Friday, December 31, 2010

Paradise Lost

What the United Nations should have, but did not, become -- and a warning against "world government":

We shall not rebuild civilization on the large scale. It is no accident that on the whole, there was more beauty and decency to be found in the life of the small peoples, and that among the large ones there was more happiness and content in proportion as they had avoided the deadly blight of centralization. Least of all shall we preserve democracy or foster its growth if all the power and most of the important decisions rest with an organization far too big for the common man to survey and comprehend.

Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government, providing a school of political training for the people at least as much as for their future leaders. It is only where responsibility can be learned and practiced in affairs with which most people are familiar, where it is the awareness of one’s neighbor rather than some theoretical knowledge of the needs of other people which guides action, that the ordinary man can take a real part in public affairs because they concern the world he knows. Where the scope of the political measures becomes so large that the necessary knowledge is almost exclusively possessed by the bureaucracy, the creative impulses of the private person must flag. I believe that here the experience of the small countries like Holland and Switzerland contains much from which even the most fortunate larger countries like Great Britain can learn. We shall all be the gainers if we can create a world fit for small states to live in.

But the small can preserve their independence in the international as in the national sphere only within a true system of law which guarantees both that certain rules are invariably enforced an that the authority which has the power to enforce these cannot use it for any other purpose. While for its task of enforcing the common law the supernational authority must be very powerful, its constitution must at the same time be so designed that it prevents the international as well as the national authorities form becoming tyrannical. We shall never prevent the abuse of power if we are not prepared to limit power in a way which occasionally may also prevent its use for desirable purposes,. The great opportunity we shall have at the end of this war is that the great victorious powers, by themselves first submitting to a system of rules which they have the power to enforce, may at the same time acquire the moral right to impose the same rules upon others.

An international authority which effectively limits the powers of the state over the individual will be one of the best safeguards of peace. The international Rule of Law must become a safeguard as much against the tyranny of the state over the individual as against the tyranny of the new superstate over the national communities. Neither an omnipotent superstate nor a loose association of “free nations” but a community of nations over free men must be our goal.

-- Friedrich A. von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, (1944; Definitive edition, Bruce Caldwell, ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 234-235.

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