World Government

1. Historical Background

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,

Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be;

Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were

In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,

And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Locksley Hall” (1837)

United States President Harry Truman, who oversaw the founding of the
United Nations after the Second World War, kept these lines from
Tennyson’s poem in his wallet (Kennedy 2006: xi). After this
brutal global war that claimed over fifty million lives, just like
after the previous world war in which almost ten million perished,
ordinary people and statespersons alike sought to establish a post-war
international order that would be able to prevent another war of
global devastation from occurring. In fact, since the problem of war,
or large-scale socially organized violence, has been with us
throughout human history, the ideal of a universal community of
humankind living in perpetual peace was not at all new.

Derek Heater’s history of ideas of world government and
citizenship begins by noting their presence in ancient Chinese and
Indian as well as Graeco-Roman thought (1996: ix–x). According
to Heater, the concept of human unity produced an ideal that such
unity ought to be expressed in political form. The exact nature of
that form, however, has changed radically over time. While Stoic ideas
about the oneness of the universe were politically inchoate, they
inspired medieval Christian proposals for a global political
authority; at the same time, the historical model of imperial Rome (or
its myths) inspired medieval quests for world empire.

The Italian poet, philosopher, and statesperson, Dante
(1265–1321), perhaps best articulated the Christian ideal of
human unity and its expression through a world governed by a universal
monarch. In The Banquet [Convivio], Dante argued
that wars and all their causes would be eliminated if

the whole earth and all that humans can possess be a monarchy, that
is, one government under one ruler. Because he possesses everything,
the ruler would not desire to possess anything further, and thus, he
would hold kings contentedly within the borders of their kingdoms, and
keep peace among them. (Convivio, bk 4, ch 4 [2000: 169])

In De Monarchia (1309–13: 8]), a full political
treatise affirming universal monarchy, Dante draws on Aristotle to
argue that human unity stems from a shared end, purpose or function,
to develop and realize fully and constantly humanity’s distinct
intellectual potential. In Book I, Dante argues that peace is a vital
condition for realizing this end, and peace cannot be maintained if
humanity is divided. Just as “[e]very kingdom divided against
itself shall be laid waste” (Monarchia bk 1, ch. V,
quoting Luke 11:17 [1995: 10]), since humankind shares one goal,

there must therefore be one person who directs and rules mankind, and
he is properly called “Monarch” or “Emperor”.
And thus it is apparent that the well-being of the world requires that
there be a monarchy or empire. (Monarchia bk 1, ch. V [1995:

Most importantly, when conflicts inevitably arise between two rulers
who are equals, “there must be a third party of wider
jurisdiction who rules over both of them by right”; a universal
monarch is necessary as

a first and supreme judge, whose judgment resolves all disputes either
directly or indirectly. (Monarchia bk 1, ch. X [1995:

In the absence of a universal monarch, humanity is “transformed
into a many-headed beast”, striving after “conflicting
things” (Monarchia bk 1, ch. XVI [1995: 28]); humankind
ordered under a universal monarch, however,

will most closely resemble God, by mirroring the principle of oneness
or unity of which he is the supreme example. (Monarchia bk 1,
ch. VIII [1995: 19])

Dante completes his treatise by extolling the Roman Empire as a part
of God’s providence (Monarchia bks 2 and 3 [1995:
30–94). And while Dante argued for a universal emperor whose
temporal power was distinct from the pope’s religious power, and
not derivative from the latter, he envisioned that God’s will
must require pope and emperor to forge a cooperative and conciliatory,
rather than competitive and antagonistic, relationship.

The idea of uniting humanity under one empire or monarch, however,
became an ambivalent appeal by the seventeenth century with the
entrenchment in Europe of the system of sovereign states after the
Peace of Westphalia (1648). At the same time, European encounters with
non-European worlds precipitated European ambitions based on the
principle of promoting civilization as an organizing framework for
legitimizing European imperial and colonial expansion into other parts
of the world (Keene 2002).

In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes (1588–1679) gave the
quintessential formulation of sovereignty as supreme legal coercive
authority over a particular population and territory. Hobbes argued
that although mutual vulnerabilities and interests lead individuals to
give up their liberties in the state of nature, in exchange for
protection—thereby instituting sovereign states—the
miseries that accompany a plurality of sovereign states are not as
onerous to individuals, hence there is less rational basis for
political organization to move towards a global leviathan:

because states uphold the Industry of their Subjects; there does not
follow from the international state of nature, that misery, which
accompanies the Liberty of particular men. (1651: ch. 13 [1986:

Contrary to realist interpretations of Hobbes in international
relations thought, Hobbes did not consider international law or
cooperation between sovereign states to be impossible or impractical.
Anticipating the development of international law, collective security
organizations, the League of Nations and the United Nations, he
affirmed the possibility and efficacy of leagues of commonwealths
founded on the interests of states in peace and justice:

Leagues between Common-wealths, over whom there is no humane Power
established, to keep them all in awe, are not onely lawfull [because
they are allowed by the commonwealth], but also profitable for the
time they last. (1651: ch. 22 [1986: 286])

In Hobbes, we find the first articulation of the argument that a world
state is unnecessary, although he envisaged that the development of a
lawful interstate order is possible, and potentially desirable.

In the eighteenth century, Charles Castel, Abbé de Saint-Pierre
(1658–1743), in his Project for Making Peace Perpetual in
(1713), extended Hobbes’s argument that a rational
interest in self-preservation necessitated the creation a domestic
leviathan to the international realm, asserting that reason should
lead the princes of Europe to form a federation of states by social
contract. The contracting sovereigns would form a perpetual and
irrevocable alliance, establishing a permanent Diet or Congress that
would adjudicate all conflicts between the contracting parties. The
federation would also proscribe as “a public enemy”
(Rousseau 1756 [1917: 63]) any member who breaks the Treaty or
disregards the decisions of the congress; in such a situation, all
members would “arm and take the offensive, conjointly and at the
common expense, against any State put to the ban of Europe” in
order to enforce the decisions of the federation (1756 [1917:
61–4]). In other words, perpetual peace can be achieved if the
princes of Europe would agree to relinquish their sovereign rights to
make war or peace to a superior, federal body that guaranteed
protection of their basic interests.

In his comments on this proposal, Rousseau (1712–78)
acknowledged its perfect rationality:

Realize this Commonwealth of Europe for a single day, and you may be
sure it will last forever; so fully would experience convince men that
their own gain is to be found in the good of all. (1756 [1917:

To Rousseau, however, existing societies had so thoroughly corrupted
humans’ natural innocence that they were largely incapable of
discovering their true or real interests. Thus, the
Abbé’s proposals were not utopian, but they were not
likely to be realized “because men are crazy, and to be sane in
a world of madmen is itself a kind of madness” (1756 [1917:
91]). At the same time, Rousseau noted that the sovereigns of Europe
were not likely to agree voluntarily to form such a federation:

No Federation could ever be established except by a revolution. That
being so, which of us would dare say whether the League of Europe is a
thing more to be desired or feared? It would perhaps do more harm in
the moment than it would guard against for ages. (1756 [1917:

This consequentialist objection to the idea of world
government speculates that even if it were desirable, the process of
creating a world government may produce more harm than good; the
necessary evils committed on the road to establishing a world
government would outweigh whatever benefits might result from its

Rousseau viewed war as a product of defectively ordered social
institutions; it is states as public entities that make war, and
individuals participate in wars only as members or citizens of states.
Far from viewing the achievement of a domestic leviathan as moral
progress, Rousseau noted that the condition of a world of entangled
sovereign states puts human beings in more peril than if no such
institutions existed at all. Isn’t it the case, he argued,

each one of us being in the civil state as regards our fellow
citizens, but in the state of nature as regards the rest of the world,
we have taken all kinds of precautions against private wars only to
kindle national wars a thousand times more terrible? And that, in
joining a particular group of men, we have really declared ourselves
the enemies of the whole race? (1756 [1917: 56])

In Rousseau’s view, the solution to war is to establish
well-governed societies, along the lines he established in The
Social Contract
(1762); only in such contexts will human beings
realize their full rational and moral potential. To establish
perpetual peace, then, we should not pursue world government, but the
moral perfection of states. A world of ideal societies would have no
cause for war, and no need for world government.

Kant tried, in his Idea for a Universal History with a
Cosmopolitan Purpose
(1784), to refute the claim that the
development of the domestic state constituted a moral step backwards
for humankind, by placing it and its trials

in the history of the entire species, as a steadily advancing but slow
development of man’s original [rational] capacities. (1784
[1991: 41])

Nature employs the “unsociableness of men” to motivate
moral progress; thus war is a means by which nature moves states

to take the step which reason could have suggested to them even
without so many sad experiences—that of abandoning a lawless
state of savagery and entering a federation of peoples in which every
state, even the smallest, could expect to derive its security and
rights not from its own power or its own legal judgment, but solely
from this great federation (Foedus Amphictyonum), from a
united power and the law-governed decisions of a united will. (1784
[1991: 47])

This is the “inevitable outcome” (1784 [1991: 48]) of
human history, a point Kant reiterated in Perpetual Peace
[1795], when he argued that rationality dictated the formation of

an international state (civitas gentium), which would
necessarily continue to grow until it embraced all the peoples of the
earth. (1784 [1991: 105])

In present conditions, however, Kant noted that “the positive
idea of a world republic cannot be realized”, thus his
treatise on perpetual peace begins with the social fact of a world of
distinct but interacting states. What would be required, given such a
world, to achieve perpetual peace? Kant makes three arguments. First,
every state must have a republican constitution that guarantees the
freedom and equality of citizens through the rule of law and
representative political institutions. The internally well-ordered
republican state is less likely to engage in wars without good

under a constitution where the subject is not a citizen, and which is
therefore not republican, it is the simplest thing in the world to go
to war. (1784 [1991: 100])

Second, such internally well-ordered states would need to enter into a
“federation of peoples”, which is distinct from an
“international state” (1784 [1991: 102]). A

pacific federation (foedus pacificum) … does not aim
to acquire any power like that of a state, but merely to preserve and
secure the freedom of each state in itself, along with that of the
other confederated states. (1784 [1991: 104])

In this context, a federal union of free and independent states, he

is still to be preferred to an amalgamation of the separate nations
under a single power which has overruled the rest and created a
universal monarchy.

His reasons against a universal monarchy combine fears of an
all-powerful and powerless world government:

For the laws progressively lose their impact as the government
increases its range, and a soulless despotism, after crushing the
germs of goodness, will finally lapse into anarchy. (1784 [1991:

Most forcefully articulating the tyranny objection, Kant argued that a
“universal despotism” would end “in the graveyard of
freedom” (1784 [1991: 114]). The third condition for perpetual
peace in a world of distinct but interacting states is the observance
of cosmopolitan right, which Kant limits to universal hospitality.
Although the human race shares in common a right to the earth’s
surface, Kant argued that strangers do not have entitlements to settle
on foreign territory without the inhabitants’ agreement. Thus,
cosmopolitan right justifies visiting a foreign land, but not
conquering it, which Kant criticized the commercial states of his day
to have done in “America, the negro countries, the Spice
Islands, the Cape” and East India (1784 [1991: 106]).

Kant’s views on the desirability of world government were
clearly complex (Kokaz 2005: 87–92; Pogge 2009). On the one
hand, Kant provides two of the most trenchant objections to world
government. The tyranny argument posits that world government
would descend into a global tyranny, hindering rather than enhancing
the ideal of human autonomy (Kant 1795 [1991]). Instead of delivering
impartial global justice and peace, a world government may form an
inescapable tyranny that would have the power to make humanity serve
its own interests, and opposition against which might engender
incessant and intractable civil wars (Waltz 1979; DuFord 2017). In
another argument against its desirability, the inevitable remoteness
of a global political authority would dilute the laws, making them
ineffectual and meaningless. The posited weakness of world government
leads to objections based on its potential inefficiency and
soullessness (Kant 1795 [1991]).

On the other hand, Kant also provides a republican vision of world
government based on universal reason. His endorsement of the ideal of
human unity prompted him to see a world republic, under which free and
equal individuals, united by one global sovereign, would achieve a
“fully juridical condition” (Pogge 2009: 198), as the
ideal end of the progress of human history. At the same time,
Kant’s faith in human unity through reason coexisted with his
subscription to a theory of racial hierarchy in human development, and
he came to be critical of the dominant modes of European expansionist
policies in world politics in the late eighteenth
century—through colonial wars, exploitation, and
conquests—as undermining the moral progress of Europeans (Valdez
2019). More generally, Kant condemned any move towards a universal
monarchy, because a monarchy, in contrast to a republic, does not
guarantee, but undermines, the freedom and equality of individuals.
Although a world republic is Kant’s ultimate political ideal, a
universal despotic monarch that exercises power arbitrarily is
equivalent to a global anarchic state of nature, which is his ultimate
dystopia. In between lies his “realistic utopia” (Rawls
1999: 11–6) consisting of a federation of free (republican)
states short of a world state. As Habermas has put it,

This weak conception of a voluntary association of states that are
willing to coexist peacefully while nevertheless retaining their
sovereignty seemed to recommend itself as a transitional stage en
route to a world republic. (2010: 268)

Kant’s work shows that even in the eighteenth century, debates
about world government were alive and well, including arguments by
radical political cosmopolitans such as Anacharsis Cloots
(Jean-Baptiste du Val-de-Grace, baron de Cloots, 1755–1794), who
used social contract theory to advocate the abolition of the sovereign
states system in favor of a universal republic encompassing all
humanity (Kleingeld & Brown 2002). At the same time, philosophical
projects for perpetual peace in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries were Eurocentric in adopting Europe as the centre of world
order, in failing to recognize non-European peoples in equal standing,
and in obscuring the global inequalities and injustices being
established by European commercial enterprises and states (Pitts 2018:

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed revivals of proposals
for world government that were fueled by racialized theories of
progress that buttressed European-led colonial and imperial expansion
over much of the world, technological developments in travel and
communications, the rapid ascent of a global capitalist system, as
well as the devastating impact of wars fought with modern technology.
Theories of “scientific racism” continued to pervade
European thought on world order:

White supremacist visions of global governance circulated widely in
the Anglo-American world. (Bell 2018: 871)

One of the most prominent proponents of world order, H.G. Wells
(1866–1946), envisaged in 1901 a “New Republic” of
Anglo-American dominance, and while he repudiated racial theories, his
vision of a universal world state included a civilizing mission (Wells
1902; Bell 2018: 870). The construction of racial and civilizational
hierarchies, backed by military domination, meant that the inclusion
of non-Europeans and non-whites, whether in imperial projects,
colonial civilizing missions, or later, in a system of formally
independent states embedded in a capitalist global economy, would be
marked by deep asymmetries and inequalities in standing, status,
rights, burdens, and powers (Anghie 2005; Bell 2019; Getachew

In the Second World War, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, atomic scientists lobbied for the international control of
atomic energy as a main function of world federalist government.
Albert Einstein wrote in 1946 that technological developments had
shrunk the planet, through increased economic interdependence and
mutual vulnerability through weapons of mass destruction. Although his
adherence to the idea of a world government to guarantee interstate
peace preceded the development of nuclear weapons, Einstein’s
advocacy gained momentum with the risk of nuclear annihilation:

A world government must be created which is able to solve conflicts
between nations by judicial decision. This government must be based on
a clear-cut constitution which is approved by the governments and
nations and which gives it the sole disposition of offensive weapons.
(1946 [1950: 132]; Nathan & Norden 1960)

Organizations such as the United World Federalists (UWF), established
in 1947, called for the transformation of the United Nations into a
universal federation of states with powers to control armaments. World
peace required that states should give up their traditional
unrestricted sovereign rights to amass weapons and wage war, and that
they should submit their disputes to authoritative international
institutions of adjudication and enforcement; world peace would only
be achieved through the establishment of world law (Clark & Sohn
1958/1960 [1962]).

Calls for world government in the post-World War Two era implied a
deep suspicion about the sovereign state’s potential as a
vehicle for moral progress in world politics. Emery Reves’
influential The Anatomy of Peace, is a condemnation of the
nation-state as a political institution: “The modern Bastille is
the nation-state, no matter whether the jailers are conservative,
liberal or socialist” (1945: 270). Echoing Rousseau, Reves
argued that nation-states threaten human peace, justice and freedom,
by diverting funds from important needs, prolonging a global climate
of mistrust and fear, and creating a war machine that ultimately
precipitates actual war. The experience of the world wars thus made it
especially difficult to view states as agents of moral progress. David
Mitrany, perhaps motivated by such suspicions, bracketed the idea of a
world federation or world state, and focused on the role that “a
spreading web of international activities and agencies” could
play in the pursuit of world integration and peace (1966: 38;
Trachtman 2013).

Some did not reject the nation-state per se, but only
authoritarian nondemocratic states as unfit partners for building a
peaceful world order. The Atlantic Union Committee (AUC), formed in
1949 by Clarence Streit, for example, called for a federal union of
democratic states that would be the genesis of a

free world government, as nations are encouraged by example to
practice the principles which would make them eligible for membership,
namely the principles of representative government and protection of
individual liberty by law. (1950, quoted in Baratta 2004: 470; for a
critique see Rosenboim 2017)

In the context of the Cold War (1945–89), however, the division
of the world into two ideologically opposed camps—led by the
United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR)—produced mutual distrust that pervaded the reception of
all proposals for world government. Soviet opposition to all Western
proposals as attempts to impose “American monopolistic
capitalism” on the world (Goodman 1953: 234) made the world
federalist movement’s goal of establishing a universal
federation infeasible. The Soviet leadership also condemned the
AUC’s proposal for an exclusive union of democracies as part of
the Cold War rivalry—an attempt to strengthen the anti-communist
(anti-Soviet) bloc.

In a distorted fashion, the Soviet Union became the historical
manifestation of socialist or communist thought. Socialist ideas can
be traced back to the French Revolution, but developed more fully as a
response to negative aspects of the rapid growth of industry in the
nineteenth century. At the same time that technological advancements
promised great material progress, the changes they wrought in social
and economic relations were not all positive. While the many workers,
or “proletarians”, in new industrial factories worked
under terrible conditions for meager wages, the few factory owners,
“the bourgeoisie” or “capitalists”, amassed
great wealth and power. According to Karl Marx (1818–1883),
human history is a history of struggles not between nations or states,
but between classes, created and destroyed by changing modes of
production. The state as a centralized, coercive authority emerges
under social modes of production at a certain stage of development,
and is only necessary in a class society as the coercive instrument of
the ruling class. The capitalist economic system, however, contains
within it the seeds of its own destruction: capitalism necessitates
the creation of an ever-growing proletarian class, and a global
revolution by the proletariat will sweep away “the conditions
for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally”
(Marx & Engels 1848 [1988: 75]). The state will fall along with
the fall of classes:

The society that will organize production on the basis of a free and
equal association of the producers will put the whole machinery of
state where it will then belong: into the Museum of Antiquities, by
the side of the spinning wheel and the bronze axe. (Engels 1884 [1978:

In a communist vision, capitalism is a necessary but transitional and
ephemeral order of things; the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism
by forces it unleashed itself is necessary to attain a new world
order, “in which the free development of each is the condition
for the free development of all” (Marx & Engels 1848 [1988:
75]). World peace and freedom as nondomination for all (Roberts 2017),
including freedom from the “alienated” or
“estranged” labor (Marx 1844 [1978: 71–81]) produced
under capitalism, will be achieved through the transformation of a
capitalist to a communist social order:

In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation
vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.
(Marx & Engels 1848 [1988: 73])

The Russian revolutionary, V.I. Lenin (1870–1924), drew on Marx
to argue that the proletarian class needed to seize the coercive
apparatus of the state to oppress the resisters and exploiters, the
bourgeoisie, however, Lenin was committed to world revolution, and to
the view that the state is “the organ of class rule”, and
that even the

proletarian state will begin to wither away immediately after its
victory because the state is unnecessary and cannot exist in a society
in which there are no class antagonisms. (Lenin 1918: 65)

In the context of the post-World War I world that witnessed the
collapse of empires as well as the fortification of others, buttressed
by the League of Nations, Lenin’s vision of a new communist
world order entailed an appeal to the colonized to mount
anti-imperialist revolutions. This contrasted with U.S. President
Woodrow Wilson’s less radical interpretation of
self-determination as good self-government, a formulation that was
consistent with the civilizing narrative based on racial hierarchies,
and the continuation and extension of a colonial international order
(Pedersen 2015).

Later Soviet leaders and elites who rejected Western proposals for
world federation somewhat inconsistently envisaged the transcendence
of nation-states and world capitalism, and the establishment of a
world socialist economy governed by a “Bolshevik World
State” (Goodman 1953: 231). In communist ideology, ultimately,
balance-of-power politics between states enjoying unrestricted
sovereignty did not cause war; the real cause of war was capitalism.
In practice, the Soviet Union’s internally and externally
repressive policies made a mockery of socialist ideals of a classless
society, or a world of peaceful socialist republics, and the
disintegration of the Soviet Union itself spelled the practical end of
one alternative to a capitalist world order.

The end of Cold War ideological divisions led some to have great
expectations in the 1990s of enhanced global cooperation to rid
humanity of the threat of global nuclear annihilation and to increase
global commerce and spread prosperity, the material bases for building
a truly global moral and political community of humankind. The end of
the twentieth century was marked by an unbridled faith and optimism in
the inexorable twin triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy as the
end of history (Fukuyama 1992). With the collapse of Soviet-style
state socialism, the world witnessed neoliberal transformations on a
global scale, driven by the “ideology of free markets, trade
liberalization, deregulation, and the small state” (Lüthi
2020: 596). Quinn Slobodian has described the paradoxical ascendancy
of “globalist” neoliberalism, entailing the development of
a world state and regulatory laws that privileged the
“encasement” of markets from domestic democratic
regulation and accountability, leading to an institutional project to
redesign “states, laws, and other institutions to protect the
market” (2018: 4 and 6). As neoliberalism spread on a global
scale, so did the deterioration of conditions for robust democratic
politics, precipitating serious backsliding of democratization.

The optimism of the 1990s and early 2000s was thus short-lived as a
variety of persistent and deepening structural injustices of the
modern international system produced conditions ripe for violent
conflict and mass atrocities, the global war on terror after 2001, the
global financial crisis of 2007–9, growing numbers of displaced
people, rising socioeconomic inequality, and the hollowing out of
social welfare protections, not to mention the disruptive consequences
wrought by climate change, and the Covid-19 global pandemic. The
persistence of racial subordination and gender inequalities, as well
as the ascendancy of a neoliberal world order, have provoked much
critical debate about how these and other dominating hierarchies,
backed by powerful international institutions, law, states, and
corporations, can be tamed or overthrown, or how the crises they
generate may accelerate structural transformations at the global level
in a more emancipatory direction.

2. Debates in Contemporary Political Theory

2.1 International Relations Theory

Contemporary international relations theory developed out of the
urgent need to explain and predict the causes of war and peace in
world politics. International relations theory has also developed in
response to globalization, which has wrought “fundamental
changes in the spatial and temporal contours of social
existence” (Scheuerman 2002 [2018]), characterized by the uneven
increase and intensification of social interconnectedness, economic
integration, and the “shrinkage of geographic distance on a
world scale” (Keohane 2001). While much of international
relations theory’s approach to world government has remained
focused on the problem of overcoming interstate anarchy for the sake
of human security in the face of common global threats, a
“global politics paradigm” (Zürn 2018) has emerged
which understands world government as only one possible institutional
development among others in a system of global governance
characterized by the co-constitution of transnational, international
and domestic realms of politics and political contestation.

Contemporary international “realists” or
“neorealists” claim not to evaluate the contemporary
states system in normative terms. They liken the international order
to a Hobbesian state of nature, where notions of justice and injustice
have no place, and in which each unit is rationally motivated to
pursue every means within its power to assure its own survival, even
at the expense of others’ basic interests. Some realists have
thus held that ideas of world government constitute exercises in
utopian thinking, and are utterly impractical as a goal for human
political organization. Assuming that world government would lead to
desirable outcomes such as perpetual peace, realists are skeptical
that world government will ever materialize as an institutional
reality, given the problems of egoistic or corrupted human nature, or
the logic of international anarchy that characterizes a world of
states, all jealously guarding their own sovereignty or claims to
supreme authority. World government is thus infeasible as a solution
to global problems because of the unsurpassable difficulties of
establishing “authoritative hierarchies” at the global or
international level (Krasner 1999: 42). Furthermore, Kenneth Waltz, in
his seminal account of neorealism, Theory of International
, clearly favors a system of sovereign states over a
world government (1979: 111–2). World government, according to
Waltz, would not deliver universal, disinterested, impartial justice,
order or security, but like domestic governments, it would be driven
by its own particular or exclusive organizational interests, which it
would pursue at the expense of the interests and freedom of states.
This realist view thus provides a sobering antidote to liberal and
other progressive narratives that foretell peace through

William Scheuerman has argued (2011: 67–97), however, that
so-called “classical” realists of the mid-twentieth
century were more sympathetic to ideas of global institutional reform
than contemporary realists. “Classical” and
“progressive” realists such as Reinhold Niebuhr, E.H.
Carr, and Hans Morgenthau, as well as John Herz and Frederick Schuman,
supported a global reformist agenda, prompted by the advent of
economic globalization, technological change, modern total warfare,
and the nuclear revolution. Although a desirable end-goal, the
feasibility of global political change towards a world government in
the form of a global federal system, according to Reinhold Niebuhr,
would depend on deeper global social integration and cohesion than was
evident in the mid-twentieth century (Scheuerman 2011: 73). In
addition, Niebuhr was concerned that absent the required social and
cultural basis for global political unity, the achievement of world
government would be undesirable, since in such conditions, a world
government would require authoritarian devices to rule, raising the
specter of a global tyrannical power (72–6). Others, such as
James Burnham, posited that a world state could only arise through
imperial conquest (Deudney 2019). Despite these caveats, realist
prudence-based as well as functional arguments for a Weberian world
state have gained traction again (Cabrera 2010; Ulaş 2016; Araujo
2018; Craig 2019).

“International society” theorists, or the “English
school”, argue that although there is no central overriding
authority above sovereign states, their relations are not wholly
lawless or devoid of authoritative and enforceable norms and rules for
conduct. The anarchy between states does not preclude the concept of a
norm-governed society of states (Bull 1977). Since
“international society” theorists do not see the absence
of a central global authority as necessitating a state-eat-state
world, they regard the idea of world government as unnecessary, and
potentially dangerous, since it may serve as a cloak in the struggle
for imperial domination between states. Martin Wight has noted that
the moral ideals of cosmopolitanism typically translate in practice
into political tyranny and imperialism (1991). As an alternative to
world government, and echoing both Rousseau and Kant, Chris Brown

the ideal of a plurality of morally autonomous, just communities
related to one another in a framework of peace and law. (1995:

Establishing an international society, ideally conceived, would make a
supreme world government unnecessary. Andrew Hurrell, however, argues

it is important to recognize the extent to which social, environmental
and, above all, technological change is likely to affect the
scale of governance challenges, the sources of
control and governance, and the subjects of control. (2007:

For these reasons, Hurrell does not consider a retreat to a
traditional state-based pluralism to be feasible, but argues that the
development of a “stable, effective and legitimate international
society” requires redressing global inequality through the
significant redistribution of political power to buttress the
collective political agency of the weak and marginalized (2007:
318).Liberal internationalist accounts of world order are motivated by
more than just the traditional preoccupation with problems of war and
peace. This school of international relations thought, more than the
preceding two, is explicitly critical of traditional accounts of state
sovereignty. Richard Falk has depicted the contemporary world order as
one of “inhumane governance”, identifying the following
ills: global severe poverty affecting more than one billion human
beings, denial of human rights to socially and culturally vulnerable
groups, the persistent use and threat of war as an instrument of
politics, environmental degradation, and the lack of transnational
democratic accountability (1995: 1–2). A liberal
internationalist agenda is advanced when progress is made on
alleviating or correcting these ills. However, Falk is explicit

humane governance can be achieved without world government,
and that this is both the more likely and more desirable course of
action. (1995: 8)

By world government, Falk means a form of global political
organization that has, at minimum, the following features:

compulsory peaceful settlement of all disputes by third-party decision
in accordance with law; general and complete disarmament at the state
and regional levels; a global legislative capacity backed up by
enforcement capabilities; and some form of centralized leadership.
(1995: 7)

Instead of world government, Falk calls for “transnational
democratic initiatives” from global civil society as well as
United Nations reform, both of which would challenge and complement
the statist and market forces that currently produce our contemporary
global ills (1995: 207). Most liberal international theorists thus
envision the need for authoritative international and global
institutions that modify significantly the powers and prerogatives
traditionally attributed to the sovereign state.

Anne-Marie Slaughter has also rejected the idea of cosmopolitan
democracy and a global parliament as infeasible and unwieldy (2004: 8
and 238). Slaughter is an advocate of “global governance”,
in the sense of “a much looser and less threatening concept of
collective organization and regulation without coercion”, to
solve common global problems such as transnational crime, terrorism,
and environmental destruction (2004: 9). According to Slaughter,
states are not unitary, but “disaggregated” and
increasingly “networked” through information, enforcement,
and harmonization networks (2004: 167)—producing

a world of governments, with all the different institutions that
perform the basic functions of governments—legislation,
adjudication, implementation—interacting both with each other
domestically and also with their foreign and supranational
counterparts. (2004: 5)

A networked world order, she argues,

would be a more effective and potentially more just world order than
either what we have today or a world government in which a set of
global institutions perched above nation-states enforced global rules.
(2004: 6–7)

Although Slaughter is keen to highlight the promise of “global
governance through government networks” as “good public
policy for the world and good national foreign policy” (2004:
261), she acknowledges that in contemporary world conditions of
radical social, economic and political inequality between states and
peoples, effective and fair global governance will require the
networks comprising global governance to abide by the norms of
“global deliberative equality”, toleration of reasonable
and legitimate difference, and “positive comity” in the
form of consultation and active assistance between organizations; in
addition, global governance networks would need to be made more
accountable through a system of checks and balances, and more
responsive through the principle of subsidiarity (2004: 244–60).
Without movement towards a more equitable world of mutual respect,
however, it is difficult to see actually existing global governance
networks operating in an impartial and generous spirit to help

all nations and their peoples to achieve greater peace, prosperity,
stewardship of the earth, and minimum standards of human dignity.
(2004: 166)

In this vein, Thomas Weiss has lamented the intellectual and political
shifts in perspective from world government to global governance,
arguing that current voluntary associations, organizations and
networks at the global level are “so obviously inadequate”
to meeting global challenges that we

are obliged to ask ourselves whether we can approach anything that
resembles effective governance for the world without institutions with
some supranational characteristics at the global level. (2009:

While many contemporary international relations theorists seem to
reject the feasibility, desirability, or necessity of world
government, constructivist theorist Alexander Wendt has argued that
the “logic of anarchy” contains within it the seeds of
transformation towards a “global monopoly on the legitimate use
of organized violence—a world state” (2003: 491). Using
Aristotelian and Hegelian insights, Wendt offers a teleological
account of the development of world order from an anarchic states
system to a world state, arguing that

the struggle for recognition between states will have the same outcome
as that between individuals, collective identity formation and
eventually a state. (2003: 493)

Technological changes, especially those that increase the “costs
of war” as well as “the scale on which it is possible to
organize a state”, affect the struggle for recognition among
states, undermining their self-sufficiency and making a world state
“inevitable” (2003: 493–4). Wendt draws on the work
of Daniel Deudney (1995 and 1999), who argued that the evolution of
destructive technology makes states as vulnerable as individuals in a
Hobbesian state of nature:

Hence nuclear one-worldism—just as the risks of the state of
nature made it functional for individuals to submit to a common power,
changes in the forces of destruction increasingly make it functional
for states to do so as well. (Wendt 2003: 508)

Deudney, however, has recently argued that the world state solution,
involving a top-down hierarchical mode of government, is impractical
and conceptually dead; his proposed alternative is a
“negarchic”, republican-federalist conception of world
order that solves the problems of anarchy through the development of
regimes of mutual restraint and obligation, but without the risk of
despotism or totalitarianism accompanying hierarchical world
government (2019 and 2020).

According to Wendt, however, the path of world state formation is
inevitable, and would be characterized by the emergence of “a
universal security community”, in which members expect to
resolve conflicts peacefully rather than through force; a
“universal collective security” system that ensures the
protection of each member should “crimes” occur; and a
“universal supranational authority” that can make binding
authoritative decisions about the collective use of force (2003: 505).
Driving this transformation is the struggle for recognition, and

political development of the system will not end until the
subjectivity of all individuals and groups is recognized and protected
by a global Weberian state. (2003: 506; for a critique of teleological
arguments about institutional forms, see Levy 2020)

Wendt recognizes that powerful states enjoying the benefits of
asymmetrical recognition may be most resistant to world state
formation. He argues, however, that with the diffusion of greater
violence potential to smaller powers (such as al-Qaeda and North

the ability of Great Powers to insulate themselves from global demands
for recognition will erode, making it more and more difficult to
sustain a system in which their power and privileges are not tied to
an enforceable rule of law. (2003: 524)

Based on the assumption that systems tend to develop toward stable
end-states, a world state in which individuals and

states alike will have lost the negative freedom to engage in
unilateral violence, but gained the positive freedom of fully
recognized subjectivity. (2003: 525)

is the inevitable end-state of the human struggle for recognition. At
the same time that Wendt sees world state formation as an inevitable
trajectory of the struggle for recognition between individuals and
groups, he argues that a world state could take various forms: while
collectivizing organized violence, it need not collectivize on a
global scale culture, economy or local politics; while requiring a
structure that “can command and enforce a collective response to
threats”, it need not abolish national armies, or require a
single UN army; and while it requires a procedure for making binding

it would not even require a world “government”, if by this
we mean a unitary body with one leader whose decisions are final.
(2003: 506)

2.2 The Liberal Rejection of World Government

We now turn to debates about world government among contemporary
liberal theorists. Since the publication of John Rawls’s
landmark A Theory of Justice in 1971, liberal theorists such
as Charles Beitz and Thomas Pogge have sought to formulate a
cosmopolitan version of liberalism by extending Rawlsian principles of
domestic justice to the international realm. According to Beitz, a
cosmopolitan liberal conception of international morality is

concerned with the moral relations of members of a universal community
in which state boundaries have a merely derivative significance. (1979
[1999a: 181–2])

Cosmopolitan liberalism evaluates the morality of domestic and
international institutions based on “an impartial consideration
of the claims of each person who would be affected” (1999b:
287). A cosmopolitan liberal theory of global justice thus begins with
a conception of humanity as a common moral community of free and equal
persons. There is debate among contemporary theorists about the
relationship and distinction between moral cosmopolitanism and
political or institutional cosmopolitanism in the form of a world
state or government (Beitz 1994; Dufek 2013; Ypi 2013; Cabrera 2018
and 2019).

Contemporary liberal theorists have traditionally argued that world
government, in the form of a global leviathan with supreme
legislative, executive, adjudicative and enforcement powers, is
largely unnecessary to solve problems such as war, global poverty, and
environmental catastrophe. World government so conceived is neither
necessary nor sufficient to achieve the aims of a liberal agenda (Yack
2012). Even cosmopolitan liberals have not argued that moral
cosmopolitanism necessarily entails political cosmopolitanism in the
form of a world government.

Although Rawls himself rejects cosmopolitan liberalism, disagreeing
with his liberal critics on several critical issues related to global
distributive justice, they are united in their agreement that a world
state is not part of a liberal ideal for world order. In his treatise
on global order, The Law of Peoples, Rawls forwards the
concept of a society of peoples, governed by principles that will
accommodate “cooperative associations and federations among
peoples, but will not affirm a world-state” (1999: 36). He
explicitly states his reason for rejecting the idea of a world state
or government:

Here I follow Kant’s lead in Perpetual Peace (1795) in
thinking that a world government—by which I mean a unified
political regime with the legal powers normally exercised by central
governments—would either be a global despotism or else would
rule over a fragile empire torn by frequent civil strife as various
regions and peoples tried to gain their political freedom and
autonomy. (1999: 36)

Other liberal thinkers have similarly rejected the desirability of
world government in the form of a domestic state writ large to cover
the entire globe (Beitz 1999b: 182; Jones 1999: 229; Tan 2000 and
2004; Pogge 1988: 285; Satz 1999: 77–8; Risse 2012).

In a related objection, “communitarian” liberals, such as
Michael Walzer, argue against a centralized world government as a
threat to social pluralism. Walzer thus endorses “sovereign
statehood” as “a way of protecting distinct historical
cultures, sometimes national, sometimes ethnic/religious in
character”, and rejects a centralized global order because he
does not

see how it could accommodate anything like the range of cultural and
religious difference that we see around us today. … For some
cultures and most orthodox religions can only survive if they are
permitted degrees of separation that are incompatible with globalism.
And so the survival of these groups would be at risk; under the rules
of the global state, they would not be able to sustain and pass on
their way of life. (2004: 172 and 176)

At the same time that distinct communities may constitute intrinsic
human goods, Walzer also endorses social and political pluralism as an
instrumental good: given the diversity of human values, he argues that

are best pursued politically in circumstances where there are many
avenues of pursuit, many agents in pursuit. The dream of a single
agent—the enlightened despot, the civilizing imperium, the
communist vanguard, the global state—is a delusion. (2004:

A world of distinct, autonomous communities may be important to
curbing the appetite of a hegemonic or global state to re-make the
world in its own image. Liberal nationalists and communitarians thus
object to world government due to the homogeneity
argument—world government may be so strong and pervasive as to
create a homogenizing effect, obliterating distinct cultures and
communities that are intrinsically valuable. Liberal political
pluralists (Muñiz-Fraticelli 2014) are concerned that any
state, including a world government, could destroy associative groups
that constitute legitimate sources of political authority; and by
destroying the rich social pluralism that animates human life (Walzer
2004), produce a loss of value (Miller 2007; Valentini 2012).

The liberal rejection of world government, however, does not amount to
an endorsement of the conventional system of sovereign states or the
contemporary international order, “with its extreme injustices,
crippling poverty, and inequalities” (Rawls 1999: 117).
Rawls’s rejection of a world government does not negate the
legitimacy and desirability of establishing international or
transnational institutions to regulate cooperation between peoples and
even to discharge certain common inter-societal duties. Thus, after
his rejection of a world state, Rawls goes on to say that in a
well-ordered society of peoples, organizations

(such as the United Nations ideally conceived) may have the authority
to express for the society of well-ordered peoples their condemnation
of unjust domestic institutions in other countries and clear cases of
the violation of human rights. In grave cases they may try to correct
them by economic sanctions, or even by military intervention. The
scope of these powers covers all peoples and reaches their domestic
affairs. (1999: 36)

Rawls’s vision of global order clearly rejects a world of
atomistic sovereign states with the traditional powers of absolute
sovereignty. Instead, his global vision includes “new
institutions and practices” to “constrain outlaw states
when they appear” (1999: 48), to promote human rights, and to
discharge the duty of assistance owed to burdened societies.

Thomas Pogge argues that realizing

a peaceful and ecologically sound future will … require
supranational institutions and organizations that limit the
sovereignty rights of states more severely than is the current
practice. (2000: 213)

He sees this development to be possible only when a majority of states
are stable democracies (2000: 213–4). Pogge thus appears to
agree with Rawls that the path to perpetual peace (and environmental
safety) lies in promoting the development of well-ordered states,
characterized by democratically representative, responsive and
responsible domestic governments.

As these lines of argument by Rawls and Pogge suggest, liberals have
been quick to reject framing the choice of world orders as one between
either a world of traditional sovereign states or a
world with a global central government. Pogge has asserted that
liberals should

dispense with the traditional concept of sovereignty and leave behind
all-or-nothing debates about world government.

Instead, he argues for an

intermediate solution that provides for some central organs of world
government without, however, investing them with [exclusive]
“ultimate sovereign power and authority”. (1988: 285)

In this “multi-layered scheme in which ultimate political
authority is vertically dispersed”, states that retain ultimate
political authority in some areas would be juxtaposed with a world
government with “central coercive mechanisms of law
enforcement” that has ultimate political authority in other
areas (Pogge 2009: 205–6). Debra Satz has also argued that
framing the choice as one between the current states system and
“an all-powerful world-state” poses a false dilemma:

the contrast between a system of sovereign states and a centralized
world-state is too crude. There are many other possibilities,
including a state system restrained by international and
intergovernmental institutions, a non-state-based economic system, a
global separation-of-powers scheme, international federalism, and
regional political-economic structures, such as those currently being
developed in western Europe and the Americas (via NAFTA). (Satz 1999:

Simon Caney has also endorsed a system of international institutions
designed to

provide a reliable and effective means of protecting people’s
basis interests (and instrumental consideration) and also to provide a
fair forum for determining which rules should govern the global
economy (a procedural component). (2006: 734)

As the many liberal proposals for moral improvement of the world order
indicate, liberal objections to world government—whether they
take the form of tyranny/homogeneity arguments and/or the
inefficiency/soullessness objections—are not motivated by a
complacent attitude towards the contemporary world order and its
resulting conditions (Pogge 2000). As Charles Jones has put it, these
valid and plausible objections to world government do not show that
“the status quo is preferable to some alternative
arrangement” (1999: 229). While liberal theorists acknowledge
the tyrannical potential of a world government, they also acknowledge
that “sovereign states are themselves often the cause of the
rights-violations of their citizens” (1999: 229). Kok-Chor Tan
characterizes liberal proposals for world order to involve, therefore,
neither world government nor absolute state sovereignty. Instead,
liberals have argued consistently for restrictions on the traditional
powers of sovereignty, as well as for the vertical dispersion of
sovereignty, “upwards towards supranational bodies, and also
downwards toward particular communities within states” (2000:
101). In such a world order, states become “another level of
appeal, and not the sole and final one” (2000: 101).

David Held argues that this dispersion of sovereignty is inevitable
given that the nation-state does not exist in an insular world, but a
highly interdependent and complex system: the contemporary reality
consists of a globalized economy, international organizations,
regional and global institutions, international law, and military
alliances, all of which operate to shape and constrain individual
states. Although national sovereignty still has a place in the
contemporary world order,

interconnected authority structures … displace notions of
sovereignty as an illimitable, indivisible and exclusive form of
public power. (1995: 137)

In Held’s account of cosmopolitan democracy, the universal
realization of the liberal ideal of autonomy, derived from Kant,
ultimately requires long-term institutional developments such as the
creation of a global parliament, an international criminal court, the
demilitarization of states, and global distributive justice in the
form of a guaranteed annual income for each individual (1995:
279–80). Although cosmopolitan theorists tend to reject the
dichotomy posed between a political system of sovereign states and one
with a centralized world government, and have tended to eschew the
terminology of the world state in their accounts of global democratic
institutional reform, William Scheuerman has argued that some of their
proposals of supranational institutions mimic core attributes of
traditional statehood, thus inadvertently bringing the world state
back into liberal cosmopolitan visions of world order (2014). It is
thus an open question whether “statist cosmopolitanism”
(Ypi 2011), which considers states as viable agents of cosmopolitan
justice, is feasible, or whether cosmopolitanism requires transcending
the state system (Ulaş 2017).

2.3 Republican Nondomination and Global Democracy

Democratic, republican and critical theorists have become concerned
with the global context of order and justice due to its importance for
establishing protective external conditions for the moral and
political achievements of centuries of domestic democratic political
struggle. Traditionally, the main global threat was interstate war,
thus the projects for perpetual peace. Today, democratic theorists
worry that contemporary processes of globalization are undermining the
achievements of democratic societies in the areas of civil and social
rights such as access to education and healthcare, and the economic
securities provided by the welfare state. From this perspective,
economic globalization and the growing power of international and
transnational institutions pose a potential threat to democratic
ideals of civic equality and self-determination. The task of the
democratic theorist is to think about how democracies can respond to
these global developments in ways that best help preserve the fragile
achievements of domestic democratic justice (Habermas 2004 [2006]; see
also Scheuerman 2008). Increasingly, theorists of global democratic
reform envisage the need to develop new institutions and practices of
representation and accountability rather than merely to extend
traditional constitutional models and electoral mechanisms of domestic
democratic governance (Archibugi 2008; Macdonald 2008; Marchetti 2008;
Tinnevelt 2012; Tanyi 2019; Erman 2019).

Key to discussions in democratic, republican and critical theory about
global order and justice is the political ideal of nondomination.
Neo-republican theorist Philip Pettit understands commitment to this
ideal to entail reducing people’s vulnerability to alien control
or the arbitrary power of others to interfere with their choices and
their lives. In the international context, Pettit has outlined a
“republican law of peoples” that has the twin goals of
ensuring that every people is represented by a non-dominating
government in a non-dominating international order (2010). Starting
with a world of states, Pettit argues that a state which is
“effective and representative of its people” fulfills the
republican ideal of nondomination, and “it would be
objectionably intrusive of other agents in the international
order” to bypass such states and assume responsibility for its
members (2010: 71–2). A legitimate international order is

in which effective, representative states avoid
domination—whether by another state, or by a non-state
body—and seek to enable other states to be effective and
representative too. (2010: 73)

In an international context, the sources of domination include other
states; “non-domestic, private bodies” such as
“corporations, churches, terrorist movements, even powerful
individuals”; and “non-domestic, public bodies” such
as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (2010: 77). While representative states
realize nondomination internally for their members, individuals’
enjoyment of freedom as nondomination is not secured unless their
states are protected in their external relations from dominating
strategies, including “intentional obstruction, coercion,
deception, and manipulation” as well as
“invigilation”, and “intimidation” (2010:

Pettit’s account presupposes the legitimacy of domestic
democracies that ensure nondomination as a starting point for thinking
about a legitimate international order, and he explicitly rejects the
idea of a world state, modeled on a domestic republican regime, as an
infeasible remedy for the challenges posed by domination in an
international context (2010: 81; but see Koenig-Archibugi 2011). There
is no easy solution, but Pettit considers feasible improvements to the
current international order can be made by further developing

international agencies and forums by means of which states can work
out their problems and relations in a space of more or less common

as well as fostering greater solidarity among subgroups of weaker
states so that they can form rival blocs that can resist domination by
more powerful agents (2010: 84). While Pettit is mostly concerned with
the dominating potential of powerful states, and considers
international agencies to be less threatening (2010: 86),
Cécile Laborde adds to Pettit’s account not only a
concern for agent-relative domination, but also, and more centrally,
systemic domination, which entails a greater awareness of the
dominating potential of international organizations such as the
International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and the World
Bank (2010). One of the ways that powerful states dominate weak states
is by “entrenching and institutionalizing” their dominant
position through unfair international social structures in areas such
as trade (2010: 57).

Indeed, Nancy Kokaz, in a republican interpretation of Rawls’s
Law of Peoples, argues that “a global republic cannot
be dismissed by a civic [republican] theory of global justice”
(2005: 94). The civic pluralist ideal that is threatened by the advent
of global capitalism and ensuing deracination requires “a global
state powerful enough to protect local communities” from the
homogenizing tendencies and “excesses of global
capitalism” (2005: 93). In a further development of republican
ideas about global order and justice, James Bohman has argued that a
republican ideal of freedom as nondomination in the new global
“circumstances of politics” requires political struggle in
the direction of transnational democracy (2004 and 2007). According to

under conditions of globalization, freedom from tyranny and domination
cannot be achieved without extending our political ideals of
democracy, community and membership. (2004: 352)

Not only are currently bounded democratic communities ineffective in
resisting new global sources and forms of domination, they are also
“potentially self-defeating”, constituting

a thousand tiny fortresses in which the oldest form of domination is
practiced at many different levels: the domination of noncitizens by
citizens, or nonmembers by members, using their ability to command
noninterference much like those who live within gated communities.
(2007: 175 and 180)

Daniele Archibugi has termed this

democratic schizophrenia: to engage in a certain [democratic] behavior
on the inside and indulge in the opposite [undemocratic] behavior on
the outside. (2008: 6)

Such vicious circles of “democratic domination” can only
be overcome by making borders, membership and jurisdiction the
subjects of democratic deliberation across dêmoi
(Bohman 2007: 179). Whether or not democracy serves global justice
depends on the possibility of transnational democratization, and
Bohman sees two primary agents of such transformation, in democratic
states pursuing “broadly federalist and regional projects of
political integration”, such as the European Union, and in the
less institutionalized activities of “participants in
transnational public spheres and associations” (2007: 189).
While some think that the formal development of regional or global
institutions must be democratized in order to realize republican
nondomination or democratic agency (Valentini 2012), others argue that
global democracy may be justified mainly for its instrumental role in
protecting and promoting

the fundamental interests of all the world’s citizens, rather
than by that of maximizing citizens’ democratic agency

at the global level (Weinstock 2006: 10).

Critical theorist Iris Marion Young similarly calls for a global
politics of nondomination, that would support “a vision of local
and cultural autonomy in the context of global regulatory
regimes” (2002: 237). Her model of global
governance—“a post-sovereign alternative to the existing
states system” (2000: 238)—entails a “decentred
diverse democratic federalism” (2000: 253). While everyday
governance would be primarily local, it would take place in the
context of global regulatory regimes, built upon existing
international institutions, that would be functionally defined to deal

(1) peace and security, (2) environment, (3) trade and finance, (4)
direct investment and capital utilization, (5) communications and
transportation, (6) human rights, including labor standards and
welfare rights, (7) citizenship and migration. (2002: 267)

Young envisages these global regulatory regimes to apply not only to
states, but also to non-state organizations, such as corporations, and
individuals. In terms of feasibility, Young points to the development
of a robust “global public sphere” (Habermas 1998) as
crucial to bringing about “stronger global regulatory
institutions tied to principles of global and local democracy”
(Young 2002: 272).

Increasingly, then, republican and democratic theorists view
transnational and supranational institutions not as intrinsic threats
to democratic freedom and justice, but as potentially instrumental
institutional developments that are necessary to fortify the
capacities of contemporary states to deliver on democratic and
republican values. In this sense, supporting the development of
transnational democratic institutions is consistent with upholding the
values of national identity and belonging, and the proper functioning
of states, by providing a robust framework to coordinate and
discipline states into solving problems of human rights and global
justice in areas such as labor, health, migration, and taxation, in a
more fair, equitable, and non-dominating manner (Abizadeh 2008;
Ronzoni 2012; Valentini 2012; Dietsch 2015; Fine & Ypi 2016;
Cabrera 2018). Paradoxically, it may be that in conditions of
globalization, only a world state can provide the essential supporting
conditions for all states, including democratic ones, to enjoy
effective and legitimate collective self-determination (Lu 2018).
Thus, republican cosmopolitanism in the form of a world state may be
less of an oxymoron than Pettit suggests.

2.4 Critics of Capitalism and a Neoliberal World State

An abiding controversy about the contemporary world economy is its
potential to enhance or destroy societal goals of securing justice,
freedom, and welfare provision, including the protection of human
rights and democratic politics (Stiglitz 2002; Kinley 2009). Craig
Murphy has worried that globalization would

inevitably be accompanied by the anti-democratic government of
“expertise” or by the non-government of marketization at
ever more inclusive levels. (2000: 800)

Economists have warned that the relationship between global economic
integration, national self-determination, and democratic politics can
be fraught (Rodrik 2011), and that capitalism has a tendency to
reproduce and intensify inequality (Piketty 2013 [2014]). In the
twentieth century, Immanuel Wallerstein (2011) developed the
world-systems approach to analyzing the contradictions inherent in a
capitalist world-system. Although imperial military competition gave
way to a world of sovereign states in the era of decolonization, he
noted that a capitalist world order perpetuates systems of domination
to maintain capitalist interests, at the expense of the developing
world. World-systems theory thus explains how capitalism forms a
stable set of exploitative relations between core and peripheral
states, resulting in an international division of labor that benefits
the core at the expense of the periphery.

While world-systems theory posits that “economic exploitation of
the periphery does not necessarily require direct political or
military domination” (Kohn & Reddy 2006 [2017]),
contemporary postcolonial theorists argue that the rise of neoliberal
globalization can be marked by the establishment of international
economic institutions that have dislocated the power of sovereign
states to make economic decisions, and relocated them in international
economic institutions—the WTO, IMF and World Bank—with
effective enforcement powers.

Whereas realist, liberal and republican theorists typically posit that
a world state is a possible futuristic institutional development to
evolve from anarchy, postcolonial theorists have argued that anarchy
does not accurately describe the global historical institutional
reality. Some also argue that world government is already here, albeit
in a nascent form (Albert et al. 2012; Goodin 2013). Critical and
postcolonial theorists argue that the course of capitalist modernity
has produced a nascent world state of neoliberal domination (Chimni
2004; Slobodian 2018). In such conditions of structural domination, a
world state may be undesirable as a political project due to
established and entrenched global hierarchies based on racist,
patriarchal, and capitalist domination and exploitation (Robinson
1983; Pateman and Mills 2007). As B.S. Chimni has put it,

A network of economic, social and political [International
Institutions] has been established or repositioned, at the initiative
of the first world, and together they constitute a nascent global
whose function is to realize the interests of transnational
capital and powerful states in the international system to the
disadvantage of third world states and peoples. The evolving global
state formation may therefore be described as having an
imperial character. (2004: 1–2)

Although fragmented in structure, the future global state, according
to Chimni, is in the process of congealing to actualize and legitimize
a world-view that ultimately serves the transnational capitalist class
comprising the owners of transnational capital. This class allies with
the networks of international law and institutions to undermine the
decision-making powers of states, especially those with weak
institutional capacities, and to make decisions without transparency
or effective participation of those affected.

While increasingly intrusive, the decisions of international economic
and financial institutions remain largely unaccountable. According to
Slobodian, neoliberal globalists actively sought to construct the
institutions of the global economy to evade accountability, “to
contain potential disruptions from the democratically empowered
masses”, so that the global economy could be “protected
from the demands of redistributive equality and social justice”
(2018: 264). While the Washington Consensus seemed to be based on
sound economic principles—that free markets “and
competition enable the efficient allocation of scarce
resources”—and forecast economic growth based on
liberalizing trade, investment, and capital flows, its failure to
produce growth or inclusive development in many countries has revealed
the importance of empirical analysis to check ideological distortions
of economic policy (Rodrik 2015). China’s economic
transformation illuminates global challenges arising from the decline
of “managerial capitalism”, or Fordism, which generated
the regulatory state-model of governance, and the rise of
“neoliberal capitalism”, or post-Fordism, defined by the
“hollowing out” of the state, reduction of central
regulatory capacity, coupled with flexible production processes
disaggregated into production chains and networks, and increasing
vulnerability of the peripheral workforce (Dowdle 2016:

In response to these predicaments of contemporary capitalism, critical
and postcolonial theorists emphasize that there is no option to return
to a mythical world of autarkic or autonomous and insulated states
with traditional sovereign prerogatives (Winter & Chambers-Letson
2015). Instead, globalized domination can only be transformed through
globalizing transnational labor and social movements that struggle for
greater democratization of the decision-making processes of both
domestic and international institutions (Chimni 2004). In calling for
a revision of the principles that regulate the relationship between
the global economy and sovereign states, in order to buttress state
power, especially of Third World states, against international
economic and financial institutions, critical theorists join
contemporary liberal (Isiksel 2020) and republican theorists who view
the state as continuing to play an important role in securing equal
human freedom. According to Adom Getachew, “postcolonial
cosmopolitanism” acknowledges the persistent unequal integration
and hierarchy produced by the world politics of empire, and views the
reinforcement of the sovereign state, as well as the dispersion of
sovereignty in regional federations and a redistributive international
economic order, as key to anti-colonial struggles to resist domination
and remake the world (2019: 34).

Given that the Eurocentric narrative of civilizational progress
forwarded the nation-state as a marker of civilization, and fated
Indigenous peoples to extinction with the advent of modernity,
however, Indigenous political theorists have reason to be ambivalent
about a Weberian state at any level of political organization. Some
Indigenous political theorists have mounted radical challenges to the
settler colonial state as well as the statist international order.
Glen Coulthard’s critique of the liberal politics of
multicultural recognition reveals that the struggle for recognition
may not emancipate, but entrench subjects in the settler colonial
subjectivity offered by the settler colonial state (2014). Following
anti-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon, Coulthard argues that dominated
agents need to struggle to create new decolonized frameworks of
recognition that they can call their own, and not only seek equal
recognition based on structures of settler colonial power,

the colonized will have failed to reestablish themselves as truly
self-determining: as creators of the terms, values, and conditions by
which they are to be recognized. (2014: 139)

Coulthard also understands the political project of Indigenous
“resurgence” to be inextricably linked to the struggle to
construct alternative social and economic systems to capitalism; thus
for Indigenous resurgence to be successful, “capitalism must
die” (2014: 173). Such Indigenous politics of refusal (Simpson
2014) of both statism and capitalism underscore that the struggle for
recognition of Indigenous humanity in conditions of racial capitalist
modernity entails radical structural transformations of global order
(Lu 2017 and 2019).

3. Conclusion

The aim of much normative theorizing about global institutions and
global justice is to interrogate whether a world government is
feasible, desirable, or necessary for realizing human aspirations for
just, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous relations between the
diverse individuals and groups that comprise a common moral community
of humankind. Some think that the idea of world government involves a
paradox: however it is conceived institutionally, when the winning
conditions exist for establishing a desirable form of world
government—one that will guarantee human security with
individual liberty, protect the environment, and advance global social
justice—it will no longer be necessary (Nielsen 1988: 276). Once
all governments, especially the most powerful ones, are willing to use
their power to build government networks that promote global peace,
justice and environmental protection, and to cede some traditional
rights of sovereignty to supranational institutions in areas such as
the use of military force, the management and protection of the
environment and natural resources, and the distribution of wealth, the
establishment of a global political authority might seem superfluous.
As Alexander Wendt has pointed out, however, a stable end-state of
world order development requires such ideal conditions, should they
ever develop, to become institutionalized into a world state that
enacts “a global monopoly on the legitimate use of organized
violence” (1988: 491); enforcement mechanisms are not
superfluous, since there is always the possibility of violations by
outlaw states and groups. In a similar vein, the Swedish philosopher
Torbjörn Tännsjö has argued that neither voluntary
multilateral cooperation under conditions of anarchy, nor a hybrid
arrangement of “shared sovereignty between the world
government and nation-states”, will be effective in resolving
contemporary challenges in the realms of human security, global
justice and the environment (2008: 122–125). Since sovereignty
is indivisible, Tännsjö posits that a world state must have
ultimate decision-making authority over nation-states over
jurisdictional issues:

Unless there are sanctions available to the central authority to back
up a decision as to where a question is to be handled, the system of
states will be thrown back into a state of nature. (2008:

From critical and postcolonial perspectives, however, the state of
nature reference point of much of international relations theory is a
normatively obscuring myth that occludes the hierarchies of structural
domination that have pervaded the development of world order (Jahn
2000; Lu 2017: 120). Postcolonial and critical theorists often share
the ethical concerns and moral commitments of normative theorists
(Kohn 2013)—justice, equality, freedom, nondomination—but
their theorizing focuses on the diagnostic task of analyzing the
causes and character of contemporary structural and institutional
developments, as well as the global processes and conditions that make
them possible. They view contemporary global order, marked by radical
imbalances and disparities produced by historic and ongoing structural
injustices based on class, race, and gender, as serving certain
functions and interests, in terms of what they naturalize, enable,
suppress, and obscure. In 2020 and 2021, as a world divided by deep
political, social and economic structural inequalities faces pandemic
conditions, economic recession, and environmentally deleterious
developments, the questions of whose sense of world community
and whose global needs will define the global political
agenda and order are more salient than ever.

Read More

Catherine Lu