The Legitimacy of Sovereign Nation-States and The Legal Validity of the Earth Constitution

Glen T. Martin

Glen T. Martin

June 2020

Abstract.  This paper investigates the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy. When and how is a political authority legitimate and what is the meaning of sovereignty in this context?  Beginning with an overview of the ethical foundations of political authority, the paper proceeds to examine the concepts of economic legitimacy and political legitimacy, including the historical evolution of these concepts, in the light of these foundations. It argues that the concept of sovereignty has evolved to the world level and is no longer valid at the national level. It goes on to show that the globalized world order calls for just such an expansion of the concept of sovereignty and concomitantly of legitimacy. The paper concludes with two sample charts exploring the idea that legitimacy can be measured. It argues that, on nearly all counts, the Constitution for the Federation of Earth appears as more legitimate than the rapidly diminishing legitimacy of the system of sovereign territorial nation-states.

The Ethical Foundation for Political and Economic Deliberations

Political theory is about human beings. Economic theory is about human beings. They are both therefore rooted in ethics. What is a human being, and why should we be concerned to discover correct political and economic approaches to human life? How should our political and economic systems be conceiving of persons, and how should they be treating them? Dealing with political and economic theories must begin with the ethical dimension.

I want to underline that dimension by citing the central thoughts on ethics in relation to the legitimacy of governments by three major thinkers: Immanuel Kant, Alan Gewirth, and Jürgen Habermas. Since this is not an essay about ethics per se, I will simply introduce the fundamental thought of each so the reader can discern the essential background necessary for our investigation of political and economic issues.  I take it that all three thinkers are pointing to the same fundamental ethical truth about human beings.

Kant’s famous categorical imperative states that we must treat every person as an end in themselves, never merely as a means.  This imperative, Kant says, distinguishes persons (who have dignity) from things (which have only price). People are ends in themselves because they have an incalculable worth or dignity that our social and political thought must make a central consideration.

Indeed, Kant says that this categorical imperative demands (“obligates”) that we live under “republican” government that guarantees the freedom and equality of each and every person (1965, 84). It is important to notice that not only is the moral imperative to treat every person has having intrinsic dignity, but we are morally required to live under republican government because this protects our “freedom and equality.”  All persons, for Kant, are free and equal in dignity and rights, and the function of government is to protect that freedom, dignity and equality thereby making possible moral relations and growth among citizens (1974, 289 ff).

For Gewirth, each person is a free agent making choices about how to move into his or her future. We are not determined by necessity as are mere things. It is precisely this universal human quality of freedom and purposiveness that generates the concept of human rights. Human rights are rights to freedom and well-being, both of which are necessary conditions of our having any chance of a successful future of realizing our purposes. It is precisely this human freedom that reveals the complementary concept of human dignity: “agency is both the metaphysical and moral basis of human dignity” (1982, 5). Just as, for Kant, government must protect our freedom and equality so for Gewirth, “the primary justification of governments is that they serve to secure these rights” (1982, 3). The support of the right to freedom (and its concomitant right to well-being) “is essential to the moral legitimacy of governments” (ibid., 18).

For Habermas, likewise, the moral community is also the legal community. With the waning of traditional metaphysical and religious world views, he writes, “we readjusted the practices of the lifeworld and of the political community to the premises of a rational morality and of human rights because they provided the common ground for a humane existence irrespective of any difference arising from the variety of worldviews” (2003, 73-74).  Just as Gewirth locates human dignity and rights with the “freedom” of rational actors, irrespective of their personal worldviews or goals, so Habermas finds human dignity in this same universality of human free, purposive action (p. 37). Such human rights involve “the reciprocal and symmetrical relations of mutual recognition proper to a moral and legal community of free and equal persons” (p. 65).  Such recognition provides “the moral foundations of the constitutional state” (p. 40)

In these brief considerations of the fundamental moral principle of human life in relation to the authority of government, we can discern the framework presupposed by the following reflections on the concepts of legitimacy and sovereignty. Economic and political arrangements must be judged in the light of whether they foster human dignity and freedom as defined by these thinkers, or whether they retard or defeat the enhancement of this dignity. Government is about the human beings who are governed. It is not about power for its own sake, not the self-interest of the governors, nor about the success of a particular class or group. It is about all the people equally as citizens before the law. The law must be directed toward their common good, a common good that includes their freedom and well-being.

My argument in this paper is that the Constitution for the Federation of Earth has a greater legitimacy than the (constantly diminishing) legitimacy of the system of territorial, sovereign nation-states. (see It alone formulates the conditions for a significant realization of freedom and dignity in human affairs. We shall see that there are structural and historical impediments built into today’s economic and political systems that actively prevent the actualization of this fundamental moral principle of human society and history. The Earth Constitution transcends these impediments and provides the framework for bringing the human project forward to a significant culmination and fulfillment.

Discourse Theory and Legitimation Crisis

In 1973, Jürgen Habermas published his book called Legitimation Crisis. The assumption behind the book derives from Habermas’ identification of the equality and freedom of human beings presupposed by the fact that the basis of human communication is dialogue directed toward mutual understanding. Habermas showed that language itself would not be possible if it were not for these presuppositions, namely that every communicative statement presupposes a claim to truth, truthfulness, and normative rightness (1998). Instrumental or strategic uses of language are derivative from and ancillary to the communicative core of language. This resonates, in Habermas’ view, with the traditional metaphysical idea that human beings all share in equal dignity, and from this derivatively that human beings all have fundamental rights.

In the light of this Habermas examines the history of capitalism with respect to its claim to satisfy the needs of human beings, whether by an “invisible hand” produced from a “free market” or by a more visible hand provided by the welfare state that manipulates interest rates and public monies in order to maximize the stability and success of the capitalist order. The capitalist order, of course, is based on the idea of production for private profit and the unlimited accumulation of private wealth from this system.

The idea of unlimited private accumulation of wealth through the economic system may appear, on the surface of things, to violate the principle of equal dignity of all persons. Vast accumulations of wealth for the few contrast starkly with vast numbers of extremely poor and destitute people.  Hence, this system requires legitimation in the eyes of the general population. But the question is to what degree can any particular economic system serve the freedom, equality, and dignity of persons “within the limits of the existing mode of production” (1973, 73-74). Are there inherent limits in the ability of capitalism to serve human freedom and dignity? The history of the role of the state in relation to this modern economic system reveals a series of governing systems part of the job of which is to legitimate the system in the view of the people (while at the same time, representing and protecting the economic elite within this system).

In his discourse theory of language, Habermas shows that a perfect communicative situation remains in the background of all our efforts at communication, presupposing equality and the same right of each person to speak, a situation that acts as a “counterfactual” standard by which we can judge the degree of our success. He calls this the “ideal speech situation” (1998, 367-68). Because we are creatures who interact in immensely complex and convoluted ways, this ideal speech situation is rarely, perhaps never, met.  But nevertheless, it is always there serving as an ideal moral standard for human communicative interactions.

In Legitimation Crisis, Habermas reveals the historic struggle for a socialism in which the economic system is designed to serve the needs of people rather than the needs of the rich. Why should the economy serve the needs of everyone instead of primarily the rich?  Just as the human condition presupposes the ideal speech situation so it presupposes that same equal dignity and rights of all in every domain of human intercourse, including economics.

The counterfactual ideal presupposed by economic relationships is symbolized in the ideal of “democratic socialism,” that is a society that is fully democratic in the sense that it benefits all its citizens with reasonable political and economic equality. The question in the background of Legitimation Crisis is whether capitalist society (qua capitalist) can ever approximate the legitimacy symbolized by the word socialism. Can it ever generate reasonable political and economic equality genuinely serving common human needs rather than the needs of some ruling class?  A review of the statistics concerning human economic misery throughout the world today (in the year 2020), some of which is indicated in the chart at the end of this essay, indicates the inherent limitations of the capitalist system and thereby its limited degree of legitimacy.

Political Legitimacy: An Evolving Concept

Political thinkers have formulated the idea that certain political systems or political constitutions around which political systems have been organized are “legitimate.”  Political systems are power relationships in which one group of people (the government) manifests exceptional authority to legislate, adjudicate, and enforce laws over another group of people (the citizens).  What are the criteria for deciding if the group holding such power is holding it legitimately? For example, a government can take money from you, by force if necessary, in the form of taxes that are then supposed to be used in part for public safety and security. How is this different from a local mafia organization that requires businesses to pay a regular fee to ensure the safety and security of the businesses?  Why is one power system considered “legitimate” and the other not?

The recognition of the legitimacy of a certain group of persons under a certain system of governing involves both domestic and international criteria. Internally the dominant criterion today is often called “popular sovereignty.”  The people recognize the government, and not the mafia, as legitimate. We will discuss this further below. But it is also the case that “when other states recognize a sovereign state, they lend it legitimacy, and hence the capacity to engage in external relations: making treaties, engaging in trade, making war. In short sovereignty is conditioned by legitimacy, and this has international as well as domestic implications” (Bukovansky 2002, 3).

A theoretical “realist” approach to legitimacy might affirm an internal criterion of recognition (popular sovereignty) and an external criterion (international recognition) as sufficient. But the deep irony in this approach would be that “legitimacy” is determined by criteria that repudiate some of the central meanings of this concept that clearly have ethical implications. A “realist” or “positivist” approach ignores the ethical foundations of government articulated above by Kant, Gewirth, and Habermas. A government that has internal popular support and external international recognition is not thereby made legitimate in any substantive (moral) sense. Many governments in today’s world are dictatorships, undemocratic in the extreme.

Can there be an authentic “democratic legitimacy” that transcends popular sovereignty, a legitimacy in which the government really represents the common good of its people and this is demonstrated in ways that can be empirically demonstrated? Political historian Mlada Bukovansky writes: “democratic legitimacy today contends for hegemony in the international system within a broader shared framework centered on popular sovereignty” (2002, 10). The criteria for ethical legitimacy of governments, described above, suggests that there can and should be a higher standard of legitimacy called “democratic legitimacy.”

Nearly all governments today claim legitimacy on the basis of popular sovereignty of their populations. Are there some governments that represent the common good of their peoples more than others?  Yet we will see that, ultimately, no government can any longer represent that common good sufficiently to claim full legitimacy, because that good has shifted to the planetary level. How, then, is the legitimacy of governments to be assessed?

 Drawing on Habermas, we can affirm that systems are justified through how well they achieve their counter-factual value system goals. The system goals presupposed by today’s collection of sovereign nation-states, individually and collectively, involve addressing the common good of the citizens effectively, reasonably, and equitably. In a similar way, we have seen Habermas argue that rational discourse is justified through the counter-factual ideal speech situation.

A governmental political system involves a complex set of rules, relationships, and activities (including economic policies and relations) that purport to represent legitimate power over a certain population of citizens. What makes some such political systems more legitimate than others? If the criteria for legitimacy are not to be positivistic (as I will discuss further below), then legitimacy criteria must form a counter-factual ideal that serves as a moral and practical standard for existing governments.

A perfectly realized common good based on respect and concern for the inherent freedom and dignity of each citizen is the counter-factual goal for democracies. Given the complexity, weaknesses of the human condition, and limitations of the physical conditions of existence, this goal likely can never be reached in fact. Nevertheless, it can be approximated to a greater or lesser degree. Measurement of how well the government is doing in approximating that goal is the criterion of its legitimacy.

 Similarly, politicians regularly promise to strive for counter-factual goals that the system is currently failing to achieve. This practice is not necessarily merely hypocrisy on their part (although it is often that too), but is an orientation built into the legitimation-value process of groups and individuals. As temporalized future-facing beings, politicians like the rest of us, understand that their legitimacy for office is related to their counterfactual goals and values (in spite of the fact that these may not be achievable within the framework of the current system). They are striving to achieve something that does not yet exist, and qua persons of governmental authority, they are in principle doing this on behalf of the people they represent.

The ideas that the power of government is rooted in the people and responsible to the people goes far back in western history to the ancient Greeks. However, this idea emerged in a more articulated form during the Renaissance and the 17th century in Europe to become formulated in explicit ways that became foundational for the concept of legitimacy in the modern world. Thinkers like 17th century Dutch philosopher Johannes Althusius (1995) argued that the authorities in government arose from the legitimate power (sovereignty) of the people and were responsible to the people in their governing. Legitimate power, he argued, promoted the common good of the citizens, not the special interests of some class or the governors themselves.

Similarly, much of the 18th century was dominated by the thought of John Locke who also rooted the legitimacy of government in the consent of the governed. The Enlightenment of the 18th century represented a great step forward in recognizing all human beings as equal in dignity and rights. The assumption arose that government represents all, and that “the people” should rule themselves, since all men have reason and can be guided by it. For Locke, governors were responsible to protect the natural rights of the people and to provide an “impartial judge” over all internal conflicts to ensure equal treatment before the laws. If the government does not adequately perform these functions, and instead there are abuses and injustices, then the people have the right of revolution—to recall the government and replace it with one that does protect their “life, liberty, and property” (1965).

The emerging capitalism of the 17th and 18th centuries required that authority no longer reside with the landed aristocracy or with a king claiming divine right of rule but that government now represent these human rights and support the elaboration of the laws of contract, property, and economic freedom.   Hence, while the new political class of bourgeoisie claimed to represent universal human rights, in reality they wanted government to organize to protect their rights to the private accumulation of wealth.  However, inherent in the concept that government arose from the people and was responsible to the people was the concept of democracy itself, that is, the idea that government comes from the people as a whole (not from wealthy people, inherited lands, or divine right) and is responsible to foster their freedom, equality, and dignity.

These criteria, of course, did not always the define central meanings of legitimacy and sovereignty. These concepts evolved. The three thinkers cited above who see government as morally responsible to protect the freedom and dignity of citizens all argue that the fact that these concepts have evolved does not mean that the concepts are merely relative to some historical situation. Rather, progress can be made and has been made. Human beings have really understood something about themselves and their proper relationship with governments. Nevertheless, it can be useful to look briefly at the evolution of these concepts.

Sovereignty: An Evolving Concept

“Sovereignty” means ultimate authority or rule. Today, the concept of sovereignty adheres to territorial nation-states in a bond something akin to superglue. A contemporary definition of sovereignty by political scientist Robert Jackson states that “Sovereignty is a foundational idea of supreme authority in the state, and an idea of political and legal independence of geographically separate states” (2007, x).

Jackson’s book Sovereignty traces the evolution of this idea since the Renaissance. Originally, the concept did not inhere in the government of a territorial state but in a person or persons who were “sovereign” over the diverse populations. Jackson calls this “dynastic sovereignty,” which prevailed in European politics of a long time. It was the period when kings, their families, and their descendants could claim supreme authority over entire populations.

Let me illustrate this view of sovereignty. In her book Legitimacy and Power Politics, Mlada Bukovansky quotes from a speech of King Louis XV to the Paris Parliament on 3 March 1766: “As if anyone could forget that the sovereign power resides in my person only . . . that public order in its entirety emanates from me, and that the rights and interests of the nation, which some dare to regard as a separate body from the monarch, are necessarily united with my rights and interests, and repose only in my hands” (2002, 1).

This mid-18th century statement of sovereignty was at that time in the throes of major revolutionary transformations. We have seen that thinkers like Althusius challenged these ideas in the 17th century in the name of supreme authority residing in the people. 23 years after King Louis XV made this statement the French Revolution overthrew not only the king but the entire concept of royal sovereignty. However, at that same time, the idea of the sovereignty of the people was becoming wedded to the idea of sovereign territory. If sovereignty belongs to all the people as human beings, how is it that it can be divided among various territories? (We will see below why this, even though understandable, was a major conceptual blunder.)

In that early modern period, of course, there was no conception of a tiny planet floating in space inhabited by a single civilization. Transportation and communications were slow, and even small countries appeared huge to their inhabitants. If the people were supreme, then the governing authorities were responsible to the people. And state systems, especially after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, some still monarchical, began to coalesce around territorial boundaries. Nevertheless, we shall see that territorial boundaries and sovereignty of the people are fundamentally incommensurable concepts.

As the early territorial state began to coalesce, its claim to legitimate territorial “property” under the rule of a single “sovereignty” was understood to be open ended. Governments, in spite of the formal claim that their authority arose from the people, saw themselves as “sovereign” over a certain territory. And the “right of conquest” along with other customary practices allowed this territory to be extended. This led to the era Robert Jackson calls “Imperial Sovereignty” in which European powers laid down rules for the legitimate acquisition and control of foreign territories “by treaty, capitulation, grant usage, sufferance and other lawful means” (p. 72).

However, the idea that sovereignty belonged to people was eventually understood to mean the self-determination and self-government of people, an idea that appeared to be in contradiction with that of the “right of conquest.” This notion of self-determination subverted the legitimacy of imperial sovereignty to the point where the world entered into a period of decolonization that was only significantly completed through the mediation of the UN during the 1960s and 70s. Jackson writes: “After centuries of legitimacy and legality imperial sovereignty become unlawful. This is explicitly registered in various UN General Assembly Resolutions, such as Resolution 3103 (1973)” (p. 77).

Since actual authority in any complex society cannot be in the hands of everybody equally, even if the people are thought to be sovereign, the idea of the rule of the people has more recently come to be thought of as “Parliamentary Sovereignty” or “Democratic Sovereignty.” In these conceptions, Jackson states, the sovereignty of the people is understood as mediated through a constitution that guarantees civil and political rights that check the power of government and becomes “a validating source of their legitimacy” (p. 89).

However, Jackson shows at length that this world composed of nearly 200 territorial units is not equivalent to the self-determination of peoples.  The borders of these sovereign territories almost always include linguistic, ethnic, or cultural minorities who feel oppressed by the dominant ruling powers within each sovereign territory. His demonstration parallels that of Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities (2006), who likewise revels the arbitrariness and illusions generated by existing territorial borders that somehow lead us to imagine that the world of some 200 fragments in some way makes cultural, political, or ethical sense under the slogan of “self-determination of peoples.” It simply does not. He goes on to state:

In the twentieth century, the political map of the world became frozen in a territorial pattern shaped by borders established in the non-Western world by European imperial powers. Even through the territorial shoe does not come anywhere near to fitting the population foot in the greater number of cases…. International law sanctified all sovereign state boundaries regardless of population awkwardness or ill-fit in many cases.” (2007, 107)

As political thinker Emery Reves summarized this: “A picture of the world pieced together like a mosaic from its various national components is a picture that never and under no circumstances can have any relation to reality, unless we deny that such a thing as reality exists” (1945, 22).

However, the arbitrary nature of territorial boundaries is not the only problem with the modern notion of sovereign territorial states. A more central problem is that this system is inherently a war-system. This fact has been pointed out by thinkers from the 17th century to the present. Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Emery Reves, and Errol E. Harris all explicitly recognized this consequence of the system of territorial sovereign states. Jackson describes the system in this way:

Facing outward a sovereign is but one among many such authorities around the world…. All sovereigns, even the most powerful, must come to terms with this pluralistic reality. They do that by various means and measures that derive from their sovereignty. [This includes diplomacy, negotiation, international law, treaties, commercial relationships, and] related kinds of international organizations. They do that, in the final analysis, by means of war, which reflects the fact that there is no supreme authority above independent states for resolving disputes between them.  (2007, 11-12)

Immanuel Kant also determined that the condition of territorial sovereign states was inherently one of war, since independent relations recognizing no law above themselves means that the relationship is one of power rather than moral freedom as guaranteed under a republican constitution. He determined therefore that the very existence of sovereign states was immoral and that the moral imperative was to move out of this condition through uniting under a world constitution “resembling a civil constitution” (1983, 115). Only thus uniting under a world constitution (hence, ending war through the rule of enforceable laws) could remove human beings from this immoral relationship. 

Emery Reves wrote: “War takes place whenever and wherever non-integrated social units of equal sovereignty come into contact…. Wars always ceased when a higher unity established its own sovereignty, absorbing the sovereignties of the conflicting smaller groups” (1945, 121, emphasis his). This by itself establishes the fact that the system of territorial sovereignties is illegitimate and that an Earth Federation under the united sovereignty of the people of Earth is alone legitimate.

War (and being part of the war-system) is the very opposite of respect and concern for the freedom and dignity of each citizen. War turns one’s own citizens into dehumanized robots obeying orders to kill and be killed. It turns the citizens of some other territorial group into dehumanized, collective “enemies” to be maimed and killed, and their life-support systems destroyed. Even when not in battle, the very existence of territoriality that denies those outside one’s borders the same right to freedom and dignity as those within is dehumanizing to both those within and without.

Since government’s only legitimate role is respect and concern for the freedom and dignity of citizens, this function cannot authentically exist as long as there are other human beings in other territories who can be dehumanized as potential enemies to be destroyed. The war-system destroys human freedom and dignity, just as it destroys the legitimacy of governments that claim to represent that freedom and dignity. The freedom and dignity of persons does not end at territorial borders. Territorial borders are irrelevant to, and incommensurable with, the universal freedom and dignity of persons. Only a planetary Earth Federation could legitimately respect the freedom and dignity of each person.

Does this fact (that the world is organized as a war-system) by itself make the modern condition of territorial sovereignty immoral?  Do any of these governments, with their militarism and refusal to submit to any law higher than themselves, exist with moral legitimacy?  If the moral foundation of government is the protection and enhancement of the dignity and freedom of citizens, does being part of this war system demean and degrade the persons within these states?  I maintain that it does just that.

Third, and perhaps most fundamental, it is not the war-system alone that makes the system of territorial sovereign nations absurd and immoral, today it is the fact that the common good has moved to the planetary level. No territorial fragment of the world can any longer effectively actualize anything resembling the common good of its citizens.  For their common good would clearly include no longer having to live under the absurd threat of total nuclear annihilation or being wiped out by some other weapons of mass destruction such as bioweapons engendering a global pandemic. 

And the common good obviously includes having an environment that will support human life and flourishing, something that no territorial fragment can effectively promote because this precisely requires a united Earth and the rule of enforceable democratic world law. With each passing year since approximately 1972 (when the first big UN environmental conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden) the territorial nation-states have seen their legitimacy decrease. They announced their failure again in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. They failed again in Johannesburg in 2002. They failed again in Copenhagen in 2009.  The nations of Earth have failed their citizens repeatedly for nearly half a century and by today these governments have made themselves universally illegitimate. They clearly do not represent the common good of their citizens.

The current UN Sustainable Development Goals, in place from 2015 to 2030, are predicated on the same UN principles based on the system of territorially sovereign nation states. (1) These goals are voluntary and not mandatory for all participating nations (which in-itself means they will not and cannot be realized). (2) The goals clearly state that they are for economic “growth” (which environmentalists almost universally claim cannot be continued in the face of a finite and limited planetary ecosystem). As Bukovansky writes: “the legitimacy of the existing order may also be eroded by its inability to confront new material conditions” (2002, 233). The fantasy that sovereign nations can continue to measure economic success in terms of increasing GNP signals their inability to confront the new material conditions of planetary limitations and scarcity.

(3) The SDGs almost entirely ignore the population explosion (since powerful donor nations to the UN do not want that emphasized). (4) The SDGs present an extremely truncated and misleading set of ideas about the need for “peace.” They ignore the absurd threat to human existence by WMDs as well as the on-going imperialism of the major UN donor nations. (5) The UN SDG resolution clearly states that the “resources” within each national territory belong under the sovereign control of that nation (which means, for example, that Brazil has the legal right to cut down the lungs of the Earth).

The Sustainable Development Goals cannot succeed because they remain based on a territorial sovereignty paradigm and have not shifted to a planetary paradigm. They lend an entirely false “legitimacy” to the participating nations as if these nations were attempting to serve the common good of their citizens. But a false ideology that cannot effectively achieve the real, measurable common good of citizens is worse than none at all. Territorial sovereign nation-states have no defensible political legitimacy. The Sustainable Development Goals generate the illusion that these nations are legitimately attempting to serve of common good of their populations. But the common good is now planetary, and the territorial system not only cannot effectively serve the planetary good, it structurally impedes it.

Three Theoretical Approaches to Legitimacy

Positivism (e.g. HLA Hart, 1962).  Positivism take its stand on the distinction between fact and value, between the “is” and the “ought” that was formulated in the work of David Hume and others since the 17th and 18th centuries. It holds that we must base our valid concepts on the facts and what is scientifically confirmable, not on unconfirmable and unobservable moral, religious, or metaphysical ideas. The only legitimation of a political system, therefore, is the fact that it is established.  Hence, power and fact determine legitimacy, not moral sentiments.  There are no value-criteria intrinsic to the law nor any established political system by which the law or system can be judged as lacking and hence illegitimate. As we saw above, another word for positivism is “realism.” Does a so-called realist analysis of the world make any sense at all? What about the so-called Nazi system of law being whatever is commanded by Hitler?

 Some positivists or realists would say that Hitler had the power and the obedience of the majority of the population and therefore the Nazi government was legitimate.  Others recognize a minimal set of formal criteria to which law should conform if it is to be considered legitimate (as formulated, for example, by Lon Fuller in his 1964 book, The Morality of Law). In this area positivists often overlap with natural law theorists. Legitimate law must have a consistent set of rules for behavior; the law must be publicized and known by the citizens; it cannot abusively use retroactive legislation by arbitrarily criminalizing behavior that was formerly legal; it cannot be self-contradictory; it must not demand actions beyond the power of its subjects; the rules must be consistent with the actual enforcement and administration of the law, etc. By these criteria, even a positivist or realist might affirm that Hitler’s government by arbitrary command, retroactive and contradictory laws, and constant fluctuation of the laws was illegitimate.

Natural law theory (e.g. John Finnis, 1980). Beyond these minimal (formal) requirements for law to be legitimately law, does the law and the political system need to foster the common good of citizens? For natural law theorists, there are substantive (rather than merely formal) values that can be recognized and articulated by human practical reason that serve as a model and guide for existing legal systems and a criterion of legitimacy for these systems. Values are not, therefore, merely subjective as positivism tends to hold but can be objectively discerned. These values inform both our public and private lives and publicly they allow us to distinguish good (legitimate) government from bad (illegitimate) government.  Good government promotes the common good of the population, a common good that includes maximizing the freedom and dignity of each citizen. To the degree that the common good is effectively promoted, John Finnis argues, the government is legitimate.

Utopian Horizon Theory (G.T. Martin, 2018). Anthropologically, for humans all values and all legitimation require a counterfactual projection into the future within which values discerned as lacking in the present can be actualized. Hence, in all areas of human cognition and endeavor, the future plays a normative role in the present. Values need not be envisioned as metaphysical realities apart from human temporality. In political theory, such concepts as democracy, freedom, social justice, due process of law, legitimacy, and common good operate in this way.

These are all counter-factual ideals that arise as rational beings recall their past within a dynamic present that simultaneously projects itself into the future. This temporality lies at the heart our human existential situation. Values need not be conceived as metaphysical principles as natural law theory often asserted, whether coming from God or from reason. Rather, value is intrinsic to the temporal dynamics of each existential human being. We all live within a “utopian horizon” of counterfactual ideals. As Paul Tillich concluded, we experience transformative values as a “call” from the future upon our present condition: “through the demand, humanity is directed to what ought to be” (1987, 143-44).

Philosopher John Dewey, for example, developed a broad concept of “democracy” even larger than the concept of government. Democracy for Dewey is a moral ideal of the state of affairs that should obtain in all human relationships, a condition symbolized by the French revolutionary slogan of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Dewey writes: “Yet it is not ‘ideal’ in the sense of being visionary and utopian, for it simply projects to their logical and practical limit forces inherent in human nature and already embodied to some extent in human nature. It serves accordingly as the basis for criticisms of institutions as they exist and of plans for betterment. As we shall see, most criticisms of it are in fact criticisms of the imperfect realization it has so far achieved” (1963, 497-98).

Dewey’s description of how this ideal functions conforms to the Utopian Horizon theory. Although the moral ideal of democracy as a universal framework for all human relationships is indeed utopian in the sense of a perfect counterfactual ideal, human reason can discern the difference between imaginative future utopias that may well be in reasonable conformity with our “human nature” and fantasies incapable of realization. Reason can recognize relative practical validity of the ideals that inform human futurity in relation to present conditions and human potential. The wide disagreements among ethical thinkers often has to do with their assessment of our human potential and our possibilities for approximating these ideals, not necessarily the ideals themselves.

Similarly, Immanuel Kant, in his Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals (1964), argues the Categorical Imperative, the principle of universal law constituting the basic form of all moral judgements, generates out of itself a social goal that is at the same time a duty, namely that our behavior in the present should conform to the actualizing of a possible “Kingdom of Ends.” The Kingdom of Ends is the ideal of a society in which all persons treat one another as “ends in themselves, never merely as a means,” in other words, it is the counterfactual ideal of perfectly moral society. The Utopian Horizon model sees this utopian ideal as inherent in the very structure of human temporality. But reason can make this into a “practical utopia” by assessing how we can best actualize it in the here and now as well as in the immediate and long-term future.

In Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence (2018), I called this ability of human futurity to generate a counter-factual ideal our “utopian horizon.” This label will fit with many forms of natural law theory, including the ethical ideas of Kant, Gewirth, and Habermas discussed above. Its advantage is that it does not have to bring in the seeming metaphysical idea of “natural law.” Positivism is mistaken because the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ are inseparable in human life. They are both intrinsic features of human temporality.

Positivism looks to the past, to some revolution, some seizing of power that created an orderly society that has in fact managed to meet the formal requirements of law and retain the factual maintenance of power since that event. Legitimacy is just these facts. It is difficult to see how positivism could be progressive since it recognizes no ethical criteria that a society must strive for in order to maintain and increase its legitimacy. By contrast, natural law theory gives us the possibility of a progressive self-actualization of society and history. It posits the need to progressively actualize moral principles into the foundation and workings of society and history. For Kant, the categorical imperative functioned in this way as a guide to the progressive self-actualization of man.

Utopian Horizon theory claims to restore the proper place of human futurity within society and history. Even though (since the time of St. Augustine’s famous reflection of human temporality in Books 10 and 11 of the Confessions)we know that only the present exists. We know that the past does not exist except in memory, a memory that is both selective and interpretative. We know that the future does not exist except in imagination and anticipation. We know that we live in a dynamic, holistic, evolving present in which memory and imaginative anticipation interact as the basis for human action in the present directed toward that future.

Within this dynamism, Utopian Horizon theory restores the integrity and legitimacy of the future. This dynamism with its priority of the future is, so to speak, part of our truly astonishing and privileged God-given human situation. The future has just as much “reality” as the past, in one sense, but it also has an ontological priority ignored by positivism, natural law theory, and much of history. Utopian Horizon theory is not merely progressive but revolutionary. We human beings are made for futurity; we are designed to be transforming the present in terms of our memories of the past and our vision of a practical utopian future. We need definitions of legitimacy and sovereignty that accommodate the ontological priority and fulness of that future.

It is no longer simply “practical reason” that discerns legitimate utopian goals and the means to achieve them. For we are now living in an age that has recognized stages of human growth from immature egoism to higher levels that can be identified as moving to an ethnocentrism, then a worldcentric orientation, then a transpersonal cosmocentric level. These names reflect objective stages of human maturity and self-realization. The utopian horizon becomes less subjective and less egoistic as one matures. At the transpersonal levels reason also takes on an entirely different role. A new objectivity shows up that helps reveal the greater credibility of the utopian dimension.

In the broad sense, the reality of our utopian horizon includes the human recognition of the valid ideals of truth, beauty, justice, dignity, liberty, community, etc. Human beings live within a pervasive utopian horizon. The challenge for reason and moral growth in part involves considering the means for actualizing the utopian horizon implicit in human existence and evaluating the degree to which practical conditions in the present can be adjusted or transformed to maximize the utopian framework. We must become “practical utopians.”

Criteria for Legitimacy

Political legitimation. In my 2008 book Ascent to Freedom, I distinguished seven ethical criteria for legitimate democracy and five “effectiveness” criteria. The seven ethical criteria are recognition of human dignity, recognition of inalienable human rights, reasonable political and economic equality, the existence of public space sufficient for genuine communication, consent and active participation of the governed, articulated rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and representation of the common good of the whole. All of these, it should now be clear, function as counterfactual ideals that can be used to evaluate and improve existing conditions in the present. The five effectiveness criteria that I formulated in Chapter 10 of Ascent to Freedom, constitute some of the ways in which these moral criteria can and have been made actual within various nation-states (effective voting, security of citizens, methods of participation, etc.).

The US Constitution was approved by a few delegates in Philadelphia and then submitted to populations for approval. By what right was this done since the legitimate government of the 13 colonies was that of King George? They violently overthrew the legitimate government and instituted a new one based on counterfactual ideals that were written into the document: promises of democracy, religious liberty, freedom of speech, the rule of law, private property, civil justice, etc.  However, in the 19th century, the right of private property was institutionalized to the extent that it trumped all other rights, giving the capitalists the power to exploit workers, employ children, maintain unsafe working conditions, and do whatever else was needed to maximize profits.

Every legitimate government contains three dimensions: (1) power to make, enforce, and adjudicate laws, unchallengeable by any individual, (2) conformity to the formal requirements of coherent law (as described above), and (3) ethical legitimacy in the eyes of the people that the government is striving to serve their common good (which is always a counter-factual good). Habermas references these dimensions in the following ways:

Legal validity has two distinct components: the empirical component of enforcement of law [which includes both the power and formal dimensions]  and the rational component of the claim to legitimacy. Legal validity requires that both components be justifiable simultaneously to the addressees…. The law must at all times make possible more than legality, namely, obedience based on insight into the legal order (1993, 156)

A legal order is legitimate when it safeguards the autonomy of all citizens to an equal degree. The citizens are autonomous only if the addressees of the law can also see themselves as its authors…., that everyone can presume that the regulations enacted in that way deserve general and rationally motivated assent. (1994, 121-22)

Rationally motivated assent means the ethical dimension invoked by the counterfactual ideal of citizens seeing themselves as the authors of the law and perceiving that the law safeguards the autonomy of all citizens to an equal degree. No such government exists in fact. There are degrees of legitimacy rationally evaluated in the light of this counterfactual ideal.

The often-cited criterion of “consent of the governed” is far from the idea of rationally motivated assent. The governed can be manipulated in many ways that elicit their assent through irrational avenues.  They can recognize their government as legitimate in protecting them from implacable foreign enemies, or they can be deluded by propaganda about “free enterprise” that in fact results in their loss of freedom as wage slaves within a class-dominated society. There are many ways to engineer irrational consent.

Neither does being recognized as a member of the international community of governments by the UN confer legitimacy in this ethical sense.  Fifty percent of the governments in the UN general assembly are not democracies in any recognizable form. The UN criterion of recognition is basically positivist: any effective group in power over a certain territory conforming to the formal requirements of law will do. Legitimacy is purely factual, formal, and power-based. Ethical legitimacy (found, for example, in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) does not significantly enter into actual UN practices of nation-state recognition.

The concept of political or constitutional legitimacy is, therefore, not an absolute either/or. It is a relative concept applied to existing governments over a wide scale, from illegitimate to somewhat legitimate to perhaps significantly legitimate. If the standard of legitimacy is truly representing the common good of the people to the point where “the addressees of the law also see themselves as its authors,” then very few nations can be considered legitimate. However, surpassing these considerations, the concept of the “common good” has also changed radically in the past 50 years. It has been globalized. As we will see next, no nation today comes even close to being fully legitimate.

Brief Summary of main points so far:

Thus, we see that the concept of legitimacy, like the concept of sovereignty are:

  • Historically contingent in their past forms and changing over time, yet apparently pointing forward to an ever-greater coherence and consistency, beginning with the Renaissance and moving forward to present-day globalized conceptions of sovereignty and legitimacy.
  • Somewhat relative to context and subject to major confusions, such as becoming arbitrarily tied to geographical territories, but capable of being disentangled and clarified so that the concepts become more truly meaningful.
  • Contradictory in their past forms, not only when applied to defined territorial units but also when applied to systems with internal contradictions (such as the claim of governments to represent all the people while directing the power of government to the needs of an economic ruling class).
  • Morally Problematic in their past forms, when contrasted with the ethical foundation for all legitimate political and economic deliberations. Systemic contradictions, confusions, and impediments prevent governments from legitimately representing the common good of all their citizens.

The Globalization of the Concept of Legitimacy

It has been nearly 60 years since Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring helped to launch the global environmental movement.  It has been 52 years since Paul and Anne Ehrlich published The Population Bomb showing that our planet was heading for the global tragedy of radically exceeding environmental carrying capacity. It has been 70 years since Einstein wrote that “the available weapons of destruction are of a kind that no place on earth is safeguarded against sudden total destruction. The only hope for protection lies in the securing of peace in a supernational way.”

Since 1945 the central problems of people everywhere have transcended national boundaries. Our central problems are global and any possible solutions to those problems must be global. Rachel Carson dedicated her book to Albert Schweitzer who said: “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth.” The idea of the world as a collection of militarized sovereign nation-states has not diminished in all these decades, and the UN system continues to operate around an antiquated system of so-called international law that enshrines this fragmentation. This system obscures our capacity to foresee and forestall. Each state is cursed with institutionalized myopic blindness.

All this while, humanity has been progressively understanding its global interdependence, its universal species identity, and its mutually shared common good. This common good includes preservation of the planetary ecosystem from collapse and the right to peace, including elimination of the threat of WMDs, as well as universal health care, health protection systems that minimize the risk of global pandemics, universal education, housing, food security, social insurance, etc. The common good of every person and society on Earth has now become the protection of the global environment, the elimination of WMDs, the end of pollution, coordination for food security, universal health care, and planetary social justice.

Yet nations continue to operate under the UN system and the International Law system that have been transcended by millions of thoughtful people for many decades now. They continue to operate with the “treaty system” in which representatives of each nation make some voluntary agreement with other nations to operate in certain ways. They continue to act as if the resources and ecosystems of the planet were the private property of each nation, and they refuse to recognize that the planet’s atmosphere, oceans, rain forests, and geophysical resources belong to all of us. They refuse to develop a legal category of world citizenship that properly designates each human being as a member of a global community sharing a planetary common good.

In a word, the governments of the world have refused to move beyond the outmoded Newtonian paradigm that was there at the founding of the nation-state system at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. They have refused to adopt the holistic, planetary perspective that is necessary to effectively deal with global problems and that now represents the common good of humanity.  Each government continues to pour money into a military supposedly for its own defense and security in the face of a world situation that makes these things an illusion. These and other actions taken by sovereign states go directly against the genuine common good of their citizens. No government on the planet is today capable of actualizing the common good of its citizens since the common good is now planetary and beyond the effective scope of any and all territorial sovereign nations.

Based on the universal structures of our common humanity, the globalized approach shows that our expectation that the nation-state can secure our common good is unrealizable without global institutions in place that make this possible. Any legitimate system is organized around actualizing the common good.  The principle of generic consistency (Gewirth 1982) declares that all persons and nations are the same in this respect.  We all have equal rights and duties. Only institutions dedicated to realizing the planetary common good can be considered legitimate.

In terms of the three features of legitimacy discussed above, how can we rate the legitimacy of the sovereign nations versus the Constitution for the Federation of Earth?  On the scale of power, most of the sovereign nations continue to have effective power over their citizens, but they use this power also to discourage the development of supranational forms of authority that could promote a genuine common good for the people of Earth. On the second feature of legitimacy, the formal requirements for articulating and enforcing laws, most of the governments also do fairly well. However, on the third requirement of legitimacy (ethical legitimacy derived from dedication to the common good of their citizens) the governments of the world fail miserably.

Their very assertion of their own territorial sovereignty helps defeat their ethical legitimacy. They are all ethically illegitimate. For the common good is now clearly planetary, global. The common good for humanity cannot be actualized by any territorial fragment, only through a government representing the united sovereignty of the people of Earth. The concept of sovereignty has shifted once again, freeing itself from its contradictory territorial embodiment. It has arrived at its logical culmination in the sovereignty of all the people of Earth as stated in Article 2 of the Earth Constitution.

It is here that the Constitution for the Federation of Earth shines brightly. The Constitution, and the currently operating Provisional World Government derived from it, lacks power.  The Constitution, and the laws derived from it and passed by the Provisional World Parliament, however, do exhibit all the formal requirements of good law. However, on the third dimension of legitimacy, ethical legitimacy derived from serving the common good of the people of Earth, the Constitution and the laws derived from it by the Provisional World Parliament are by far more legitimate than any other document or political system on the planet.

Democratic and Efficiency Criteria for Legitimacy.

The Earth Constitution’s greater legitimacy includes the following (for a fuller account, see Ascent to Freedom, Chapters 9-12):

  1. The sovereignty of the people of Earth is properly recognized and activated as the source of authority of the World Parliament and the agencies of the Earth Federation. As Emery Reves states: “We cannot have democracy in a world of interdependent, sovereign nation-states, because democracy means sovereignty of the people. The nation-state structure strangles and exterminates the sovereignty of the people, that sovereignty which, instead of vested in institutions of the community, is vested in [some 200] separate sets of sovereign nation-state institutions” (1945, 162).
  2. The unity in diversity of all humanity is identified in the Preamble as fundamental to the entire Constitution. There can never be true unity under the system of territorial sovereign entities, and therefore the bigger and more powerful will always dominate and colonize the diversity. Only a unified humanity can end war and protect the planetary ecosystem. This principle is mirrored in the structure of all the agencies and organs of the Earth Federation government.
  3. Universal rights including the rights to peace and a healthy environment. Hence, for example, the Constitution creates a peace-system (of universal enforceable laws) for the Earth to replace the war-system. For the first time in history the right to peace and the right to a protected viable environment are written into an authoritative document capable of legally actualizing and enforcing these most fundamental rights.  No sovereign nation can possibly actualize these rights precisely because these rights are inherently global and require a global authority for their implementation.
  4. The democratic inclusion of all the people of Earth.  As the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts, people have the right to democratic participation in their societies. However, in a fragmented world system, democratic debate (in those countries on Earth where it is allowed) is largely debate over internal issues only. People have no genuine democratic say in war issues, global environmental issues, or human rights issues in other countries. If democracy means the rule of the people, then the people under territorial nations are cut off from ruling in precisely those areas most crucial to their future and even their survival.
  5. Effective mechanisms for solving global problems beyond the scope of any nation-states. Like any well-designed governmental system, the Earth Constitution sets up mechanisms for effectively addressing the entire range of the Earth’s problems. Indeed, addressing precisely these global problems is outlined in Article 1 as the “broad functions” of the Federation—including ending war and ensuring disarmament, protecting universal human rights, ensuring global social justice, and protecting the planetary environment. Under the present system, if any nation were to allow its citizens to vote on these things, it would be decried for interfering with the sovereign “internal affairs” of the other nations.
  6. Placing key resources of the Earth under the protection of the people of Earth. Article 4 gives the Earth Federation government the authority to really protect the Earth and its future. It places resources essential to the planetary ecosystem (for example, the atmosphere of the Earth, the oceans of the Earth, and the rain-forests of the Earth) under the authority of the people. It grants the government authority that transcends the so-called legal right that the absurd territorial sovereign nations now have to destroy our planet and its ecosystem, for example, to go to war, to exploit key planetary resources, or to pollute our planetary air, water, and soil.

Habermas asserts that we need to recall the 200-year old history of nation-states “if we want to understand why the welfare state has fallen upon such hard times.” The phenomenon of the nation-state within defined territorial borders took on a more or less convincing form for much of this history, he says, however: “today, developments summarized under the term ‘globalization’ have put this entire constellation into question…. This background will show how the transformed constellation we are currently witnessing touches on the most basic functions and legitimacy conditions of democratic nation-states” (2001, 60-61).

These “legitimacy conditions” are withering away. The nation-state cannot effectively deal with “globalization” in the sense of the lethal planetary problems we are facing on every side. In Natural Law and Natural Rights (1980), John Finnis describes the conditions that contribute to a group of people being a genuine community. One of the necessary conditions for being a community, he argues, is that the group be a political community with a single, constitutional government. Such a situation allows people to effectively relate to one another while promoting a common good that benefits the whole. However, global conditions are pointing beyond the nation-state which itself is becoming a mere “legal fiction”:

We must not take the pretensions of the modern state at face value. Its legal claims are founded, as I remarked, on its self-interpretation as a complete and self-sufficient community. But there are relationships between men which transcend the boundaries of all poleis, realms, or states. These relationships exist willy-nilly, in manifold and multiplying ways. . . . If it now appears that the good of individuals can only be fully secured and realized in the context of international community, we must conclude that the claim of the national state to be a complete community is unwarranted and the postulate of the national legal order, that it is supreme and comprehensive and an exclusive source of legal obligation, is increasingly what lawyers would call a ‘legal fiction’. (129-130)

The basis of the authority of the state is that it effectively promotes the “common good” or “flourishing” of its citizens, and no state can fully promote such flourishing unless it is democratic. The state is increasingly a “legal fiction” because it cannot be a “complete community” promoting the “freedom and well-being” of its citizens. Instead, the state must be concerned with national security, military defense, terrorism, foreign corporate invasions, currency fluctuations, international debt to private banking cartels (such as the IMF and World Bank), global economic competition, diminishing natural resources, increasing climate disruption, internal racism and inter-group rivalry, and increasing social chaos. Under these circumstances, no nation can any longer be truly democratic, and no nation can therefore be called a legitimate political community.

Errol E. Harris agrees. He writes, “Although no true community is possible among sovereign nations, it is possible among different peoples once it is realized that they have a genuinely common interest, and that annuls the raison d’être of sovereign communities….The restriction of sovereignty to national limits undermines the conditions of human welfare and frustrates the ends of civilized living” (1966, 187-88). Finnis calls the idea of a legally empowered global authority our “complete” human community, and Harris recognizes that “no true community is possible among sovereign nations,” precisely because they organize around national self-interest and deny any effective law above themselves that might bind them together into a genuine human community.

Harris discerns that a true global community constitutes a community of common interests “derived from the common needs of mankind as a whole” protecting our “universal interests in peace, security, material welfare and moral progress” (ibid 188; see 1950, 50-51). However, “a plurality of sovereign states is not a community and there is no monopoly of force by any agency representing the community of the world” (ibid., 200). Our universal human interests should bind us into a global community with a monopoly of authority to represent those interests. This means a genuine World Parliament, he argues, with the authority to legislate universal binding laws.

In the early twenty-first century, the concept of a complete community under the rule of law has now matured to its proper locus: the world community. Only the world community has the potential for becoming a “complete community.” The political framework of the world community (requiring ratification of the Earth Constitution)is more legitimate than any of the nation-states ever were. The world community does not attempt to cobble together a multiplicity of languages, cultures, and traditions, for it us based on our universal common humanity and the universal rule of democratically legislated law, that is, on principles, rather than arbitrary historical contingencies. It, therefore, can celebrate the immense diversity of persons on the Earth because community is now established on its proper basis of universal human unity in diversity.

Our global social contract under the Earth Constitution is not additive. It is not a matter of adding up “sovereign” nations like the United Nations attempts to do. The human community under the Earth Constitution is no longer additive of independent atoms but actualizes a new level of reality: humanity united, inseparable, indivisible, indestructible. The whole is clearly so much more than the sum of its parts. Our unity in diversity is manifested in a global regime of democratic laws premised on our newly actualized human unity. The human community is indeed completed by law. Our practical utopian horizon requires insight into the fundamental role that democratic world law plays in our common human future.

Philosopher of law David Luban affirms that the issue of the legitimacy of government is “the basic normative concept of political theory” (1988, 251). Harris agrees with Kant, Habermas, and Finnis that true democracy is a requirement of the human community as a whole and that sovereign territorial nation-states are no longer legitimate governing bodies. Their legitimacy (and hence their innermost mission as representatives of law and justice) can only be restored if they federate (unite) under an Earth Constitution and their sovereignty becomes limited to internal affairs, leaving global problems and global issues to the World Parliament, the World Courts, and the World Administration in which they each participate. Harris concludes,

So the national sovereign state is clearly no longer competent to secure the welfare even of the community over which it rules, for that is obviously dependent on the conservation of the planetary ecology and the maintenance of world peace, both of which are interests common to the whole of humanity. It follows that the national state is no longer rightfully entitled to wield sovereign power. But its inability to serve the common interest it forfeits its authority and thereby its legitimacy. (2014, 108)

Political theory has affected a paradigm-shift with respect to its “basic normative concept” of legitimacy. Legitimacy is can no longer be tied to the territorial level. Legitimate full sovereignty only lies with the whole of humanity. Sovereign nations are illegitimate unless—unless the nations unite under the sovereignty of the people of Earth as embodied in the Earth Constitution.

In this case, the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy will have been disentangled from the notion of territory and the nations are restored to legitimacy as administrative components of a planetary federal system. Territories are never sovereign in the sense of being separate from the rest of the world. People are sovereign. Under a planetary federal system, sovereignty descends from the whole to national levels, regional levels, and local levels. Administrative units have a limited sovereignty derived from the legitimacy and sovereignty of the whole.

Selected facts pointing to the economic and political legitimacy of nation-states

The following charts containing selected facts are meant to be merely suggestive and to symbolize something about the illegitimacy of the territorial nation-state system, namely that these illegitimate entities can and should be empirically rated on the degree to which they are destroying our human future through both their actions and their very existence under the flawed system of territorial sovereignty. The first chart rates the economic legitimacy (discussed above) in relation to the relative distribution of wealth between the rich and poor. The second chart rates political legitimacy (also discussed above) on the basis of the degree of CO2 pollution of our planetary environment from each nation and whether or not they possess nuclear weapons.

Key:   UN Rich/Poor:  The ratio of the average income of the richest to the poorest 10%.

World Bank Gini: A Gini index of 0% = perfect income equality while a Gini index of 100% = perfect income inequality.


CountryUN Rich/Poor ratioWorld Bank Gini Index with yearEconomic Legitimacy
Australia12.534.4  /  2014low
Belgium8.227.4  /  2017high
Brazil13.553.9  /  2018low
Canada9.433.8  /  2013medium
China21.638.5  /  2016low
Finland5.627.4  /  2017high
Germany6.931.9  /  2016high
India8.637.8  /  2011medium
Japan4.532.9  /  2013high
Norway6.127.0  /  2017high
Russia12.737.5  /  2018medium
Sweden6.228.8  /  2017high
United States18.541.4  /  2016low

Below: Countries that are actively defeating our planetary future through weapons of mass destruction and environmental pollution have no political legitimacy.  For the reasons identified above, no country has full political legitimacy.  The majority of countries have only low political legitimacy.

Source:  Union of Concerned Scientists.  CO2 emissions measured in Gigatons (GT).

CountryNuclear WeaponsCO2 emissionsPolitical Legitimacy 
Australiano.4 GTlow 
BelgiumnoNot Applicablelow 
Brazilno.4 GTlow 
Canadano.5 GTlow 
Chinayes9.3 GTnone 
Germanyno.7 GTlow 
Indiayes2.2 GTnone 
Japanno1.1 GTlow 
Russiayes1.5 GTnone 
United Statesyes4.8 GTnone 
Franceyes3 GTnone
North KoreayesNAnone
United Kingdomyes.4 GTnone


We can draw the following conclusions about the concepts of legitimacy and sovereignty, when applied at the universal level:

  • At the global level, the concepts transcend in a very real way the historical contingency and evolutionary process, since they have now reached their proper universal locus. Human civilization has colonized the planet with creatures 99.9%+ genetically identical with one another. The appropriate locus for governing is planetary. The appropriate locus for sovereignty and legitimacy is planetary.
  • Although, like all concepts, they remain relative to context, we find that in the global context, there is a fundamentally appropriate and ethically central meaning to both. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Earth and legitimacy can be measured on the degree to which the Earth Federation government protects the freedom, dignity, well-being, and capacity to flourish of each person with reasonable equity and fairness.
  • The concepts are no longer internally contradictory. If economics is predicated on the well-being of people and not falsely predicated on an “invisible hand” that is supposed to accompany the unlimited private accumulation of wealth, then a fundamental equity and well-being for the entire planetary population can be achieved. Secondly, if sovereignty is predicated on government aimed at the common good at the planetary level, then there is no longer a contradiction between territorial fragmentation and the human common good. The Earth Federation government will have the authority, legitimacy, and effectiveness to “foresee and forestall” our collapsing planetary environment and to oversee the necessary demilitarization of the world.
  • At the global level, these concepts are no longer ethically problematic because they become founded (in a properly formed constitution such as the Earth Constitution) on the universal basis of all ethics: human freedom and dignity. This counter-factual principle derives from the ontological priority of our practical utopian future, a priority that helps secure legitimacy. The war system has been replaced by a peace system. Systemic injustice has been replaced by a justice system (including reasonable economic equity). An environmentally destructive system has been replaced by a sustainability system. 

Ethically, therefore, the system designed by the Earth Constitution is 100% legitimate. Even though it does not yet have power or popular democratic legitimation, the Earth Constitution possesses a greater legitimacy than the antiquated system of fragmented territorial entities.  It is open to ratification and further power legitimation under Articles 17 and 19, and its popular support continues to grow daily.

While at the same time the supposed legitimacy of the fragmented sovereign territorial states continues to diminish with each passing day. The legitimacy of many of them is already at zero. In the face of our seriously endangered human future, we urgently need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

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