THE AGE OF THE GREAT UNITY
Armando Martins Janeira
For the first time in history, there is today a real unity of mankind, which consists in the fact that nothing essential can happen anywhere that does not concern all. The world is closed, writes Karl Jaspers, the unity of the earth has arrived. All the crucial problems have become world problems which require a planetary solution, the situation, a situation of the mankind. (1)
This situation is rather recent. It is only four and a half centuries ago, in 1522, that a Portuguese, Fernão de Magalhães, made the first travel around the world. The bringing of many countries into international intercourse is still more recent and is not yet completely achieved. Not far from our time men lived in countries and continents either nebulously conscious or completely unaware of the existence of other men.
However, since the beginning of historical times we see a strong tendency towards the unification of certain areas of the world through the catalysing force of the strongest nation which absorbs the surrounding ones to build an empire.
In Egypt, in several periods in the 28th, in the 21st and in the 15th centuries B.C., in Mesopotamia in the 23rd century, in Assyria in the 9th century, in Persia in the 5th century with Darius, in Macedonia in the 4th century B.C. with Alexander, we see large states extending their domination over various foreign countries. It is in the time of Alexander that the idea of the existence of one world begins to dawn, as for the first time the three highly civilized peoples of Greece, India and China realized that they lived on the same planet. In China, in the third century B.C. and in the third century A.D., in India, before the end of the fourth century B.C. and in the fourth and seventh centuries A.D., in Rome with the Empire founded by Augustus, there were attempts to impose a state which tried to embrace all the world then known. The Arab Empire was the last universal Empire, which lasted with several avatars, from the seventh century until the first world war, having spread through North Africa, Asia and even South of Europe. From the Roman ambition of a universal state, Europe has always kept the obsession of a continental unification. Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor in 800 A.D.
But the unification by way of imposing of supremacy by means of war never nourished ambitions of embracing in an empire all the nations of earth. The last attempt, the Hitlerian one, was clearly aware of this impossibility when it divided the world into spheres of influence attributed to the three parties of the Axis. Until today there could be no attempt to unify the whole world, because the means of unification by war supposed the abolition of differences and barriers which separate men and nations to such an extent that no political power felt itself strong enough to impose its supremacy to the whole world.
Thus it appears that another way to unity must be found by keeping, instead of destroying, the immense variety of beliefs, customs, national ideas and manners, - that way is co-operation. All the great thinkers of today see in the present phase of history the trend toward a cooperative government of the world. “I believe it is a foregone conclusion”, writes Arnold Toynbee, “that the world is in any event going to be unified politically in the near future.” We have reached a point of history in which mankind has to choose between political unification and mass-suicide. (2)
The way toward a world Government through co-operation among the greatest powers is still difficult to foresee. We are in a state of evolution which can bring within a near future unexpected changes of balance in the international concert. Within one generation’s span of time we have seen two great empires, France and England, lose their prominence. The domination of international life by the United States and Russia is a recent event, definitely established after the second world war. The United States were the first to reach maturity among a number of new nations with a great latent strength and vast geographical size. Brazil, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Japan and above them all China will develop and will probably become great powers in a near future. Soviet Union is still a great enigma, as her capacities have not yet been completely explored and in its geographical vastness may have untapped resources much greater than the United States.
These and other unforeseeable elements can be the determinant factors in a future international order.
A world order based not on unifying force, but combined decision and negotiation, would change completely all the system on which international and national life are based. The foreign policy, the military structures would simply be suppressed. Karl Jaspers sees it not arising as a finished whole, but in numerous gradations of freedom. “There will be stages in the evolution of the order. That which hold all men together as their common concern may be confined to a few factors, but it must under all circumstances take sovereignty away from all in favour of one comprehensive sovereignty. This sovereignty can be restricted to the elementary power problem - the military, the police, the creation of laws - and in this sovereignty the whole of mankind can participate by voting and collaboration.” (3)
In the East, the most remarkable theory about the unity of the world has been thought by the Chinese philosopher Kang Yu-Wei (1858-1927). Kang had deep Chinese classical education, lived in exile in America, England and in several countries of Asia, having escaped to be executed. He was a mixture of reactionary conservative devoted to the Emperor, commentator of Confucius, and flag-bearer of Western emancipative ideas. His utopian one world philosophy is contained in the book originally entitled Universal Principles of Mankind (Ta Tung Shu). This, according to its Western commentator Lawrence Thompson, “is the most remarkable book of its kind which has yet been produced either in West or East.” The interesting trait of Kang´s theory is that it develops vague, utopian ideas of Western origin clouded in imaginative, picturesque Oriental concepts and expressions. The force with which Kang expresses his belief in a world government, his foresight in anticipating the movement of ideas towards his goal are remarkable. He was the first man to plan such a government, an astonishing feat of imagination if we consider that China of the late nineteenth century was the less likely place for the birth of a scheme for One World. (4). Kang’s ideas are his own creation, as utopian thought in China is negligible and as it seems that he never knew the writings of Western utopians and social thinkers.
Kang elaborates on the evils of having sovereign states, and points out the way to do away with national boundaries, the need of abolishing all national languages, which should “be preserved in museums” and replaced by a universal language. According to Kang, the first step towards One World will be the foundation of a world parliament in which all states will be represented. The world Parliament will decide by discussing and voting the important problems and its main objective will be disarmament. There will be no political rulers. The establishment of a public government to all nations is the middle step towards One World. For this purpose the earth will be divided into small areas, or degrees (Kang bears the division until the inch); there will be autonomy in function of the local areas which will elect the members to the world Parliament. Thus boundaries originating in nationality, class, race, sex, family, livelihood, kind and suffering will disappear and the love of all living things and utmost happiness will be attained.
Following Confucius, Kang sees the world passing through Three Ages: the Age of Increasing Peace-and-Equality, the Age of Complete Peace-and-Equality, the Age of Little Peace-and-Happiness, to reach finally the Age of Great Unity.
Kang’s theory is a curious assemblage of Chinese vague ideas and fantasies and ill digested Western novelties. It lacks completely a historical consciousness and ignores scientific method. His predictions about the future of nations by groups are entirely imaginative and his ideas about the origin of man can be illustrated by this phrase: “However the birth of ten thousand creatures originates in the original ether, man is merely one species of creatures within this original ether.” On the other hand, the emphasis given to the suffering of all men and the considerations about the elimination of its origins is sound and based on deep old Chinese humanism.
This particular point separates this Chinese utopia from so many Western ones, since the one conceived by Plato in his Republic, till Thomas More’s Utopia, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Tommaso Campanella’s Civitas Solis, James Harrington’s Oceana, Fénélon’s “Voyage en Saleute” in Télémaque, H. G. Wells’ Utopia and many more, all of them built on materials amassed from the historical and philosophical knowledge of their respective times, often with a great preoccupation of objectivity and making use of the last acquisitions of science and technology.
We see here again the same trait distinguishing the West from the East - the preoccupation of being objective even in the building up a world of fantasy.
On the other hand, we can see by Kang’s utopia how confusedly the Chinese had assimilated the Western ideas at the end of last century. When we compare them with the writings of Japanese intellectuals, like Fukuzawa Yukichi, inspired in Western civilization, we are surprised to see how well Japanese assimilated Western thought and how remarkably they could reason with Western logic. In any case, so far, we cannot see a valuable contribution coming from the East.
After making a quick survey of the would be-world-states of the past, Toynbee takes two conclusions: the first that a world-state, once established, usually dies hard; the second that the temper of the Western world, down to the present moment in history, has shown itself exceptionally recalcitrant to any movement towards political unification. (5)
I think we can take still one most important conclusion: that the unity of the world can not be achieved through the form of domination by a powerful state over smaller states, but through collaboration and ties increasingly deeper and progressively embracing wider fields.
Today we can devise two forms for the future establishment of an organized unity of the world: through an organization similar to the United Nations, or through a progressively wider and tighter economic union. The first form would imply a fundamental change in the actual structure of the United Nations, promoting improvements which would put the new organization farther from the present one than this one is from the previous Society of Nations. It is still too early to sketch such a new international body; but it seems it is time for the United Nations to establish a technical body for the purpose of studying the phenomena concerning the progressive economic and political unity of the world as it is being historically processed, the social and intellectual currents and the maturing conditions which underlie the evolution of modern societies.
The economic form of unification is apparent in the economic unions of which the European Common Market is the paragon. The example of the six countries of central Europe, which is expected will widen in the near future to embrace new countries, has already inspired the European Free Trade Association, the American Common Market, the plans and ideas for an African and an Asian Common Market. This is a completely new feature in international evolution, and it seems more probable that the unification of the world will not come through a political, but rather through an economic solution. We can see that in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium and the Luxembourg a conflict is rising between the old concept of absolute sovereignty and the new concept of a supranational community apparently on the way toward a federation of States. This same trend is bound to appear when the common markets, already existing or in the making, of the young nations will attain a certain development. The decisive importance of the economic factor in the political evolution is recognized today by everyone. The unification of Germany is an example: the political unity was achieved on the basis of a customs union which protected German industry from British competition and helped to fortify the sense of nationalist unity to the German-speaking principalities. The actual customs union among Belgian, Holland and Luxembourg is creating a new feeling of community and political identify in the Benelux, which may be the seed of a future political unity.
We may add here that technical aid, showing a recognition of a duty of solidarity from the richer to the poorer countries leads also to an increasing feeling of unity of destiny of all men. The increasing development of the means of transport and travelling makes such feeling livelier everyday.
These are the trends which we can perceive today, so much more astonishing because they were nonexistent and unpredictable before the last world war. New trends may rise to originate a new stream of events and revolutionary situations.
The present fighting between political ideologies which causes most of the present troubles and ill-feeling in international life may be supplanted in a near future, as it happened with the wars of religion, tolerance and understanding replacing the hate, intolerance and warmongering of today. The technological revolution which is renewing the bases of modern life and thought will change the social conditions and mentality of the new generations and will suppress the old political antagonisms born in an age of scarcity and spalling social injustice. The space age revolution is already supplying a certain outlet for the Machtpolitik that traditionally lead to the confrontation by war.
There is a trend towards the unification of ideas in the fields of science, technology, literature, art, even of morals and social habits. The economic development is being achieved according to a certain number of principles concerning welfare and efficiency in which capitalist and communist countries find themselves very near. A tendency towards collectivism, though in different degrees and forms, has also been felt in capitalist societies. An immense movement of interchange and circulation of men and things, the increasing importance of air communications, bring every day nearer all countries of the earth. The distances have been suppressed, and even the people who do not travel to near or far away countries are conscious of the problems of these countries and aware of everything important that happens on earth. Press, radio and television have breathed a feeling of world neighbourhood where not long ago there was complete ignorance or indifference.
This universal convivium is achieving an adjustment of social and moral principles, a certain levelling of fundamental human institutions, by removing practices like infanticide as a Malthusian measure, or the self-immolation of widows on their husbands funeral pyre in India (suttee), by lifting backward populations towards the consciousness of humanity. Man everywhere, fortunately, shows an immense diversity; ideas, beliefs, habits, arts, are of a variety which no anthropologist will be ever able to seize completely. However, we find basic similarities in religion, in forms of thought, in implements, in techniques. Science and technology have a universal validity and every country adds new contributions to the bulk of their achievements. Sociological facts show a great number of common traits, as the fundamental character of man is everywhere alike.
A universal consciousness is already a reality in great number of people in the most civilized countries. In many others it is only a dim trend which will need a large effort of education and elucidation to achieve. But the fact that such a trend is every day more reinforced by international thinking and material contacts is of incalculable importance.
We are on the way toward the unity of the world. In all that concerns man the future is always the most important factor to take into account.