Realist Rationale for World Government

By Will Kielm[*]

Dr. Hans Morgenthau

As grandiose and idealistic as it may seem, the concept of world government has occupied the discourse of generations of scholars in the field of international relations, with perspectives ranging across all schools of thoughts. While the Westphalian

sovereignty principle has dominated the international system for centuries, the thought of developing a world government as an effective means of ending conflicts

continues to linger in the minds of many. But how “realistic” is such a proposal? With the

rise of globalization and the weakening of national sovereignty, notions of world

federalism, or at the very least the possibility of strengthening interstate cooperation

under a state-centric anarchic system, have resurfaced in academic conversation.

The staunchest opponent of world government, however, is the “realist” school, which has argued against the prospect of fostering world government. However, this paper shall argue that the descriptive features of realist international relations theory ought not to reject the concept of a world government as an idealist fallacy, but instead point towards a series of realistic paths towards a world state.

Realism in International Relations (IR) Theory

Scholars of international relations refer back to Thucydides’ narrative on the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta as the origin of political realism.[1] Thucydides’ account of the Melian Dialogue established the notion of international affairs driven purely by power-politics. Prominent thinkers such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Jeane Jacques Rousseau followed Thucydides by shaping the realist school. Most relevantly, Hobbes provided the “state of nature” argument, a highly pessimistic view of human nature which suggests that each individual unit of man is rationally and ruthlessly motivated by self-interested security concerns. Without law and order (provided by the Leviathan), man would pursue his self-interest through whatever means possible, including resorting to violence, theft, and deception. Hence, Hobbes advanced the argument that without the law and order seen within a nation- state, man would revert back to his natural state of competition.

Classical realists, otherwise known as “human nature realists”, became prominent during the interwar period in response to the rise of idealism, with its newfound emphasis on international law and its failure to prevent interstate hostility. Building upon Hobbesian thought, classical realists, pioneered by the likes of E.H. Carr and Hans J. Morgenthau, projected Hobbes’ analysis of the individual to a state-level analysis. Using the assumption of international anarchy and the unitary state, these realists contended that nations are at the “natural state of man,” referring to innately selfish and violent tendencies embedded in human nature. In this sense, realists attributed interstate violence to international anarchy, as the lack of a world government acting as a third party enforcer exacerbated the inherent violent nature of man and created bilateral commitment problems, rendering interstate cooperation much more difficult.[2] Furthermore, innate human desire for power manifests itself on the state level, leading to hostile behaviors and war. Classical realists, therefore, largely emphasized the role of aggressive instincts and natural predisposition towards selfishness and greed in the behavior of states in international relations.

Structural realism, otherwise known as neorealism as established by Kenneth Waltz, stresses the importance of structural features in the pursuit of security in an anarchic international system. In his Theory of International Politics, Waltz criticized classical realists for their lack of social science methodology in their approach to international relations. Waltz emphasized the importance of the balance of power theory, positing that hegemonies seldom occur in the international system and that bipolarity as operative during the Cold War is more stable than multipolarity, which many classical realists have argued was inherently safer.[3] Neorealists maintain key classical realist assumptions pertaining to state behavior such as the uncertainty about the intentions of others and the pursuit of power as a means to security rather than as an end. According to John H. Herz in Political Realism and Political Idealism, those assumptions result in the increased armament of states, triggering similar increases by other states as a defensive response. This causes an action-response cycle and conflict spiral leading to the security dilemma.[4] Due to the security dilemma, any measure that a state takes to increase its security usually decreases the security of other states, leading to escalations of tensions and conflicts in international affairs.[5]

The differing perspectives on the security dilemma serve as the dividing line within structural realism. Defensive realists emphasize various dimensions of power, such as geography and technology, as they relate to determining the balance between defensive and offensive strategy. If there is less geographical proximity and military technology favors conquest as well as first strike capability, then the security dilemma is more intense and will cause escalated security competition. Geographical distance and defensive military technology would therefore discourage rapid armament and encourage restraint.[6] Offensive realists, on the other hand, posit that there is no distinction between offensive and defensive capabilities and that states seek to maximize power and regional hegemony in order to ensure security.[7]

Robert Jervis, One of the Founders of the Security Dilemma.
Robert Jervis, one of the first scholar formulating the Security Dilemma.

World Government: Realism or Idealism?

In Scientific Man Versus Power Politics, Hans J. Morgenthau attributed the origin of idealism to the interwar period. He argued that “only the end of the first World War saw, in the League of Nations, the triumph of liberalism on the international scene” and that the domestic amalgamation of rationalism and liberalism ultimately led to the application of idealism in international politics.[8] Indeed, during the interwar period, realists began labeling any scholar engaged in discourse on world federalism and postwar international institutions “idealists.” Arnold Wolfers, for instance, asserted that idealists were strict adherents of world federalist discourse without regard for a multi-state-based system. In this view, realists had to fight an uphill theoretical battle against an idealist-dominated American foreign policy establishment that placed extreme trust in postwar international institutions and the principle of collective security.[9] Similarly, Herbert Butterfield contrasted the idealist-realist divide with scientific and moralistic approach to international relations.[10] These early “idealists” in the interwar period were referred to as being active proponents of international institutions and the League of Nations. Their central premises denied the legitimacy of international anarchy and called for its to replacement by these institutions.

A world government, in contrast to international organizations such as the League, seeks to mitigate these problems of anarchy by monopolizing organized violence through a singular world state.[11] As stated previously, international anarchy and an individual state’s immediate nationalistic interests generate the security dilemma, interstate conflicts, and other internationally adverse outcomes. A world state would essentially act as the Leviathan of the international system, acting as an absolute sovereign presiding over individualistic states and creating a form of a social contract on an international level.

World federalism is one prominent proposal to establish a world government by ceding parts of state sovereignty to a higher authority, while still maintaining aspects of nation- states’ preferences through federalized representation. Moving beyond the existing state-centric institutional compromise in place today, a world federalist proposal bypasses the concern for the prospect of interstate cooperation under anarchy by encompassing those states under a singular unified and federalist state. Proponents of world federalism include Lord Lothian, a British diplomat who argued in favor of moving away from international organizations and towards a federation of states, and Clarence Streit, a journalist who advocated for a federal union of transatlantic democracies, modeled after the American federalist framework, as a transitional proposal towards a world government.[12][13] A world federalist proposal is an ambitious plan to end all interstate wars and maintain peace on a global scale by revolutionizing the Westphalian international order.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, many realists from the interwar period, which William E. Scheuerman referred to as “Progressive Realists,” supported the concept of a world state to alleviate the problems of international anarchy.[14] Frederick L. Schuman posited that worldwide sovereignty would be the only way to overcome the ills of interstate violence under international anarchy and that only a world federal system with well-defined legislative and executive powers for global citizens would ensure long-lasting peace.[15] Similarly, Georg Schwarzenberger contended that only what he called a world “global federalism” could enforce the rule of law and prevent interstate conflicts.[16] Three criteria are necessary for global federalism, Schwarzenberger argued, which include political legitimacy granted by an international citizenry, certain governmental functions entrusted exclusively to the new world state, and a truly political character for such a state . He used this criteria to suggest that, while such preconditions were not yet met for global federalism, they were met for a potential Atlantic Union of democracies.

Furthermore, contrary to conventional wisdom, these progressive realists did not openly express hostility against international law, nor did they espouse defeatist perspectives on human nature. In fact, they admired the intent behind moralism and international law. They did, however, exercise caution in bringing global reform. John Herz and Arnold Wolfers, for instance, turned towards Max Weber’s ethics of responsibility and opposed pure Machiavellianism. Reinhold Niebuhr operated under Christian morality, criticizing Hobbes for being “blind to empirical realities where humans transcend harsh power realities.”[17]

Morgenthau in particular expressed great sympathy towards the idea of a world state. While qualifying some of his arguments in favor of world government, such as the need for the consent of the broader “world community” and supra-sectional loyalties, Morgenthau argued in Politics Among Nations that a world government would resolve the problems of collective security through general disarmament and the development of a collective police force. Indeed, according to Morgenthau there “can be no permanent international peace without a state coextensive with the confines of the political world.”[18] He further asserted that nation-states ought to be replaced by a political organization more adapted “to the technical circumstances and the moral requirements of the contemporary world.” However, Morgenthau re-emphasized his focus away from the potential benefits of a world government to the central issue of the creation and maintenance of such a world state, which would ultimately impede on such an endeavor to establish said-world state.[19]

Despite the functional purpose of a world government in mitigating problems of international anarchy as put forward by classical realists, engaging in the discourse of world federalism came to be classified as part of the idealist/utopian camp by latter realists. Between the two discourses, world federalism and anarchy/sovereignty, conventional wisdom suggests that idealists exclusively engage in the world federalist discourse while realists engage in the anarchy and sovereignty discourse. However, such characterization cannot be further from the truth. Neorealists sought to typify the interwar period as consisting of only one “idealist” discourse on world federalism.[20] However, Cameron Thies rightfully postulated that the interwar period was defined by a multitude of discourses within it, namely the discourse on anarchy and sovereignty and world federalism.[21] There existed “idealist” elements in both the anarchy/sovereignty and world federalist discourse, yet discussion of world federalism came to falsely be regarded as the “core” of idealism by realists. These realists instead used the anarchy/sovereignty discourse to form their own core of academic tradition.[22] This led neorealists to forcefully create a distinction between idealists and realists by suppressing idealist discourse on anarchy/sovereignty while amplifying idealist discourse on world federalism.

Unlike the conventional realists’ account of the relationship between world federalist discourse and idealism, there existed discourses within idealism that facilitated a bridge between realist-caricatured “idealists” and modern realists. The so-called “utopian realists,” Thies contended, served as a precursor to modern realists and merged elements of realism and idealism in their writings. The utopian realists, otherwise referred to as “Progressive Realists” by Scheuerman, agreed that power politics shape the realities of international politics, but acknowledged the importance of idealism within the discipline of international relations.[23] E.H. Carr, for instance, called for a healthy fusion of utopianism and realism for the study of international politics, similar to the need for a balance between theory and practice.[24]

Other utopian realists, such as John Herz, agreed with the assessment that some elements of idealism are necessary within international relations, categorizing the two paradigms as pessimistic power politics versus a utopian world state. Quincy Wright ascribed the sovereignty discourse to realists and world government discourse to idealists. While the two discourses ostensibly overlapped during the interwar period, they had already developed into “discrete narratives” by the time of Wright’s writing.[25] Ultimately, the work of utopian realists entailed large elements of idealism, and their writings contained enough passages that facilitated modern realists’ attempt “at removing any vestige of utopianism from these precursors’ work.”[26]

But who exactly were these “idealists”? And what did they really advocate for? Historiographers such as Lucian Ashworth suggested that those accused of being “idealists” were not really idealists at all.[27] For instance, Carr strictly defined idealists (what he referred to as “utopians”) with three distinct criteria, one of which was that utopians “grossly underestimate the role of power in international politics, and overestimate the role, actual and potential, of morality, law, public opinion, and other ‘non-material’ sanctions...” Yet idealists such as David Miltrany rejected a world federalist approach to international relations due to concerns over power politics and instead advocated for a “functional development” of international organizations, which was a compromise between sovereignty and world government discourse.[28] Noel Baker, another scholar associated with “idealism,” proposed a more powerful League as an alternative to violent anarchy in order to prevent states from reverting back to power politics.[29]

Hence, the characterization of “world federalist” discourse as a category under idealist theory would be a vast oversimplification of the concept and has done disservice to solid analysis on world federalism. Without acknowledging the realists who engaged in the discourse and mischaracterizing participants as “idealists”, discourse on world government is rendered naïve and wrongfully utopian on grounds of superficial labeling.

Contemporary Debate between Realism and “Idealism”

Earlier debates between realists and “idealists,” the latter of whom came to be regarded as “liberal institutionalists” in the postwar era,[30] revolved around the central premise of the international system. The old liberal institutionalists, otherwise referred to as “functionalists” during the interwar period,[31] rejected realists’ centrality of the nation-state by contending that international agencies, such as supranational bureaucracies, labor unions, multinational corporations, and NGOs played a larger role in international relations than was recognized under realist theory. Furthermore, functionalists such as David Miltrany argued against the unitary state assumption by suggesting that authority is decentralized among modern states.[32] Struggling with the same theme of empirical disagreement over the extent to which nation-states influence the international system (or the lack thereof), the “First Great Debate” between realists-idealists during the interwar period remained inconclusive.

By the contemporary era, the First Great Debate between realism and idealism transitioned into the Second Great Debate between neorealist and neoliberal institutionalists, as the latter group accepted the realist premise of state centrality, international anarchy, and the unitary actor assumption.[33] The earliest contemporary liberal institutionalist literature has largely been influenced by the works of three political scientists. Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye’s Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition brought attention to ongoing changes in international political development along with growing interdependence among states.[34] Charles Kindleberger’s The World in Depression, 1929-1939, established the hegemonic stability theory and the importance of a hegemon, namely the United States, in maintaining international institutions and preventing global financial crises.[35] In this sense, neoliberalism’s influence could be seen in both the world federalism and the anarchy/sovereignty discourses because neoliberals hinted at a greater prospect for interstate cooperation under both international anarchy and hegemonic leadership, which act together as the mitigating factors of international anarchy.

Building upon Robert Axelrod’s preeminent work on game theory, namely repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Tit-for-Tat strategy presented in The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Keohane, one of the pioneers of neoliberal institutionalist school, argued in After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy that institutional cooperation can occur without a global hegemon under a rational choice assumption.[36][37] The “new” liberals have henceforth used the realist and rationalist assumption of state-centric international system to justify international institutions and the prospect for interstate cooperation under anarchy, namely in the realms of political economy.

Realists have offered their counterarguments to the “new liberals” in the contemporary realism vs. idealism discourse. Joseph Grieco contended, for instance, that “individual well-being is not the key interest of states; instead, it finds that survival is their core interest.”[38] Because security is the core interest of states, it matters not whether, for example, an individual state is gains from engaging in international trade, but whether it is gaining more relative to other states. To put it simply, the realist criticism of neoliberal institutionalists’ conclusion on interstate cooperation is that they think in terms of absolute gains when international anarchy forces states to prioritize relative gains over absolute gains and renders their relationship as zero-sum.[39] Many mathematical scholars have since addressed the absolute-relative gains problem. Robert Powell developed a game theoretical model to incorporate both relative and absolute gains. He concluded that relative gains may cause “cooperation [to collapse] when the use of force is an issue”, but that cooperation still becomes a possibility if the cost of war is sufficiently high.[40] However, empirical disagreements between neorealists and neoliberals on the extent that international anarchy plays in impeding interstate cooperation continues to this day.

Realist Argument for a Federal World Government

While modern realists attribute problems of violence and the security dilemma to international anarchy, they have remained the greatest academic opponents of interstate cooperation or any form of a world government.[41] Despite Hobbes’ argument that each individual’s expected utility of obeying the state (an entity with the power to “kill”) is greater than that of tolerating anarchy, contemporary realists argue that this reasoning does not apply to states because states are not as vulnerable to being “killed” as individuals are, which realists have used to justify the non-existence of a world government. [42] Firstly, such an asymmetric distinction between interactions among individuals and interactions among states contradicts the unitary actor assumption, an axiom that neorealists often employ in their analyses of the international system. This contradiction and conveniently double-standardized usage of unitary actor assumption by realists is often overlooked. Secondly, the advent of nuclear weapons enables an aggressor to “kill” any state. As opposed to the “billiard ball” pre-nuclear states, states in a nuclear world are more like “eggs” whose shells can be shattered by a nuclear attack.[43] Paradoxically, while a singular nuclear state would enable a world government with its monopoly on the right to “kill,” a world with a handful of nuclear armed states caused by nuclear proliferation is also an obstacle to a world government, as will be explored later.

Therefore, contemporary proponents of world governance, ironically, came from liberal institutionalists such as John Ikenberry, who adopted the term “Liberal Leviathan” to positively depict the growing international order that emerged in the postwar era under U.S. hegemony.[44] Much of the opposition from neorealists on the establishment of a world state emerged from the fundamental conflation between descriptive and prescriptive theory. For example, E.H. Carr compared realism vs. idealism with free will vs. determinism: free will proponents reject reality to replace it with their envisioned utopia while determinists realize that the course of development is predetermined, something they are powerless to change. Realists, he argued, look into the past and present while idealists look into the future without any regard to causality. However, using such a characterization to construe realism with normative advocacy runs the risk of conflating pessimistic empirics with defeatism. While Carr used the analogy for the purpose of demonstrating the need for a healthy balance, many self-proclaimed realists have used the same mindset to argue against any attempt at establishing “idealistic” world government.

Collective security, global infrastructure, and transnational maintenance share one thing in common; they are all forms of a global, public good due to their non-excludable and non-rivalrous traits. Therefore, a world government, if it were to have the legitimacy afforded by a world community, would be the sole provider of this global public good while also resolving the collective action problems associated with international anarchy. On international security, a world government would solve the security dilemma, the fundamental cause of war as identified by realist scholars, since there would be no nation-states competing against one another for security. Furthermore, under the Hobbesian logic, a world government would provide a form of public good known as collective security, thereby reducing interstate violence to mere “crimes” committed domestically. On the global economy, a world government would eliminate market inefficiencies caused by protectionist policies and ultimately enforce freer transactions and commercial activities through hegemonic stability. On transnational issues, a world government would resolve the “free rider” problem, an issue of reaping benefits from a shared public good without contributing to its cost burdens, associated with unilaterally combatting terrorism, policing cyberspace, and solving climate change within the existing anarchic international system.

But why world federalism as opposed to other means of world government? Early realistssupported world federalism as opposed to other means of world government because, as Schuman and Schwarzenberger suggest, federalism “possessed the best chance to successfully combine political and legal autonomy in the hands of sub global political units with new global rulemaking and enforcement.” World federalism circumvents realists’ skepticism of interstate cooperation under anarchy since it bypasses the state-centric assumption of the existing international order. By initially establishing a smaller community and/or union of nations, a world government could be established over time by consolidating political legitimacy through overwhelming force, supra-sectional loyalties, and expectation of justice.[45]

Potential Problems Posed by World Government and Potential Solutions

Potential Dangers

Despite the potential benefits of replacing Westphalian, state-centric international anarchy with a world government, there are two potential problems with it. The first is the problem of internal strife. While a world government may solve the problems of inter-state conflict, it will not solve the problems of intra-state conflict. Even in modern history, nation states have been riddled with sectarian violence and secessionist movements that manifested themselves in the form of civil wars and various insurgencies. In a world full of pluralistic identities defined by various histories, languages, ethnicities, and cultures, the possibility of a series of sectarian-based civil war outbreaks under world government is all the more likely. The second problem lies in nuclear proliferation. Nuclear weapons have the ultimate safeguard tool for preserving the nation-state against external threats of regime change because the mechanism of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that accompanies the current nuclear world rules out the possibility of establishing a world government through military conquest. This does not preclude the possibility of internal regime changes and global integration possibilities, as shown by the example of the Soviet Union, but it would still be a notable obstacle towards a world government.

Solution to Internal Strife

In the fourth annual Kenneth N. Waltz Lecture in International Relations, Dr. James D. Fearon raised a provocative question: “Why is there hierarchy within states but anarchy among states? Why is there no world government?”[46] He provided two reasons. The first reason is that efficiency gains from solving the problems of anarchy are much greater at smaller geographical and political units. It is simply more beneficial to mitigate anarchy on a smaller scale due to similarities between various regional actors. The second reason is that the greater the conflicting preferences among groups or factions, the more difficult it will be to construct political institutions that solve the commitment problems associated with a world government. In essence, the cost is too large for states to resolve anarchy when they have too many preferential dissimilarities amongst them, whether that is cultural, linguistic, political, or economical. To these ends, Fearon concisely concluded, “Anarchy is a choice, not a structural condition.”

The existence of state preferences is the main cause of potential internal strife within a world government. The fact that there are differing state preferences within nation-states that lead to civil wars and regional instabilities is a testament to its geopolitical reality. However, advocacy for a world government does not necessarily prescribe to ignoring the concerns of internal strife. In fact, Morgenthau argued that a world state cannot be established without the consent of global citizens and the broader “world community” at large. After all, in the absence of consent by the world community, the creation of a world government is either utopian or an imperial form of world domination that would almost certainly produce repressive tyranny.[47] One of the fundamental conditions of domestic peace under a world government suggested by Morgenthau is the presence of supra-sectional loyalty, the idea that individuals with different preferences over economics, politics, religion, and culture would not necessarily resort to violence under legitimate national unity.[48] Until such pluralistic differences are properly addressed, proponents of a world government are unlikely to advance ambitious claims to overlook these factors.

Furthermore, Streit’s proposal for a union of democracies does take differing state preferences into consideration by advocating for a federation of democratic and transatlantic states as a starting point towards a potential world government. Streit proposed that democracies in Europe and North America ought to merge into a union under a federalist framework for the purposes of maximizing individual liberty while catering towards similar democratic domestic preferences. With a common democratic principle, those states could achieve a nucleus composed of fifteen democracies and establish a union that ensures collective security, economic integration, and freedom of movement. He argued that the union would be designed “to create by its constitution a nucleus world government capable of growing into a universal world government peacefully and as rapidly as such growth will best serve man's freedom.”[49]

However, Streit’s union of democracies still leaves open the problem of the security dilemma; the dilemma would only be solved once the initial union becomes a world government. While this would not solve other issues of differing state preferences, namely culture and language, the union proposal serves as a potentially transitional model progressing towards a world government. Additionally, those differing cultural preferences would most likely integrate with time, as shown by the examples of the United States where different cultural preferences among states eventually converged into a singular national identity and culture.

Ultimately, the existence of differing cultural, economic, and political state preferences does not suggest that those differences would remain permanent in light of increasing globalization and potentially a union of like-minded democracies. Therefore, advocacy of a federal world government is a long-term vision. Advocates of a federal world government do not seek to artificially alter states’ preferences, but instead pursue a pragmatic approach of ceding sovereignty to a higher authority based on existing preferences. Abruptly establishing a world government without regard to differences in preferences would lead to internal strife, but if done carefully and on a basis of inclusive trust federalism could become a sustainable model.

Solution to Nuclear Proliferation

The second problem, nuclear proliferation, poses the issue of “effective equality,” since a proliferated world would facilitate mutual vulnerability to death at another state’s hand and ultimately perpetuate international anarchy.[50] The power of any state’s ability to incur incalculable damage towards its perpetrators entirely rules out the possibility of establishing a world government through conquest. With a growing number of proliferated states in a nuclear world, the urgency of creating a world government is heighted since it would become increasingly difficult to establish said-world government as nuclear weapons become more common.[51]

There are a few key solutions to the nuclear proliferation problem that scholars have already suggested. One is a policy of alliance and nuclear deterrence. Because nuclear deterrence renders any attempt to cause a nuclear war highly irrational, it serves as a benchmark for preserving the status-quo of nonviolence among states.[52] Alliances, namely nuclear alliances, allow for reducing the likelihood of conflict among nuclear powers while also maintaining a nuclear umbrella for non-nuclear states. An anti-nuclear proliferation alliance consisting of nuclear powers would effectively deter any new state from acquiring nuclear weapons since the alliance would be able to effectively coerce them. Through these processes, Gregory Kavka argues in favor of what he refers to as a “Nuclear World Government,” which would seek to indefinitely deter the usage of nuclear weapons among the nuclear powers. Such a government would be united on the basis of common opposition to nuclear war and a desire to solve the vulnerability problem faced by various states within a proliferated nuclear world.

The second solution is interstate arms control based on international institutions. While the number of nuclear powers has increased throughout the Cold War, the strengthening of globalization and international institutions has also rendered nuclear arms control easier since institutions solve information problems among states while partially mitigating problems of anarchy by inducing some forms of cooperation among states. This is empirically demonstrated as well, since the United States and Russia have disarmed large chunks of their nuclear stockpiles since the fall of the Soviet Union. Nuclear arms control could occur through what is known as institutional deterrence statism, which posits that arms control could take place both within and between states.[53] Daniel Deudney contended that states could take active measures both internally and externally to exercise measures of nuclear restraint by subordinating military organizations to state decision-makers and altering the political relations between nuclear-armed states to ensure the avoidance of a nuclear war.[54] While concerns of cheating continue to haunt the prospect of indefinite arms control agreements, the combination of a collective danger of a potential nuclear war, increased globalization, and lessening of interstate threats render the effects of nuclear arms control all the more likely in the near future. Furthermore, because realists do not completely disregard the importance and functionality of international laws and norms, as we established previously, such institutional constraints and agreements ought not to be ignored under a realist framework when dealing with the fundamental problem of nuclear proliferation.


Through evaluating the intellectual history behind realism, idealism, and their relations to the discourse on world government, one can draw three conclusions. First, scholars from the interwar period who were labeled “idealists” did not espouse unrealistic utopian ideals as characterized by realists during the period. While earlier idealists did point towards a normative ambition to maintain international institutions such as the League of Nations, they were far from ignoring the realities of power politics that often dictated the international scene. Second, advocacy and discourse of a world government was not strictly limited to “idealists” and have, in fact, been thoroughly advanced by the work of many progressive realists. As historiography shows, discourse on world federalism in particular was conflated with “idealists” for the birth of realism’s intellectual core in the discourse of anarchy/sovereignty. Neorealists would then claim the discourse of anarchy/sovereignty as the core of their intellectual foundation. Third, the realist approach to international relations does not necessarily preclude advocacy for a world government due to its descriptive nature. Positive statements do not always direct towards any particular normative statement, as realists often assume; similar to how being a determinist ought not to necessarily direct someone into nihilistic and defeatist courses of actions, being a realist and believing that the state of the world is in anarchy does not necessarily mean that the state of the world ought to stay as anarchy. As such, discourse on world government ought to remain in the dialogues of international relations by both neoliberal and neorealist schools of thought for the purposes of doing justice to a topic deserving of serious attention.



[*] This essay was written in fulfillment of the Streit Council Analyst Internship research requirements.

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