Keep the Light On

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As the clock struck 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve in 2020, and as the British exit from the European Union was finalized, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on.” The First Minister intends to take an independent Scotland back into the EU. BREXIT is just the latest example of the ongoing struggle between those across the globe that are vested in nationalism, and others who believe the only way to stop the ritualized insanity of perpetual warfare is to somehow unite the world through an inherent desire for global peace and prosperity.

The European Union has, since its founding, been seen as a major though incrementalist milestone in moving the entire world towards an eventual federation of democracies. Many of the foundational principles for organizations such as NATO, as well as the EU, are informed by the work of Clarence K. Streit. As the New York Times correspondent at the League of Nations in Geneva, Streit understood the founding principles as they were articulated through the Treaty of Versailles.

He was impressed by this initiative for international cooperation that was formally established on January 10, 1920. He also saw how the League’s collapse was rooted in its inability to tap the power of individual conscience. Streit believed it was a mistake to identify democracy with either capitalist or socialist economics. His was a spiritual conception, one holding that “no community can live without a conscience, that we must hitch the community directly to the conscience of the individual.”

Streit understood that “whether we are establishing government between tribes, states or nations, the process is the same, the basic unit is still the individual man. The government must operate on him individually and the more directly it depends upon him, and upon his conscience, the more realistic and effective it will be.” He held that for global government to work, international institutions would have to penetrate the shell of national sovereignty and reach the core of each citizen’s loyalty. He presented his revolutionary book during a series of lectures at Swarthmore College in 1938.

Streit’s book, Union Now, is a classic work informing federalist political and constitutional thought. He is widely regarded as the founder of the modern world’s federalist movement. He ventured well beyond the sterile universalism of Geneva. He advanced the political and strategic framework, whereby a small union of democracies could develop peacefully. To this day it remains the most serviceable vision for eventual world peace. Such a nucleic union, by leveraging the dynamic-unifying elements of conscience, by making any authentic regional union the root of an ideological union, could eventually grow to encompass a world union since it would be based on the sharing of a universal value: individual freedom grown into a healthy collective freedom based upon the foundations of a healthy family.

A federation among nations, and the idea of tracing the responsibility for world peace to a group of democratic countries, informed Winston Churchill’s offer of a British union with France on June 16, 1940. Enthusiasts within the Union Movement played leading roles in developing the Marshall Plan and the formation of NATO. It inspired The Anatomy of Peace by Emery Reves in 1945. Streit built upon the logic of a revolutionary concept that extended beyond short sighted nationalism. The sovereignty of the individual citizen could at last be realized through a Federal Union of the Free.

In such a world-wide union, the smallest of nations would be “a part of the world and not a world apart.” They would be just as powerful as the greatest. We have many lessons derived from the American revolutionary experience and that of the early European Union. In the first instance, even though the land mass for the state of Rhode Island is just a little over one thousand square miles, it has two senators in the United States legislature. Alaska encompasses well over five-hundred thousand square miles of land, and it also has two senators. California has a population of about forty million people while Wyoming has about six-hundred thousand. Each of these states also have two senators.

While Brexit may have temporarily retarded the progress of a continent that hosted the planet’s first democracy in Athens, many in Great Britain are now regretting their decision to withdraw from the EU. This regional union is the clearest example to date of the schema described by Streit. Consider certain carefully delineated design imperatives as proposed through Union Now:

Just as local affairs in the United States are typically handled by local governments while national affairs are handled by national governments, an evolving world, such as ours, will one-day see its international affairs administered by a global democratic government. Once we’ve broken the cycle of ritualized insanity, where the answer to every problem is more armaments, each individual will be able to exercise greater liberty under such a global union.

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