Philosophical Foundations for a World Parliament

Glen T. Martin


The Ninth Session of the Provisional World Parliament met in Tripoli, Libya from April 11-15, 2006.  Among the 56 participants from 20 countries worldwide were two members of the Russian Philosophical Society, Alexander Chumakov and Nikolai Biryukov, along with philosophers from India and the United States, professors from other disciplines, and many world citizens from various walks of life. 

Eight previous sessions of the Parliament had been held in eight different cities around the world beginning in 1982.  The Parliament is organized by the World Constitution and Parliament Association under the authority of Article 19 of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  This Constitution was written through the work of a number of prominent international lawyers and hundreds of world citizens working over a period of 23 years in four Constituent Assemblies from 1968 to 1991.

            The philosophical significance of this movement is immense.   A common understanding within the field of philosophy is that conceptual principles have logical and practical consequences.   One can extrapolate the basic conceptual principles of, for example, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Berdyaev, or Tolstoy and describe the logical and practical implications of their basic world views.   One can also identify the paradigm or conceptual principles by which civilizations operate, for example, the paradigm of the Ancient world, the Medieval World, or the Modern world.   The Earth Constitution articulates a transformed world order as a consequence of a transformed philosophical paradigm that I call a “planetary paradigm.”

The fragmented conceptual framework of modernity.   In our conceptual analysis, the world is fatally fragmented into the system of so-called “sovereign” nations, each (qua sovereign) refusing to recognize any enforceable law above itself.   What we call “international law” is a contradiction in terms since it declares that its sole subjects are nation-states while defining a “sovereign nation” as a political state subject to no superior legislation.   The world is divided into some 193 of these entities all in competition, in one way or another, with no coordination, common vision, or global planning for the future.   Internationally, the rule of law does not exist, only power politics, self-interest, and political maneuvering outside the common good of humankind.

The second form of global fragmentation is capitalism.  Again, as with nation-states, corporate entities, private businesses, industrial and agricultural entities, and the nations themselves all compete for wealth, profit, power, and economic ascendancy.  The ideology of capitalism claims that this universal system of greed on behalf of innumerable atomic entities manifests an “invisible hand” that magically results in the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.  The empirical consequences of this system over the past four centuries are there for the world to see.  By 1994, the wealthiest 20 percent of the world’s population had 78 times the income of the poorest 20 percent.  Today, the 225 richest people in the world have a net worth of more than $1.3 trillion. This is equal to the annual incomes of the poorest 2.5 billion people.  The “invisible hand” of capitalism is a chimera.  (Below I will comment on democratic alternatives to this system.)  Both sovereign nation-states and capitalism are at the core of the fragmented “modern” paradigm.

The consequences of fragmentation.  World military expenditures approach one trillion U.S. dollars per year, nearly half of that spent by the world’s superpower alone.   Most countries of the world sacrifice health care, social services, and infrastructure to divert a large portion of their budget to military arrangements.  This perpetual arms race necessarily decreases, rather than increases, security.   The speed and power of modern weapons makes every nation vulnerable to nearly instantaneous attack.  Russia and the United States even have hundreds of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert, capable of initiating Armageddon within any 15 minute time period.  Simultaneously, economic scarcity and cut-throat competition for ever-more scarce resources causes resentment, hatred, and a “nothing to loose” attitude on the part of both military and terrorist organizations.   It causes violent and military responses on the part of the wealthy nations who wish to protect their privilege, wealth, and power from challenge.

The holism of contemporary science.  Philosophers of science such as British philosopher Errol E. Harris have systematically explicated what every educated person already knows: that twentieth century science has demonstrated the holism and unity of the entire universe from the micro-particle level, to the level of living organisms, to the social-scientific level of human communities, to the astro-cosmic level.   Holism, the interrelation and interdependency of whole and parts, is the dominant discovery of the revolutions in twentieth-century science.  Yet the thinking of the majority of the world’s population remains locked into the atomistic Newtonian or “Modern” paradigm, including with respect to economics and the system of nation-states.  

Our economic and political institutions on planet Earth are in fundamental contradiction to the pervasive structure of the universe.  No wonder we are on a suicidal collision-course with reality.  Both capitalism and the nation-state system are products of the Renaissance of several centuries ago, a time when individualism burst free from the constraints of the Middle Ages, a time that had no inkling of the holistic nature of our world.

The principle of unity in diversity behind the Earth Constitution.  The Preamble to the Earth Constitution reads, in part:  “Conscious that Humanity is One despite the existence of diverse nations, races, creeds, ideologies and cultures and that the principle of unity in diversity is the basis for a new age when war shall be outlawed and peace prevail; when the earth’s total resources shall be equitably used for human welfare; and when basic human rights and responsibilities shall be shared by all without discrimination….”   The framers of the Constitution recognized the wholeness of the human species (what Marx called our “species-being”).   They recognize that diversity cannot be protected and promoted without a conceptual and legal unity capable of treating all equally before the law and of protecting inalienable human rights by means of the law.  They understood that humankind needs to ascend to holism and predicate global society on his holism or we are not likely to survive much longer on this planet.

            The diversity of cultures, races, individuals, and nations can and must be protected.  But without enforceable legal unity, this diversity results in endless conflict, violence, and big fish eating little fish.  That is why the Constitution creates a federation of Earth.   Federation uses the principle of decentralization while protecting the unity of the whole.   The world cannot solve any of its global problems – the environmental crisis, the natural resource crisis, the crisis of militarism, the crisis of weapons of mass destruction, the population crisis, the violation of human rights crisis – without uniting under democratic world government.

The issue of legitimacy and democratic theory.   There is no space here to go into democratic theory in detail.  However, a crucial concept in most theories of democracy is legitimacy.   Governments that do not protect human rights, that do not provide adequate mechanisms for non-violent social change (such as voting), or that manipulate elections in the service of a ruling class are not politically (and ethically) legitimate.  Philosopher Alan Gewirth argues that protection of human rights is a key to a government’s legitimacy.  He remarks that “…Human rights are of supreme importance, and are central to all other moral considerations, because they are rights of every human being to the necessary conditions of human action, i.e., those conditions that must be fulfilled if human action is to be possible either at all or with general chances of success in achieving the purposes for which humans act.”  (Human Rights: Essays on Justification and Applications, U. of Chicago Press, 1982, p. 3)  

Gewirth goes on to identify two classes of human rights that are the necessary conditions for all meaningful human action:  freedom and well-being (p. 4).   My argument is that, in today’s world order (under the system of global capitalism and sovereign nation-states) neither of these features of human rights can be protected.   Nation-states, no matter how powerful, can no longer protect human freedom and well-being and are, therefore, illegitimate as governments that claim to be democratic.   Effective democracy is impossible unless it is world democracy: non-military democratic world government.

First, with the system of sovereign nation-states and its militarism involving modern weapons, no government can protect its citizens from possible attack by missiles or other super-fast mechanisms of destruction.  Their well-being is compromised.  At the same time, every government feels the imperative to limit the freedom of its citizens (for example, their ability to give informed consent) in the service of its need for secrecy in its military security measures.   Second, under global capitalism, vast forces engage in currency speculation, financial manipulations, and risk-taking directed at reaping huge, unearned profits.   These vast economic forces bring poor nations to ruin, currencies go bust, entire regions go bankrupt, and economic chaos runs rampant, even threatening the possibility of a global economic meltdown.  Both freedom and well-being are destroyed by this.

 Third, the global environment is collapsing in a number of ways, turning some nations to desert, inundating other nations in life-threatening pollution, subjecting still others to lethal solar radiation through destruction of the ozone layer, subjecting still others to repeated horrendous storms as global turbulence increases, and threatening all nations with the ravages of global climate change.   Fourth, the global population continues to explode, adding about 80 million new persons per year to the Earth’s population and causing stress on the finite natural resources of the planet: the exhaustion of land, minerals, fisheries, fresh water, forests, etc.

All of these phenomena are global in scope and can only be dealt with through the kind of global planning and coordination that democratic world government could provide.  All erode the legitimacy of sovereign nations because, in the contemporary world, no nation can any longer guarantee the freedom and well-being of its citizens from immanent military attack, global economic collapse, global climate change, or global resource depletion.   The only legitimate form of democratic law is today world law that would have the scope and authority to deal with all these crises and therefore restore the freedom and well-being to the citizens of Earth.

Practical consequences of this paradigm shift.  The provisional world legislation passed to date in the nine sessions of the Provisional World Parliament can give a detailed picture of what the economics, education, social system, and security system of the Earth Federation would be like.  (See Emerging World Law: Key Documents and Decisions of the Provisional World Parliament and Global Constituent Assemblies, Eugenia Almand and Glen T. Martin, eds., Institute for Economic Democracy Press, forthcoming Fall 2006)   For the first time in history, multinational corporations would be regulated in the service of all the people on Earth (not on behalf of the ruling class of some sovereign nation).  Development capital would be inexpensively available to poor nations for sustainable development according to world environmental laws.  Technology and the system of patents would be democratized to allow technology to couple with development capital for rapid sustainable development.  

Society would socialize those enterprises (such as health care or key resources) that are best run on behalf of everyone and free enterprise would apply only to those things that are best served by this mechanism.   It is not difficult to imagine a decent, free, peaceful, and prosperous world order since we know how to create this technically, economically, and socially.   The impediment to doing this is the system of sovereign nation states that exist in what Immanuel Kant calls (in Perpetual Peace) “a depraved condition.”  Instead of placing themselves under the rule of law, Kant says, “each state places its majesty…in being subject to no external juridical restraint, and the splendor of its sovereign consists in the fact that many thousands stand at its command to sacrifice themselves for something that does not concern them….”   National sovereignty, that inevitably includes both military and economic competition, is an albatross around the neck of humanity, dragging us down toward perdition and collective suicide.

Errol E. Harris explores the needed paradigm shift (from fragmentation to holism) in his book Apocalypse and Paradigm: Science and Everyday Thinking.   What I am describing here is not pie in the sky idealism or visionary thinking.  It is the starkest realism in the face of the immense threats to human existence that we currently face on this planet.   Neither monopoly capitalism nor the system of sovereign nation-states can even begin to deal with our global crisis.   Philosophically, we human beings must convert our thinking from the disastrous, fragmented “modern” paradigm to the principle of unity in diversity that is at the heart of the emerging “planetary paradigm.” 

The Provisional World Parliament and the Earth Federation Movement are working to implement this paradigm-shift in practical, concrete terms.   They are literally building the new world order within the shell of the old, not just writing books about it but taking concrete action.   But they are in a race against time, for nothing sufficient can be done unless the world has an effective world parliament legislating real, enforceable world law.   The most urgent task, therefore, integral to this paradigm shift, is to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth that federates all the nations of the world under non-military, democratic world government.