The Making of World Government: A radio discussion with Mortimer Adler, G. A. Borgese and Rexford Tugwell

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.

Around the Round Table…

Mortimer J. Adler, professor of the philosophy of law at the Law School of the University of Chicago, studied at Columbia University and received his Ph.D. degree there in 1928. Before coming to the University of Chicago in 1930, he taught psychology at Columbia University and served as assistant director of the People’s Institute of New York. He is the author of Dialectic (1927); Crime Law and Social Science (with Jerome Michael) (1933); Diagrammatics (with Maude Phelps Hutchins) (1935); Art and Prudence (1937); What Man Has Made of Man (1938); St. Thomas and the Gentiles (1938); How To Read a Book (1940); Problems for Thomists: The Problems of Species (1940); A Dialectic of Morals (1940); and How To Think about War and Peace (1944).

Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, who is serving at the present time as secretary of the Committee To Frame a World Constitution, is a member of the faculty of the Humanities Division of the University of Chicago. Professor Borgese was born in Italy, educated at the University of Florence, where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1903, and taught at the universities of Rome and Milan in Italy. Professor Borgese, as a leader of democratic opinion in Italy, was active in Italian politics in opposition to the Fascist movement. He served in the government of Orlando and was head of the Italian delegation to the Interallied Conference in London in 1918. Refusing to take the Fascist oath, he left Italy in 1931 and came to the United States, where in 1938 he became a citizen. Since coming to this country, he has taught at the University of California, the New School for Social Research, Smith College, and, since 1936, at the University of Chicago. He is the author of many books in Italian and, in English, of Goliath: The March of Fascism (1937); The City of Man (in collaboration) (1940); and Common Cause (1943).

Rexford Guy Tugwell recently joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as a professor of political science. Tugwell studied at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his B.S., A.M., and Ph.D. degrees. He taught economics at the universities of Pennsylvania and Washington; and from 1920 to 1937 he was a member of the economics department of Columbia University. From 1933 to 1937 he served in the United States Department of Agriculture as assistant secretary and undersecretary. He was appointed chairman and head of the planning department of the New York City Planning Commission in 1938. In 1941 he was appointed governor of Puerto Rico and served until he joined the staff of the University of Chicago. He is the author of many books, among which are: The Economic Basis of Public Interest (1922); Industry’s Coming of Age (1927); The Industrial Discipline (1933); Battle for Democracy (1935); The Fourth Power (1939); The Superpolitical (1940); The Directive (1941); and Changing the Colonial Climate (1942).

The Making of World GovernmentADLER: Tomorrow is Armistice Day. Shall there always be armistice? Shall it ever be peace? With this question in mind, let us note that the people of Massachusetts last week voted nine to one in favor of world government. Today we propose to discuss how the world government which they want will be formed. Some Americans believe that world government is the only way to avoid war in the atomic age. Many other Americans believe world government is impossible and undesirable. Both groups argue about world government. Is that how we should approach the problem? Do you think that we should debate whether we can get world government?

TUGWELL: For the most part, no. Other ROUND TABLES have recently debated that question. We might better spend most of our time, I think, considering what world government has to be.

ADLER: How should we approach the question of world government?

BORGESE: The issues involved are complicated. They should be analyzed. We all three have been working as members of the Committee To Frame a World Constitution [1]; and this the analytical approach — has been our approach. We have been trying to see how the idea of world government would work out in an exact and organic pattern of world law.

ADLER: Let us start with a series of questions. The first one which any listener would ask is why we discuss world government with the United Nations now in existence.

BORGESE: We do so because the United Nations is not world government. We have seen and are seeing what has happened and is happening among the great powers and among the fifty-one — today fifty-four — self-styled United Nations. Are they united? Even those who are working in the United Nations, the most optimistic among its actors and observers, are nearly unanimous in considering the United Nations as a transient and very imperfect compromise between the warring anarchy of nations and the world organization to come.

ADLER: Tugwell, do you agree that the United Nations is not world government?

TUGWELL: The United Nations is clearly not world government. It is simply periodic meetings among entirely sovereign nations. For anyone with imagination, the ticking of the atomic bomb is as loud as doom itself today; and the only way to make sure that it will not explode is to get it into the control of a real world government which unites people so that groups of them will not use it against each other.

ADLER: But many argue that we cannot get world government now. Is world government possible?

BORGESE: It is necessary; therefore, it is possible.

ADLER: Let me see now, world government is not impossible; it is necessary, but what is it? That is the sixty-four-dollar question.

TUGWELL: To begin with, it has to be democratic — that is, democratic both politically and economically. Also, it has to be a federal government with assemblies for legislation and with an executive and with a court. It probably will not be so very different in fact, when it arrives, from the structure of the United States or of Switzerland. It would be directly representative of all the peoples of the world and elected by them. In other respects, of course, it might be quite different.

ADLER: But some people say that the United Nations can be transformed by amendment into world government. Is that so? Can world government emerge from changes made within the structure of the United Nations?

BORGESE: If the United Nations should prove to be a bridge instead of a gap on the road to world government, nobody would be happier than I. But I believe that the amendments which have now been proposed are insufficient, weak entering wedges toward world government, if they ever enter. These amendments in general amount only to implementing the United Nations with a legislative assembly. The United Nations obviously lacks a legislature, but it also lacks many other things which are necessary to world government.

ADLER: The proposal of amendments of the sort to which you refer seems to me to reveal a basic misunderstanding of the very nature of government. A legislature cannot function without an executive and a judicial branch of government. But, what is much more important, it is absolutely impossible to add a legislative body to the UN without amending the UN out of existence. Only a government can make laws. If the United Nations organization could make laws, it would be a government, and it would cease to be a mere league of nations.

TUGWELL: The use to which the veto power would be put would mean that these amendments would never pass.

ADLER: Your remark about the veto power leads me to ask you about the charge that Russia would never join a world government.

TUGWELL: I do not think that we know what reference to the people who make and support world government would reveal. The governments of both the United States and Russia have supported the veto.

ADLER: In answer to my questions, you both have made a number of important propositions. Let us now get behind these statements to see if we can explain what they mean. The three of us have been working as members of the Committee To Frame a World Constitution for more than a year now. We have been trying to answer these important questions. Let us look at them more closely. Tugwell, you said a moment ago that the United Nations is not government. Precisely what do you mean?

TUGWELL: I should say that the UN is not government; it does not represent the people of the world; its assembly, for instance, is not elected; and, in it, the nations are only represented in those aspects usually called foreign relations. It cannot be said to be much more than a very distinguished discussion group which may make recommendations.

ADLER: I gather, then, that the United Nations, not being government, will fail us in more ways than its predictable failure to prevent the next war. It will fail us in every way in which it falls short of being world government, because it is not set up to do the positive things which only government can do for the peoples of the world.

TUGWELL: Precisely and for this reason: A world government would have to come out of a constitutional convention of the world’s people, not out of a meeting of delegates severely limited in their terms of reference and without fundamental power to change the constitutions of the nations which they represent. The delegates to the UN simply cannot be given power enough to form a world government. That would have to come out of the same sources from which the UN came, unless, of course, the UN should be designated as a convention; and for this it would seem to me to be unsuitable.

ADLER: In other words, if I understand the drift of the discussion so far, the United Nations is a creature of the present sovereign states, a combination or a coalition or clearing-house or battlefield of their disunited and competitive sovereign power politics. It was not created by the peoples of the world; therefore, the United Nations cannot be amended. It can only be abolished and replaced by another institution.

TUGWELL: It can, of course, look toward cooperation among the peoples of the world, and it can help to prepare an atmosphere in which world government can suggest itself and can ultimately become a reality.

BORGESE: The replacement, however, might happen by radical and total transformation, not necessarily by scrapping and overthrow. Do you grant this, Tugwell?

TUGWELL: Theoretically, if you wish.

ADLER: But, in either case, it is a total transformation or a total overthrow.

Our problem today is to state clearly what world government is and how it differs radically from the United Nations, which we think it must replace. For example, in a world government could the laws of that government be in any way vetoed or modified by any of the constituent states of the world union?

BORGESE: I certainly would not say so.

TUGWELL: Laws can be enforced only upon men; they cannot be enforced upon governments. As Hamilton said, such enforcement would be an act of war.

ADLER: And must laws be binding on the people directly?

TUGWELL: They must be binding on people directly, of course.

ADLER: That being so, we have come to the conclusion, I think, that there is one irreducible difference between the old League of Nations, the present United Nations, or any similar organization of sovereign states — between all these — and the true federal union constituting world government. Only through federal union can the peoples of the world acquire the power of making laws for the world — laws which apply directly to the world’s people and not through the mediation of sovereign states.

TUGWELL: Laws made must also be enforced, or they are merely pieces of paper; and decisions made must be adjudicated if there is any question about them, or else they merely hang in the air.

BORGESE: Even where there is theoretically, or in writing, a legislative and a judicial power, there is no law or justice worth mentioning if there is not a sheriff. There must be the force for actual enforcement.

ADLER: There is another consideration. Emergencies always arise in which critical social or economic problems cannot be solved by existing law but must be dealt with by administrative decrees and administration. Must not the executive department of a government do more than enforce the law? Must it not regulate administratively matters not regulated by law?

TUGWELL: Yes, especially in so highly technological a world as we have today, administrative law becomes more and more important. There is something else about the executive which ought to be mentioned. The presidency as an institution would serve not only as an executor of laws and a participant in their making but also as a chief of state. The chief of a world state would be something different from anything we are used to in a nationalist world. He would, in a sense, be the repository and guardian of the world’s conscience and, perhaps, of its hopes.

BORGESE: The problem of the executive is very alive in every country in the world at this moment. We know it is alive in America; but let us take France and De Gaulle as a dramatic instance. The French people are voting today, as a matter of fact, for or against De Gaulle. We may think, and may think correctly, that De Gaulle is wrong in his political and social motivations. Perhaps if we were French, we would vote against him. But he is right in the assumption that an absolute parliamentary organization, with a legislative power very strong and with the executive power at the mercy of impulsive and changing majorities, which would be legislative in name and irresponsibly executive in fact, does not work any more in our world.

The problem of the executive, therefore, must be faced. The executive of a world government must be strong though responsible, responsible but strong.

ADLER: As I see it, then, there are four essential elements of world government — as a matter of fact, of any government, for in its essence world government does not differ from any other kind of government: first, making law; second, applying laws in courts; third, enforcing law; and, finally, administering matters unregulated by law.

Our listeners might want to know in the case of world government how these basic elements would be set up. How far, for example, would world government resemble the government of the United States?

TUGWELL: It might not be so very different, because we are thinking of a federal government. Both the legislature to make the laws and the executive to enforce them must be direct representatives of the people. And I think that when we say “direct representatives of the people,” it is quite clear that we mean that all the world’s voters must participate in their election.

ADLER: Let us look at that a moment, because that is a much more radical statement than may appear at first. Do you mean that there will be a deliberative assembly to which will come representatives from the various peoples of the earth?

TUGWELL: Yes. The legislative branch of a world government might be set up in several ways. Some are persuaded that at least two assemblies are needed — one as the direct representative of the people and one as the representative of the existing nation states. In such a scheme, the direct representatives might have the power to originate legislation, for instance, and the representatives of the nations to ratify or veto it. But there is not complete agreement on these issues.

ADLER: Are the representatives who make the laws to be chosen by popular vote?

TUGWELL: Yes, indeed; and so must the executive also be elected by the same popular vote.

ADLER: And can and should we try to secure popular representation in a world legislature by election?

BORGESE: The actual realities of politics at this moment in the world are very different in the various countries. But it is remarkable that there is practically nobody in the world today who likes to talk any other language than the language of democracy. Let us take the Russians, for example. They call us the “old Western democracies.” Old or young, we do not think that the Russians are politically democrats. But they think that they are, or they say so. They call themselves the “young Eastern democracies.” Let us not object that this is lip service. Lip service, even were it really of the lips alone, is important. It proves that there is a common language of mankind, and the common language presupposes a common mind and some sort of common belief — a world community — no matter whether, or where, that belief is more or less mature, more or less proved in practice.

This is why I think that a world constitution must assert unequivocally the democratic principle. I agree that concessions toward principles appear to be both unnecessary and useless. Electoral choice by the people must be the universal rule. Of course, we are not utopians. We do not mean that the principles of electoral democracy will be applied everywhere overnight in the same way and with the same machinery as last Tuesday in Illinois or Massachusetts.

ADLER: But the democratic electoral principle must stand; that is clear; that much is indispensable. But is it enough? What about the economic aspects of democracy? In the last hundred years we have come to realize that the political machinery of democracy is only one aspect of democracy. In fact, it is an aspect which will not work unless it has support in the economic realities of democratic life. To what extent does a world constitution have to consider the elements of economic democracy?

TUGWELL: A good deal of what people need and want is certainly economic rather than political. I do not mean to say by that that better political arrangements are not still important and are not still in a great many places perhaps unrealized. But the economic has certainly taken on new importance with the increase of populations and also with the coming into view of possibilities for much higher levels of living.

The intensification of technological development, with better communications and better transportation, has syncopated time and space to an extent which would have been incredible to our near ancestors. People have suddenly realized that only faulty organization stands between them and something very like Utopia.

Such a realization creates enormous pressure, and I believe that the world constitution would not be permanent and not in any sense successful unless it somehow expressed or enabled people to express, through it, their aspirations for this kind of use for the new technologies of the world.

ADLER: And how might the goals of economic democracy be achieved?

TUGWELL: This can best be done through provision, I would say, for some kind of planning body which would make the world’s hopes of this sort concrete and make them more rational, by reducing them to proposals which could have quantitative and temporal dimensions. I think that some special body for looking ahead and for providing the articulation which would make the world’s enterprises work together as they must will be absolutely necessary.

ADLER: I gather that neither of you cares very much for what is currently called a world government of limited objectives — a world government whose only function is the prevention of war?

BORGESE: Particularly atomic.

TUGWELL: People usually say that kind of thing because they think it would be easier to get. On the contrary I think that the easiest thing is to get what people want most — the maximum rather than the minimum. Of course, a lot of vested interests would oppose it but no more than the changes which the limited objective school propose.

ADLER: A world government organized for a restricted aim of preventing war might come into being, but it could not long endure with so negative an aim. The functions of government must be positive and progressive. Government must serve the ends of justice and human well-being which are the substance of peace, not the prevention of war, which is the mere shell of peace.

BORGESE: Such a limited world government, even if it could come into being, which I question, at best could be only a world police state. If such an ugly thing were not as unfeasible as it is undesirable, it would be a state with police but without justice or law.

TUGWELL: I feel that limitations on world government are in themselves impractical in the sense, that is, that all of us have a feeling of urgency at the present time about the rapid development of events; and, of course, I mean the atomic bomb. It is the awful fear and tension men have now which makes any kind of limitation on world government seem impractical. We must first think not of what will be the least offensive to objectors but of what really promises to provide security and well-being. If it does not promise to do that, it is thoroughly impractical in any case.

ADLER: I agree that those who want limited world government are willing to grant it a monopoly of atomic power, or other weapons of mass destruction, while leaving to the national states their standing armies, navies, and air forces. But along with generals and admirals go those other trappings of sovereignty — diplomats, foreign offices, and foreign policies — which are just as bad as any general or admiral ever could be. The constitution which permits this limits world government out of existence and right back to UN.

BORGESE: People who think that have not given sufficient thought to the fact that atomic fear as well as atomic power is our own monopoly, an American monopoly. Practically all other nations in the world are exposed to any kind of destruction, whereas we are exposed, or we think we are exposed, only to the new instruments of mass destruction. But the bulk of mankind cannot be interested in anything less than the prevention and abolition of war altogether; and war cannot be prevented and abolished if an adequate amount of justice is not administered. There must be monopoly of armaments in the hands of the world government, except for such armaments which the world government may allow to local police forces merely for local purposes.

TUGWELL: More exactly, I really do think, as I said before, that an American might well think of a world government which resembles his own government, except that he would be a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of the United States. The government would operate on him and he on the government, in just the way he is used to now.

ADLER: And from the military point of view I gather that the United States or Russia or Uruguay or Iran, as a member of a world federal union, would have no military force at all for external activity. Is that right?

TUGWELL: They will have police forces for internal use.

ADLER: That looks like disarmament all right, but let us not be fooled by disarmament. The diplomats are proposing disarmament again. It is never enough. Diplomats and foreign policy must be given up as well as armies and navies if world government is to be constituted.

More still, there are two other matters which have a bearing on nationalism and national sovereignty: one, commerce; and the other, immigration — the movement of goods and peoples. At present a world split up among sovereign states puts barriers in the way of movement of both peoples and goods.

TUGWELL: I have a friend who says that commerce, citizenship, and currency are the indispensables of world government. I agree with him that these are indispensables, though there are perhaps others such as incentives to production in backward areas, for instance.

BORGESE: When you say “commerce,” Tugwell, do you mean trade that must be equal and free?

TUGWELL: I mean trade managed by the federal government. That might not necessarily be equal trade.

ADLER: Or it might be trade regulated by a federal trade commission.

TUGWELL: To economists, you know, “free trade” has technical connotations which might not be approved. I mean to speak of trade managed in the interests of the people of the world rather than by nation-states in their own interests. That would not mean exposure of high-standard regions to competition from low-standard ones. That could be managed. Everyone would lose rather than gain by such a thing. But what we need to do is to level upward and not downward.

BORGESE: You were referring, Adler, also, to the problem of immigration. I think that I am correct if I state that there is general agreement among all of us on the Committee in thinking that more advanced areas might desire rightly to put some brakes on immigration, but such restrictions, we all agree, should not be based on racial or national discriminations. They should be founded only on individual criteria of admissibility, not on quotas. It is encouraging to observe that many of late in America have become rather unhappy about the national and racial discriminations in our immigration laws.

TUGWELL: Apart from racial discriminations, which are always indefensible, one of the essentials of world government would be provision for bringing the economically backward regions of the world closer to equality with advanced ones; and objections which more advanced peoples might have to free commerce with, and immigration from perhaps less advanced ones, might, within a period of years, be met by improving backward peoples rather than by building walls to shut them out, though the walls may still be temporarily necessary.

ADLER: May I interrupt here a moment? In what you both have said so far, it is perfectly obvious that you both look forward to progressive change in the world’s affairs. As you conceive world government, it is the bare beginning of something, not the ultimate achievement. Is that right?

BORGESE: You are right.

TUGWELL: Of course, a constitution which could not evolve would be a wholly unsuccessful one.

BORGESE: It would be a dead one — as dead as a Utopia or a doornail.

ADLER: Precisely! The constitution we are trying to draft, therefore, is not going to be utopian, even though it will depart radically from the present anarchy of world affairs. But however radical the change from world anarchy to world government will be, our constitution can be only the beginning of a new era. It must be rich in the promise of future developments. World government ultimately rests upon the proposition that all men should be treated as political equals. They are not so treated now. World government must change this; world government can.

BORGESE: Therefore, there cannot be a world constitution without a world bill of rights. It is true that the eighty-fourth Federalist Paper by Hamilton contended that a Bill of Rights in 1787 was not necessary and might even do harm. But conditions have changed; many at that time believed that, if liberty of competition were given, the best of all possible worlds was around the corner. We see now that technology and other circumstances to which Tugwell referred have made a greater intervention by the state necessary. Active democracy in the name of justice is no less indispensable than passive democracy in the name of liberty. At any rate, Hamilton’s opinion was overruled soon in his own time. We in America have a Bill of Rights.

ADLER: But what are the minimum conditions of human rights that must be written into a world constitution?

BORGESE: We do not know as yet with ultimate exactitude. One thing I think I know for sure: whatever those minimum conditions of human rights might be, they should be affirmed in a world constitution not as desirabilities and pious wishes but as rigorous pledges for the world government to enact them positively and without delay.

TUGWELL: Otherwise our work would be for nothing.

BORGESE: The overwhelming majority of mankind would think that what we are after is insurance for ourselves against war — particularly atomic — without any premiums to pay. Our actual or virtual rivals or enemies should have to surrender their actual or virtual weapons; they would be remunerated with a bouquet of nice words. This is what a world government without a bill of positive rights would look like; it would be handcuffs with eyewash. I do not think that there is any significant national constitution today, made or in the making, without a positive bill of rights.

ADLER: Do you also think, Tugwell, that a bill of rights is indispensable to a world constitution?

TUGWELL: Yes, I think so. I assume that the bill of rights would be a statement of the fundamental needs of the individual in society. It would not necessarily be the same formula that has been used in other historic instances, but certainly the guarantee of rights to the individual is one of the basic reasons for having a constitution at all.

ADLER: This, it seems to me, leaves us face to face with the practical problem — the problem of feasibility: whether and how a world constitution such as our Committee is tentatively outlining could be adopted by the governments in the world today. Some of them are dictatorial and despotic, unwilling to accept political democracy. Some others — and our own country, America, is outstanding among them — are economically conservative. So, I gather the world constitution we are talking about has two sorts of opponents: those who are to the right of its political principles and those who are to the right of its economic principles. What chance is there for enactment of a world constitution?

BORGESE: There is not much immediate chance, even though the alternative to one world is frightening. The alternative is two worlds, headed possibly for a war of annihilation, certainly for a destructive armaments race.

ADLER: At the very beginning of the atomic age there was the hope that fear might indicate a way to salvation.

BORGESE: Fear is one element of hope. Another element is faith — the faith in humanity and reason which has not perished from America. I admit that America, next to Russia, is the country where the idea of world government may be confronted with stiffest opposition. Yet, strangely and encouragingly enough, there is no country in the world where the movement for world government has been and is half as resonant and vast as in America.

TUGWELL: And we should not forget that there are other countries in the world, besides Russia and America, which would also be ready for world government if the two big ones, or one of the two, were genuinely for it. And who could be the one if not America? Those countries which are neither America nor Russia build the immense majority of the human race. They have no powerful armies or atomic stock piles. But they are not unimportant. They might exert a pressure.

ADLER: You seem to be in an optimistic vein. You seem, after all, to anticipate an early acceptance and enactment of a world constitution.

BORGESE: To predict when and how and on what final constitutional text a world government will be established is beyond our power. We are no fortune-tellers. But let us take the Atlantic Charter. It was a weak and contradictory document, soon discarded. Yet it had its effect on the course of history; it acted on the developments and outcome of World War II. Let us suppose that there were a better document — a world charter. If there are chances of avoiding World War III — and there are such chances — a world charter will help to increase them strongly. If there should be war, an honest and consistent world charter would influence its course and outcome much more effectively than did the Atlantic Charter. At any rate, it would be significant for the survivors, for we hope there would be survivors. We are still entitled to surmise that even after another world war, gruesome though the prospect may be, there still would be a world.

ADLER: We will have one world in any case. We must have one world. Our constant premise, since the beginning, has been that world government is necessary; therefore, it is possible. It will come from consent or from conquest; but it will come. We are trying the way of consent, which is the way of democracy and freedom. This is our task. Our task is not to speculate on the schedule of unpredictable events. Whether or not another war breaks out, the problem of how a world, one world, can be constituted remains a problem for human beings to think about.

[The Round Table, oldest educational program continuously on the air, departed from its usual procedure to present a special script broadcast. The opinion of each speaker is his own and in no way involves the responsibility of either the University of Chicago or the National Broadcasting Company. The supplementary information in this transcript has been developed by staff research and is not to be considered as representing the opinions of the Round Table speakers.]

1. The Committee To Frame a World Constitution was planned in September, 1945, soon after Hiroshima. President of the Committee is Robert M. Hutchins; chairman, Richard P. McKeon; secretary, G. A. Borgese. Other members at this date are: Mortimer J. Adler, Stringfellow Barr, Albert Guérard, Harold A. Iris, Erich Kahler, Wilber G. Katz, James M. Landis, Charles H. McIlwain, Robert Redfield, and R. G. Tugwell. Ten Committee meetings have been held, from November, 1945, to October, 1946, in New York and Chicago. The Office of the Secretary (975 E. Sixtieth St., Chicago) was opened in February, 1946. Its staff is engaged in historical, political, and juridical research and in the coordination of the Committee’s work. An index of one hundred and five documents, including voluminous stenotyped reports of Committee meetings, summarizes the work accomplished so far. It is expected that the preliminary constitution in process of elaboration should be ready in the first half of 1947. A monthly Bulletin has been announced, the first issue of which should be published next January. As soon as a draft constitution is ready, the Committee plans to call an Advisory Council of about fifty for critical discussion and cooperation in further work. For more about the Committee to Frame a World Constitution:

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