It’s time we realized that we are one people, and if we’re going to save our race — the human race, we need to work together. Globally. If we are to survive, we have to start thinking about the world’s 195 nation-states, less like culturally distinct end-alls of human governance, and more like the way we think about the 50 American states — different but united in a common purpose.
Our president recently made a distinction between nationalism and globalism. It was a good distinction, but, of course, he fell on the wrong side of it. In his second address to the U.N. General Assembly, Trump said “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.” Later, he clarified:
“A globalist is a person that [sic] wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that. They have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned, it’s called a nationalist, and I say really, we’re not supposed to use that word … You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? Nationalist. Use that word, use that word.”
Three things can be said of these statements. First, the zero-sum equation he sets up is a false choice. As discussed below, everyone will do better in a globalist society. Second, his point highlights the fact that patriotism and nationalism are two sides of the same ugly coin. Third, Trump forgets nationalism’s tendency toward authoritarianism. But then, he’s an authoritarian.
One Human Race
What is worthwhile in his statement is the distinction between globalism and nationalism. We know what nationalism is, and where it leads. But what is globalism?
Let’s start with two basic premises. First, the national flag you are born under has absolutely nothing to do with the type of person you are. A person’s innate personality, talents, likes, dislikes, and merit, have nothing to do with which political borders happened to encircle his or her birthplace. Second, we all want the same things. Every human being wants a roof over their head, some food and clean water, and an education for their children. People don’t naturally want to kill anyone else, or rob anyone else, and those who do are universally rejected.
In sum, who we are, and what we want, have nothing to do with our citizenship. The same sun shines down on all of us. We all look up at the same moon, and make wishes on the same stars.
The only thing our nationality determines is our rulers.
The democratic nation-state arose after the French and American revolutions, when civil government usurped church-bound monarchies. (Before that, emperors simply declared that they were gods, and everyone went along with it). Democracy, and the nation-state it created, serves the laudable purpose of giving citizens at least a modest share of power, through the vote.
But, as Frederick Douglass put it, power concedes nothing without demand. Most of the power in our society is still held by the few. Where once power was held by clerics and kings, it is now held by politicians and capitalists. The average American citizen has more power than the 13th century English vassal, but today, most people on the planet, like the schoolgirl in Pakistan, are still without any political power at all.
In that respect, the nation-state, like the kingdom it replaced, is an instrument of the powerful. Also like the kingdom, nation-states form alliances and compete with one another. Almost exclusively, the interests served in these interactions are of the powerful, not of the average citizen. Like the vassal, the citizen has little power in the nation-state, and is of little interest to the powerful that run it. In fact, the powerful don’t care if the individual citizen lives or dies. They never have.
In a nationalist society, success means money. At the heart of it is capitalism. Capitalism means competition and profit. Capitalism’s only motivation is profit, and the means of achieving it is competition. This is the nationalist worldview. The more money I have, the less money you have. I win, you lose. It is exactly the zero-sum equation that Trump describes, and is explicitly the sort of world order he wishes to perpetuate.
Nationalism is based on competition. Globalism is based on cooperation.
Globalism is, in Trump’s words, the idea that everyone in the human family does well. Globalists want everyone to succeed. This way, like in any family, one person does not do well at the other’s expense. If everyone cooperates, everyone does well. It is a worldview that is quite compatible with Christian and other religious ethics: your neighbor’s happiness makes you happy; your sadness makes your neighbor sad. When joy and pain are shared, people work toward joy.
Part of this is realized by redefining success in terms other than just money. This does not deny the importance of having money, it only puts it in its proper perspective. Study after study shows that, to be happy, having a certain amount of money is necessary, but beyond that amount, having more money contributes little to human happiness, and the relentless drive for more money, actually creates unhappiness.
This does not mean complete economic equality either. Innovation and hard work can be rewarded with less than the current ratio of 361:1 between what CEOs are paid versus the average worker today.
Some societies have already decided that success doesn’t mean being rich, it means being happy. For instance, in 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th King of Bhutan, decided that, instead of having its economists track gross domestic product, they would track Gross National Happiness. Money is just one component of happiness. Wangchuck decided that happiness would be the priority in Bhutan, and many nations have followed suit. Today, according to the World Happiness Report, five of the top ten happiest countries in the world, are democratic socialist countries in Scandinavia.
Seeing Beyond the Articles of Confederation
Consider the American experiment. After declaring independence from Britain, the founding fathers adopted the Articles of Confederation as the new country’s governing document. In effect, it was an agreement between the states to agree in the future, and it soon became apparent that the Articles of Confederation didn’t give the federal government sufficient power. For instance, they had an urgent need to raise an army, but many states did not honor their promise to fund it, probably because the federal government had no way of enforcing that promise.
The Articles of Confederation were so weak, James Madison called them “nothing more than a treaty of amity of commerce and of alliance.” He observed that, built into the Articles of Confederation was, among the states:
“[A] distrust of the voluntary compliance of each other [which] may prevent the compliance of any, although it should be the latent disposition of all. Here are causes & pretexts which will never fail to render federal measures abortive. If the laws of the States, were merely recommendatory to their citizens, or if they were to be re-judged by County authorities, what security, what probability would exist, that they would be carried into execution? Is the security or probability greater in favor of the acts of Congress which depending for their execution on the will of the state legislatures, which are though nominally authoritative, in fact recommendatory only.” (emphasis added).
It quickly became apparent that the “recommendatory” nature of federal law under the Articles of Confederation was not sufficient to address existential threats to the new union. After the Treaty of Paris, while the states were trying to raise an army, the British were fighting the Napoleonic Wars. Had Madison et al done nothing, they knew that, once the Napoleonic Wars were over, the British would most certainly return and retake their former American colonies. English military power then was at its peak. It was only a matter of time for the Americans.
In order to prevent losing their sovereignty in a second British War (which eventually came in 1812), the founding fathers knew they needed a stronger federal government. Over loud objections of state sovereignty, the document they enacted in 1789 accomplished just that. The U.S. Constitution was arguably a high-water mark of The Enlightenment. Not only did it empower the federal government, it gave some ordinary citizens an unprecedented amount of human rights. Some.
The U.S. Constitution also gave the federal government power over state governments in certain limited, enumerated areas. The Ninth Amendment says, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The Tenth Amendment states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
So, for instance, the federal government’s ability to regulate interstate commerce is quite broad, while it has no jurisdiction at all (in theory at least) to abridge freedom of the press.
The essential legal concept in this discussion is jurisdiction. The concept can confound second year law students (curse you, Professor McCrystal!), but it actually is quite simple: jurisdiction means power. Jurisdiction is the power granted to the federal government by, in the case of the U.S. Constitution, the people of the United States, through their state representatives. The duly elected representative of any state, including nation-states, can alienate (that is, transfer or convey) any power held by it, to another government.
That is exactly what the American states did in enacting the U.S. Constitution. It is, in effect, a power-sharing agreement. For the greater good, they ceded power to the federal government, which was run by state-elected representatives. Doing so was considered radical at the time, but in hindsight, it saved the country.
Seeing Beyond the U.N. Charter
The American conversation over the scope of the federal government’s power continues. A bloody civil war did not settle the issue. Americans were then, and are now, deeply divided over the proper role of government. The government enjoys broad powers to spy on its citizens, some of who also want the government to regulate women’s reproductive choices. But today, this conversation is taking place in a world that is very different from the world as it was in 1776.
With technology, trade, and a ballooning human population, the world is smaller than it was when Madison was alive. And after World War II, the United States became the world power. Despite some politicians’ glossy-eyed paeans to liberty and freedom, with military bases in 70 countries, and 7 active military engagements, the United States expresses its power in ways mostly geared toward enhancing economic power.
But exactly whose economic interests does U.S. military power benefit? Interestingly, in the global economy, capitalism is no longer bound to any particular nation-state, so at any given time, the U.S. military might actually be benefitting a British (or Saudi) capitalist.
Corporations are creatures of state and national law, but once they exist, they have surprisingly few international restraints. While we regular people need passports and have to clear customs to cross international borders, corporations (called “fictitious persons”) conduct international trade relatively unhindered. Ownership and with it, money, cross international borders with a click of the send button. Most of it is only lightly regulated, for the purpose of taxation, and even those rules are easily avoided. For instance, through lobbying and lawyering, Apple was able to structure its subsidiaries in such a way that some income-producing affiliates had no legal situs for taxation, and thereby legally paid no taxes.
The nation-state’s ability to regulate international trade ends at its border. Nation-states form alliances, like NATO, or trade pacts, like NAFTA, but like the Articles of Confederation, these arrangements are merely agreements to agree in the future. They create administrative organizations, but these organizations have no enforcement power. They have no jurisdiction.
Today, nation-states are marginally governed under the modern version of the Articles of Confederation — the United Nations Charter. But it’s not a power sharing agreement, it is just another agreement to agree. The U.N. serves the legitimate and laudable purposes of studying global issues, and mediating international disputes. But it has no power. In Madison’s words, nation-states distrust the “voluntary compliance” of other nation-states to fulfil their U.N. obligations. The General Assembly cannot pass laws, its pronouncements are “recommendatory only.”
And yet, today, several vital issues threaten the very existence of mankind. One is nuclear weapons. Another is climate change.
We just marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of the war-to-end-all-wars. But we know full well that war hasn’t ended. The two world wars of the 20th century lasted a combined ten years, and killed over ninety million people. Today, with nationalism on the rise, our rulers now have weapons that, in an instant, can kill billions of people, and it is only “voluntary compliance” that keeps them from using them.
Albert Einstein said of the next big war, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Mankind’s existence hangs on the whims of men like Donald Trump, and on the judgment of the people who elected him.
We are presented with the same problem that our founding fathers faced in 1789. We face two existential threats, and haven’t an adequate governance structure to address them. In the 18th century we needed a stronger national government. Today, we need a stronger international government.
The solution presents itself: the United Nations Charter must be amended to give the organization some power. In legal terms, it must be given limited jurisdiction — the power to pass laws in a limited set of areas that affect our pressing concerns.
The next essay will discuss the specific proposed amendments to the U.N. Charter, how they would work, and how they can be accomplished without having to suffer through another Malthusian event like the Holocaust. But for now, consider that the charter should be amended to give the General Assembly jurisdiction in the following limited areas:
1. to regulate nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
2. to regulate and reverse climate change; and
3. to regulate international commerce.
To most, the thought of such a change in world governance may seem radical, but it is becoming clear that empowering international governance is the only way to effectively counter the existential threats of climate change and nuclear war. No other solution would address these threats as effectively, if at all. The consequences of empowering international governance are admittedly uncertain, but the cost of inaction is fairly certain — and quite terminal.