Opinion piece for World Citizen Day, 25 May 1998

1998-2000 : a historic window of opportunity to build World Democracy

(888 words not including title and bio) by Troy Davis

Fifty years ago today, my father, a young and angry American World War 2 veteran, and a bomber pilot who had bombed Brandenburg and Peenemünde, declared himself a Citizen of the World. To drive the point home, he legally renounced his U.S citizenship which to him represented exclusive national sovereignties, a political concept conceived in the horse-and-buggy age and responsible for the largest butchery of all times : the 60 million deaths of World War 2. This symbolic act of renunciation and of claim to world citizenship made headlines around the world and started a popular movement which reached huge proportions in late 1948 and 1949. Nearly a million people wrote to register themselves in the International Registry of World Citizens which he founded, and personalities of the times, Einstein, Camus, Schweitzer and many others, supported the action of this “homme de la rue”, as the leading French paper Le Monde called him. Unfortunately, the cold war, and particularly the start of the Korean War, killed the tremendous popular enthusiasm for this idea.

Nevertheless, the idea of world law as the only civilized way to achieve world peace, and the idea that it is in the best interest of peoples and states to add a greater civic allegiance has made its way in many guises. 50 years later, it is more than ever possible to build a World Democracy. Following are 12 reasons which speak in favor of a historic window of opportunity from now until the year 2000 to achieve once again large-scale popular support for the democratic global institutions the world desperately needs :

1. The cold war as we knew it is over;

2. Ever cheaper air travel since 1950 has led to millions of people experiencing first hand other people and other cultures.

3. Technologies such as television, the telephone and the internet are continuing to shrink the world at an increasingly rapid pace, but a growing gap between “knows” and “know-nots” is splitting the planet;

4. For the same time in history, we have seen our blue planet from space, marvelled at its fragility and beauty, and have been able to relate to it as a whole. Science, especially genetics, ecology and astronomy, has shown us the unity and interdependence of the human race, other living beings and of the planet;

5. Economic globalization, most vividly illustrated by “giga-mergers”, is accelerating and is perceived by most as an alienating threat. But a necessary countervailing and democratic “political globalization” is non-existent. Without it, a populist and dangerous nationalist backlash is increasingly likely, as shown by recent extreme-right election victories in France, Germany and Hungary. Many fear more extreme-right successes in reaction to the introduction of the Euro;

6. The world recognizes that key problems, especially environmental ones and those related to weapons of mass destruction, are best dealt with on a world level. In many cases, the closest to “world law” are multilateral environmental treaties;

1998-2000 : a historic window of opportunity to build World Democracy

7. In some cultures, the transition to a new millenium and to a “new age” offers a opportunity to motivate large numbers of people for radical but positive change;

8. Over the last 50 years, some of the practical problems of implementing supra-national institutions have been tested on the continent which brought us 2 world wars, and the concept has proven its strength by preventing war in Western Europe for the longest time in recorded history. The European Union, now with half of Eastern Europe in its antechamber, with the world’s first directly and democratically elected supra-national Parliament, and soon with a common currency which will rival the US dollar as the world’s currency of choice, bears useful lessons.

9. Civil society in general and international institutions have become acutely aware of the limitations of present peace-keeping arrangements, i.e. the U.N., and have called increasingly strongly for democratization of these structures. In turn, governments and the U.N. recognize the fundamental role of civil society and Non-Governmental Organisations, as shown by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s call for a Millenium Peoples’ Assembly.

10. The tripling of the number of “sovereign” states since 1945 has both weakened the historical validity of the concept, and showed that the Emperor “Unlimited National Sovereignty” has no clothes, as no country can solve even its own problems in isolation. It has also increased the chances that a group of states will simply take the jump and create a Democratic World Federation open to all, because they recognize that the benefits from common democratic institutions greatly outweigh the loss of national pride, as has happened many times before in history.

11. The youth and voters of today are disillusioned with politics and politicians. A Democratic World Federation could become a rallying point for people of all ages and cultures, and provide a “new old” ideal for people everywhere to create peace through law.

12. Finally, the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of what literally was a popular mandate for world citizenship offers individuals, organisations, cities, schools, colleges and others, an opportunity to get involved in spreading the idea that global problems demand global democratic institutions to deal with them. We can learn from 1948 and 1949 and sustain a new popular movement to finally succeed in building World Democracy.

(short biography) Troy Davis is the son of Garry Davis, known as World Citizen N°1, who started the worldwide movement for world citizenship in 1948, founded the International Registry of World Citizens and the World Service Authority, and of Esther Peter, an environmentalist and women’s right activist who pioneered the French anti-nuclear movement from Alsace. A Harvard graduate who majored in physics and worked on Wall Street, Troy Davis built up over 7 years an international business/environmental organisation active in 30 countries, and is now Vice-President of the World Citizen Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation headquartered in Burlington, Vermont, USA. He lives in Wedel, near Hamburg in Germany.
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