How to Reconcile the Urge for Nationalism With the Need for Global Governance?


Politics, in our modern era, is seemingly defined by a growing sense of polarisation; whilst support for intergovernmental and post-national organisations is growing, so too is a sense of reactionary nationalism.


The question is a difficult one; as Brexit has shown, democratic means can be used to undermine or collapse progress towards democratic internationalism. Therefore, if one is to be ardently cynical, complete enfranchisement of opposing perspectives could imperil the progress of global governance systems. One might therefore seek to predicate such systems on voluntary participation, or insulate them with a layer of technocratic oversight, but such methods would be skirting the issue of democratic accountability. As such, the imperative lies with us, to make the case for global governance in a manner sympathetic to the concerns of those with nationalistic ideals, and ensure that we create a system for every worldview, not just our own.


The Continuing Role of the Nation-State


The first thing we need to address is the role of the nation-state; we do not seek to erase it. We do not seek some sort of wholly anti-national world order, where the United Kingdom is replaced by “Airstrip One”; no, for the sake of popular will and pragmatic convenience, the order and structure of nation states will be as unchanged as possible. The idea of dissolving all these institutions, traditions, and ideologies is abhorrent; emotionally, democratically, and logistically.


The point of a world federation, as opposed to a unitary world state, is to ensure that these structures are utilised, and to an extent preserved. For the sake of all, we seek continuity and reform, not destruction and erasure.


How Would This Function?


The often-drawn comparison would be to how the states function within the US federal system, or the Indian federal system; they possess authority over the majority of their own laws, and in turn possess a role in dictating the rules that govern the federal system. Of course, in a world federation, the nation-states would hold more power than they do in the US system, simply because the world government will not need as wide or deep a remit as the US federal government. A world government would only seek to govern that which is currently ungoverned, or ungovernable.


Consequently, day-to-day most citizens likely would not see an impact from a federal world government; they would retain their language, their flag, their education curriculum. Despite some commentators asserting otherwise, this system would not seek to indoctrinate anyone, or take anyone’s guns. It would not seek to create a global surveillance state, or to deploy a world military across the planet; these ideas, besides being thoroughly undesirable, such ideas are also far beyond even the most ambitious intentions of what a world government would feasibly be able to undertake.


For most people, a world government would mean a few more optimistic headlines on new laws tackling climate change, or on a new agreement deescalating military tensions. For most people, a world government would not really impact their day-to-day life, aside from maybe adding one more election to the calendar.


Nonetheless, the substantive difference would emerge over time; there would be fewer headlines about a climate disaster, fewer headlines about an incipient war. There would be fewer stories about nations mistrusting and loathing each other, and fewer stories about boosted military spending. The new global citizen, be they American, Ghanaian, Fijian, etc., would largely live the lifestyle they were always used to, but without the underlying theme of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety we’ve all had to learn to associate with the direction our world has taken. This is not to say, however, that nothing would change; the recommitment of global powers to accountability to the global population should ensure that, over time, poverty, injustice and inequity begin to fade away.


A Safer World for the Nations


This brings us back to our original point; rather than seeking to erase nations, a world government would simply seek to embed them in a safer, fairer system. Today, nations inherently fear and mistrust one another; the anarchic state of the world compels them to view all other nations as potential adversaries and gather means to defend against this risk. Yet, just as such ideas are absurd within a nation, we hope they will one day be absurd between nations.


And yet, the nations will still exist. We will still wave our flags at football matches, sing our anthems on national holidays. We will still eat our national dishes and learn about our national heroes. None of that will go away in a world federation; we will still be able to be proud of our nations, but we will no longer have to fear for them. They will be, like all of us, protected in a world order that enrobes them in security and stability; gone will be the need to fear war, and instead will be a new world, of diverse yet aligned nations striving together for a common future.


Layers of Identity


I write this as someone who is simultaneously English and British; that I am British makes me no less English, and that I am English makes me no less British. Likewise, the fact that I am a citizen of the world does not detract from these other identities, it merely adds another layer to them.


In the same way, a nation being a member of the world federation would not erase its identity as a nation, it would merely add another layer to it.


We do not want a single world nation, we seek a panoply of nations, a world of brilliant diversity, a coalition of cultures striving for a better future. Together, safer, more secure, all our nations can forge a better path forward.