The Federalist Papers, published in 1787 and 1788, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay outlined the basic tenets for the constitution of the United States. They urged the adoption of republican federal government as then outlined, in order to counterbalance unbridled central power. In the September 1991 issue of Scientific American, in an article titled “Infrastructure For The Global Village”, then U.S. Senator Al Gore writes, “representative democracy relies on the still revolutionary assumption that the best way for a nation to make political decisions is for all its citizens to process the information relevant to their lives and to express their conclusions in free speech and in votes that are combined with those millions of others to guide the system as a whole. Communism, by contrast, attempted to bring all the information to a large and powerful central processor, which collapsed when it was overwhelmed by ever more complex information.”

Barratta and Roche do not explain why they perceive little or no danger from a powerful and over-centralized world government, but it is clear that what they advocate has nothing to do with republican World Federalism. They imply that the people living under such a government can or should have no rights to either elect for World Federalism, submit it to democratic will, or to abolish it should it become destructive or oppressive. So long as this model is dominant, World Federalism will remain, and correctly be viewed by the electorate as undemocratic, and politically indefensible as a representative institution. The damage being done by this perception, or reality, to the cause and timely adoption of World Federalism, is incalculable.

World Federalism may represent the last and only real hope to democratize our international system. With that in mind, a Federalist failure to promote the democratic election and limited oversight of World Federalism, is unconscionable, and World Federalisms association with any organization which derides those principles, is objectionable. The cost of associating ourselves with such a narrow political perspective is evident in our failure to attract or to hold the interest or respect of our first generations. We must not lose the current or next generations to this poverty of democratic spirit and purpose.

For the first time in modern history, World Federalists can be fully justified in committing their time and energy to the achievement of republican World Federal institutions. During the formative years of the World Federalist movement, the technical capacity to involve the electorate in any genuine global sense simply did not exist. Nor was there any sense of a sufficiently large global constituency with any wish or need to directly impact a world system. Those circumstances have dramatically changed in direct proportion to our collective understanding of the limits and urgent needs of our planet.

Due to discoveries and advances in information technology, there are no longer any valid technical grounds on which to deny citizen involvement in the democratic inducement, or limited supervision of a world federal system. Many influential World Federalists, however, remain mired in a way and era of thinking which is dependent on state acquiescence, as opposed to independent appraisal and action. These leaders remain unable or unwilling to grasp the importance of using these powerful media to secure public consent for a world federal system, or to devise and manage an acceptable mix of central world federal powers with some form of genuine and balancing electorate power.

This genuine and balanced power will be necessary because coinciding with this progress in technical capacity has been a significant change in public manners and opinions. People today, especially the younger generation, are justifiably frightened by military, economic and ecological realities, and are distrustful of political or corporate agendas which exclude them. While there may be deficiencies in the democratic capacity to overcome these problems, this electorate identifies, correctly I think, democracy in its current, or some expanded form, to be central to any sustainable global solutions, and vital to the early adoption of world federal systems.

This electorate, should it conclude itself or the planet to be in imminent danger, without benefit of any globally corrective democratic mechanisms, may react in ways that current national and international models of government are ill-equipped to deal with. Governments which fail to recognize this new reality, or fail to build democratic institutions capable of responding to democratic will, on a global level, may face debilitating confrontation on a massive scale. Alternatively, the offer of a social contract defining limited but real powers for this electorate, in areas that will directly impact their global health and security, are likely to produce a much accelerated movement toward a genuine world federation.

The movement to exchange quasi contract for genuine participation does find support in the popular media. Allan Tonelson in the July 1991 issue of The Atlantic, in an article on “What is the National Interest”, called for a “foreign policy” that would “no longer implicitly accept the need for control by an elite.” He states that “After a half century of predominance, Internationalism would be superseded by a foreign policy for the rest of us.” What Mr. Tonelson could not say, because it has not yet been made viable, is that a World Federalism modeled on true republican principles may be very well equipped to usher in a new era of internationalism, complete with not only the obvious benefits of federalism, but the democratic capacity to overcome the oppressive qualities of internationalism, as it currently exists.

To that end, new World Federalist rules of action must be considered which unite the people to, not isolate them from, the concept of World Federalism. World Federalists should be taking the lead in establishing the democratic conditions under which such a union might prosper, through appropriate research and development, for instance, and be actively pursuing a form of international social contract which is relevant to democratic will. Any failure to construct such a social contract, or to express it through republican means, will render World Federalism obsolete and impotent.

The World Federalists of Canada were incorporated in 1965 under Part 2 of the Canada Corporations Act. Under the terms of the Canadian World Federalist Charter, the purposes of the new body were defined as follows:

A: To secure support for the establishment of a competent World Federal Government, elected by and responsible to the people under its jurisdiction, with limited functions but real powers adequate for the maintenance of peace.

B: While giving complete support to the endeavors of the United Nations to bring about a world community favorable to peace, to strive towards the creation of a world federal government with authority to enact, interpret, and enforce World law.

The Canadian World Federalist Charter is a binding contract, approved by a public body. As such it is every bit as legal and realistic as is any United Nations precedent for self reform. The World Federal Government imagined here is to be responsible to the people, not for them. This condition, no matter how threatening it may be to the status quo does meet the standard of republican government, and does require popular elections.

Before the 1982 Canadian World Federalist Annual General Meeting was a resolution to “form a committee to research the prospects of, and to work toward the formation of a political party based in large part on World Federalist principals.” That resolution was carried by a vote of 34 to 3, and produced a series of ideas which came to be known as Foundation. Just how this vote, or Foundation came to represent an “unofficial”, or “minority” opinion, without debate, is unclear, but understanding why Foundation continues to be represented as such has critically important implications for the democratic character and future of World Federalism.

Carl Joudrie: 1992

The Minority Opinion paper was written in 1992, and has since been lightly modified. The paper was sent, for publication, to every World Federalist organization of the day, but was never published by any of them.

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