The Spring of Civilisation?

The Spring of Civilisation, by Ian Hackett

The Spring of Civilisation, by Ian Hackett

By Ian Hackett

This September, as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine (to name just a few countries, or not-quite countries, in or near the one-time cradle of civilisation) stubbornly refuse to find a way from chaos to anything worthy of the word, civilisation, Israel will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of its victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

2013 also marks the 40th anniversary of several other events that may warrant either celebration or reflection in various parts of the world: the admission of East and West Germany to the UN, and of Denmark, Ireland and the UK to the EC; the UN Conference on the Law of The Sea in Venezuela; the summit meeting between Presidents Brezhnev and Nixon in the USA; the first signs of progress in the Paris Peace Talks between the USA and North Vietnam (albeit while the US continued bombing Laos); the UK’s recognition of North Vietnam; Iceland’s Cod War victory over the UK; the UK coal strike that would lead to Ted Heath’s 3-day week; India’s annexation of Sikkim; army coups in Afghanistan and Chile; famine in Ethiopia; a full-blown civil war in Lebanon; NASA’s launch of Skylab; Nolan Bushnell’s launch of Pong, the world’s first commercial computer game; Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer’s use of enzymes to splice and recombine DNA, giving birth to genetic engineering; and the publication of Ernst Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered.

But, for me (and, sadly, for very few others) this September is also the time to celebrate and reflect on the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Spring of Civilisation: a case for world federal government. While it wasn’t the only 1970s book to discuss overpopulation, poverty, inequality, diminishing resources, nationalism and war, or even to propose world federalist solutions to these problems, The Spring of Civilisation was way ahead of the game in also discussing the spectres of religious fundamentalist terrorism, climate change and the inherent instability (and potential for break-up) of nation-states such as the USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Zaire (now Congo), the UK, Spain, the USA and China. Few (if any) commentators foresaw the break-up of the USSR even in the mid-1980s, let alone in 1973, or the break-up of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Sudan (as created in 1956), yet all these states have now passed into history. Today, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria and the Congo are all in the throes of disintegration and, in the UK and Spain, the secessionist undercurrents in Ulster and the Basque country continue to simmer, while Scotland and Catalonia also move closer to secession. And, while most commentators still regard the USA and China as fixed entities, the fact that most commentators were blind to fundamentalist terror, climate change and the break-up of the USSR etc. when I was first writing about these things in 1973 should be enough to give pause for thought today.

The Spring of Civilisation’s opening chapter, entitled The Long Winter, used a brief history of the world of empires and nation-states to set up the argument that world law and world federal government are sine qua non for a sustainable, peaceful world.

The second chapter, Prospects of the Nations System, was the one that contained the warnings about religious fundamentalist terrorism and climate change, as mentioned above. The 1973 actions and pronouncements of Idi Amin and Muammar Gaddafi provided my starting point for the former; my own scientific background as a chemist and oceanographer for the latter. I didn’t need reams of climatological evidence to tell me that global warming would soon be up there with inequality, religious certainty and nationalism as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The fact that the natural vibrations of carbon dioxide and methane molecules are transparent to the sun’s radiation, but absorb infra-red radiation reflected from the earth, leads to inevitable conclusions. First, life as we know it would never have evolved without carbon dioxide’s “greenhouse effect”. Second, the release of millions of years’ worth of trapped carbon over a century or two is adding so much extra carbon dioxide (and methane) to the atmosphere that a sudden increase in the greenhouse effect is bound to disturb the equilibrium that allowed us to evolve, giving us global warming, regional changes in climate and rising sea levels. Third, as the atmosphere’s added carbon dioxide slowly dissolves in the oceans, it will increase their acidity to the extent that the marine life cycle that we rely on will also be affected adversely.

The rest of the book argued that nothing short of world government would be able to deal with global problems such as climate change and that, in order to ensure the sustainability and progress of civilisation, it would also have to be a democratic federal government of around a thousand member states with adequate checks and balances built in to its constitution. Chapter three was dedicated to highlighting the inadequacies of the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, both in avoiding world wars and in developing world law. Chapter four looked at the inherent instability of 1973’s empires and over-large nation states and made a case for promoting local devolution alongside world federation. This was the chapter that warned of the national disintegrations listed above.

The final chapters completed a manifesto for a Campaign for Earth Federation, which lasted until 1974, when, campaigning in the University of Saskatchewan, where I was then earning my crust, I discovered that, to some extent, I was re-inventing the wheel: the university already had its own chapter of the World Federalists of Canada (WFC); the WFC was a vibrant national group affiliated to a World Federalist Movement with offices in Amsterdam and New York; and the UK also had an affiliated national organisation, the Association of World Federalists (AWF), which had split from a Federal Union with roots going back to 1938. I joined the AWF as soon as I returned to the UK in the summer of ’74.

Now, forty years since The Spring of Civilisation was first published, the AWF has re-integrated with Federal Union, but it is currently a very pale shadow of the mass movement that it was in 1938 with a membership and profile that can’t even compare with the active and optimistic AWF that I joined in 1974; the situation in our Cradle of Civilisation is even more chaotically depressing than it was when I was writing in 1973; the UN is still just as inadequate and undemocratic as it was when it was created in 1945; and, despite all the mounting climatological evidence that global warming really does threaten civilisation, climate change deniers still get more air-time than world federalists. Can anyone still be optimistic, or is it time to accept that world federation needs global meltdown and world wars three, four or five, just as the League of Nations needed World War One and the United Nations World War Two?

Ian Hackett, former Association of World Federalists UK Chair (1991-2) and Treasurer (1983-91 and 2004-8); One World Trust Director (1994-9); Head of International School of London (2000-1); author, The Spring of Civilisation (1973); Transcending Terror (2004); Succeeding Revolutions (2006).

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