The millennia-old idea of human unity sparked the movement to organize the species into a world federation.
Philosophy of Unity
The ideas of human unity and global citizenship are found across ancient and modern philosophy. The Maha Upanishad includes the words “The world is one family” (date unknown). This verse from an ancient Sanskrit text is engraved in the entrance hall of the Parliament of India today. Around 500 BCE, the Chinese philosopher Confucius offered a guiding vision of “Great Unity” in which the world is shared fairly and harmoniously between all people. This same vision guides the Young World Federalists today. Similarly, around 350 BCE, when the Greek philosopher Diogenes was asked where he came from, he responded, “I am a citizen of the world.” The Western history of world federalism and cosmopolitanism is often traced back to this quote.
The ancient ideas of human unity and global citizenship carried forward into the modern era, particularly in response to the development of nationalism and nation-states. In 1795, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant crafted “definitive articles for perpetual peace, including that: “The Law of Nations shall be founded on a Federation of Free States.” The English poet Alfred Tennyson wrote in 1837:
Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
US President Harry Truman (1945 - 1953) is said to have carried these words in his wallet. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the concepts of human unity were swept up in the rise of new ideologies like socialism. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels ended The Communist Manifesto (1848) with the line “Workers of the world, unite!”, thus inspiring several attempts to create a global coalition of workers to unite the world with socialism. In response to the outbreak of the First World War, international socialists gathered in Zimmerwald, Switzerland to declare that working people everywhere should “launch a simultaneous and effective struggle for peace in every country.” After the war, the League of Nations was founded and its inability to address the underlying causes leading to the Second World War prompted the creation of the first purely world federalist political organization in 1937.
Action & Advocacy for World Federation
Prominent feminists and peace activists Rosika Schwimmer and Lola Maverick Lloyd founded the Campaign for World Government in 1937 and lobbied national governments to form a world federation. Despite their efforts to bring the world together, the Second World War broke out just two years later. After the war, and the use of nuclear weapons, interest in world federalism was at an all-time high. The movement grew to over 50 organizations, hundreds of thousands of supporters, and gained support from prominent politicians and intellectuals like Albert Einstein. In 1947, the Committee to Frame a World Constitution convened at the University of Chicago and drafted a “Constitution for the World” and later that year, “The Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution” was completed.
One of the most important moments for world federalism came in 1947 when over 50 organizations gathered in Montreux, Switzerland to declare:
We world federalists are convinced that the establishment of a world federal government is the crucial problem of our time. Until it is solved, all other issues, whether national or international, will remain unsettled. It is not between free enterprise and planned economy, nor between capitalism and communism that the choice lies, but between federalism and power politics. Federalism alone can assure the survival of man.
With the publishing of the Montreux Declaration, the World Federalist Movement was born. The next year, Garry Davis, a former WWII bomber pilot stormed one of the first meetings of the UN General Assembly and shouted to the delegates: “We, the people, want the peace which only a world government can give,” and “The sovereign states you represent divide us and lead us to the abyss of total war.” Davis went on to style himself “World Citizen Number One” and founded the World Service Authority, an organization that to this day issues world passports and promotes the idea of global citizenship.
This heightened interest in world federalism was spurred by the devastation of the two world wars and the advent of the nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, as the Cold War set in the movement divided over how to respond to the changing landscape of global governance. The world constitutionalists continued their work and by 1991 had published a final draft of what is known as the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. World federalists interested in incremental reform of the UN advocated against grave violations of human rights and joined a coalition of organizations in favor of an International Criminal Court. Another group, largely centered in Europe, advocated regional unification as a halfway step to world federation. To this day the cooperation between world federalists and European federalists is strong.
When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, there was renewed interest in world federalism. Many thought that with the fall of the Soviet Union, the liberal democracy promoted by the US and its allies would sweep the world, culminating in historian Francis Fukuyama’s famous declaration that humanity had reached the “End of History”. This liberal support for world federalism helped further the cause of the International Criminal Court, which was founded in 1998 with the help of a broad coalition led by the World Federalist Movement.
The 21st century has seen increasing interest in world federalism due to the great global challenges facing the world. Several organizations were founded in support of reforming the UN in various ways, some advocating a comprehensive review of the UN Charter using Article 109 of the Charter, and others pushing for the UN Member States to establish an advisory UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) under Article 22 of the UN Charter. The Campaign for a UNPA was founded in 2007. Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali stated:
We need to promote the democratization of globalization, before globalization destroys the foundations of national and international democracy. The establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations has become an indispensable step to achieve democratic control of globalization. Complementary to international democracy among states, which no less has to be developed, it would foster global democracy beyond states, giving the citizens a genuine voice in world affairs.
In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the UN, an official UN report called Shaping Our Future Together: Listening to People’s Priorities for the Future and Their Ideas for Action, which summarized responses from 1.5 million people from 195 countries, including reference to the UNPA saying, “The UN can be further democratized through other reforms, such as establishing a UN parliamentary assembly as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly under article 22 of the Charter”. While a great success for the movement, much work remains to build mass support for world federalism.
Motivated by multiple interacting global crises including the environment, war, injustice and pandemics, and the continuing inability of countries to act in the common interest of humanity, Daniel Blewitt and Nicolas Rowe founded the Young World Federalists in 2019. The mission of YWF is to build the mass support necessary to achieve world federation using contemporary strategies and bring the different strands of world federalism together to advance the common cause.
The fight to unite the world continues, and it needs your support.
The World Government Research Network is devoted to advancing academic dialogues on forms of regional and global integration. It does so through promoting and posting exchanges on aspects of economic, political, security, and other forms of integration between states, and on more general aspects of globalization.
The Federalist Debate aims to encourage debate in a borderless environment. It is a four-monthly review born to stimulate and feed the circulation of ideas and information among the various federalist organizations, and among these and the movements in the global civil society that are growing impetuously in all the regions of the world.