As an old lawyer who pines for Europe, I have come to believe that the European Union should be the cause of every thinking person on the planet. It is the only model we have for the kind of world order that we will need to save ourselves as a species. Yes, I know, so often the EU has been on the verge of collapse. It seems to lurch from crisis to crisis. Its constitution goes from draft to draft. Yet it’s still the best model for world government since Genghis Khan—and over a half century, it’s been advancing, gobbling territory like Tsarist Russia in the nineteenth century without firing a shot.
I love the EU because—what else is there? As the planet keeps burning, I have given up on the United States, with its clunky Senate, which will never ratify a climate treaty; if the GOP takes power in 2024, the odds go up that millions more will die in floods and fires. And if Trump is back too, it may be the United States, not the EU, that is more likely to fall apart. We also can’t look to China, which is torturing the Uyghurs and trying to squash Hong Kong like a bug. There is no hope from India, literally on fire for much of 2022, while so many of the Covid dead were being piled up on pyres as others just floated in the Ganges. Other than the EU, if only by default, what hope is there for a form of world government? Besides, for all the talk of the EU’s “democratic deficit,” it’s every country but the EU that in the present century is becoming less democratic. The EU is offering its nation-state members more democracy—or the chance to participate or be represented in decisions that protect those countries from predatory acts by its other members.
Mostly I love the EU because—to borrow a concept from Immanuel Kant—it is closest to that form of government that nature itself is requiring our species to create. In essays like “Perpetual Peace” and “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose,” Kant predicted that nature would eventually require us to give up the nation-state. The result would be much like the EU: a federalism of free states, all republican in form, creating a “law of nations” that in a vague way prefigure the regulations that now come out of Brussels. It might be unplanned, ad hoc, but it would proceed from the “globalization” that he already espied in the world. “The guarantee of perpetual peace,” he wrote, “is nothing less than that great artist, nature.” Since Kant’s day, nature has apparently decided to hurry up world government, thanks to the burning of the planet, and with a pandemic with uncontrolled variants to step up the process. You may scoff; fine. You may scoff less if you live another twenty or thirty years and see that increase in temperature not just hit 1.5 but 2.0 or 2.5 degrees Celsius. It may be fate, Kant said, considering the issue of global war, or perhaps providence—though he settled on nature as a modest term—but it’s going to happen. And the EU did start as a peace project, for the very reason Kant foresaw: a global government is a way of keeping nations from engaging in predatory acts against each other. I believe this is not a surrender but a form of freedom; but in any case, we will be forced by the need for collective climate action to enter into EU-type legal relations with each other.
That is why I’m for the EU: there’s no alternative to its version of the law of nations, a law that nature is demanding. And it will be good for us, it will clear our heads, to get beyond the nation-state, which will “wither away,” literally, under the heat. Or to put it as Kant would: it is the plan of nature to force us into freedom, by this world community or federation of republics that will prevent the strong from devouring the weak, whether by hogging vaccines or by devising new forms of CO2 dumping.
But surely, one may say, events have discredited the likelihood of a federation of republics. Yes, it is said globalization has stalled, and the United States is retreating from an open global economy, at least with respect to China. But even Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, with its “buy American” provisions, is in service to global governance—to cut U.S. emissions. And this is one moment in the history of globalization: Kant is writing for the long run. Still, one might say, autocracy is on the rise, in Russia, China, Turkey, even India. And in the EU itself, in Hungary, there has been a rise in right-wing populism. But it’s evident that the very existence of the EU has been a check on Trump-like populism, even in Hungary. Even the dreadful Viktor Orbán has had to cave to EU demands for more rule of law, and Hungary dutifully votes the EU line. The EU has guardrails on its republics that we might wish to have here.
Well, then, one might object, if this kind of world government were so likely, then why have the League of Nations and the United Nations been such flops? As to the UN, Kant might say he is not in favor of world government as such, but a federation of republics. And the UN is just a place, as described by the novelist Shirley Hazzard, who once worked there, where governments go to church, at least in the General Assembly. But upstairs in the Security Council, where Russia and China have a veto, they keep that piety from getting out of hand.
Still, while the doings of autocrats get all the coverage, the EU has been getting even stronger as a federation of republics. In the past two years, disease, war, and climate change have pushed the EU to take over more of the functions of the nation-states. In 2020, the EU set up a big EU-wide fund, known as “Next Generation EU,” to relaunch the EU economies in the wake of Covid-19. Then came the Ukraine War, which has made recovery more difficult. Protectionism in the U.S. Congress complicated matters further: the Inflation Reduction Act, which allots $369 billion for electric vehicles, solar panels, and batteries, shuts out the EU nations. They in turn are debating a huge new EU Sovereign Wealth Fund, which will have the EU itself in charge of sharing subsidies of the same kind. But the Sovereign Wealth Fund is intended, like the other EU funds, to be fair to well-off and less-well-off countries. At least in theory, and often in practice, everything that happens at the EU level has to promote an explicit treaty-like commitment to fairness and social justice. And now it is starting to take place with real money.
Meanwhile, there is the rest of the world: in November, the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP 27, set up an EU-type global fund, a “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable countries. It’s at least a baby step toward an EU-style law of nations. Thanks to the Green Party’s rise—and its impact on other parties—the EU is trying to impose its green values on the rest of the world. This past December the EU announced it would impose a carbon tax on imports based on the greenhouse gases emitted in making them. As a federation of republics, it is readier than the United States to make an effort to regulate the rest of the world.
And the EU as a federation of republics sets a bar for the kind of republic the United States should be. The EU is prodding us, in climate control, privacy, and other areas. Even as the EU prods the United States, it gives more cause for discontent within the United States for still lagging so far behind.
Kant’s prediction of a federation of republics as a necessity of history now looks more plausible than it once did. But what if everything falls apart in the years to come? It still is going to come true. As Kant said of the French Revolution, even if the whole effort turns out to be a failure, there is no turning back. Like the French Revolution, this kind of attempt at global governance is now available—forever and for all time—to be tried again.
Kant Touch This
Still, I admit the EU as a model has its problems.
The first problem—what exasperates everyone—is to figure out what it is. That’s part of the genius of the EU: it is impossible to know what the EU is, or where it is going. That’s why it belongs to what Kant called the “universal” or philosophical history, and not to an empirical one. The EU is an improvisation, I believe Kant would tell us, to realize an intent of nature: namely, “to produce harmony from the very disharmony of men even against their will.” That’s the strange thing about the EU: how large majorities in Europe support it and even vote for it (except in Britain), even as they complain that it is not democratic. So we come up with ideas like “democratic deficit,” or suspicions about “Brussels,” or various cries and alarms, and because we miss Kant’s point, and cringe from thinking in the way he does, we get the whole thing wrong. The EU is like nothing else. The EU is not even like the EU; by that I mean it will already have turned into something different just after the observer has observed. Here is what I will try to explain:
- Why it is a form of world government, even if no one knows exactly what it is.
- Why it works as a world government, even if it never becomes a world government.
- Why the United States is already in the EU, whether we are aware of it or not.
- Why the EU has the perfect growth rate for saving the planet—a bit but not too much.
- Why it has coped with the pandemic better than any country—especially the United States.
- Why Brexit saved the cause of world government.
- Why the EU has not a democratic deficit but a democratic surplus.
- Why the EU is the form of world government that is the end point of history.
It was on a flight from Chicago Midway Airport to Baltimore BWI that I learned even Henry Kissinger cannot figure out the EU. Chicago Midway is on the city’s South Side, where its Big Shoulders once were, but now it’s studded with non-union warehouses and otherwise left for dead. I was surprised to find there a copy of a then-recent Kissinger book, World Order, which I read on the flight. Flying Southwest and reading this book, I could fantasize I was going not to Baltimore but to Brussels. Kissinger knocks the EU for not being Kissinger-like: for not having any grand strategy or purpose except its own internal unification.
This was galling to read in part because EU member states, like Germany or France, give a higher percent of their GDP in foreign aid than the United States does. But here is the bigger reason it was galling: EU unification is not an alternative to foreign policy; it is a foreign policy. It is a security policy too. Kissinger grieves that there is no longer a “Westphalian system.” The name comes from the Treaty of Westphalia, which in 1648 ended the Thirty Years War and became a cardinal example of the kind of balance-of-power thinking at which Kissinger was so adept. So the EU, naturally, makes him cringe. The EU is engaged in a continual nonviolent extension of itself, without any precise way of describing itself, or any specific idea of when the extending should stop. The point of the EU is to end the Westphalian system—or to bring it in-house among EU leaders and civil servants.
The EU is an improvisation, I believe Kant would tell us, to realize an intent of nature: namely, “to produce harmony from the very disharmony of men even against their will.”
This is what Kant grasped—that the arc of human civilization was in the direction of a federation, on a global scale, and it would begin as a “peace project,” as the EU did. Isn’t it obsolete as a peace project? World War II is over. But there are new and novel forms of “war,” and the EU is already imposing certain limited regulations to protect consumers and competition that the rest of the world—even the TrumpWorld version of the United States, even China—are following. And that is the best prospect for world government—that somehow this Brussels effect, which is still modest, will get bigger, as nature insists upon ending our new and novel forms of war. That’s why the United States, Kant might say, is more likely to fall apart than the EU because the EU, teleologically, is carrying out a law-like function which the United States is neither willing or able to perform.
Of course, in sketching out a philosophical proposal for what must happen, not even Kant could say when it would happen. As it turned out, he wrote long before World War I, which led to World War II, which led to the European Economic Community (EEC, or the Common Market), which led to the European Community (“EC”), which then led to the EU. Things had to go to hell and may still have to go to hell—one degree Celsius at a time—to achieve world government or for Kant’s history to conclude.
Even Euro skeptics can grasp that the EU’s CO2 Green program, announced July 14, 2021, takes the EU into a new type of governing. That program—the Emissions Trading System—is not just for the EU: with tariffs on goods from other countries that fail to regulate CO2, the EU is nudging the world. Or perhaps this is more like a shove. And just by announcing it, the EU laid down a marker for the rest of the world. The Emissions Trading Scheme aims for net zero CO2 emissions, compared to 1992 levels. The program is the EU’s very polite and non-threatening way of trying to rule the world. It may not have been an accident that it was announced on Bastille Day.
One Thing Leads to Another
Might we describe the last hundred or so years—since 1919—as a succession of drafts for what Kant had in mind? First draft: the League of Nations—a forum for talking, a U.S. creation, without the United States, which never acquired any competence for anything beyond talking. Second draft: the United Nations, also a creation of the United States—or of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt—which was going to impose the New Deal on the world. In relatively short order the United States decided not to impose the New Deal on itself, but the UN also developed no competence or ability to limit the freedom of any member to prey on any other. It did not integrate, assimilate, or create a class of civil servants loyal to it. The third and current draft was the EEC and EC, which has become the EU: what was different this time was that it started small and has gradually gotten wider. At the same time, it would get deeper: not just pulling the six original countries into a free trade zone, say, like NAFTA—but becoming a Common Market. It may look like free trade, but it was free trade-plus, with a tiny bit of power handed over to civil servants to imagine broader rules than reducing tariffs. And many conservatives and neoliberals were horrified by this in the 1990s, as the EC became the EU and kept acquiring more things to do. To them, the whole thing began to smack of social democracy. But without being sure itself what it was, the EU was—in something much smaller than the whole world—a world order of a kind.
That’s the strange thing about the EU: how large majorities in Europe support it and even vote for it (except in Britain), even as they complain it is not democratic.
What I’ve just described is called “neo-functionalism”—a theory that holds that one damn thing leads to another. To do something like x creates a difficulty like y, which then requires the doing of z, which leads to a new difficulty. From a neo-functionalist perspective, the fact that the EU is always on the verge of collapse is the reason it keeps expanding.
Still, that is just one way to describe the EU, and there is a case for at least one other way, which is that one political party or another takes it up as a project. In the beginning, with the 1958 six-nation Treaty of Rome, it was a peace project. Robert Schuman, the great French leader who conceived of it, is now being considered by the Catholic Church for sainthood. Then and later, it was also a project of the Christian Democratic Union party, the German center-right party. For the CDU it was an economic project, to be sure—for a borderless free trade zone, but still with a permanent structure for all the member countries to meet and talk. Then it became, briefly at least, a project of the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—to pursue a stakeholder-type capitalism. It was the time of the Treaty of Maastricht, with its social charter for EU-wide firms. It was the project of the French President François Mitterand and his fellow Socialist, the EU commissioner, Jacques Delors. Then it became a Helmut Kohl project—the German chancellor who put in place the euro in 1998. Why a single currency? Three reasons, a German banker once said to me: “Kohl, Kohl, and Kohl.”
Then came the financial meltdown of 2007–2008. Caught in the euro zone with bankrupt southern EU members, the rich ones freaked out. Instead of more Europe, there was suddenly less. “OK . . . so whose project is it now?” That’s what I asked my friend Sascha, a Green politician, at the time. “It’s no one’s project,” he replied. “That’s the problem.” But in the wake of the financial crisis, and the devastating folly of financial austerity, the EU adapted. The EU is now raising and spending much bigger sums—the glimmer of a fiscal policy that so many EU critics for so long have said it needs. The EU, unlike the United States, never wastes a crisis, at least not in the long run.
And now there is the climate crisis, and before our eyes it is becoming the project of the Green Party, even if that party is small, and not in power, exactly. Or maybe—to put it another way—it is the project of the young. It’s not that these young people want “more Europe”—they actually want “more planet.”
Look at the parliamentary elections held in May 2019: now it’s true the vote for the Green Party in the EU parliament only went up a smidgeon: 2 percent. The Green Party has only 9 percent of the 705 legislators in the EU parliament. Why jump up and down for such a small change? Because that vote went up in Germany—and it’s Germany that decides what the EU will be. It pays for the EU. The young in Germany are pro-EU, or at least pro the idea of the EU being Green. They will be Green forever. It’s their first vote, so that’s partly about the identity they have formed in youth. But also: What’s going to change their essential position? It’s hot now, and it’s only going to get hotter.
Somewhere Kant is smiling.
Not Easy Being Green
For me, the EU voter now advancing this project is this kid named “Rezo.” He has a big lick of blue hair. He’s kind of out of Wayne’s World. He became a YouTube celebrity shooting selfie-type videos in his basement before the 2019 EU elections, just tearing into Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.
The EU is engaged in a continual nonviolent extension of itself, without any precise way of describing itself, or any specific idea of when the extending should stop.
Forget Genghis Khan. That’s who is coming: Rezo. And as the planet gets hotter, kids even younger than Rezo will come along, and they also will vote Green. It’s going to be a bigger Brussels or Bust. The EU will be a Green project, and if that sounds far-fetched now, it will not sound so far-fetched when the temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius in 2030, or by 2 degrees in 2040. Right now, even if the EU cannot impose a “law of nations” environmentally, it can set out what the “law of nations” ought to be and wait for the nations of the world to come to it (or to a new version of it) for protection.
In a way, I am sorry to think of the EU becoming a Green Party project. As a union-side lawyer, I wish it were the SPD—the German workers’ party. I loved the old SPD; I remember the spirit of it captured by the photo I used to see in a Berlin restaurant of Willy Brandt playing the guitar. But even for a union-side lawyer, there’s no getting around the saving of the species. So I am all in, at least with the youth movement. Some may scoff, “Yes, there are a lot of Germans who vote for the Greens out of guilt—but they still own two SUVs.” But the kids are all right. As for their parents, well, that’s a problem that can be solved actuarially.
Rezo and his cohort face an existential threat that my friends and I did not when we were young in the 1960s. The Cold War could—and ultimately did—stay cold. The climate will get hot. And for its part, the EU needed this new idea, a reason to exist. Kohl’s project, the euro, was never such an idea. The euro was just a thing, like a home appliance. But now it has an animating vision: an EU with bright-blue hair, determined to be Green.
Look at all the other signs that the EU is marching forward; lately, its stock as the forger of a new world order seems to be on the rise. Now it has a set of regulations on artificial intelligence, which might destroy us as a species if climate change does not. When Anu Bradford published The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World in 2020, many argued that said effect applied only to easy things like privacy, or consumer rights of various kinds, where the EU set standards that even U.S. companies began to follow. But that critique hardly applies to antitrust, or competition, where the EU, unlike other powers, is going after Big Tech. Apple, Google, and Amazon are not scoffing at the Brussels effect. In the cases of the EU Emissions Trading System and AI regulation, the EU is going for a bigger Brussels effect, not just on companies but on countries. It’s really the same thing—setting a standard that reflects a consensus of nations with republican constitutions—that Kant envisioned for the law of nations.
Only the EU can do this; it has a competitive advantage over China and the United States, or even Japan, in creating a law of nations. Only the EU can put forward such a law out of a consensus of nations with constitutions that are republican in nature. China is not even in the game. And the United States cannot do it—in part because unlike the EU member states, it does not have a true republican form of government. Thanks to the anti-democratic rules of the U.S. Senate, the nation is not governed on a principle of one member, one vote. And much like the UK, the United States does not have the proportional representation that almost all EU member nations do, and that allows every point of view in the country to have its say. The type of representative constitutions maintained by EU member countries, and the number of such constitutions, gives more legitimacy to the EU in articulating a law of nations.
It’s too bad because the Framers believed in the Enlightenment as much as Kant and anticipated doing the work of creating a law of nations. In the U.S. Constitution, Article VI says that U.S. treaties, like the provisions of the Constitution itself, shall be “the supreme law of the land.” Perhaps the Framers, or some of them, were anticipating, like Kant, there might be a law of nations. It is arguable that under Article VI, or a treaty that is the supreme law of the land, we might even adjust our form of government. In any case, the first big law passed by Congress after 1789 was the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allowed for suits even by foreign nationals to enforce what is called “the law of nations.” Odd, yes? Well, it was the Enlightenment: back then, there was a form of adult supervision.
The United States is so far from practicing one person, one vote that it is unable even to participate in this project of creating a law of nations. Aside from the Federal Reserve, Medicare and Social Security are the only reasons the United States is still intact. With the end of the Cold War, we regressed to the Civil War, having lost the existential nuclear threat that had kept the country together despite an alarming level of inequality. As it turned out, the Soviet Union did triumph over the United States—it won just by giving up. Once the Soviet Union was no longer there as a way of channeling all our aggressive instincts, we turned all that aggression on ourselves. Racism and class warfare on the poor tore the United States apart. Losing the Cold War was just a clever way to destroy us—a form of mutually assured destruction of both Russia and the United States in the particular forms each of them once took.
Likewise, the post-Brexit UK is unraveling. Scotland may secede. Or Northern Ireland. Or both. And with the UK out of the EU, it’s easier for the EU to take a bolder role in setting a Kant-like “law of nations.” In a sense, by removing the British veto that had paralyzed it, the British exit liberated the EU to be a world government. Why was the UK such an outlier? In part because the UK did not have the same kind of modern, post-World-War constitution that the other member states had. For example, in the UK there is no proportional representation: it is what political scientists call “first past the post,” where the 50-plus-1 percent get the candidate of their choice and the other 49 get nothing. In some elections, for instance, the anti-Thatcher parties could rack up huge majorities, but Thatcher would win. Such a country is not representative enough to take part in the work of creating a law of nations. Only true republics will be able to undertake this task.
Beasts of Each Nation
Still, what about the “nationalist” backlash of the right in many EU countries? “Backlash” there may be, and “nationalist” it may be as well, but even the Le Pen party in France is not seeking to get out of the EU. And the French electorate’s fear of its impact on the EU has helped keep Le Pen out of power. In the last EU parliamentary elections, the far-right parties on a total EU wide basis received no more than 24 percent—and many pundits believe this is about as far as the far right will go. If in the United States we could hold down the Trump GOP, which is even farther to the right, to 24 percent, they’d seem a pretty small obstacle. And most far-right parties now appear to accept the EU even as the EU’s ever-increasing role ought to bother them even more. In late 2020, the member nations of the EU approved a $750 billion program of grants and loans to help the countries struggling most from the pandemic. That’s right, just as in the United States, the money is going from the states that are the “winners” in the global economy to those that are the losers. To be sure, it is not a “permanent” kind of funding, raised by taxation by an EU parliament. As my friend Volker Bley told me, “If I had a magic wand to fix the EU, I would have an EU parliament with control of a budget.” But that’s why the EU is only partly a government—and partly a framework for a law of nations. Still, if it happens once, it can happen again. “Even if the debt instrument is not permanent, it will permanently alter the way we think about the instruments that Europe has at its disposal in a crisis,” according to Lucas Guttenberg of the Jacques Delors Institute in Berlin—and by the way, how EU-like even to have a Berlin think tank named after a French socialist.
Another, more telling sign of the EU’s growing reach was their distribution of Covid vaccines. Yes, it’s true that the EU bungled the initial contract with AstraZeneca and bet on the wrong vaccine. But the EU righted itself and then handed out the successful vaccines without having the member states go to war with each other to get the biggest pile. Had the EU’s orderly distribution been replicated on a global scale, we might have zapped the recent variants and prevented many thousands of deaths.
Yes, Kant is right: nature—whether in the form of climate change or disease—requires a world government, as we humans have unmasked contact with each other in every corner of the world. There is no safe place to go, as The Economist recently editorialized about global warming, but it could just as easily have been referring to the next pandemic or the rise of artificial intelligence.
Where Anglos Fear to Tread
The nationalism that made it so easy to mock the League of Nations or the UN is losing its main sources of fuel: memory and language. That can be seen in the EU member countries, where the modern form of nationalism first arose. To understand its current decline, we might take as our text the classic 1983 work of Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. As Anderson brilliantly argued, nationalism is based on language; it is a linguistic artifact. There is no French nationalism without French, or Polish nationalism without Polish. And beyond just this linguistic particularism, there is a particular literature that has been created in that language, and that has produced a specific memory for those who speak French, or who speak Polish, or who speak Urdu. If writing today, Benedict Anderson might be sensitive to how all of this is breaking down—and just as with the rise of nationalism, Europe is leading the way in the decline of nationalism.
It’s not that these young people want “more Europe”—they actually want “more planet.”
Here is the paradox of the EU—(1) with the exit of the British, there is no big English-speaking member country, just plucky little Malta and dual-language Ireland, and (2) English is its common language. It is not actually a paradox: it makes perfect sense. It wipes out the linguistic basis of nationalism with a language that belongs to no one. Of course there is still French, German, Italian, Dutch, and so on. Robert Menasse wrote a hit comic novel about the EU, Die Haupstadt (The Capital), not in English but in German. Set in Brussels, it’s a book about governing in English—about Germans and others not just speaking in English but thinking and scheming their way to the top in English, or mostly English. OK, a few of my friends in Berlin say, but it’s different for the working class. Yes and no. They may not be fully multilingual, but their culture, or pop culture, is largely English—not “our” English, American or British, but their own deracinated Euro-English, the soundtrack of their lives, not just in the EU, by the way, but even in places like Ghana or Bhutan, or maybe especially in places like Bhutan.
That’s one reason why it is hard to integrate the United States or the UK, as English-speaking countries, into the world order. English is our language: we have none other that we can use. We are still, primitively, trying to understand the world in a language that is global for everyone but us. One might doubt that nationalism is on the decline when “from Hungary to France” we hear of the backlash of right-wing nationalists. But of course there will be a backlash: all around these right-wing voters are those—often young—for whom nationalism is so . . . nineteenth century. In some cases it may be the fear of being overwhelmed by Muslims, but it’s also a fear of being abandoned by those who live in what once were clear-cut borders. The backlash is a backhanded recognition that the old national identities are on the outs.
Yet at the same time they are speaking English too. And something more than language is being eclipsed—memory. That’s the key. For the young with purple hair, like those who are Green, the internet erases memory. On the internet we live eternally in the present, downstairs, in the basement, in a planet that is getting hotter. Yes, I exaggerate, but this loss of memory is real. An art teacher I know in Vienna was trying to explain to his students how difficult it was to be an artist in Prague or Warsaw under communism. “The Cold War—that was a new idea. They didn’t know what I was talking about. Here I was in an art class trying to introduce to them the idea of the Soviet Union.”
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it—except if they are able to forget about it completely. And that’s why—with no historical memory, but fully informed about what’s happening right now—the young make such good prospects for world government.
How Long, How Long?
Of course, you don’t want too much world government. It should not have too big a budget. It should not be too successful at promoting economic growth. The planet would burn up even faster. Better that in an ideal world order, the rich of the world should grow no faster than the EU currently does.
The law of nations will come to pass when our attachment to nations is in the past.
The EU itself should not be a democratic state, like France or the United States: that, also paradoxically, would destroy the EU by turning it into one more country, and one not able to articulate the law of nations. It is bothersome to hear all this complaining about the EU’s democratic deficit, for the deficit would be even greater if the EU were just another nation. It would deny the chance for citizens of the member countries to craft a law of nations. The EU would be just one more country in a tooth-and-claw Hobbesian world of all against all, clinging to an outmoded sovereignty as much as China or America. It would deprive the citizens of the EU member nations with a type of “representation” in crafting a law of nations—the same representation that is not available to citizens in our country.
Or let me state the idea as follows: unless I can participate in a law of nations that protects me from other nations warming up the planet, spreading a pandemic, or unleashing an AI in control of the Bomb, I am denied a form of representation. There is a democratic deficit regardless of my representation within my own country. Without a voice in this global debate I will always be a second-class citizen. And so for now I read the Financial Times at lunch to find out what the first-class citizens over in the EU have going on. It’s like rooting for an out-of-town team.
This is not a claim that the EU itself will be that world government, only that there is nothing else to serve as a model. For now, the EU is representing us, virtually, or indirectly, in Edmund Burke’s sense, when it sets forth rules on climate change, or distributes vaccines fairly, or shapes antitrust or privacy policies that protect us from Amazon and Google.
I should close—as any lawyer should—with a plan for getting to world government. But I am unsure how it will happen except in the unplanned way in which the neo-functionalists believe. It may be that when we cross over to it we will not even be aware of it—when it happens, we will be too busy or distracted dealing with a catastrophe. How long might that be? No longer than the time it takes to get to a 2 degree Celsius increase in global warming—and in the meantime, I would like to travel, in my old age, to any place where I can think about this law of nations, this improbable future that I am certain is coming but will never live to see. I love to go to Berlin, where I have often walked around the city with my friend Volker, down the cobbled streets by the Spree River, in winter, when it’s so dark in the afternoon, and raining, and usually I am on the verge of getting a serious cold. I look down into that black water in the hometown of so many of the twentieth century’s catastrophes, and I am in despair for the EU, for most of the time I have been in Berlin, everything is going wrong. To a reader who finds this piece naive or optimistic, fear not: I can be as negative about the EU as any Brit or American. Just look at Europe’s history; come to Berlin and think about the horror of it all. But that’s empirical history, and we should balance it with some philosophical history, such as Kant wrote a little way to the east of Berlin. The law of nations will come to pass when our attachment to nations is in the past. Many living now—those who are young—will see it. Besides as a species we have been here only for a blink. The Neanderthal Revolution is relatively recent, and the French Revolution is even more so. We only began growing food seven to twelve thousand years ago. In the Book of Habakkuk, it is written: “The vision will have its time, it presses on to fulfillment; we have to wait for it.”