Volume 27, Issue 2, Fall 2013
A Lockean Perspective
Most discussions of world government seem to take place today, as they have for a half century at least, in what is largely, if not entirely, a network of concepts that go back to Hobbes. Though the concepts now belong to (political) realism, they seem to be on loan to almost all those participating in the discussion. We might summarize that conceptual network in this relatively simple argument for the inevitability of world government:
1. Without a world government, states (“nation-states”) are like the sovereign individuals in Hobbes’s state of nature, free and equal but miserable prey to both nature and each other.
2. By the same logic that drives Hobbes’s individuals to give up their sovereignty to a state, states must give up their sovereignty to a world government or suffer destruction (by nuclear war, climate change, or other global catastrophe).
3. If a state is rational, it will (if possible) avoid its own destruction.
4. States are rational (and world government is possible)
Therefore, states will give up their sovereignty to a world government.
What I find most noteworthy about this argument is that it fails in two distinct ways. First, all four of its premises seem to be (more or less) false. Second, on a realist interpretation, the premises are inconsistent. Realism makes a world state conceptually impossible—and so makes rational defense of a world state impossible.