Remainers still sore at the prospect of losing their maroon EU passport do have an alternative to the black/blue UK one that they have so derided: they could apply for a world passport. Hundreds of thousands of people have used them to cross national borders. The application form can be found online here – and it only costs $75 for five years.
It was seventy years ago that the former Broadway actor Garry Davis strode into the US Embassy in Paris and renounced his US citizenship. He was a “citizen of the world”, he declared. Nation states are an alien imposition. They create poverty and war. Garry Davis’s brother had been killed in the Second World War. Davis himself had flown B-17s, dropping bombs on people he knew nothing about, and with whom he had no personal quarrel.
Six months after deciding to live without membership of any nation state Davis interrupted a session of the United Nations General Assembly with a passionate protest: “We, the people, want the peace which only a world government can give,” he preached. “The sovereign states you represent divide us and lead us to the abyss of total war.” John Lennon may have sung about it – “Imagine there’s no countries … nothing to kill or die for” on his white Steinway (yes, “imagine no possessions” too) – but it was Garry Davis that spent his life outside the nation state. And by renouncing his citizenship, Davis did more than imagine. Amongst other things, he invented the world passport.
I am, of course, only half-serious in urging Remainers to consider the Garry Davis option. But then again, why not? Davis’ argument that nation states divide people and lead us into conflict is one that those who want us to stay in the European Union are making all the time. Brexiters, they say, are endangering the long post-war peace. And by re-asserting the desire for greater national sovereignty, we have become inward-looking Little Englanders – or little Britishers – and are setting ourselves up against our neighbours.
Yet from the wider Davis perspective, Remainers are hardly any different. They are simply little Europeans, recreating all the evils of the nation state just at a slightly more collective level. Not unless Remainers imagine the EU continually increasing in membership, reaching out beyond Europe proper – like the Eurovision song contest bringing in Kazakhstan – eventually to include everyone? But of course they don’t. Which is why, from the Davis perspective, the denial of Turkish membership of the EU, the barbed wire borders of Hungary, and the disgusting refugee camps of Lesbos are precisely the sort of sins that one expects from the nation state at it worst.
So from the Davis perspective, Brexiters and Remainers are little different – it’s just that Remainers prefer to be a part of some European nation state because they feel they have more in common with the pan-European enlightened travelling class than they do with the plebs that make up so much of the United Kingdom outside the M25.
Garry Davis may not have been a major world leader – though he stood (unopposed) to be world president a number of times. But there have been several world leaders who have shared his dream. United States president Harry Truman, who helped set up the United Nations after the war, carried around in his wallet a passage of poetry from Tennyson:
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be …
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Locksley Hall (1837)
And here is the problem with world government in a nutshell: when Tennyson speaks of a world government, what he really means is a world government with the English in charge. The author of The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Queen Victoria’s favourite poet, is imagining the ultimate triumph of the British Empire, with the globe coloured completely in red. In Tennyson’s vision, the war drum will throb no longer only because the British empire has destroyed all its enemies. This is peace in the same way that Supreme Leader Snoke from the new Star Wars movie imagines peace: it comes when all resistance is crushed. It is the fantasy peace of total control.
OK, let me wind my neck in a bit. I’m really not trying to accuse anyone in the present debate about Europe of fascism. I simply want to insist, against what some Remainers like to argue, that the eradication of national sovereignty is no answer to the problem of war – and nor is that of pooling sovereignty in such a way that borders effectively disappear. Nation states are the upper limit of democratic legitimacy; they make it possible for ordinary people to feel connected to the politicians that represent them. Even if the people of Sunderland had a vote in a world government, the fact that it was based in Beijing would make any law passed from there feel like some distant, alien imposition. That would mean many of us joining the resistance.
And so it is with laws that are made in Brussels. Garry Davis was a well-meaning crank. But the idea that he lived by was more dangerous and sinister than he could ever imagine.