Internationalism - Organization for world government

A few internationalists of the pre-1914 period went beyond federal principles to advocate a world government. Sixty years later, this kind of thinking would fuel a backlash against internationalism. Not so before World War I, when the idea was too novel to inspire great fear. Journalist Raymond Bridgman called for an internationalist agency that would coin money, regulate trade, control patents and copyrights, and (again reflecting a powerful current in turn-of-the-century progressivism) even supervise global monopolies. He and his followers also favored the establishment of an international executive with considerable authority, including the authority to use force to maintain peace. Roosevelt incorporated this latter idea in his Nobel Peace Prize address; Holt occasionally flirted with the idea; and Bartholdt's suggestions to the Interparliamentary Union in 1905, no less than the Bennet resolution of 1910, embodied this principle. Andrew Carnegie, too, endorsed the need for an international police force, as did Lucia Ames Mead, a prominent Boston reformer and peace advocate. Publisher Edwin Ginn favored an army to maintain order, and Cyrus Street, an eccentric realtor from San Francisco, presented some extreme views along this vein. He published a small journal, called The United Nations, in which he noted the need for a government "with power to make, judge, and execute laws; and to provide for the final disposal of all their armies and navies." He meant by this that a United Nations would have the sole authority "to enforce peace and prevent war from ever occurring again" (italics in original). After 1919, of course, this would hardly seem so eccentric.

Representative James L. Slayden of Texas added another feature when he introduced House Joint Resolution 72 in April 1913. It called for all Western Hemisphere nations to unite in "the mutual guaranty of their sovereignty and territorial integrity." Although the resolution never got out of committee, it again points to the degree to which traditional isolationism—or, more accurately, the unilateralism expressed by such things as the Roosevelt Corollary—was subject to challenge.

In truth, such suggestions represented a minority opinion among those who favored the creation of an international organization prior to 1914. The plans for periodic congresses (inspired by the Congress System that emerged from the Vienna Conference of 1815), for a federal approach to order that clearly limited a single organization's powers, and for a court of justice appealed to many more Americans. Even the court idea, however, was complicated by competing legal visions. American delegates had proposed the formation of a court of justice at the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907. The court concept, however, stood in conflict with the arbitration ideal that emerged from both the First and Second Hague Conferences. The formation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration appealed powerfully to some internationalists, but it contradicted the hopes of those, like legal scholar James Brown Scott, who hoped to see a court more committed to "adjudication" and less to arbitration. The differences between these concepts was not always clear, even among internationalists, but the former was usually viewed as more useful in legal disputes among nations, while the latter would presumably handle more "political" matters that involved the necessity for compromise.

While such debates monopolized the attention of lawyers, other internationalists gravitated toward more modest proposals. Historian George L. Beer advocated an English-speaking union, while Ellery C. Stowell, who taught law at Columbia University, believed that a general alignment of states along geographical lines would provide the basis of order. Stowell was among the first to use the term "internationalism," a concept that he viewed as binding America and its allies along both political and economic lines.

Cultural and racial considerations, too, came into play. The new Rhodes Scholarship program appealed to Americans—many of them imperialists like Theodore Roosevelt—who believed that the United States indeed should share the white man's burden. Internationalism and imperialism would part company in the United States after World War I, but there was yet no consensus about this in the prewar period, as the turn-of-the-century debate over the U.S. role in the Philippines had shown.

One thing, however, was becoming increasingly clear. The development of turbine-engine ocean liners and the telegraph had already compressed both time and space in ways that would profoundly influence the growth of internationalist thought. Since the end of the Civil War, Americans had participated in a growing number of meetings on an ever-widening variety of topics. "Functionalism," modern writers call this theme, as if to emphasize that cooperation regarding such functions has powered the growth of internationalism generally. Subjects as varied as communications, health and sanitation, weights and measures, patents, copyrights, currency, and agriculture provided the basis for international conferences. And not just conferences. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became an age of organizations such as the General Postal Union, founded in 1875, followed by a telegraphic union, a health organization, and many others. These bodies redefined the very context in which isolationism could survive and internationalism would thrive. Not only public officials, but private citizens, served as delegates to these organizations and attended these conferences. Such contacts engendered a growing awareness of global interdependence as the United States developed industrially and thrust outward economically and territorially.

The result was the development among some internationalists of a genuine sense of global community, promoting what is commonly called cultural internationalism at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Unlike the more typical internationalists who took the Darwinian system of sovereign states for granted and sought to tame interstate competition through legal restrictions and, occasionally, military cooperation to enforce the peace, the cultural internationalists approached their task in a very different frame of mind. They saw the process of unity advancing not through a political process involving institutions and agencies created by the nation-state, but through the relationships of people more or less transcending the state. They were precursors of those who, a century later, would describe the world as a global village, and they viewed international society as much more organic than the political and legal internationalists who emphasized individual rights rather than the rights of societies (whether national or international). If the political and legal internationalists tended to approach their task via the rule of law and military enforcement, the cultural internationalists more often appealed to common interests and a sense of common humanity.

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