Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Next UN and the Last Empire

The American political project has it's roots in an attempt to send elected representatives to the House of Commons in London; for years before the Revolutionary War broke out, delegates were crossing the Atlantic to converse with everyone from the King on down, trying to get them to accept MPs from drawn from the 13 colonies. It's interesting to speculate about what might have happened, had King George agreed to the colonists demands. Perhaps the British Empire might still be around, uniting the world, the Parliament in London housing thousands of MPs from America, Canada, Australia maybe even India. Such an Imperial Parliament might eventually have absorbed the entire planet, functioning as a kind of UN with an army.

Of course, in our history King George refused, the colonists revolted, the Red Coats were set loose on them and eventually, two hundred years later, the power that dominates the world still speaks English. We have a UN, but it doesn't have an army; there's a massive army, but it's not under control of the UN. This reduces the use of both: one lacks power, the other credibility.

I can't help but wonder if that other world wouldn't have been more peaceful than ours. The combination of democratic politics and overwhelming force is a difficult one to resist; had the British Empire not suffered that schism, and succeeded in making London a new Rome, most of the Great Power wars over the past two centuries might have been avoided, either squelched by the imperial military or defused by politics.

Indeed this would seem to be a natural endpoint of human politics. Violence as a rule is most intense at the frontiers of a polity; outside it's a war, but inside it's a crime. Individual polities come and go, but the territorial reach of those polities has extended fairly steadily throughout history. The British Empire is the largest in history, and also the most recent. Following it's dissipation some sixty years ago (along with every other extant empire, whether European or Asian) two new empires - the Soviet and the American - immediately began expanding into the void.

A lot of people dispute the extension of the term 'Empire' to America, as America doesn't exercise direct political control over it's satellite states. Indeed, it regularly allows those states to oppose it. But then, attempting such control would be contrary to the whole American political system, which is predicated on individual freedom. What America does do is periodically invade countries and 'impose' democracy on them, making their political system similar enough to America's that they are converted from threat to ally, or at least neutral trading partner. It's been doing this steadily for a hundred years now, ever since it finished colonizing the Western half of the continent (the country's first imperial project) and began to turn its eyes increasingly abroad. America and Islam are remarkably alike in this one specific way, that both consist mainly of an idea that wants to take over the world.

The US doesn't go in for direct control, but nevertheless it's been doing its best to draw up an international parliament for a hundred years now. The League of Nations was the first, deeply flawed version. The UN was the second, and it's been passably more successful, but manifestly fails regularly at it's stated aim, the preservation of peace of stability. I have a feeling version three is on it's way within the next five or so years; it'll be one of the legacy projects of the next president, whoever it turns out to be. Identity is irrelevant when historical inevitability is in play, and the eventual unification of the planet under one political hegemony is one of those things that almost any conceivable history is likely to lead to. With no challengers, such an entity would likely survive for a very long time. Under it's auspices, war would become a distant memory, surviving mainly as policing actions: overwhelming, relentless, accurate, authorized by multiple layers of authority, based primarily on intelligence and evidence, and careful of minimizing inconvenience to the innocent (not unsurprisingly, behaviour the US military already strives to hone, though it has a ways to go.)

The UN's main problem is that the participating states all use wildly different political systems, most of them some form of authoritarianism (which is better than the prevailing totalitarianism decades ago, when the Soviet Union was a much bigger political influence, but still....) The reason the US works well is that it's political system is fractal, a democratically accountable continuum all the way from the PTA board up to the Office of the President. The EU suffers from a similar problem: as an appointed body attempting to sit atop democratic countries, it's effectiveness is severely diminished.

The main difference between the UN and whatever comes next will be that it has a bouncer outside, and he's asking for ID to make sure you're old enough (you better be a functioning democracy), and probably enforcing a dress code too (no egregious human rights violations.) I'm going to call this hypothetical entity the United Democratic States of Earth, or UDSE. That one thing - the enforcement of minimum standards - will be enough to make it a far stronger entity, for several excellent reasons. First, the nations that compose it would be drawn from the most developed, most powerful of the Earth's nations. Second, real democratic accountability would persuade the populations of those nations - especially the US population - to turn over a great deal of military responsibility to the UDSE, thus giving it the muscle to enforce it's beliefs. That combination of military power and democracy would make the UDSE essentially the same thing as the hypothetical Imperial Parliament.

Get the UDSE in place, apply Barnett's peace-waging strategies for a century, and at the end of it all the world could have reached Fukuyama's end of history: the total disappearance of interstate war, with liberal democracy, capitalism, and human rights prevailing more or less everywhere, under the auspices of a benevolent regime whose existence might prevail for thousands of years.

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Anonymous said...

Not going to happen, if only because of the West's own diametrically opposed political forces ranged against each other: the material atheistic socialists who dream of the one-world government as their means to rid themselves of their pesky "right wing" enemies, and these very 'enemies', the Catholics and other Western Christians who believe in capitalism with a heart and soul and don't speak of annihilating enemies as much as converting them.

Also there's the demographic issue in the West and then the East with its own issues of demographic bust, totalitarian musings, and apocalyptic fervor calling for a greater China or greater India or "Caliphate" and NOT a USDE.

Keitousama said...

I could be naive, but if the socialists want a one-world government, and those dang Christians would rather than convert than annihilate, it would seem both would benefit from a demosphere.

As for demographic bust, I don't see that has anything to do with it. Europe's had crap demographics for a while (save in the Muslim subpopulation, though from Europe's point of view those demographics are pretty crap, too.) This hasn't stopped Europe from gradually cohering into a state.

A Caliphate, a greater China, or a greater India are never going to happen, because achieving any of those would rely primarily on conquest. World conquest has been tried before, and the simple truth is that no one country is strong enough to take on everyone else. A USDE doesn't require that, though; it would start as just a sort of UN for democracies, and grow in power, extent, and influence with time (without an initial goal of becoming a world government.)

Going out on a limb, I'd say you're a fan of Steyn. Me too, to a degree, and I should point out that he's all in favor of the idea of an exclusive club for democracies. Though I've run with it a bit further than he did.