Year XXX, 1988, Number 1, Page 65



Giuseppe Antonio Borgese (1882-1952) was an Italian-born professor of literature at the University of Chicago who became the leading theorist of maximal world government. In 1945, Borgese formed the Committee to Frame a World Constitution, which included Robert M. Hutchins, Mortimer Adler, Richard McKeon, Reinhold Niebuhr, Rexford Tugwell, and other distinguished American and emigré educators. He contributed the draft that was developed into the Chicago Committee’s Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution (1948). He edited and directed the journal of the Committee, Common Cause (1947-1951) — in its time the most substantial scholarly journal of the world federalist movement. He became politically active in the World Movement for World Federal Government (predecessor of the World Association of World Federalists), supporting constitutional approaches particularly at the Stockholm congress of 1949, but he resisted the unofficial, more revolutionary approach of a people’s convention, as led by British MP Henry Usborne. G. A. Borgese contributed the most sustained analysis and exposition of the modern idea of justice, to serve as the basis for a lawful world order acceptable to capitalist, communist, and colonial (now developing) blocs. “Peace and justice stand or fall together”, was one of his great principles, which enshrined in the Preamble to the Preliminary Draft. Another, reflecting the Kantian imperative, was, “World government is necessary, therefore it is possible”.
G. A. Borgese had deep faith in democracy, as befits a man who struggled all his life against fascism, and, at the height of Allied victory over fascism, Nazism, and Japanese militarism, he could believe that humanity was ready for world democracy. His reading of world literature and his experience in the World Wars and at the University of Chicago, where atomic energy was first developed, convinced him that war could and must be abolished, and that world government, democratically organized and vested with full, effective powers to achieve peace and justice, was historically overdue and politically attainable. The Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution he called a “proposal to history … a myth, in the sense that a myth, incorporating the faith and hope of its age, mediates between the ideal and the real, and calls the mind to action”.
All of his scholarship, poesy, and political activism toward the end of his life was designed to show that maximal world government, the only government in his judgment that could effectively abolish war, was a practical foreign policy for all nations in the mid-twentieth century. The Cold War he saw as a conflict about the fundamental nature of justice, on which the inevitable and necessary world government would be based. Borgese was a great antagonist of Grenville Clark, the leading exponent of limited or “minimal” world government (powers limited to maintaining international security) — an antagonist also of Reinhold Niebuhr, who broke early from the Committee and then became a major apologist for the US policy of containment of communism. Limited world government Borgese called a “world police state, as impossible to attain as it would be heinous if it were attainable”. Niebuhr, who published righteous attacks against world government in such journals as Foreign Affairs on the grounds that it presumed the existence of world community and neglected original sin, Borgese counterattacked personally as a “dialectic sin-monger … an abettor of war, though not quite a warmonger”. These passages give a sense of the man — passionate, combative, logomachic, eristical, and right.
Borgese outraged, wearied, delighted, and taught his readers and students. It was said of him as a teacher at Chicago: “He appears to his American students a sort of benevolent condottiere who unintentionally scares them at first with his exotic manner and passionate rhetoric, but soon earns their deep affection and gratitude”. He moved people. Of all the advocates of world government in his time, probably only Einstein, by meeker methods, had greater personal influence.
G.A. Borgese was born in Polizzi Generosa, a village in central Sicily, in 1882. His father, Antonio, a provincial lawyer and humanist, introduced the boy to Latin poetry and classical literature. Giuseppe went to school in Palermo and then to the University of Florence, where he received a degree in 1903. His thesis, Storia della critica romantica in ltalia, was influenced by Benedetto Croce, who published it with approval in La Critica (1904). It immediately created a sensation. It was said to be a “masterpiece of research analysis and interpretative exposition”, and has often been reprinted. In the next few years, Borgese served a varied apprenticeship as literary critic and writer in Naples, Berlin, and Turin. He threw off a brief adherence to Gabriele D’Annunzio’s reactionary nationalism in favour of democratic liberalism in 1909, then taught German literature at the University of Rome (1910-1917) and the University of Milan (1917-1925), and continued to teach aesthetics and history of criticism in Milan (1926-1931). During these almost thirty years, Borgese developed an aesthetic theory differing radically from Croce’s. A work of art, according to Borgese’s Poetica delle unità (1934), is not a primitive or unconscious inspiration, but is part of an organic whole, shared by all artists, called the “Bible of Humanity”.
During World War I, in 1917, Borgese headed the Press and Propaganda Bureau of Italy, and next year he led the Italian section of the Inter-Allied Delegation in London. “I developed whatever action I could”, he wrote later, “in favour of a unified and democratic Europe in line with Wilsonian intentions”. Throughout these years, Borgese produced a stream of articles and books, notably his well-received first novel Rubè (1921) and the collection of short stories Pellegrino appassionato (1933), which he called the “most cherished of my imaginative works”.
In 1931, Borgese was a visiting professor at the University of California when Mussolini announced that an oath of allegiance to the Italian Fascist state would be required of all Italian professors. Borgese did not go back. “I went into exile when it became inevitable and necessary”, he explained. “Fascism wanted to swallow everything … I would not be swallowed, nor would I allow my conscience to be swallowed”. Later he published an open letter to Mussolini: “My dwelling place can only be where it is permitted a writer to be truly a writer, … where exists as much liberty as is necessary for intellect to live and for justice to take its course”. After several years of scholarly peregrinations during the Great Depression, Borgese was invited to the University of Chicago in 1936. He became a US citizen in 1938, made over the English language to give it a Roman tone, as his colleague the anthropologist Robert Redfield said, and next year married Elizabeth Veronica Mann, youngest daughter of Thomas Mann. Elizabeth Mann Borgese became a world government activist in her own right, and in later years she made substantial contributions to the Law of the Sea.
G.A. Borgese’s intellectual development toward his advocacy of world government can be seen in this literary background. He published, in English, Goliath: The March of Fascism (1937), a critical history which is still cited for the era. After the Munich crisis, Borgese brought together Thomas Mann, Lewis Mumford, Herbert Agar, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others in what he called privately a “council of wisdom”, to draft a political manifesto for world democracy as a war aim, The City of Man (1940). This council and its draft are in some ways a precursor to the later Committee to Frame a World Constitution. In 1943, Borgese extended the same theme in Common Cause, a title which was revived for the journal of the Committee. Two years later, after use of atomic bombs in war, he persuaded Chancellor Hutchins, who by then was convinced that there must never be another war, to support the Committee. “The intellectual courage that split the atom”, wrote Borgese and McKeon, “should be called, on this very campus, to unite the world”.
The Chicago Committee, then, in self-appointed world constitutional convention, held thirteen meetings until mid-1947. They went through five drafts of a model world constitution, produced 4,500 pages of documents — the World Federalist Papers, a stunning collection (now available on microfilm from the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago) of profound thought on the fundamental problem of the age — and started the journal Common Cause. The World Federalist Papers and Common Cause are surely the place for serious students of world government to begin. Borgese and others on the Committee were dismayed at the rapid break-up of the Russo-American wartime alliance and the announcement of the containment policy, split over the Henry Wallace challenge to Truman’s new policy, tried to guide the small but vigorous world federalist movement of the time, and found themselves without support after the Korean War began. There came a dark moment in the penultimate issue of Common Cause (June 1951), when Borgese announced the demise of the journal: “The chief fact of life, in the overwhelming opinion, is that the worlds are two. They can fight it out or they can come to a compromise or truce. They cannot join in peace”. That month, there was an annual meeting of the World Movement for World Federal Government in Rome, sponsored by the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Carlo Sforza, and addressed by Pope Pius XII. But the American mainstream organization, United World Federalists, refused to go if the Communist Partisans of Peace were admitted, even as observers, and the movement to unite the world split over the issue of Communism, just as the nations did. Borgese and his wife did not even bother to go. They returned to Milan, and next year in Florence, weary and disappointed, the poet and prophet of the world republic breathed his last. His forty books remain a testament to humanity.
The idea of a world state, a scheme of poets and prophets through the centuries, gained an unprecedented momentum in Western public opinion after August 6, 1945 and Hiroshima. The main impulsion came from atomic fear … Hence, generally speaking, the movement for a world state has been prevalently a movement for the establishment of an international or supranational organization apt to guarantee our own security.
…If the idea of a world atomic authority hanging in suspense, with no world political authority whereon to rest, is chimeric, hardly less so is the notion of implementing the United Nations with a legislative assembly “popularly” elected, in which the Russian veto would be superseded by a gerrymandered majority firmly in our hands.
Against such delusions or palliatives we may well believe that a fullfledged world federal government is necessary, and therefore is possible. Yet the longer we are content with so abstract and generic a statement of belief, the more likely it is that world government propaganda per se will experience at increasing ratio the law of diminishing returns, with its final results conceivably amounting to a lure of false hopes among ourselves and a tangle of pugnacious suspicions among others.
Hence, if the idea of world government is not to be discredited for a generation [we have] the duty of “thinking until it hurts”, namely, of facing squarely the idea and testing its validity in specific and organic terms. Should any attempt of this kind prove a failure, there would be profit in learning and confessing candidly that world government, under the present and predictable circumstances, is a pious wish, or “myth” and taking the consequences.
The political intent of a World Constitution, to be submitted to world opinion, would not be to frighten or “encircle” anybody. Its purpose and effect should be to procure an alignment of the majority of mankind, so convinced and convincing as to bring home to everybody that peace through justice and world authority is an acceptable and desirable proposition for each and all.
But no sooner do we move from the comfortable area of generic propaganda to specific programs than we see how steep is the path. The problem confronting any drafters of a World Constitution is manifold. Its seven basic aspects, diverse though correlated, may be listed as follows.
If the stocks of mankind were to be represented in the world government according to their numbers, a coalition of [the Far East] would wield absolute majority. In a set-up of this kind the world government would be at variance with present reality. Is a fair and acceptable system of weighted representation conceivable? On what lines? Can a middle way be designed along which the English-speaking peoples (approximately one-tenth of the population of the earth) would neither appropriate an artificial majority … nor become subject to groups with less experience in representative government?
If nationalism is, as it is, the main obstacle on the road to a world state, and if the extant national states are, as they are, the hotbeds of nationalistic passions, could the representatives to a supranational government be elected or appointed by the present national states and sit together in assemblies and councils of titans and midgets, of Russias and Nicaraguas? This would seem contradictory. Is it contradictory? The alternative is election of the representatives by newly-formed units (regions). This might seem utopian. Is it utopian? If the regional alternative were adopted, [how] would the map of the world be designed…?
Western capitalism has taken aboard a certain amount of socialism; Russian communism has incorporated a certain quantum of capitalism. Yet the chasm between the two systems is too wide for bridges. Can a world constitution be devised within whose laws the two contrasting systems could peacefully persist or evolve without either interfering aggressively with the other? If this possibility is extant, it should be explained in concrete detail.
The language of democracy is universal; but the practice of democracy — which we usually identify with the parliamentary system — is restricted to comparatively small areas. Can a World Constitution be devised wherein the universal language of democracy would not be meant as mere lip service while the world government would not be burdened with the impossible assignment of introducing our parliamentary practices into, say, Saudi Arabia or Haiti? If this possibility exists, it should be made unambiguously — and acceptably — manifest.
Should the legislative branch of the world government be as predominant as it is supposed to be in the Western democracies? In any case should the world legislature be unicameral or bicameral or pluricameral? Should it be based on uninominal or proportional elections? Should syndical and corporative representation be admitted? Or what other device could be worked out to prevent a world state from being ruled, behind the loud screen of Tennyson’s “Parliament of Man”, by world group pressures? How would federal taxes be distributed? How levied? Would there be a Planning Board, and with what powers? A Federal District, or Area? Where? A federal currency? A federal standard of weights and measures? A federal official language? Which? Should greater or lesser power be vested in the judiciary than is vested in the United States Supreme Court? Should the executive be stronger or weaker than it is in the United States? If the executive power is vested in a Committee, how can we anticipate that it will have unity and prestige? If it is vested in one person, how can we make approximately sure that the world President will be a leader, not a despot or a dummy? This is a cursory and incomplete exemplification of the institutional issues.
Supposing that the world at large is not unqualifiedly interested in providing us with an insurance policy against atomic warfare without cashing adequate premiums, what premiums are demanded and what premiums are available? In other terms, what Bill of Human Rights should be included in a World Constitution? And how would it be enforced? Should that Bill of Rights be conceived as an enlargement or a curtailment of the Atlantic Charter and the “Four Freedoms?” Of the four freedoms the most pressing for us is freedom from fear, with peace and security as our immediate objectives, while the most essential for the world outside if freedom from want, and next to it freedom from shame, i.e., from inferiority of race or caste. Without these two freedoms peace and security have but little meaning for the overwhelming majority of mankind.
Our founding fathers could leave in abeyance for three or more generations the issue of racial inferiority. They thought — correctly, in the small and expansive frame of their society — that the economic issue could be confronted adequately by the free interplay of competitive initiatives; hence, a Bill of Rights that is almost exclusively political.
The frame of a global society and of our age is enormously different. A World Bill of Rights would be of necessity to a large extent a bill of racial franchises and of economic rights, with their counterpart in the duty to abstain from war. Democracy, no longer a defensive mechanism protecting the individual from encroachments by the state, would be a tutor and provider, planning and affecting well-being through the active intervention of the world state.
Can such a World Bill of Rights be drafted? Can it be enacted without not only the trimming of national sovereignties but also a severe curtailment of individual and national liberties? Would it not impair self-determination in matters, e.g., of immigration and tariffs?
This is the crucial dissent between “maximalists”, aiming at a world state of justice as the foundation of world peace, and the “minimalists”, aiming at a world of security open in due course to progressive justice.
Supposing a level can be reached at which our need for security and the others’ demand for improvement (otherwise called “justice”) can meet, what technical and legal means should and can be devised insuring monopoly and control of destructive weapons by the world state? This is the main distinctive feature between atomic scientists and world constitutionalists. The atomic scientists — and those statesmen … who have become their exponents — urge international atomic control as the first preliminary step from the present anarchy of nations toward a supranational world state. World constitutionalists hold that atomic (as well as subatomic and superatomic) control is the fulfilment of the world state, and its crowning manifestation in power, not its preface and entering wedge.
Should a plausible blueprint of a world state become available, it bids fair to anticipate that all “neutrals” would favor its adoption. They … are unarmed and nearly all destitute. They make up, nonetheless, the four fifths of mankind. The main difficulties lie with the other fifth: more exactly, with Russia and America, the two sovereign giants … A meager — and soon abjured — promise, like the Atlantic Charter, did not remain without effect on the course of events. It bids fair to suppose that a better promise — not to be abjured — would be a powerful instrument for the preservation and improvement of peace or anyhow for the establishment of a livable House of Man when the era of ruin is over.
A constitution, any constitution, is three things in one. It is a manifesto or a proclamation of principles. It is a political organism. It is a judicial mechanism.
Insofar as it is a manifesto or proclamation of principles — a spirit that builds to itself the body — the Preliminary Draft we are submitting today to public appraisal and co-operation is grounded in a basic belief whose fourfold assumption is: a) that war must and can be outlawed and peace can and must be universally enacted and enforced; b) that World Government is the only alternative to world destruction; c) that “World Government is necessary, therefore it is possible”; d) that the price of World Government and peace is justice.
Justice in turn is a timeless and universal idea whose historical appearances and demands are variously and progressively determined by the various configurations of the ages.
In our own age and circumstances, the appearance and demands of justice have two commanding aspects. One is the social and economic: to the effect that any bill of civil and political rights (and duties) of the individual must be supplemented and made operative with an adequate bill of economic rights (and duties). The other aspect, equally imperative, is the racial: to the effect that all color bars must be removed and that the civilized human race, one race, must rise with one act of the will above and beyond any tribal discrimination between chosen peoples and helots, higher breeds and underdogs…
Insofar as the Draft is an organism, a system of constitutional law, its organs and functions have been dictated by a set of convictions on the trends and necessities of historical evolution at the phase we are witnessing and experiencing…
One, endorsed at practically all levels of political thinking and planning today, contends that the so-called nation-state is by definition and nature the enemy and antagonist of the World State…
If, therefore, a world constitution is intended to be desirable and feasible alike, it must try a middle road pointing to a survival of the extant states, in a framework of local initiatives and authority, while depriving them of functions and powers which are basic to the World Government and which cannot be entrusted to entities driven by nature and tradition to wreck, if they have the opportunity, and world union, as they did wreck the League and have all but wrecked the UN. The authors of the Preliminary Draft thought that a middle road could be proposed in the electoral set-up of nine regional colleges…
The second postulate which seems to be paramount in regard to a world constitution as an organism refers to democracy, the representative system, and the position of the executive within them…
To stall such perils [as parliamentary deadlock and usurpation of power by “leaders”], the executive should be responsible but strong; or, better stated, it should be strong but responsible, and subject, in the exercise of a legitimately enlarged power, to checks and brakes whose violation should be made forbiddingly difficult by a steady equilibrium in the structure — electoral, legislative, judicial, military — of the World State…
Obviously, the provisions related to juridical and procedural machinery [representative quotas, sizes of majorities, number and tenure of officials, vetoes, amendments, etc.] are, in a world constitution, in any constitution, the most open to argument and debate, the most receptive to alternatives and change.
We do not have a world community, hence we cannot have a World Government.
If that were true, the problem of World Government would be settled now and forever. At the present time World Government is impossible because there is no world community; but, were ever a world community to rise full-fledged, a finished product, government in the ordinary sense would be supererogatory. The brotherhood of men, a brotherhood of the just and free, would need no judge or sheriff.
History, correctly questioned, does not answer that a government, a state, arises when the respective community is full-fledged. It answers that a government, a state, meets halfway the needs of a fledgling community, arises at the critical stage when a community in the making demands a pattern, a mould of law, for its further maturation to take shape (p.25).
Indeed, the Age of Nations is over, but the nations live: a verbal contradiction which is resolved as soon as we recall analogous processes of evolution of other social organisms such as the family or the city. The Age of Matriarchs and Patriarchs perished, but the family persisted. The tumefaction of the city-state, that of power in the crammed space which the sovereign citizens encompassed in his sight and hearing, gave way; but that withering did not entail the extinction of the city in its reduced function of municipality (p. 71).
“The maximalists”, wrote a critic, “are, I think, on wholly solid ground when they argue that most of the people of the world will not accept any world government unless they think it advances their ideas of justice; this is as true for Indians and Chinese as it is for Russians and Americans. Each group would like to prevent a certain brand of injustice — the Americans, war and totalitarianism; the Russians, anti-social liberty; the Indians and the Chinese, race prejudice and inequalities of wealth. Everyone, even the Russians, is in favour of a single world, on his own terms, and everyone considers his own terms just.”
But do the Americans think and say that antisocial liberty and race prejudice are just? Do the Russians teach inequality of wealth and war? Are the Indians in favour of totalitarianism, the Chinese of anti-social liberty? The self-evident truth is that each of these allegedly separate justices is overlapping with and integrated in the others, as no radical clash of doctrines has survived at governmental levels the Nazi-Fascist catastrophe of 1945…
The perturbation arising from the introduction of sentiment into the previously clearcut concept of justice as adjustment cannot be rationalized except through faith that mankind is engaged in a cosmic enterprise which makes every single person infinitely precious and demands the integration of each individual in the all-society, and the transubstantiation of the all-society, the world congregation, in each individual. Thus the destination which is in us, as it is inside the flock: of migratory birds, summons us to close the ranks and to spare one another; more than that, as was said, to “love one another” (pp. 250, 252).
(Prefaced and edited by Joseph Preston Baratta)

* From Common Cause, 1, July 1947.
** From Common Cause, 1, March 1948.
*** Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1953.


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