The Idea of a World Government

In my Introduction to International Relations class, I have been running for the past few semesters a last-day exercise with my students, in which I ask them to envision a genuine World Government (not the United Nations in its current form). This serves four purposes: 1) It gets their creative juices flowing; 2) it allows for a stand alone exercise without having to do much prep; 3) it provides an outlet for “global problems need a global response”; and 4) it asks of them to challenge a core premise in international relations: anarchy, as the absence of world government, on the international stage, and subsequent assumed state behaviors. What would a world government look like to “make away” with anarchy?

The Set-Up:

  1. I show my students the following video: People on the Street – Should there be a World Government? The video is a bit dated (published in 2012), but it serves a great reflection of ideas and concerns regular folks have about the idea of a world government. Two things stand out: 1) everybody thinks it would be a great idea as a tool for peace, and 2) they generally see it as unlikely. After watching the video, I do a quick debrief, asking my students what they think about it. Usually, they are also cynical about such a concept.
  2. I lay out the exercise, challenging to envision a world government. Considering that institutions like the European Union or the United Nations came in the aftermath of World War 2, I posit that the world has experienced another all encompassing issue, and that my students, as the greatest minds of the time, have been asked to redesign world governance. I then send them off into respective groups to start brainstorming the idea of a world government.
  3. Depending on the length of your class, you can decide how long this brainstorming session should be. However, my students know that at the end of the session, they have to present their ideas to the class (almost like a pitch-meeting).
  4. I give them some pointers to think about in their brainstorming session, but I am also trying to keep instructions as limited as possible, because I do not want to intervene too much in their creative process or plant ideas.
    • Give your government a name.
    • Think about what world event/catastrophe prompts this change towards a world government.
    • Who are you, as the greatest minds of the time? Who do you represent?

The Outcome:

  1. Students generally take to the task quite quickly. Although, I have noticed that with each new group, the cynics are multiplying.
  2. Most catastrophes or world events end up being: Alien Invasions (a foreign other); Climate Crises (a threat on earth); Zombie Apocalypses (a threat on earth); and another World War (a threat on earth).
  3. Maybe not so surprisingly: Most world government structures proposed disguise themselves as a democratic organization (i.e., separation of powers; elections; public participation), ultimately are authoritarian type organizations.
    • This includes designs in the system that do not allow for dissent for the world government structure (i.e., imprisonment of people; destruction of territories).
    • This also includes the creation of a world government military, which – when asked why that was needed -, serves the purpose to defend the centralized power structure “against the people”.
    • Some students spoke about homogenization of languages and cultures to decrease the likelihood of dissent.
    • Others addressed creating hierarchies between countries based on GDP.
    • Even others suggested, in my latest round of this exercise, the forceful relocation of people to equalize populations across the globe.
    • I have never had a group suggest a “positive” spin for the making-of a world government.

Some thoughts:

  1. As with any good exercise, a debrief at the end of the exercise is necessary. I generally want to know where this drive for authoritarian power comes from, and why trust in people across the globe is not at the forefront of designing a world government. Here, I also want to know how they think countries and people would sign onto such a structure. My intention with these questions is not to surprise them with “gotchya questions”, but rather challenge them to reconsider their “ontology”, asking themselves where this preconceived idea of how that can be done comes from.
  2. I find that 20 – 25 minutes are a good amount of time to let them brainstorm. Beyond that, they might get lost in the nitty-gritty and presentations can become too detailed and hard to follow.

Has anybody else discussed the concept of world government in their classes? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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