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The Federalist Revolution and the Way to Peace

Daniel J. Elazar

The Lessons of a Century of Total War

The twentieth century has been a century for proclamations of eternal peace and the realities of total war. One of the saddest truths that we have learned in the twentieth century is that ideas for and sympathies toward achieving peace alone are not enough. It is true that in order to have peace in the world we first must have acceptance of the idea of peace in the minds of men. But peace in the minds of men is not enough. Human cultures must also be oriented toward peace and there must be institutional mechanisms and frameworks for the achievement and maintenance of peace.

The twentieth century began with the First World War, perhaps the most horrible of all modern wars because it was so totally unnecessary; a war that threw the whole world into decades of convulsion, cost tens of millions of lives directly and other tens of millions indirectly, and maimed the lives of literally hundreds of millions of others, all because of the personal ambitions and weaknesses of a handful of European leaders.

The dominant political stance among the European masses at the time was socialism. The socialist leadership firmly believed that the commitment of socialism to not fighting in capitalist or royal wars would be sufficiently powerful to overcome nationalism and prevent the explosion that took place. Yet in July and August of 1914, when the governments of the states involved mobilized their armies, hardly any of the ordinary people called up, including the most fervent socialist workers, refused to go. On the contrary, they marched out with banners flying, singing the nationalist songs of the time, their socialist ideas notwithstanding. Nationalism proved to be a far stronger ideology than socialism.

In the last analysis, if the political institutions of the world are directed toward war or have no way to avoid it, ordinary humans will be dragged along into conflict and will acquiesce either out of conviction or out of necessity.

Nor are the causes of war easily identified and isolated. At one time it was widely believed that the elimination of poverty would eliminate war. Today we are more likely to believe that, ironically, poverty may limit the chances of war because people who are too poor do not have the resources or the energy to fight and that prosperity, at least in its early stages, may actually make war both possible and more likely. The same energy that brings the first prosperity may generate ambitions that only can be satisfied by war. At the same time, it is entirely possible that advanced prosperity may indeed lessen the chances for war for the most selfish of reasons, as people grow lazy and slothful, they are unwilling to risk their comfort for any reason.

I mention these negative elements in irony, but in part because we must be open-minded enough to pursue the fostering of peace in the minds of men even through those elements of human personality and culture that are less attractive from other perspectives. Ultimately, however, we must recognize that in every population there are those humans who are drawn to the most difficult challenges and cannot control their desire for gain. One of the wisest of all men, Abraham Lincoln, described the problem in his famous speech to the Young Men's Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois in 1838:

It is to deny what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passions, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle,[.] What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon? Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen.

It is for such reasons that men like William James, one of the world's eminent philosophers at the end of the nineteenth century, who foresaw with foreboding the transition from a century of relative peace to one of total war, sought to find a moral equivalent for war to engage human energies and ambitions.

More than two generations later, we humans, sadder and perhaps wiser, have adopted a different equivalent of war in the form of sport -- local, national and international -- to engage those human urges, passions and ambitions which were formerly devoted to the battlefield. However pleasurable, sport is not exactly the moral equivalent of war but if less noble, it may be an even better one.

Our century has indeed been the century of total war. Its first generation from 1914 through 1945 witnessed two global wars whose scope and human cost were unequalled in history. These wars brought with them a totality of involvement and destruction which only the new technologies of modernity could make possible. In their wake they brought revolutionary totalitarianism to scourge the world -- Fascism, Nazism, Communism. It was a generation in which the periods of so-called peace witnessed so-called limited wars and mass killings hardly less extensive than those of the two world wars.

The second generation of the twentieth century, from 1946 to 1976, was informed by a Cold War between the two Great Powers and their allies which also extended worldwide, punctured by several limited "hot war" confrontations between those powers or their clients. Yet that generation also witnessed the decolonization of what came to be known as the Third World. And the Cold War, however unpleasant, was confined and generally kept from becoming hot.

Now we are in the third and final generation of this century. Since 1977, the trend has been toward ending the Cold War and related conflicts, great and small, a trend that reached new heights in the late 1980s with glasnost and perestroika, the self-liberation of Eastern Europe, East-West rapprochement and serious moves towards disarmament, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the settling of various outstanding regional conflicts tied in one way or another to the Cold War. For a moment we seem to be at a springtime for the world when peace may indeed be within our grasp. There will indeed be setbacks in the dismantling of totalitarianism and other anti-peace forces. But the air is full of promise, a promise which we must transform into fulfillment. To reach that fulfillment we must address people's minds, their cultures, and their institutions.

The Federal Idea as the Key to Peace

One of the most promising vehicles for addressing all three is the federal idea. While federalism is normally understood as having to do with political structures, in fact the federal idea speaks principally to the character of human relationships. In its roots in the biblical idea of covenant, it understands humans as autonomous equals, capable of entering into covenants to establish the rules and institutions for their own self-government, who form their civil societies and polities through covenanting with one another on the basis of mutual consent to advance human cooperation in such a way that all the partners preserve their respective integrities, even as they create a common framework for cooperating to secure common ends.

The word "federal" is derived from the Latin foedus which means covenant. The political federalism that we know is one expression of the federal idea. The evolving world order with the United Nations and its agencies at its center may be another.

Federalism is the practical application of the covenantal way to the organization of political authority and power. The great political philosophers of the seventeenth century saw constitution-making as a federal act because, properly done, it was the assembly of the people as equals to constitute civil society and government. International relations were also seen by those philosophers as federal in that the community of nations was a community of equals, which also had to establish rules of conduct and control the exercise of power in the international arena.

The modern epoch -- from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries -- was the epoch of runaway nationalism dominated by two principal features of political behavior. One, national separatism, featured not only the multiplication of states but the myth that each state had to serve a single nation whose special character gave it a privileged position in the world and the right to pursue its national genius and, most especially, to recover what it defined as its national territory (to the best of its ability) through whatever means, including war. Accompanying that myth was the second one that only through centralized unitary government with its concomitant concentration of power in a single center could the nation-state be maintained and pursue its divine mission. These two myths fostered endless wars, large and small, both external and internal: external, to secure the separation of nations and their territorial aggrandizement; internal, to suppress divergent groups or dissident forces that kept the new state from being a homogenous nation-state.

In the twentieth century, both of these myths were intensified in many states by the addition of ideological homogeneity as a requisite, leading to totalitarian repression. Today, these myths have been exploded, unfortunately, all too literally. Two world wars and the many revolutionary convulsions demonstrated to Europeans how false these myths were. Despite the wars and revolutions, in no case had nation and state become coterminous where they were not in pre-modern times. Each state either was composed of several nations (e.g. the United Kingdom ), continued to have significant national minorities (e.g. Italy) or each nation was scattered over several states (e.g. the Germans). Nor had the centralized states delivered peace and prosperity, rather, they had delivered wars and repression. Exhausted from their conflicts, when they were free to do so, Europeans slowly turned to the development of a new European political order, one that accepted the existence of many polities and sought to limit statism in both the international and the internal spheres.

From the initial federation of the previously warring Balkan states and peoples into now collapsed Yugoslavia to the development of the European Community anchored in the newly peaceful relationship between France and Germany, the two major historic enemies of Western Europe, the federal principle has become Europe's new idea and federalism, not necessarily in its modern meaning of federation but in many new ways such as confederation, federacy, associated statehood, and autonomy is fast becoming Europe's way. This new way provides political, social and cultural autonomy for even more polities than could be accommodated in the traditional state system, while providing for far greater interstate economic integration, political cooperation, and personal liberty than the old system allowed.

This federal idea and way is not designed to foster the establishment of a new universal state subject to all the evil propensities of the nation-state on a larger (and more threatening) scale; it is, rather, a leaguing of states to limit their political sovereignty for the sake of greater benefits. It is not even necessarily committed to federation -- the sole accepted manifestation of the federal idea in the modern epoch -- though federation has been a successful device in integrating or decentralizing and thereby restoring peace to some European states, including Austria, Belgium, the German Federal Republic (now with the former DDR as well), Spain, Switzerland and Yugoslavia. In Western Europe, what was initially a league of states for limited economic purposes is being transformed into a confederation which preserves the full political integrity of the confederated states while creating a new common, if limited, regime for them all. There the struggle is between those seeking confederal unity and those seeking bureaucratic federalism -- a version of the Jacobin state writ even larger.

The confederal variant of the federal idea was unable to sustain itself in practice in the modern epoch when the separatist and centralist orientations of statism were too powerful. Now it is being successfully revived under the very different conditions of the post-modern epoch.

At times, the federal idea takes on other forms of practical expression. Sometimes they are asymmetrical, as in the ties between France and Monaco, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Italy and San Marino, Britain and its offshore islands, Finland and the Aaland Islands. These applications of the federal idea have enabled micro-states to survive and prosper in the new Europe. In the case of Andorra, a formed Spanish-French condominium has preserved the freedom of that little republic for 700 years in the face of the rivalry of these two great powers.

What is happening in Europe can be seen as building on what began in North America at the height of the modern epoch when 200 years ago the United States of America invented modern federalism as federation, an idea that spread to the new worlds of British colonization and to Latin America in the Western Hemisphere in the next century. It had great success in fostering and preserving peace and a climate of peace in Canada and Australia, even in the face of separatist tendencies. Even where federal principles had to compete with authoritarian ventures as in Latin America, the federal idea introduced as a key element in Latin American revolutionary liberalism, was more often than not associated with the pursuit of peace, not war. As peace and democracy have come to Latin America, federal ideas and practices are a strong part of the new reality.

The federal idea has had mixed success in the Third World which, at the beginning of the postmodern epoch, has had to confront those very same statist myths which had been imported from Europe and were then being exploded there. Where the colonial powers tried to introduce federal arrangements as means of inter-ethnic accommodation, their efforts usually failed because those who sought power could call upon the by now discredited European statist myths to serve their own ends. Nevertheless, in India, that greatest of Third World countries, the federal way has made union and civil peace possible, despite all of the difficulties that country has encountered. India means federation, first and foremost, although Indian federalism has several other dimensions as well, from a federacy arrangement with Bhutan to consociational arrangements in some Indian states and even internal condominia (e.g. the city of Chandigarh as the capital of both Punjab and Haryana).

Perhaps even more interesting have been the efforts at confederation in the West Indies. British efforts to establish a West Indies Federation failed. The island states involved were simply too insular, but the need for some kind of linkage of those micro-states was necessary if they were to more than merely survive. What they did was establish a network of overlapping joint authority that preserved their separate status as states, yet enabled them to share a common currency, a common supreme court, a common university, a common central bank, and, to some extent, a common market. As a result, they have been moving toward a level of regional integration that has taken on confederal characteristics, These new regional institutional arrangements are possible only when there is a will, where the minds of men are attuned in that direction.

In most cases, these federal experiments have succeeded where the states themselves have abandoned the idea that the concentration of power in a single center is the best way. The states themselves have adopted federal or consociational structures or arrangements or have undertaken constitutional transfer of functions to their local governments. In other words, the first step is a shift in the minds of men from thinking statist to thinking federal. Once begun, the possibility for combining various arrangements of different degrees of scope and intensity has wide limits. I have already referred to the Indian example.

So, too, the United States of America is noted for being a federation, now of 50 states. As such, it has always been predisposed toward thinking federal and fostering non-centralized government, so much so that when the courts held the states to be unitary and not federal in their internal composition, the overwhelming majority (45 of the 50) adopted home rule provisions, most in their constitutions which extend great autonomy to their cities and counties. Since 1952, the United States has developed and constitutionalized asymmetrical federal arrangements with Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas as federacies in which any change in the relationship requires the consent of both parties, and more recently with the three Micronesian republics (one of which is itself a federation of islands), which can be terminated unilaterally under certain conditions by either party. Increasingly, American Indian tribes, defined by the United States Supreme Court over 150 years ago as "domestic dependent nations," are developing their own asymmetrical federal relationship with the federal and state governments.

Across the Pacific Ocean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), carefully preserving the political sovereignty of each member state, has moved from being a defensive league to the threshold of confederation through the development of a growing number of overlapping functional linkages. Although it has not crossed that threshold and may not in the next few years -- nor should it until it is ready to do so -- it is a good example how thinking federal can begin to lead a region along the paths of peace.

Peace is only possible when such institutional arrangements are in place and succeed. Thus one of the first tasks for developing the idea of peace in the minds of men as one that will realistically contribute to the advancement of peace is to shift human thinking from statism to federalism, from the way of centralism and separatism to cooperative power-sharing, internally and externally.

In the last analysis there are only three ways to establish political relationships. One is by conquest or force. We are all too familiar with that way, which is the antithesis of the achievement of peace. A second is through organic development, seemingly by accident. Under the right conditions, organic development can sometimes lead to domestic peace, but it is very chancy indeed and is likely to lead to continuing wars between states in pursuit of their respective myths and ambitions, hence not to be depended upon for peace in our highly interdependent world. The third way is through reflection, choice, and covenant, through the establishment of communities of equals on an equal basis by pacts reflecting agreement and consent.

Democracy grows out of covenant or reflection and choice which, like the other ways, has a history that goes back to the beginning of time. And democracies are notably reluctant to go to war, especially against other democracies. The Federalist, speaking to the American people who were the first moderns to embark on the federal path, put it thus:

It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force (Federalist #1).

That is now the choice before the entire world. The Federalist continues: "A wrong election of the part we shall act, may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind." How much more so is this true of humanity on this planet today.

Democracy, which is rooted in covenants and constitutions, has a history that goes back to the beginnings of what are today referred to as the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible, in describing the making of the covenants that instituted constitutional government in ancient Israel, speaks in the same terms of reflection and choice between good and evil ways. Modern constitutionalism is the most widespread current manifestation of establishing peace by covenant within nations.

In the twentieth century covenant has been introduced into the international arena, at first haltingly and defectively through the League of Nations, but since 1945, still haltingly but more effectively by the United Nations and the network of organizations linked with it. We are still in the very first stages of this process, building an international community through overlapping covenantal linkages. It is a community that does not purport to be federal in its structure in the modern understanding of the term but, rather, international, protecting the status of each member state. Nevertheless, world events have overtaken that careful constitutional position. An interconnected world community has developed in economics, in communications, and increasingly in matters of public opinion and peace and security. We need not seek more of this than the reality, nor should we impose more of a burden on this fledgling world community than it can bear, but as we think of how to build peace in the world, I believe that we can see the direction in which we must go.

Combining Will, Culture, and Institutions

None of this is to suggest that it is our task to strive for some kind of world federal government. Our world is not built for such a thing. Rather, the task before us at this time is the reorientation of our thinking from the exclusivism of national sovereignty toward federalist cooperation through regional and world functional arrangements, and as the time becomes ripe, toward the resolution of conflict through federal devices of all kinds.

From John Locke and Immanuel Kant to our days, the greatest philosophers have urged humans along a dual path, to democratically constitute their national polities and to redesign the international arena so that it will be an arena of peace. They recognized that to do so there had to be three things: the will to achieve peace, an appropriate political culture that could promote and sustain peace, and appropriate institutions to secure peace, justice, and liberty. In the past these philosophers could speak only of the promise of a distant future. Today events have made that future a growing reality -- a single world economy to which even the most powerful nations are bound; a growing international communications network, which is no respecter of state boundaries and which cannot be controlled by governmental fiat, a network that increasingly links individuals and all peoples, whether those in power wish it or not; a shared world popular culture, for better or for worse, and a growing recognition that in matters of environment, even more than in matters of economy, our planet is one small spaceship in a vast universe and all humans are affected by what occurs to its environment.

Nor are any states fully sovereign in the political arena any more. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, even the ability to decide to wage war is limited to a greater or lesser extent. Unfortunately, our political culture has lagged behind our popular culture, just as our will for peace has lagged behind our need for it in all too many cases. We must begin with the minds of men and indeed with their hearts if we are to end up with the institutions required to bring peace to this earth.

These years of the breakup of the Communist empire, the development of a common shield for human rights in Europe and North America, and the coming together of the United Nations to stop aggression in the Middle East should be seen as a promising next stop on the long road toward universal peace. If we are far from the biblical choosing between good and evil, let us at least choose covenants of peace based upon the striving to be able to make that choice.

Thomas Hobbes, one of the most hard-headed of philosophers whose expectations of humanity were minimal, prescribed the need for such covenants of peace and what they must contain. He listed fifteen articles:

  1. To seek peace, and follow it.
  2. By all means we can, to defend ourselves.
  3. That men perform their covenants made.
  4. That a man which receiveth benefit from another of mere grace, endeavor that he which giveth it, have no reasonable cause to repent him of his good will.
  5. That every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest.
  6. That upon caution of the future time, a man ought to pardon the offences past of them that repenting, desire it.
  7. That in revenges, men look not at the greatness of the evil past, but the greatness of the good to follow.
  8. That no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred, or contempt of another.
  9. That every man acknowledge another for his equal by nature.
  10. That at the entrances into conditions of peace, no man require to reserve to himself any right, which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest.
  11. If a man be trusted to judge between man and man, that he deal equally between them.
  12. That such things as cannot be divided, be enjoyed in common, if it can be; and if the quality of the thing permit, without stint; and if the quantity of the thing permit, without stint; otherwise proportionally, to the number of them that have right.
  13. That the entire right; or else, making the use alternate, the first possession, be determined by lot.
  14. That all men that mediate peace, be allowed safe conduct.
  15. That they are at controversy, submit their right to the judgement of an arbitrator.

In a world of greys, these are the least we can require of each other. As we strive for a new world order, let us do so realistically, at least from this Hobbesian starting point. If we can achieve that then we shall open up great new possibilities.

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