by Robert Maynard
Too many political figues throw around the phrase “New World Order” as if the ideas being presented are “new” or necessary to maintain “order”. On September 11, 1990, President George H. W. Bush proclaimed that “Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective — a new world order — can emerge.” More recently, Vice President Joe Biden affirmed on April 5, 2013 that “The affirmative task we have now is to actually create a new world order.”
This begs the question of what kind of “New World Order” is Joe Biden calling for? The concept is not new. On the great seal of the United State are the words “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” which translates roughly into “A New Order of the Ages.” The difference is that what our founders envisioned as a “New Order for the Ages,” is nothing like what those invoking a “New World Order” are calling for. Our founders envisioned a new order of political decentralization, limited government, peace, liberty and prosperity. This article from thefederalistpapers.org explores James Madison’s thought on the kind of political order that would result in universal peace. He was countering the notion that some form of centralized global government was needed to achieve that ideal. One of those who had expressed that notion was Rousseau:
Among the various reforms which have been offered to the world, the projects for universal peace have done the greatest honor to the hearts, though they seem to have done very little to the heads of their authors.
Rousseau, the most distinguished of these philanthropists, has recommended a confederation of sovereigns, under a council of deputies, for the double purpose of arbitrating external controversies among nations, and of guaranteeing their respective governments against internal revolutions.
Madison thought that the key to achieving peace was to decentralize decision making power in our politics so that those who have historically had to shoulder the lion’s share of the brunt of war’s cost, would have more of a say in the decision to wage war. He also thought that constraining executive power was conducive to peace, as the expansion of executive power usually went hand and hand with war:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
JAMES MADISON, “Political Observations,” Apr. 20, 1795
Madison was not the only one of our founders who associated the centralization of political power with war and the the decentralization of political power with peace. These ideas led to what has been referred to as the “Classical Liberal World Order” in the 19th Century. Here in an article on the “Future of Freedom Website,” the decentralized, non-political approach to achieving peace is explored. This follows a description of the attempt to achieve peace in the 20th Century through global political centralization. During that time we had about $35 million people killed in wars and about 262 million people killed by their own totalitarian governments, which were the extreme example of the centralization of political power that the 20th Century saw.
In stark contrast, during the 100 years between 1815 and 1914, when no global political organizations for world peace existed, wars were few in number, relatively short in duration, and, compared with the 20th century, fairly limited in their destructive effects on human life and property. (The American Civil War of the 1860s was one striking exception to this pattern.)
For many people in the first half of the 20th century who still had an adult’s memory of the period before the First World War, that era before 1914 seemed like a golden age.
The distinguishing characteristic of 19th-century Europe and North America is that, however inconsistently and imperfectly it might have been practiced, that hundred-year period between 1815 and 1914 can rightly be said to have been the product of the classical-liberal spirit.
The guiding principle that directed much of public policy in practically all the countries of the “civilized world” was the depoliticizing of social life.
With the triumph of free trade over mercantilism in the early and middle decades of the 19th century and with the elimination of many of the domestic regulations, monopoly privileges, and restraints on enterprise, the state was dramatically removed from the affairs of everyday life.
In its place arose “civil society,” the blossoming of the “private sector,” and an extension of the network of “intermediary institutions” of voluntary association and market relationships.
The “cosmopolitan ideal” that inspired many of the thinkers of the 18th century became a reality in the 19th century.
Men, money, and material goods, as well as all the products of intellectual discovery and inquiry, increasingly traveled freely from one corner of the globe to another, with few political impediments standing in their way.
Knowledge about the arts and the sciences became internationalized for an expanding circle of the general public.
Governments of the “civilized world” did form international associations and reached various agreements with each other in the 19th century, it is true.
But for the most part (and separate from various changing political and military alliances), their associations and agreements were designed to facilitate the smooth functioning of private intercourse among their citizens and subjects.
They included international river commissions, railway and transportation agreements, telegraph and postal unions, health rules and guidelines, procedures for uniform weights and measures, and respect for patents and copyrights.
Governments occasionally still tried to influence the construction of these international standards and procedures to benefit some domestic interest and limit the commercial penetration of some foreign competitors.
But to a great extent the thinking behind them was to establish general “rules of the game” to assist in the further globalization of private commercial and cultural exchange. (Whether even these matters concerning standards, measures, and procedures should have been left to voluntary private association and agreement is a separate historical issue.)
Governments also attempted to agree upon rules for arbitration of disputes among themselves, on “civilized rules” for combat on land and sea, and for the humane treatment of noncombatants and neutrals if wars should break out.
These were meant to establish restraints on the destructiveness of modern warfare and to limit the damage to human life and private property. If wars were still to be fought, then at least the negative consequences for civil society should be confined as much as possible.
In this classical-liberal era before 1914, a vast international order was created that facilitated a globalization of trade, commerce, and investment that fostered a cosmopolitan climate in which national borders no longer inhibited the movement of either men or ideas and in which wars were considered wild things that were to be tamed, confined, and prevented from excessively harming human life.
The fundamental force behind all of this was the idea of individual liberty and the sanctity of private property as an inseparable extension of that freedom of the individual. Governments were endowed with legitimacy and authority to preserve and protect the individual and his property from violence and spoliation. Their function was negative and defensive.
International order and a high degree of international peace was maintainable because, to a greater or lesser degree, all of the governments of the “civilized world” shared the belief that this was among their most essential functions.
No special organization for world peace and security was needed, since the leading nations of the world all tended to follow the same “rules of the game” and because they all shared the same general classical-liberal-oriented outlook concerning man, society, and government.
I appreciate that I am making a broad generalization; numerous particulars concerning each of these countries could easily be used to argue against my sweeping conclusion. Yet I believe that when looking over a historical period, it is sometimes possible to see an idea or a belief that can be said to have captured the “spirit of the times” and that can be seen to have influenced the course of events in various ways.
And in this sense, the classical-liberal idea helped to restrain governments and set free the individual; and it served as the underlying conception that determined the “rules of the game” that international relationships required in an era of free men, private enterprise, and civil society.
International peace and order, in this sense, were inseparable from the classical-liberal ideas of private voluntary association, peaceful competition, and a globalized system of division of labor.
We should demand that all politicians, who use the phrase “New World Order,” explain which model of order are they referring to.