The federalist critique of internationalism

Roberto Castaldi

By Roberto Castaldi

1. What is internationalism?

– An ideology: a theory about war, peace and international order. There are different kinds of internationalism, but their basic features are the same: they all identify one issue as the cause of war and try to eliminate it at national level. They believe peace is thus a by-product of good political action and reforms within the nation-state. They all accept national exclusive sovereignty, but they realise there are interdependence and common problems. Hence they demand international cooperation.

– It sounds good, but it just does not work. Or, if you prefer, good people with bad ideas.

Good people: they want peace and they realise interdependence is there. Bad ideas: they “look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties”. That is they “disregard the uniform course of human events and set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages” as the most famous passage of The Federalist Papers maintains, thus establishing federalism as a new political theory about peace and international order.

– Therefore internationalism becomes an intelligent (and often unconscious) disguise of nationalism, or of the conservation of national exclusive sovereignty and the refusal of supranational democracy, that is of supranational federal democratic institutions to handle common problems.

At best it is: a) national democracy + b) international cooperation (unanimity, and/or veto of the strongest: that is the rule of power and not the rule of law.

2. Different kinds of internationalism

– Liberal internationalism and WWI (see Robbins critique to it); neo-liberalism and the myth of global governance (see Kyoto or Third world development, or sustainable development).

– Nationalist internationalism: let each nation have a state and there will be no war: this is was the reason for the creation of Yugoslavia after WWI, to satisfy panslavic nationalism.

– Democratic internationalism, the failure of the League of Nations and the U.N., and of other specific international organisations (FAO, UNESCO); and the myth of democratic foreign policy and peace (USA foreign policy during the Cold War: Chile, Vietnam; Suez intervention by France and UK).
But please discuss the issue not the examples.

– Socialist internationalism and the collapse of the first Three Socialist International Organizations due to the Franco-Prussian war, WWI, WWII: proletariats prefer to kill proletariat of other countries than to damage, or fight against their bourgeois compatriots.

– Communist internationalism and the myth of communist brotherhood: think about Soviet intervention in Hungary or Czechoslovakia, or the Chinese-Soviet borders disputes.

3. Federalism

– Federalism shares the values of all ideologies, and their internationalist face: freedom, participation, equality. But it also considers peace as an autonomous value. Peace is not the by-product of the affirmation of those values, but the precondition to their full and universal affirmation not just to one country, but to all human beings, since they are universal values. Especially during wartime, but also in normal time (when there are no unification processes going on like now in Europe, but not in all the rest of the world, unfortunately) the state imposes severe limitation to our freedom, participation, and equality.

– But federalism identifies international anarchy, that is national exclusive sovereignty, as the real cause of war (Kant, Hamilton, Lord Lothian, Robbins, Wootton, Einaudi, Reeves, Spinelli). There are many causes of disputes (economic, cultural, etc.). They are the same inside the state and at the international level. But at national level you have the rule of law, ensured by democratic procedures to make the laws, an independent judiciary to apply them, and an executive to enforce them. At the international level you have war, since we lack a proper legal and political system, endue with those three branches: a state, or much better, a federal state, with those three branches applying only to some competences. There are many causes of disputes, but one condition of possibility of war: international anarchy, or national exclusive sovereignty (besides civil wars, which are quite rare within democratic states).


– Nationalism is at best: democracy at the national level (based on exclusive national sovereignty, and excluding international, or more precisely supranational democracy).

– Internationalism is at best: national democracy + international cooperation (recognition of interdependence together with the acceptance of exclusive national sovereignty, and thus excluding supranational democracy).

– Federalism is: local democracy, + national democracy + supranational democracy! (recognition of interdependence and of international anarchy as the condition of possibility of war; consequent refusal of national exclusive sovereignty, and demand for a federal state: shared sovereignty and application subsidiarity and democracy at all levels.

Eventually the first two are about diversity and division. The third about diversity and unity. Federalism does not confuse difference with division, but recognises that each person is different, but each person is part of mankind, and shall have the right to peace, the right not to be killed.

Roberto Castaldi is a member of the Central Committee of the Movimento Federalista Europeo, the Italian equivalent of Federal Union. He may be contacted at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. September 2001

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