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Federalism in the History of Thought

Year XXVIII, 1986, Number 2-3, Page 153



Soon after the launching of the first atomic bomb, a group of scientists at Oak Ridge issued a statement recommending that nuclear power be entrusted to a World Security Council authorized by all the world’s states to inspect their scientific, technical, industrial and military installations and they called for full publicity for all scientific and technological breakthroughs. In September 1945 Emery Reves[1] informed Einstein about this statement and added that, in his opinion, these recommendations showed that scientists “…have not thought the political problem through and still abide by old-fashioned internationalism, believing a league of sovereign nation-states capable of maintaining peace between its member states… There is only one way to prevent an atomic war and that is to prevent war… Analyzing all the wars of history… I think it is possible… to define the one and only condition in human society that produces war. This is the non-integrated coexistence of sovereign powers… Peace is law. Peace between warring sovereign social units… can be achieved only by the integration of these conflicting into a higher sovereignty… by the creation of a world government… No group of people today have such influence on the public as do the nuclear physicists. Their responsibility in making political suggestions is tremendous… They should always keep in mind the fundamental thesis Hamilton expressed in The Federalist: ‘To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighbourhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages’…”[2]
These remarks were subsequently reworked by Reves, who published them as a postscript (reproduced below) to his The Anatomy of Peace, which appeared for the first time in New York published by Harper and Brothers on June 13th, 1945. The first edition met with considerable success. On October 10th the same year a letter appeared in The New York Times and many other leading US newspapers, signed by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann among others, which vigorously stressed the importance of this book and called for it to be read and discussed. Reprintings followed in rapid succession: 160,000 copies have been sold by January 1947; a few years later the figure reached was half a million with translations in more than 20 languages and publication by instalments in Reader’s Digest.[3]
We feel that the book is still of great interest: born from reflection on the events in the twenties and thirties and in the wake of the tragic events of the Second World War, it contains a very strong emotional and moral charge and a clear, pedagogic and persuasive intention (hence the frequent stressing of concepts, the meticulous series of examples by means of continuous historical references). The basic theme is the analysis of the causes of war and the nature of peace: the identification of the roots of war in international anarchy and the identification of peace with the state and the legal order place Reves in the British Federal Union’s tradition of thinking. But around this nucleus there is a whole series of observations and intuitions which, while not rigorously conceptualized, are of great interest.
The book opens with an effective protest: any interpretation of historical events which is based on a purely national standpoint is misleading and consequently the solutions proposed by traditional political and economic doctrines to problems which go beyond the national dimension, in a world which the industrial revolution has made very interdependent, are inadequate. A clear and detailed examination of the contradictions generated by this interdependence between nation-states, which insist on being allowed to keep their sovereignty intact, leads Reves to stress the consequences of an anarchic system of states: conditions of permanent conflict; a tendency to centralize power within each individual state (at the expense of liberty, democracy and social justice); nation-states’ failure and inability to achieve the ends for which they were created (guaranteeing security and independence); impossibility to advance down the road to development opened by the process of industrialisation through the absence of a power which organizes the new size of the market and gives life to a unified currency, removing jurisdiction over monetary matters from the various sovereign states which have jealously protected it.
Having subjected the various theories about the causes of war to criticism and having indicated the division of humanity into sovereign state units as the only cause of war, Reves examines the presumed solutions to the problem of ensuring peace: both reducing and generally limiting armaments, or, alternatively, strengthening the war arsenal are ineffective; equally useless are treaties and leagues for collective security (The League of Nations or the UN) which are considered as a “negative step”;[4] the various internationalistic doctrines are groundless;[5] proposals favouring the peoples’ self-determination are anachronistic and “ptolemaic”.[6] Peace is an order based on law — affirms Reves organized into institutions of a federal type which, alone, assure democracy and liberty.[7] Such an order must necessarily embrace the entire world: “To put it bluntly, the meaning of the crisis of the 20th century is that this planet must to some degree be brought under unified control. Our task, our duty, is to attempt to institute this unified control in a democratic way”.[8] Whose task is it to lead this battle? “To put the problem before national governments would be a hopeless enterprise, doomed to failure before even starting. The representatives of the sovereign nation-states are incapable of acting and thinking otherwise than according to their nation-centric conceptions… From men who are personal beneficiaries of the old system — incapable of independent thinking and victims of the scandalous method of teaching history in all the civilized countries — we cannot expect constructive ideas, much less constructive measures”.[9] The task thus belongs to a “movement guided by men who have learned from the churches and the political parties how to propagate ideas and how to build up a dynamic organisation behind an idea”.[10] The true revolution would be as follows: “In the middle of the 20th century, no movement can be regarded as revolutionary that does not concentrate its action and its might on eradicating that tyrannical institution (nation-state) which, for its own self-perpetuation and self-glorification, transforms men into murderers and slaves”.[11]
A few weeks after the publication of this book the first atomic bomb exploded over the city of Hiroshima. It ended the Second World War.
But it was an end that brought no joy or relief. It brought instead fear of atomic war.
That the year 1945 of the Christian era produced the atomic bomb for military purposes and the San Francisco Charter for political purposes, is a paradox for historians of the future to ponder.
On every hand, suggestions are made to “outlaw,” “abolish,” “control” or “keep secret” this incredibly destructive force. As a result of several months’ debate among scientists, statesmen, industrialists and commentators, the following facts would seem to be agreed upon:
1. At present and in the immediate future no reliable defence against atomic destruction can be foreseen.
2. Within a very few years, several nations will produce atomic bombs.
3. The atomic bomb is merely the destructive side of nuclear physics and research in the use of atomic energy for constructive industrial purposes can and should be unrelentingly pursued.
4. International control of atomic research or of the production of atomic bombs is impractical because:
 (a) In capitalist countries such control is contrary to the practices and habits of free competitive enterprise.
(b) In totalitarian countries such control would be unreliable.
(c) Only if the nation-states grant each other complete freedom of industrial and military espionage (which is hardly conceivable) could such control be effective.
 (d) So long as the danger of war between nation-states exists, some if not all governments will try to prevent international bodies, in which potential enemy states are represented, from inspecting and supervising their laboratories and industries. Each great power will always do its utmost to lead in military science. Atom-bomb production in remote parts of the American West, in Siberia, in the Sahara, in Patagonia, in underground factories anywhere, can never be effectively controlled, if, in spite of pledges, the governments of the respective nation-states decide on secrecy.
Any effective control or inspection of armaments and research presupposes the sincere and whole-hearted collaboration of the governments of the nation-states. If this were possible, there would be no danger of war and no need for any control. The future cannot be based on a hypothetical assumption, the actual cause of our difficulty.
Once we recognise the impossibility, or at least the insurmountable difficulty, of effective international control of scientific research and industrial production, the question arises: Is such control necessary or even desirable?
Nobody in the United States is afraid of atomic bombs or rockets produced within the sovereign nation-state of the United States of America. Nor is any Soviet citizen afraid of atomic bombs or other devastating weapons produced within the sovereign nation-state of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But the people of the United States feel that atomic bombs produced in the Soviet Union represent a potential danger to them, and the Soviet people feel the same way about atomic bombs produced in the United States.
What does this mean? It means that no atomic bomb, no weapon that the genius of man can conceive is dangerous in itself. Weapons only become “dangerous” when they are in the hands of sovereign states other than one’s own. It follows that the ultimate source of danger is not atomic energy but the sovereign nation-state. The problem is not technical, it is purely political.
The problem of preventing an atomic war is the problem of preventing War, no more, no less. Once war breaks out and nations are fighting for their existence, they will use every conceivable weapon to achieve victory.
The release of atomic energy and the horrible nightmare of atomic war has greatly intensified the debate on world government. Many people have changed their minds overnight, declaring the San Francisco Charter outdated and inadequate to cope with the problem created by the atomic bomb. Of course, this revolutionary discovery in nuclear physics changed nothing of the necessity, imperative now for several decades, to organise human society under universal law. But it unquestionably dramatised and made it appear more urgent to the complacent millions who needed an atomic explosion to wake them.
This new physical fact has changed nothing in the situation this book deals with. Although written and published before the explosion in Hiroshima, nothing in it would have been said differently had it been written after August 6, 1945.
There is only one method that can create security against destruction by the atomic bomb. This is the same method that gives the states of New York and California (non-producers of the atomic bomb) security against being erased from the surface of the earth by the states of Tennessee and New Mexico (producers of the atomic bomb). This security is real. It is the security given by a common sovereign order of law. Outside of that, any security is but an illusion.
Many of the scientists who released atomic energy, frightened by the consequences of this new force, warn us of the dangers that will result if several sovereign states possess atomic weapons, and urge control of it by the United Nations Security Council.
But what is the reality of the United Nations Security Council, except “several sovereign states”?
What is the reality of the Security Council beyond the reality of the sovereign nation-states that compose it?
What matters it if the American Secretary of State, the Soviet Foreign Commissar and His Majesty’s Foreign Secretary meet as members of the United Nations Security Council or outside that organisation in a “Conference of Foreign Ministers”? In either case they are but the sworn representatives of three conflicting sovereign nation-states; in either case the final decisions rest with Washington, London and Moscow. These representatives can only arrive at agreements or treaties and are without powers to create law applicable to the individuals of their respective nation-states.
Many of those who realise the inadequacy of the San Francisco organisation feel that the people must not be disillusioned, that their faith in the organisation must not be destroyed.
If that faith is not justified, it must be destroyed. It is criminal to mislead the people and teach them to rely on a false hope.
The pathetic defenders argue that the UN is all we have and we should be practical and start from what we have. A reasonable suggestion. It is scarcely possible to start from anywhere except from where we are. If a man has measles, no matter what he plans to do, he must start with the measles. But this does not mean that measles is an asset, a welcome condition, and that he could not do things better without measles. The mere fact of having something does not automatically make it valuable.
The San Francisco Charter is a multilateral treaty. That and nothing else. Each party to it can withdraw the moment it desires, and war alone can force the member states to fulfil their obligations under the treaty. For several thousand years man has given innumerable chances to treaty structures between sovereign power units to demonstrate that they can prevent war. With the possibility of atomic war facing us, we cannot risk reliance upon a method that has failed miserably hundreds of times and never succeeded once.
A realisation that this method can never prevent war is the first condition of peace. Law and only law can bring peace among men; treaties never can.
We can never arrive at a legal order by amending a treaty structure. To realise the task before us, the heated debates of Hamilton, Madison and Jay in Philadelphia should be read and re-read in every home and every school. They demonstrated that the Articles of Confederation (based on the same principles as the United Nations) could not prevent war between the states, that amendment of these articles could not solve the problem, that the Articles of Confederation had to be discarded and a new constitution created and adopted, establishing an over-all federal government with power to legislate, apply and execute law on individuals in the United States. That was the only remedy then and it is the only remedy now.
Such criticism of the United Nations may shock people who have been persuaded that the UN is an instrument for maintaining peace.
The San Francisco league is not a first step toward a universal legal order. To change from a treaty basis to law is one step, one operation, and it is impossible to break it into parts or fractions. This decision has to be made and the operation carried out at one time. There is no “first step” toward world government. World government is the first step.
Some remark patronisingly: “But this is idealism. Let us be realistic, let us make the San Francisco organisation work”.
What is idealism? And what is realism? Is it realistic to believe that treaties — which have been tried again and again and have always failed — will now miraculously work? And is it idealistic to believe that law — which has always succeeded wherever and whenever it was applied — will continue to work?
Every time our Foreign Ministers or the heads of our governments meet and decide not to decide, hurry to postpone, and commit themselves to no commitments, the official heralds proclaim jubilantly to the universe: “This is a hopeful beginning”. “This is a first step in the right direction”.
We are always beginning… We never continue, never carry on, complete or conclude. We never take a second step or — God forbid — a third step. Our international life is composed of an unending sequence of beginnings that don’t begin, of first steps that lead nowhere. When are we going to tire of this game?
It is of utmost importance to look at these things in their proper perspective. We must reject the exhortations of reactionaries who say: “Of course, world government is the ultimate goal. But we can’t get it now. We must proceed slowly, step by step”.
World government is not an “ultimate goal” but an immediate necessity. In fact, it has been overdue since 1914. The convulsions of the past decades are the clear symptoms of a dead and decaying political system.
The ultimate goal of our efforts must be the solution of our economic and social problems. What two thousand million men and women really want on this wretched earth is enough food, better housing, clothing, medical care and education, more enjoyment of culture and a little leisure. These are the real goals of human society, the aspirations of ordinary men and women everywhere. All of us could have these things. But we cannot have any of them if every ten or twenty years we allow ourselves to be driven by our institutions to slaughter each other and to destroy each other’s wealth. A world-wide system of government is merely the primary condition to achieving these practical and essential social and economic aims. It is in no way a remote goal.
Whether the change from treaty structure to a legal order takes place independently of the United Nations or within it is irrelevant. To amend the San Francisco Charter — if that is the road we choose — we will have to re-write it so drastically to get what we need that nothing of the document will remain except the two opening words: “Chapter One”. The change has to come about in our minds, in our outlook. Once we know what we want, it makes no difference whether the reform is carried out on top of the Eiffel Tower, in the bleachers of the Yankee Stadium, or on the floor of the United Nations Assembly.
The stumbling-block to transforming the San Francisco league into a governmental institution is the charter’s basic conception expressed in the first phrase of the second chapter: “Members are the states”.
This makes the charter a multilateral treaty. No amendment of the text can alter that fact until the very foundation is changed to the effect that the institution will have direct relationship, not with states but with individuals.
But — argue the defenders of the charter — the preamble says, “We, the people…”.
Suppose someone publishes a proclamation opening, “I, the Emperor of China…”. Would this make him the Emperor of China? Such an action would more probably land him in a lunatic asylum than on the throne of China. “We, the people…” — these symbolic words of democratic government — do not belong in the San Francisco Charter. Their use in the preamble is in total contradiction to everything else in it, and only historians will be able to decide whether they were used from lack of knowledge or lack of honesty. The simple truth requires that “We, the people…” in the preamble of the charter be accurately read: “We, the High Contracting Powers…”
The most vulgar of all objections, of course, is the meaningless assertion made by so many “public figures”: “The people are not yet ready for world federation”.
One can only wonder how they know. Have they themselves ever advocated world federation? Do they themselves believe in it? Have they ever tried to explain to the people what makes war and what is the mechanism of peace in human society? And, after having understood the problem, have the people rejected the solution and decided they did not want peace by law and government but preferred war by national sovereignty? Until this happens, no one has the right to pretend he knows what the people are ready for. Ideals always seem premature — until they become obsolete. Everybody has a perfect right to say that he does not believe in federal world government and does not want it. But without having faith in it and without having tried it, nobody has the right to preclude the decision of the people.
Certain statesmen say that it is criminal to talk about the possibility of a war between the Russian and Anglo-American spheres. This is a matter of opinion. I believe it is criminal not to talk about it. Nobody ever saved the life of a sick person by refusing to diagnose the disease or to attempt to cure it. The people of the world must understand the forces driving them toward the coming holocaust. It has nothing whatever to do with Communism or capitalism, with individualism or collectivism. It is the inevitable conflict between non-integrated sovereignties in contact. We could put a Communist in the White House or establish the purest Jeffersonian democracy in Russia and the situation would be the same. Unless an over-all world government organisation can be established in time by persuasion and consent, no diplomatic magic will prevent the explosion.
Drifting toward a perfectly evitable cataclysm is unworthy of reasonable men. Hundreds of millions of civilised human beings, good-humoured, music-and dance-loving, industrious working people who could peacefully collaborate and enjoy life within one sovereignty, as the chained slaves of their respective sovereign nation-states, guided by fear and superstition, are being hoodwinked and bullied into senseless war. No amount of negotiating, of “good will” or wishful thinking will change this course. Only a clear realisation by the people as to what is driving them into that conflict can bring about its eradication and cure.
What chance have we to create a world government before the next war? Not much. Suppose we do make the problem clear to the democratic peoples — is it likely that Soviet Russia would accept a suggestion to enter into a common government organisation with us? I believe the answer to be no. Is it possible? Perhaps. But the alternative — another world war resulting in the destruction of all individual liberties and in the rule of a totalitarian state, either ours or Russia’s — is a prospect that leaves no room for hesitation as to the action we must undertake.
If war, horrible war, between the two groups of sovereign nations dominated by the USA and the USSR has to be fought, at least let it be civil war. Let us not go to battle for bases, territories, prestige, boundaries. Let us at least fight for an ideal. The end of such a struggle ought automatically to end international wars and bring victory for world federation.
The reality we must constantly keep in mind in striving for peace is clearly expressed by Alexander Hamilton in his Federalist No. 6: “To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighbourhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.”
History demonstrates how right Hamilton was and how wrong were those “first steppers” who thought that the American people could prosper and live in peace under a loose confederation of sovereign states. [… ]
Undoubtedly, if the inhabitants of Mars or another planet suddenly descended upon the earth and threatened to conquer us, all the nations of our small world would immediately get together. We would forget all our ridiculous inter-national quarrels and would willingly and gladly place ourselves under one rule of law for sheer survival. Are we certain that the unleashing and national use of atomic energy, the apocalypse of an atomic world war, is not an equal threat to our civilisation and to mankind, imperatively requiring us to rise above our outdated international conflicts and to organise human society politically so that an atomic world war could be checked?
We have very little time to prevent the next war and to stop our drifting towards totalitarianism. […]
An irresistible popular demand must be made articulate in every country as soon as possible. And when in two or more countries the people have clearly expressed their will, the process of federation must start. Naturally the ideal solution would be if all the people of the world were persuaded simultaneously. But such a course is unlikely. The process must start at the earliest possible moment, even with a minimum of two countries, because no argument can compare with the overwhelming persuasive power of events. There can be no question that once the process of inter-national integration starts, its attraction will be so great that more and more nations will join until finally, by the force of events, we shall arrive at a federal world government.
If we ourselves sincerely want a world-wide legal order and wholeheartedly begin work on the problem of creating governmental institutions which would permit different national groups to continue to shape their own religious, cultural, social and economic lives the way they choose and which would protect them by force of law from interference of others in their local and national matters, we have no reason to assume that Russia will stubbornly refuse to participate. If, under any conditions, she does not want to join, then let this be her decision. But let us not make our own actions dependent upon the hypothetical behaviour of someone else. With such lack of faith, with such lack of courage, no progress is possible.
We must be as much perfectionists in our pursuit of peace as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin were perfectionists in their pursuit of victory in war. They did not say: “Let us build a few hundred planes, let us win a first little battle and then be content with it and wait.” They raised standards and when they proclaimed that we wanted complete, total victory, unconditional surrender in the shortest possible time, hundreds of millions of us followed enthusiastically.
When we wanted the atomic bomb, we did not say it was “impossible,” “impractical”, “unrealistic”, we did not say that “the people are not ready for it”. We said we want it, we need it, and we have to have it. And we went all out for it with the utmost perfectionism. We constructed entire new cities, used two hundred thousand workers, spent two billion dollars and telescoped into three or four years the work of half a century. The result of this perfectionism was a perfect result. The “impossible” became reality, the “impractical” exploded over Hiroshima and the “unrealistic” brought what we wanted: Victory.
No human problem has ever been solved by any method other than perfectionism. […]
We cannot achieve peace — a much more arduous and an even more heroic undertaking than war — if all of a sudden we become modest and satisfied with what is complacently accepted as a “first step” and if, disregarding all the past, we indulge in the hopeless hope that something can now work which Hamilton rightly said would be to “disregard the uniform course of human events”. We shall never have peace if we do not have the courage to understand what it is, if we do not want to pay the price it costs and if, instead of working for its realisation with the utmost determination, we are so cowardly as to resign ourselves smugly to an inherited, unworkable system enslaving us all. […]
(Prefaced and edited by Maria Luisa Majocchi)


[1] Born in 1904 in Hungary, a graduate in political economy at the University of Zurich, Emery Reves in 1930 founded the Cooperation Press Service and the Cooperation Publishing Company (with headquarters in Paris and London) both of which became careful observation points of international affairs. He was the author of various publications against Nazism. He managed to escape arrest by the Gestapo on three occasions. In 1941 he left France for New York where he worked as a journalist. He continued his work as a journalist in Europe after the Second World War. A few years ago he retired to the French Riviera where he died recently.
[2] From a letter from E. Reves to Einstein, published in O. Nathan, H. Norden, Einstein on Peace, Avenel Books, New York, 1981, pp. 337-338.
[3] To clarify the emotional atmosphere that certainly generated the great interest in this volume, it is perhaps useful to quote a passage from “An Appeal to the Students of England” that the New York Federalist Students’ Organisation made: “We, Student Federalists, representing groups of students in sixty American universities and colleges, among them Yale, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Chicago and Stanford, urge you, students of England, to read, study and discuss Emery Reves’ book The Anatomy of Peace. Most of us were soldiers in the last war and have just been demobilised. We are young enough to be soldiers of the next war. We feel certain you will agree with us that we must do everything in our power to prevent another world war, which this time, with the atomic bomb, may destroy our whole civilisation. We have been studying this problem very carefully and have come to the conclusion that no treaty, no alliance, no league such as the United Nations, can protect us from another catastrophe. Only law can bring peace, only a world-wide federal government can bring world peace”. This appeal is published in the Introduction to the English edition of The Anatomy of Peace, Penguin Books, London, 1947, pp. 11-12.
[4] “It is a step away from our goal… A council of sovereign nations artificially prolongs the life of the nation-state structure and in consequence is a step toward war” (Emery Reves, The Anatomy of Peace, Penguin Books, London, 1947, p. 211).
[5] “The moment organised socialist workers in the various countries had to choose between loyalty to their comrades in the internationally organised class warfare within nations, and loyalty to their compatriots in the nationally organised warfare between nations, they invariably chose the latter” (ibid., pp. 155-156); and again “Internationalism countenances nationalism… It recognises as supreme the sovereign nation-state institutions and prevents the integration of peoples into a supra-national society” (ibid., p. 164).
[6] “Because this ideal once held good — in a larger, simpler, less integrated world — it has terrific emotional appeal… (but) the present world chaos… will not be relieved in the slightest by creating more sovereign units… On the contrary, the disease now ravaging our globe would be intensified, since it is in large measure the direct result of the myth of total political independence in a world of total economic and social interdependence” (ibid., pp. 168-169).
[7] “Democratic sovereignty of the people can be correctly expressed and effectively instituted only if local affairs are handled by local government, national affairs by national government, and international, world affairs by international, world government. Only if the people, in whom rests all sovereign power, delegate parts of their sovereignty to institutions created for and capable of dealing with specific problems, can we say that we have a democratic form of government… Only in a world order based on such separation of sovereignties can individual freedom be real… Democracy needs separation of sovereignties and separate institutions to deal with affairs on different levels, adequately to express the sovereignty of the community” (ibid., pp. 126-127).
[8] Ibid., p. 233.
[9] Ibid., pp. 225-226.
[10] Ibid., p. 226. The call seemed at the time to have been answered by the American Federalist Students who in the Appeal mentioned above went on to say: “If you agree with us, then organise your fellow students into an active movement in all universities and colleges as we have done in the United States. If you succeed, then we hope to hear from you so that within a very short time we can join forces and create a powerful worldwide movement of youth which will impose on our government our will to live and our demand for the unification of the conflicting sovereign nation-states into a world-wide legal order, which alone can make it possible for us to do our share to promote human progress”. Forty years on we must regrettably say that the call has not in fact been answered.
[11] Ibid., p. 235.



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