Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution by Robert M. Hutchins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This “preliminary draft,” a bold effort by a number of eminent thinkers writing at the beginning of the Cold War, is still valuable as food for thought and as a launching-point in the discussion about the possibility of world government.
As an admirer of both Mortimer J. Adler and Robert M. Hutchins, and also being a student of the problem of how to achieve cooperation among people worldwide, when I saw the title of this work in a bibliography somewhere I immediately set about finding a copy for myself.
I’m very glad I did. The slim hardback I bought online had been discarded by the Mercy College Library, Yorktown Center, and came with its library labels and “date due” sheet still attached. The draft constitution itself is only 36 pages long, including title page and table of contents; the rest of the 92 pages are taken up with some brief discussion of issues surrounding the writing of the draft, and appendixes that list associated documents and address a couple of other political matters. The draft was composed by the self-styled Committee to Frame a World Constitution, a group of 12 academics, one of whom eventually left the committee due to his inability to accept some of its ideas.
The Committee drafted its constitution in a series of 13 meetings held between November 1945 and July 1947. The Cold War had begun, the nuclear arms race was on, the new United Nations was showing signs of being ineffectual and doomed, and most of the 20th century to that date had been characterized by increasingly destructive warfare on ever widening scales. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had shown what the next conflagration would probably look like. The framers of this constitution, like many other people, felt sure that the only way to prevent such future holocausts was for the world to be organized under a single, federal, constitutional government, and they offered their draft as a starting point toward that end.
It begins with a 1-page preamble describing the principles and aims of the constitution. The preamble asserts that “the advancement of man in spiritual excellence and physical welfare” depends upon “universal peace”, which in turn depends upon justice. It goes on to say that
iniquity and war inseparably spring from the competitive anarchy of the national states; [and] that therefore the age of nations must end, and the era of humanity begin. . . .
The constitution conceives a global federal government whose sovereignty is vested in the people of Earth, who will elect a global Federal Convention of delegates at 1 delegate per million of population. The Federal Convention will form 9 electoral colleges based on 9 geographic regions of Earth, who will in turn elect a President of the World Republic, a World Council of 99 Councilmen, and a Tribune of the People who will act as an advocate for people and groups that feel that their rights are being neglected or violated by the World Government or any of its component units. The President will have a Chancellor and a Cabinet, and with the World Council will establish a number of other bodies, including a Grand Tribunal which will set up the judiciary; a Chamber of Guardians responsible for military matters; and a House of Nationalities and States; a Senate; an Institute of Science, Education, and Culture; and finally a Planning Agency responsible for revenue and budget.
The rest of the text is concerned with the how-to of it: numbers, terms, eligibility, impeachment, and so on. It makes for fascinating reading because it is carefully thought out by people who have given the matter much study.
The draft constitution speaks right to some of the most important questions: Is world peace possible? How might it be achieved? What are its preconditions? Is a single overarching government necessary in order to achieve it? What are the risks attached to that, and are they worth it?
My own suspicion is that a World Government may be possible only if there is substantial agreement by everyone on what is the nature of man and what is the purpose of organizing human society. While you might—just—be able to get people to agree that “the advancement of man in spiritual excellence and physical welfare” is a good idea, getting them to agree on how to do that, or what it might look like, seems a lot tougher.
Of course, the constitution does not envision dispensing with nation-states; rather, it sees the World Government as a federation of them, so maybe its principles could indeed work at that level, while human diversity could be expressed down at the national level. And if a man and a woman from different sides of Earth can mate and have children, and can somehow form a working household, then can we not also find ways to get along, based on our common humanity?
I could have used more context around the actual draft. There are a few brief notes about some of the controversies experienced with the Committee, but mainly the reader is directed to an appendix of 150 supplementary documents, all no doubt very hard to procure now.
But the question of global governance is if anything more urgent now than ever. I’ll be thinking about this draft constitution for some time to come as I try to figure out what I can do to make my world a better place.