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In the 18th century the Enlightenment -- represented by Rousseau in France, Hume in Scotland, Kant in Germany, Paine and Jefferson in the U.S. -- gave rise to the idea that all human beings are born equal and should, as citizens, enjoy certain basic liberties and rights, including that of choosing their leaders. Once there was a universal ideology to govern the conduct of nations toward their own people, it was more reasonable to imagine a compact governing nations' behavior toward one another. In 1795 Kant advocated a "peaceful league of democracies."
But it has taken the events in our own wondrous and terrible century to clinch the case for world government. With the advent of electricity, radio and air travel, the planet has become smaller than ever, its commercial life freer, its nations more interdependent and its conflicts bloodier. The price of settling international disputes by force was rapidly becoming too high for the victors, not to mention the vanquished. That conclusion should have been clear enough at the battle of the Somme in 1916; by the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945, it was unavoidable.
Once again great minds thought alike: Einstein, Gandhi, Toynbee and Camus all favored giving primacy to interests higher than those of the nation. So, finally, did many statesmen. Each world war inspired the creation of an international organization, the League of Nations in the 1920s and the United Nations in the '40s.
The plot thickened with the heavy-breathing arrival on the scene of a new species of ideology -- expansionist totalitarianism -- as perpetrated by the Nazis and the Soviets. It threatened the very idea of democracy and divided the world. The advocacy of any kind of world government became highly suspect. & By 1950 "one-worlder" was a term of derision for those suspected of being woolly-headed naifs, if not crypto-communists.
At the same time, however, Stalin's conquest of Eastern Europe spurred the Western democracies to form NATO, history's most ambitious, enduring and successful exercise in collective security. The U.S. and the Soviet Union also scared each other into negotiating nuclear-arms-contr ol treaties that set in place two vital principles: adversary states have a mutual interest in eliminating the danger of strategic surprise, and each legitimately has a say in the composition of the other's arsenal of last resort. The result was further dilution of national sovereignty and a useful precedent for the management of relations between nuclear-armed rivals in the future.
The cold war also saw the European Community pioneer the kind of regional cohesion that may pave the way for globalism. Meanwhile, the free world formed multilateral financial institutions that depend on member states' willingness to give up a degree of sovereignty. The International Monetary Fund can virtually dictate fiscal policies, even including how much tax a government should levy on its citizens. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade regulates how much duty a nation can charge on imports. These organizations can be seen as the protoministries of trade, finance and development for a united world.