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Fictional worlds, usually ones set in the future, often depict planets with a single worldwide government. (In fact, it's such a common trope that one Babylon 5 episode made a point of saying "hey, Earth isn't like all you other guys" in that way.) Living here on Earth, I have trouble seeing how we could end up with such here -- sure we have the UN and regional associations like the EU and NATO, and countries make treaties, but no state seems willing to give up its sovereignty entirely -- states reserve the right to not enter such agreements or even to break treaties, and consequences are limited unless the state is doing something Really Bad.

If I want my world to have a global government that has real authority, should I be thinking of it in terms of having taken a very different path from Earth (e.g. a world conquerer), or is there some sequence of events that could bring diverse sovereign states together into a single world government?

What conditions would have to be met in order for a world government to take hold, and stick? Can you get to a world government through paths other than worldwide military conquest?

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    $\begingroup$ Okay, this is going to be pedantic, so I'm sorry: define government and sovereignty. The traditional definitions limit one to only the most extreme of governments. I tend to like to argue that we are on a continuous curve between state governments and world governments, thanks to the web of treaties we create. The definitions were also simpler back when Christianity defined European statehood. Nowdays, with our ability to enforce state-morals on others with both carrot and stick, the waters are more murky... as they should be. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Aug 18 '15 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ The necessary condition is that exactly one human being remains alive. With none at all, there's no government, and with two or more then there will be multiple governments. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Dec 20 '15 at 20:09

13 Answers 13

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If I want my world to have a global government that has real authority, should I be thinking of it in terms of having taken a very different path from Earth (e.g. a world conqueror), or is there some sequence of events that could bring diverse sovereign states together into a single world government?

Both, or rather either could end up working for you.

What conditions would have to be met in order for a world government to take hold, and stick?

We will get to that.

Can you get to a world government through paths other than worldwide military conquest?

Absolutely and frankly more likely.


Ok so we talk about Earth and government, but in reality what we are really talking about it people. Government is people, maybe the few (autocracy) maybe the many (democracy) or perhaps somewhere in-between.

People are what make world government such a hard concept to accept. We just seem to be wired to see difference as a threat, which may well be evolutionarily true, humans have been fighting each other and everything else for somewhere around 75,000 years and there is some evidence to suggest that humans fought with neanderthals and may have played a role in their extinction.

If we are functioning in an Earth setting, the only way I can see world governments uniting would be due to a very real, very dangerous and completely global threat. Alien invasion would be the obvious choice. Though I doubt this scenario would meet your make it stick criteria. Should we be destroyed, or win, things would likely devolve to some extent.

Even in this scenario though I doubt that there would be harmony across the planet, some will still fight for their various reasons.

Your mention of a world conqueror scenario is interesting but I find it implausible on the same merits as our real world earth. It's such a big space that controlling it via force is simply not practical.


On the other hand if we look at a totally different sentient species that evolved differently than humans it should be possible. Humans evolved in a darwinian system that favored aggressive behavior. If you can ensure that the species evolved in a less competitive environment (it would take longer, or perhaps be designed) the natural impulse to expand and breed and control could be less pronounced or possibly not there at all.

A designed species would likely be more plausible as the the effectiveness of evolutionary pressure is what drives advancement, and without it...do you ever get to a sentient species? Tough to say.

Point being, a less aggressive sentient species may not be in conflict and may more naturally be willing to compromise and work together.


Some other options that make a lot of sense:

  • A hive mind but I don't think that is what you are looking for.
  • A planet colonized by an alien species, in this scenario you start with a small population (on a planetary scale) and they work to build the planet up. Much easier to see how this would stay consolidated, particularly if they remain subservient to the power that established the colony in the first place.

Final Notes:

On the nature of power. Power in a modern geopolitical sense is often broken down into a few parts.

  1. Military
  2. Economic
  3. Diplomatic
  4. Information (Knowledge is power after all)

To truly dominate you would need to cover all of these aspects. You need a monopoly (or near monopoly) on the use of force. You need to oversee/control the levers of industry and finance. You need to be the top of the diplomatic pile, this is the soft skills portion where influence plays a huge role, can you diplomatically solve problems or get others in line? Finally information...this is touchy in the modern era obviously what with the potential impacts to personal freedom but information goes well beyond just personal data.

Permanence:

Nothing lasts forever but you could find ways to make a world government stick for varying lengths of time.

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Watching Europe at the moment gives you a case study of this happening. Independent countries are grouping together and handing over some of their autonomy in exchange for shared identities.

Every time countries sign a treaty they tie themselves together, it's a gradual process but more and more power and authority is getting handed over to international organisations. The UN, Interpol, NATO and thousands of others all exist right now and in general their power and influence is increasing over time, not decreasing.

Consider too the growing power of corporations. Google is worth more money than a lot of countries. For example:

Yahoo is bigger than Mongolia

  • Mongolia's GDP: $6.13 billion

  • Yahoo's Revenue: $6.32 billion

  • Yahoo would rank as the world's 138th biggest country.

Through to:

Walmart is bigger than Norway

  • Norway's GDP: $414.46 billion

  • Walmart's Revenue: $421.89 billion

  • Walmart would rank as the world's 25th biggest country.

As their influence and power grows it is entirely plausible that corporations would end up running the world, and in doing so pulling the countries together whether they want it or not.

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    $\begingroup$ Given today is the day of the Scottish referendum it's an ironic time to mention Europe moving together! $\endgroup$ – Liath Sep 18 '14 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Liath Indeed, although actually the Scottish are wanting to rejoin Europe even if they leave the UK. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Sep 18 '14 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ Liath i thought Scottland was about to Join the Eu after its seperation? @Tim B the cooperations do always remember me on Weyland-Yutani. $\endgroup$ – Fulli Sep 25 '14 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ If wealth is power, then it's game over already. A Swiss study some years ago found 2/3 of the world's wealth owned by one trans-national group of inter-owned banks. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Dec 20 '15 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ Ever seen Wall-E? Yeah thats exactly what you described. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 25 '16 at 16:29
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There are several options:

  • First: there was only one government to begin with. If there was only one language/race and they didn't spread out much, it's possible only one government would form. This would also be more likely if the planet was a colony, since from the beginning they would have been under a different power.

  • Second: there could be a world conqueror, who used superior technology to earth's (either mechanical/electrical technology or magic) to improve his communication/travel and managed to take over all countries. Or he could just be lucky.

  • Third: the races/people of the planet could have a different sentiment. The people may want to form a central government (similar to how we have formed the UN to promote peace). But on Earth, human nature generally causes people to try and take over other places or in some way try to further their own power by breaking the peace. A species with a different nature may act differently.

  • Fourth: something could cause people to be forced to band together (apocalypse, alien invasion, etc.), it's possible that the whole population could join under "temporary" military rule, or that enough people were wiped out that a small enough group for one government was left.

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The primary necessity for a global government is communication. Without the ability to issue decrees and receive feedback, any government is going to fragment into bodies that are capable of meeting their communication needs over the distances involved.

The secondary necessity is motivation. The species involved must want it to happen. However, depending on the nature of the species, it may be either that members of the species have a drive for dominance, in which case there may well have been a world conqueror, or that the species' individuals want to form herds, in which case there could be a drive toward a bigger, ultimately global, herd. For a species that practices dominance, there may well have been some sort of external threat as a catalyst, otherwise clashes of personalities could cause secessions and balkanization.

It could also be argued that humanity is also on its way to a world government, given that humans have regional differences and can still choose to remain under a common government. We have local, regional and national governments. Given the improvements in communication, it may just be a matter of time before global governance is formalized; we already have the beginnings of it in the form of the UN and international co-operation in response to disasters.

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TL;DR: I think we are pretty much going to it.


I would like to extend a bit on @Tim answer.

If you look at the last 10 years or so of EU, it looks almost impossible to unite countries by some form of government. However if you look on a larger picture, up until 70 years ago these countries were going full strength against one another.

And although it is a bit on stale at the present, there are still some discussions going on with other countries wanting to join the EU. I can think of Turkey, Ukraine or Serbia, for example.

But even on a broader pricture, supra-national laws already decide a lot on national levels, even outside EU.

  • Wars and armies are controlled by the non-proliferation treaty, the UN, the Geneva convention, etc. It is not full-proof, but what is? 150 years ago, Britain and France allied (!) to wage a large-scale war against China for their right to sell destructing drugs to the Chinese population. That would hardly be accepted now.
  • IMF is and has been in command of nations' economy for some time. See Greece or Indonesia as examples.
  • Responses to health issues have taken a new scale: look at last year's WHO response to the Ebola pandemy.
  • UNESCO is providing standards for the culture in many countries.

and I could continue for some time. It might not look that impressive, but if you look into a rear-view mirror, that would have been unthinkable 100 years ago! Who can be sure how it will be in 100 or 200 years from now?

As supranational forms of government gets stronger, the countries will loose more and more of theirs. Which does not mean they have to disappear.

As @Tim pointed out, the economic model prevalent these days help larger countries to grow, reduce the barrier between countries and facilitate that integration. So probably that supranational government won't have the power the nation-government have (still) these days, but they can still exist.

As some other answers already mention, catastrophies would make it faster and stronger. If due to a pandemy, a war, or drastic climate change, the existence of humans is under threat, they are more likely to group together. EU was made partly as a response to Cold War, and in Docu-fiction, there is a claim that English and French government contemplated to merge in June 1940 when France was on the verge of collapse facing the Nazi's Blitzkrieg.

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  • $\begingroup$ Right now we face a huge worldwide backlash on what you described. In the western world nationalist governments oriented in hardening the borders instead of opening them are bigger than ever. GB just left the EU. The western world destroyed big parts of the middle east. USAs president is a warmonger who is selling 300 billion of weapons to autocratic regimes in that already unstable region. EU is paying billions to another regime which is supporting ISIS and to other North African states to strenghten their borders even further and protect them from refugees. I could go on and on... $\endgroup$ – Olga Maria May 24 '17 at 18:56
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A common approach is to turn the question around. Why could we not have a global government?

The typical reasons are language, protection of wealth and morale ideas / ways of living.

Language seems to become less and less of a problem with more and more people learning english (while any other language would do, too).

Morale and the way of living is partially negotiable, and is changing constantly anyway. With increased mobility (of people, but most of all of ideas), i assume that the different ways of living would on the one side converge anyway, and on the other side a pluralistic society can handle diffeerent approaches fairly well. (To some degree, granted, but still)

So, what remains is the wealth, real or perceived. If your (future) world has advanced to post-scarcity, this is no longer a hindering factor.

That said: you need some time to allow cultures to converge, and a post-scarcity world, and you're set.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not to forget the Spanish world, the Arabic world, etc.. ;) $\endgroup$ – Olga Maria May 24 '17 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ Actually as you said any economic system which is based on making profit on the cost of others is a huge hindering factor for world government. As Foucault said where there is control there is also resistance. $\endgroup$ – Olga Maria May 24 '17 at 19:04
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I think the most likely scenario is similar to the formation of the USA. There, thirteen states banded together into a larger government for mutual protection. Over time, the overarching, federal government grew in prominence and the states took a back seat. In your case, some world wide event, invasion, war, environmental disaster, or a growing desire for unity/peace drove the individual nations together to form a union. Over time, people began to identify more with the world government than individual nations until the bulk of the power was in the single governments hands.

Of course, if a planet is conquered or starts out as a colony, then that would work as well.

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There are several models found on earth:

China: Already covers 1/5 of all the people in the world. Originally created by forceful unification (that is, several previously independent kingdoms got conquered). Basically held together by a central power.

USA: Formed as European colonies, got together by uniting against the colonial powers, then expanded by conquering more land from the native Americans. Held together mostly by agreement, but in part also by applying power (civil war).

I don't know enough about Russia to comment on this, but I'd guess it's mostly the Chinese model.

The EU is not a central state with unique government, and it's still open whether this route will lead there.

There are also historical examples like the Roman empire which also covered a large part of the then-known world.

I guess each technological/civilising level has a limit on the number of people who can be ruled in one country, as well as the maximal territory size. A worldwide government would then become possible as soon as both limits reach the actual population/surface of that planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ The big problem is: If you look into history no big empire survived a longer period. First of all, in all hierarchical societies you have huge struggles for power. And where there is control there is resistance. So this doesn't meet the criteria of lasting and being stable. $\endgroup$ – Olga Maria May 24 '17 at 19:09
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Two questions there: how it has formed, and how it works.

About how it has formed, I think DonyorM's answer is very good. Psychology also has a role: a world conquered by western people like our world has a constant amount of attempts to divide and have wars, due to independence feelings and greed. A speculative world colonizated by late medieval japanese people would have a very strong feeling of being part of something, and thus would have been very easily centralized. On our history, there are also examples of possible world empires that failed due to personal decisions or othr single point events, like Charlemagne's empire division in France, Lotaringia and Germany, Hitler's failure to properly win the war against England in the first year of war and his stupid invasion of Russia or spanish Invincible Armada defeat.

Examples of Earth's single world-wide government in fantasy include those of corporative unification and loss of nations power (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Space_Merchants and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollerball_(1975_film)), those of pacific agreement of nations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek) and those of forced unification by menace (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starship_Troopers_(film))

About how it sticks around, communication, communication and communication. And loyalty (check How far apart can two cities/towns/etc be, given that order must be (effectively) maintained?), also named as motivation by Monty Wild in his answer.

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Humans have a 'group' mentality. We like to put things in an 'US' vs. 'THEM' situations. Whether it is justified or not that is how we are mostly built. It gives us easy lines on who we care about and who can worry about themselves.

As such for humanity to have a single effective world government, either we need to learn to get along better and let others have their differences (not likely any time soon), some group becomes so powerful that it can dictate to everyone, or what I consider the most likely. We learn we are not alone.

People treat others poorly because they look different, they act different, they think different. Any real, intelligent aliens are REALLY going to BE different.

No matter what religion someone believes, the color of their skin, the equipment in their pants, another human is going to be much closer to my 'US' than any alien. While we won't all agree about everything, our differences won't seem so big any more and compromises will be easier to reach.

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Currently states like the US and Canada are willing to give up sovereignty and subject themselves to courts that precide over Investor-State-Dispute-Settlements (ISDS).

The German supreme court did rule that agreeing to the Lisbon treaty means giving up sovereignty and therefore needed a change in the German constiution.

It's not guranteed that the trend of putting more power into bigger institutions continues. In state where there's the rule of law the state can gradually give more and more of it's sovereinity to more global instiutions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Plus it is going the other way round now. GB is leaving, most governments are strenghtening their borders. Followers of nationalist parties are growing all over Europe, etc. $\endgroup$ – Olga Maria May 24 '17 at 19:14
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As many pointed out, if conditions are right, people will band together and form a unified government. Quick look at history shows one theme that makes people both band together and fight against each other : culture. In this case, language, beliefs and moral systems. It is not good feeling to get told how to live your life by person who doesn't speak same language as you, believe same things as you and has different morals than you.

To keep people from breaking apart, it is necessary to make sure they share same culture with their leaders. This can be ensured with instant communication channels between all people and ability to quickly move around to achieve more direct communication. Wealth is also important. It is necessary for each person to be on same "level" of living standard. You don't want half of the population to be living like Europeans and second half as North Koreans.

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As I wrote in some posts before, Foucault pointed out that every control will lead to resistance. And every big hierarchical society is vulnerable to power struggles inside. Even more so militaristic or otherwise unvoluntarily solutions will fail in the end unless they are supported by other states like nowadays but that doesn't meet the world government criteria. And even those break up after time like we see in Iran or the so called Arabic spring.

Even the grouping against a common thread will break up because of the power struggles inside after the thread is gone. In world history there was no big empire without power struggles and unrest, constant power shifts and being defeated in the end.

So how could a world government exist?

First of all it would need to fulfill a mediating and serving role, rather than a ruling one. To prevent power struggles the following aspects could help:

  • decisions always have to made on the smallest possible level and have to include the possibility for every affected person to have their interests and concerns met - but thats not enough as egoism and greed could torpedo the mediation process.
  • As there will always be some kind of scarcity (and be it a luxurious one) there need to be mechanisms which allow to deal with scarcities in a peaceful manner and additionally
  • the rules of the world population/society needs to be sculpted in a way that the individual egoism of every single individual motivates them to share because in that way they profit most.
  • Because of that there could be no money as distribution method to distribute scarce items as it will certainly leed to wanting more money / greed or accumulation of money which will produce envy.
  • A thinkable way could be the commons approach which was common in many countries several hundred years ago and which you can find in OpenSource Software and hospitality projects like bewelcome or couchsurfing.

Just some thoughts.

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