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Still Not a Crazy Idea

Rescued from my former blog, March 2006.

Out there somewhere, the avian flu virus is stalking the human race. It’s not alone: other bacteria and viruses are busily mutating, not plotting our destruction, but blundering nevertheless toward the extermination of large numbers of homo sapiens. Out there somewhere, evil men are plotting to get their hands on nukes or bacteria or viruses capable of killing millions. Out there in space, hurtling past, are thousands of rocks that could intersect our orbit and smack us all into a Mad Max movie. And the byproducts of industrialization my be slowly bringing on global warming.

All around the world, at the Taiwan strait, in the Persian Gulf, along the Korean DMZ, in Kashmir and a dozen other places, the human race sits poised, ready for war — serious war.

All of these things reach us in America. A disease incubating in a Chinese village, an angry cleric raging in some Pakistani camp, an unpaid Russian scientist with a launch code, a murderer here, a madman there, a smart kid with a computer sitting in his bedroom in Singapore.

Distance is an illusion. Borders are an illusion. Our economy is inextricably linked to the world. Our health is bound up with the health of villagers in the Congo. Our ability to travel and communicate is held hostage by people in Malaysia and Columbia and Timbuktu.

Only governments can cause, and only government can stop, genocide. Only governments can cause, and only government can stop famine. Governments restrict free trade and plunge millions into unecessary poverty. Only government can reverse that fatal protectionism. Only government can stop global warming. Only government can respond when a new disease erupts. Only governments can cause, and only government can stop, war.

The modern American capitalist affectation, the pretense that government can accomplish nothing, and only free markets can be trusted, evaporates in the face of disaster. Wal-Mart will not stop the economic disaster that would come from a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel. The Ford Motor Company will not plot the trajectories of every dangerous asteroid and respond if disaster looms. Verizon will not rush to the scene of a mutant Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Microsoft cannot put a leash on Korea’s L’il Kim.

The time has come, in this interconnected, and vulnerable world, for the civilized nations to consider some form of world government.

The objections are obvious. Exhibit A: the UN. How in God’s name are we to include the Iranian Ayatollahs in a government with liberal Swedish socialists and Indian capitalists? How could we have a functional democracy in a world where China and India could out-vote the rest of the world? How would we keep the world’s poor from using a world government to confiscate the wealth of North America, Europe and Japan?

The European Union may be the experiment that points the way. The EU has its difficulties, but so far the direst scenarios have not come to pass. The EU admits only those countries which meet certain standards on human rights and economic responsibility. Today the Muslim nation of Turkey is straining to hit those marks and get onto the waiting list for EU membership.

True to their natures, the Europeans have made the Brussels government something of a laughingstock. It is absurdly bureacratic, for example. Nevertheless, you can drive from Berlin to Paris to Milan to Dublin to Warsaw to Madrid to Rotterdam to Lisbon and never stop at a border, never change currency, never be deprived of medical care, never be outside the shelter of law. People used to say this would never happen. And now it has happened.

The American experience in Iraq has demonstrated that we need the “international community.” We’ve tried to be the world’s policeman, and we’ve screwed it up pretty well. And yet, the world needs a policeman. The world needs someone to fight the viruses, and the terrorists, and the famines and genocides, the environmental threats, and to stop wars from starting. The world needs government, and that government cannot be the government of the United States. The world needs a cop, and it can’t just be us.

As it is now, we give the civilized world a free pass. We jump into the fray and leave the Europeans, Japanese, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, South Koreans, Indians, all sitting on the sidelines offering snide commentary on our performance. We call this leadership. But how is it wise for us to carry the only badge and gun? How does that help us?

A world government would be limited to established democracies. Just as Europe has done, we would carve out large areas of national independence — we wouldn’t stop being the United States. Just as Europe has done, we would set standards for those nations hoping to join that world government. Rogue nations would be ever more isolated. The power of the world government would grow as it gained members. The momentum would become almost irresistable.

This is not idealism run wild. Quite the opposite. The United States cannot and should not try to manage the world alone — that is idealism. When something awful happens in the world, every head should not turn to look at us for salvation. We should begin to form a government uniting North America, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, stable South American democracies, and Europe. If Russia can reverse its slide into autocracy, they can join. If China can throw off its Communist dead weight, they will be members, too. Every nation that sees three peaceful democratic political successions, controls corruption, and subscribes to standards of human rights and the rule of law, would be eligible.

It wouldn’t be utopia. Even if everything went perfectly, it wouldn’t be utopia. But avian flu or errant comet, nuclear war or localized genocide, there would be someone to call. Someone that was not just us.

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“Still Not a Crazy Idea”

  1. Blogger dmccarthy Says:

    Since you're revisiting old posts, why not update and repost the manifesto from your previous blog? Frankly, the only specific that I remember about it was some trenchant context for Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at an earlier SuperBowl. But I do recall thinking at the time that it was one of the best blog entries I'd ever read.