Many pessimists think that the only way out of our economic and political challenges is by organizing a world government and designating everyone on this planet a “world citizen”.
This idea has been kicking around for decades. Albert Einstein declared, “There is no solution for civilization or even the human race, other than the creation of world government.” H.G. Wells, the father of modern science fiction, insisted that “the cosmopolitan revolution to a world collectivism…is the only alternative to [the] chaos and degeneration before mankind.” For years in The New Yorker magazine, the essayist E.B. White turned that magazine’s Notes and Comment column into a running ad for world government.
Things have changed. Today, few of us stake our faith in a supranational organization that would transcend all others. Rather, the prevailing wisdom is that truly postmodern world citizens should have the freedom to choose whatever government they want. This can entail examples drawn from any number of historical precedents, while annexing elements from a variety of religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism and indigenous cultures.
At the same time, the idea of world government still resonates. Although the movement initially arose from the carnage and chaos of two world wars, there are other compelling forces that keep it alive. Among them is climate change, a phenomenon that is of particular concern to American Indians, insofar as global interdependence is concerned.
Here, for instance, is American Indian writer and activist Oren Lyons: “The extraction of oil, gold, other minerals, timber or water results in a fundamental change in the natural environment in which Indigenous Peoples have culturally and physically adapted for thousands of years.”
Many American Indian writers emphasize decolonization and re-indigenization as solutions to the possible future political and ecological turmoil. The present world order is not sustainable, they argue, and the solution for a sustainable future can be found in a return to indigenous knowledge, wisdom, and ways of life.
We can be happy that we do have the United Nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights to address some of these issues. Indeed, the U.N. is the most realized outgrowth of the world government movement. And its human rights agenda is in many ways an extension of the U.S. Bill of Rights to all people in the world.
There are, however, limits to the power of the U.N. and its pronouncements, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. The current U.N. extends the laws and powers of nation-states by declarations, resolutions and international law. The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a perfect example. It acknowledges long-standing, sometimes intractable indigenous issues.
But at the same time, it is confined to legal frameworks of nation-states and applied to national citizens. Unhappily, Indigenous Peoples are often unwilling nation-state citizens and prefer to maintain their rights of self-government, control over territory and cultural autonomy. In the U.S. and Canada the tension between indigenous and nation-state citizenship has evolved into a form of dual or plural citizenship. Frankly, most Indigenous Peoples have not fared well within nation-state citizenship policies, which tend to consider indigenous rights as special rights and are therefore unfairly applied and administered by nonindigenous citizens.
A theme in the world government movement is One Spirit, One World, One Mankind, which suggests all humans are included in a planet-wide community. It is an admirable view of human unity. But it needs greater elaboration. If even the germ of the idea of world government is to continue, it must recognize indigenous self-government and rights, and embrace plural indigenous citizenship at the world, national and indigenous-nation levels.
The alternative? World government and world citizenship requirements will homogenize and threaten the diverse cultures and political governments that Indigenous Peoples strive to maintain. Indigenous nations need to be partners in any world government solution, and not aliens outside of it. 0