When President Obama visited Berlin a couple of years ago he raised the prospect of an idea that circulated throughout the twentieth century: world citizenship. Eminentos such as H.G. Wells and Bertrand Russell contended that unless humanity embraced this nation, it is doomed.
Whether this idea has veracity or not is beside the point since the president believes that trans-national progressivism, a form of world government, is the impetus for his foreign policy positions. It explains in part why he has channeled key foreign policy matters through the United Nations and why he maintains the U.S. is neither more nor less exceptional than other nations.
Universities have climbed aboard this ideological bandwagon arguing that the world’s great challenges demand a global perspective (read: world citizenship). What these programs do not answer is the obvious question: As a global citizen, to whom do I pledge allegiance? Moreover, as a global citizen what entity protects my rights? From whom do I obtain a passport? And on whose laws should I depend?
If a national allegiance is eliminated, how is one identified in this global melting pot? Clearly this is one of those utopian ideas that only a group of scholars can take seriously. However, in Washington circles it has gained traction through the voices of Dean Koh, Amy Gutman, Ann Marie Slaughter, among others. There is a well entrenched belief that American interest should be subordinate to an abstract international interest. The discussion of the Treaty of The Seas, to cite one example, falls into this category since our rivals, in this case Russia and China, pursue their national goals and the U.S. reiterates global goals.
This mind set reminds me of Samuel Butler’s novel Erehwon (Nowhere spelled backwards). It is the name of a country discovered by the novel’s protagonist. But in essence, it is a utopia – a place that exists solely in the human imagination. In most respects, it is very much like “the citizen of the world,” an idea that sounds reasonable but is utterly absurd and unworkable.
For advocates of this viewpoint, global citizenship is a way to transform America, to change the idiosyncratic idea of this republic into an amalgam of ideas borrowing form variegated sources. The curriculum in most colleges is moving in this direction. NYU, for example, contends that the “traditional state-to-state mindset may be at odds with the realities of our increasingly globalized planet.”
A case can be made for economic issues that transcend geographic boundaries. Pneumonia in Europe causes a cold in North America. However, social and political matters are largely national and those attempts at post-national enterprises such as the European Union, have a dubious history and uncertain future.
There is little doubt a world government will not soon be upon us unless, of course, Islam conquers the world or China’s notion of the Middle Kingdom gains ascendency. But there is a valid concern about procedural policy issues that rely on global principles. To cite yet another example: A recent Supreme Court decision, presumably guided by the U.S. Constitution, relied on a precedent in Zimbabwe’s Courts. Even if the precedent is useful, this globalized viewpoint has serious implications for the future of American jurisprudence.
One need not be narrowly nationalistic to assume world government and its global citizens are a fantasy most likely realized as dystopia. Unfortunately the advocates of this notion have penetrated the porous walls of the Academy and have even influenced those in the corridors of influence and power.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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