Immanuel Kant, H. G. Wells, Arnold Toynbee, Bertrand Russell, Raymond Aron, and Albert Einstein have argued that states – all of them – should renounce a substantial part of their sovereignty.
This demand makes sense to anyone who harbors no illusions about the elementary threats to which we, the inhabitants of the globe, have been exposed since the last century. The galloping progress of climate change – visible in the melting of Greenland ice four times faster than predicted a decade ago – can no longer be stopped, but it should at least be contained to such an extent that our species does not suffocate in a hothouse with the sea ultimately rising up to 70 meters above today’s level and the earth’s megacities all swallowed up. Until then, some time will still have to pass, but there is no question as to where we are heading as long as each state is allowed to use fossil fuels just as it wants in order to achieve the desired rate of growth. In other words, all progress in the fight against climate change depends on whether a future world police (presumably composed of the leading superpowers) will be able to impose rules that may save the planet.
The same imperative applies to the use of non-fossil resources that are still available today. Modern technology not only allows through-away-societies to consume these in ever-increasing quantities but to subsequently transform them en masse into more or less toxic garbage. While this continues, sustainability is not even an option. On the contrary: the more states adopt our Western example, the faster the remaining resources will be diminished – resources that they afterwards dumb as plastic into the seas or blow into the atmosphere by means of incinerators.
But that is only one of the globally visible effects
of our enormous technological expertise. As if the threat posed by climate change and the consumption of raw materials were not frightening enough, there is yet another evil: the greatest of all, even if – as if by miracle – it has not yet had any effect. The life flame of our species may indeed be extinguished from one day to the next. For the first time in his history of several hundred thousand years, Homo Sapiens is exposed to his own demise. Because of our outstanding technological prowess, we succeeded in putting ourselves on the red list of endangered species. It is but the touch of a button by one of the three superpowers – Russia, America or China – that may signal the end of mankind’s earthly existence. At the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 1961, President Kennedy expressed the hope that nuclear weapons could finally be abolished on the basis of an international convention. Because “today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us… “
No, things used to be like that until yesterday
They are much worse as of now, because “progress” continues to make its irresistible advance. Meanwhile, it is not only the three presidents of the three superpowers who may activate the nuclear bottom – now even tiny states like Israel and bitterly poor ones like North Korea can afford the apocalyptic bomb. In a multipolar world, where everyone invokes the right to determine the extent and nature of his defense, it is only a matter of time before proliferation becomes the rule and ever more states – not just a dozen or so as before – have enough bombs to hold the rest of humanity hostage. In addition to the classic nuclear powers, the US, Russia, France, England and China, countries like Pakistan, India and Israel already boast the apocalyptic sword. North Korea has developed it to operational readiness and also disposes of the missiles required to wipe out its neighbors. Iran is likely soon to return to uranium enrichment, and what the Saudis are doing nobody really knows. Much better are we informed about Japan. In the 1980s, the country received from the US three hundred kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium for research purposes. By means of this material and due to its high technical competence, Japan could easily produce between forty and fifty bombs in less than half a decade. In addition, Japan still has in its possession forty-four tons less pure plutonium, sufficient for the production of as many as five thousand nuclear heads. In terms of its stock of potentially usable nuclear material, Japan is at a par with the United States. Technically, the country is in a position to join the ranks of the major nuclear powers – a fact that right-wing circles headed by Shintaro Ishihara, the writer and long-time mayor of Tokyo, like to publicly boast about.
The probability that “something happens”
due to mere chance or human failure increases with every state joining the nuclear club, especially since the carriers of the bombs, supersonic rockets, become faster and faster with each generation – and the “advance warning time” correspondingly shorter. In the event of a first strike on the part of the enemy, Russians and Americans do no longer have half an hour’s time like a decade ago, but this already minimal interval has now shrunk to around five minutes. Within this lapse, they are forced to decide whether they are confronted with a deadly attack, which must be answered with an immediate nuclear counter-move, or whether they are merely faced with a wrong alarm. Obviously, five to ten minutes time do not suffice to call the president and his staff – especially since this interval will soon shrink even further due to our inevitable “progress”. This means, that by now it is impossible for human beings to respond to the challenge of a first strike by any attacking country. Both Americans and Russians, therefore, delegate the decision on whether or not to ignite the fire of global destruction to computer systems. This is surely the deadliest prospect of “progress”: The collective destiny of mankind will no longer lie in the hands of human persons who may have retained some measure of common sense but will be assigned to the chips and transistors of soulless machines. Just bear in mind that such systems are fallible – they were so several times in the past, and even a large company like Boeing has implanted a faulty control system in one of its planes (Max 737) causing the death of over 300 persons in two recent crashes. Now, it is the whole of mankind that is exposed to a similar risk. Overwhelmed and dulled by our staggering technical “progress”, we have placed our fate in the hands of a new devil: artificial intelligence.
Terrible New World – where machines are on the way to disenfranchise their human inventors.
A salvation from this calamity
that even surpasses climate change, because it can insidiously attack us at any time without warning, seems possible only through global control, namely a voluntary or forced renunciation by all states of a part of their sovereignty. For the sake of common survival, it must no longer be possible in the 21st century for every state to poison the environment at its own discretion, to squander raw materials ad libitum or to threaten mankind at will with weapons of mass destruction. We should see the worst of all possible alternatives in a multipolar order that gives every state the freedom to destroy the common spaceship Earth together with its inhabitants. Today’s two hundred or so sovereign states will only live to see the end of this century if they cede, voluntarily or not, part of their sovereignty to a world police who will prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and save the planet from further exploitation and poisoning.
A world policeman?
That seems to be a rather unappealing, if not outright repulsive vision, as we immediately feel reminded of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. When evoking this monster, the English philosopher of the 17th century had in mind the Thirty Years’ War, in which the states of Central Europe barbarically tore each other apart. To prevent people from turning into wolves for their fellows (homo homini lupus), a prince was needed, said Hobbes, to whom they would surrender part of their freedom – the only way to end the mutual war of annihilation. At that time, Hobbes could not know that in our time people are permanently exposed to annihilation even when apparently enjoying the blessings of peace, because a first nuclear strike will not, of course, be previously announced. I don’t know of any other socio-political theory that so accurately describes our current situation and at the same time provides the only solution that promises a possible way out with irrefutable, albeit unpleasant, logic.
We are forced to admit
that the well-known motto “think globally, act locally” has lost its validity. Even if on the global level people think in the right way, because everybody is well aware that climate change, galloping resource consumption and general nuclear rearmament are all leading toward the abyss, this will have no effect on how they act locally, because those who do the right thing will be the stupid ones, so long as all others abstain from doing the same. Suppose that one of today’s superpowers would decide of its own initiative to immediately scrap its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons. That would indeed be a morally incredibly courageous act. From the viewpoint of power politics, it would, however, be an immensely stupid one too – interpreted as a sign of weakness the rivals would immediately take advantage of by using their superiority for unfettered dominance. That is what happened to Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain during the 1990s. Although Russia had not voluntarily weakened itself, but was economically hopelessly left behind by the arms race, this weakening did not cause any compassion among its rivals. Even those who lead morally can at best set an example in a small group of people, but not in a world with superpowers clinging to their divergent interests. On a global level, the weak tend to be humiliated by the strong, if not simply swallowed.
One may deplore it, but we have to accept reality for what it is: mankind can no longer do without a world policeman. In fact, he already exists. Whenever the three superpowers – the US, Russia and China – jointly pass a resolution in the UN Security Council, this act constitutes nothing less than the decree of a world police force or unofficial world government – whatever name we may give to such an authority. By spontaneous reaction we tend to be opposed to such authoritarianism because our fate no longer lies in our own hands but is determined from outside. But after careful consideration we are forced to admit that we ourselves – more precisely mankind at large – have made such a development unavoidable. We maneuvered ourselves into a situation in which nothing but such a world policeman can save us from our destructive propensities.
For the world as it once existed
– and in retrospect may seem much happier – does no longer exist. Only two hundred years ago, most nations could have surrounded their territory with a Chinese Great Wall. They were still able to exist in complete isolation from their neighbors as they could have lived largely or even completely self-sufficiently in unrestricted sovereignty without worrying about the rest of the world. For some remote islands in the Pacific, such conditions prevailed up to the last century.
But meanwhile things have changed dramatically
Life in Germany, France, the US or China but even in New Guinea or Greenland, would collapse completely if the daily inflow of oil, minerals or even finished goods did not constantly cross their borders. Without this supply, lights would get dark in any present-day nation, traffic would stop, factories would cease production, the population would suddenly become impoverished and turned into beggars. If need be, a country so rich in raw materials as Russia would be able to seal itself off from the outside world, but if it wants to maintain its current – still comparatively low – standard of living it has to sell its raw materials for finished products from abroad. In its present form, such global interdependence only exists slightly more than a hundred years, but it can hardly be reversed unless we are satisfied with a fraction of our current quality of life. This has, of course, an immediate and marked effect on national sovereignty, as each state has become dependent on the goodwill of others, not only in terms of imported resources and exported goods, but also in terms of the poisons produced in the processes of production. The climate-destroying pollutants produced by burning fossil fuels here or in China do not respect national borders, but spread unchecked across the globe; the use of nuclear weapons by any superpower not only extinguishes all life in enemy countries, but does so also in the rest of the world. We are still wont to insist on sovereignty in our own living space closing our eyes to the evident truth that by our own doing we have turned such sovereignty into an illusion.
Yes, a world where everyone was still master in their own house could have been a more beautiful place (whether it really was is, of course, a different question). But this world belongs to the past. For this reason, we have to accept surrendering part of our national sovereignty to the European Union if we want our voice still to be heard at all, but even that is not enough if we want to prevent mankind – that is ourselves – from destroying the environment, the globe or even our own human species. This is the most urgent task of the 21stcentury, and it will only be achieved if we surrender a more important part of national sovereignty to Leviathan, the coming world government.
If we did not know
that some of the greatest minds have held the same view with the greatest insistence – I already mentioned Immanuel Kant, H.G. Wells, Arnold Toynbee, Bertrand Russell, Raymond Aron and Albert Einstein – such an outlook may seem too bold, too far-fetched or even outlandish. Leviathan frightens us – he did so even in the times of Hobbes. Understandably, people rather prefer to close their eyes to the deadly dangers that threaten us than to resign themselves to a similar monster.
But that’s the perspective made inevitable by what we use to call technological “progress”. In order to prevent the two hundred or so national states from abusing their sovereignty to endanger their own survival, they must cede part of their sovereignty to a body that does not permit them to do so. Then, however, we are faced with a further question, which we had to answer as well with regard to the EU: What must a supranational authority be like in order to be tolerable?
In Europe (but not yet in the US)
citizens are quite willing to renounce part of their liberty, for instance the individual right to carry pistols in their belts. Personal blood revenge too is forbidden, although this definitely constitutes a restriction of individual freedom. Why does no one protest? Obviously, hardly anyone in Europe bewails such a loss, because the gain achieved in return is much more impressive. As long as it was left to everyone’s discretion to behave peacefully or not, the one who clung to his armament taking justice into his own hands was at an advantage, because he always had to reckon with others who would behave in the same way towards him. But at the very moment when everybody renounced pistols, rifles or blood revenge because a strong government forced them to do so, not only is there no longer any disadvantage for individuals, but an immense gain as everyone feels released from a great evil. At first Leviathan shows his canine teeth, but at a second stage people actually arrive at greater liberty. For only the renunciation of the negative freedom to harm one’s neighbor leads to that great positive freedom which consists in being beneficial to each other. Mutual trust cannot develop unless man ceases to behave like a wolf to his fellows. In the 21st century, states must no longer be allowed to arm themselves as they like, to waste resources at will, to poison the environment ad libitum. This negative freedom must be taken away from them so that they may retain the positive freedom to live in a world of peace.
History has a meaning
not the history of nature, where it remains hidden, but that of man, where it manifests itself as the voice of conscience common to all human beings since the beginning of time. Now, in the 21st century, history has a goal as well, a goal we must achieve, a purpose that we must realize, namely that we protect ourselves and the planet – from ourselves.
Next article: The freedom that saves us.
In greater detail, these thoughts are discussed in two books: