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Community and World Order

ISSUE:  Autumn 1974


As World War II drew to a close, we who considered ourselves men and women of good will and good sense, responsibly concerned about the future of humanity, thought that we were in substantial agreement about the kind of world that we needed and wanted to create and maintain. In negative terms, it was to be a non-Hitlerian world, one that would not be periodically subjected to the destructiveness of war, and one that would be cleansed of tyranny and imperialism. In positive terms, it was to be a world of peace and security, marked by respect for the principle of national self-determination and for basic human rights, a world moving in orderly fashion to the achievement of social justice and economic welfare for all. The goal was clear. Our leaders stated it well in the Preamble and Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations, which we accepted as the manifesto of right-thinking people everywhere. We understood that the War had been fought to prevent the establishment of the wrong kind of world order; we believed that the United Nations was being created to promote the establishment of the right kind of world order. We were accomplishing the dethronement of Hitler and, belatedly, the enthronement of Wilson. We recognized that many uncertainties and difficulties lay ahead, but we had our ideal clearly and firmly in mind. We knew the nature of the achievement that was essential to our future. 

Actually, the consensus of 1945 was less solid and meaningful than it appeared. There were substantial differences of objective among those who negotiated and signed the Charter and among the peoples for whom they spoke. Many of these differences were not so much resolved as papered over by the constitutional instrument that emerged from the Conference at San Francisco. Agreement was to some extent an illusion fostered by the ambiguity of terms employed in the Charter, and to some extent a pretense, a posture adopted by statesmen who thought it impolitic openly to reject ideals that seemed to command the passion­ ate allegiance of the greater part of humanity. Looking back, we find it obvious that the peoples and governments represented at San Francisco were united neither in their understanding of nor in their dedication to the principles and purposes enshrined in the Charter. That document was the form of words upon which the assembled representatives were willing to declare their agreement; it expressed a purported consensus. The artificiality of that agreement was not altogether hidden from us at the beginning, but we took comfort from the thought that formal acceptance of sound principles and noble purposes might provide the basis for reaching real agreement and organizing common effort to give them effect. Naïveté about reality was less prominent than hopefulness about the possibility of progress. 

In fact, the differences concealed by the Charter have grown in number, scope, and depth as time has passed, circumstances have changed, and the “We” referred to in the Preamble has been progressively enlarged. Major discrepancies have been revealed and have developed in the United Nations as to the nature of justice and of order, the ideal relationship between these two values, and the relative emphasis that should be placed upon stability and upon change. We have seen the fading of confidence that meaningful agreement has been reached, and of hope that it might be reached, upon such matters as promoting respect for human rights, eliminating the vestiges of colonialism, and developing collective sanctions against disturbers of international peace. The history of the United Nations has been, in considerable measure, the story of the gradual dispelling of the illusion that we had, in 1945, a genuine consensus on goals for mankind, and of the progressive disintegration of whatever consensus we did have at that time.

Nevertheless, those of us in academic or associated pursuits who have continued to address ourselves to the central problems of international relations have adhered to our original conception of the nature of the world order that should be established. Deprived of confidence that our vision is universally shared, we have fallen back upon the conviction that we know what the world needs; if we cannot purport to express what mankind wants, we can at least declare what it ought to want and strive for. Recognizing that global consensus is a hope for the future rather than a reality of the present, we can hope to serve at best as members of a creative minority or at worst as true prophets crying in the wilderness.

The conviction that we, now admittedly a small band of globally-oriented thinkers rather than participants in a triumphant global movement, are in basic agreement with each other applies only to the broad conception of the goal to be achieved. We have been, and remain, troubled by uncertainties and disagreements about how to achieve it, about how quickly we can achieve it, and, indeed, about whether we can achieve it at all.

We differ in our assessments of the appropriateness and usefulness of various methods and instruments. Should we rely upon the United Nations, or world government, or regional agencies, or supranational institutions? Should we prefer a collective security system or alliance arrangements?

What rôle should be assigned to disarmament, to inter­ national judicial processes, and to arrangements for economic and technical collaboration? Does pacifism or deterrence offer greater promise? What style of approach is called for? Does the creation of the better world that we envisage require the techniques and mentality of the engineer or of the gardener? Should we adopt a “hard” or a “soft” approach to the achievement of peace and justice?

We debate issues of priority and logical sequence; agreeing that the horse should come before the cart, we are hard put to identify the horse and the cart. Must the establishment of formal institutions await the development of “social tissue”—or is it the other way around? Who holds the key to our cherished achievement—the functionalist or the federalist? Should priority be assigned to the designing of structures and the formulation of rules, or the development of collaborative programs, or the fostering of changes in human attitudes and loyalties? Is security the root, or the offshoot, of welfare? Is justice the product or the producer of order? Is the relinquishment of national sovereignty the necessary beginning, or the predictable end, of the process of change that we hope to promote?

Our uncertainties and disagreements pertain also to the relation of states to the pursuit of the agreed end. Must they be considered obstacles, to be diminished, eliminated, or circumvented—or are they essential agents, to be encouraged and assisted in the development of their capabilities? Is the United Nations serving the cause when it devotes its efforts to undergirding, rather than undermining, its member states? Is it possible to strengthen states so as to enhance their effectiveness as contributors to the construction of an orderly world, without thereby increasing their disruptive and destructive potentialities? What place, if any, shou1d be assigned to states in our ultimate scheme for the global system?

Such issues as these continue to divide us and to deserve study and discussion. We have not approached the point at which we can set forth definitive answers to most of the crucial questions concerning methods for creating our projected world order. The persistence of these unresolved issues does not, however, call into question the solidity of our agreement about the end to be pursued. We have retained the conviction that our objective is clearly and firmly established.

My purpose in the pages that follow is to challenge this conviction—to raise doubts about the belief that, despite the evidence that the consensus of San Francisco was partly illusory and largely ephemeral, and despite our continuing lack of assurance and of agreement concerning means, we know the sort of world that we want and need to create. It is time, I think, for us to re-examine our assumption about the character of our “Relevant Utopia,” to reopen the basic issue that we have regarded as closed, and to confront the ambiguities of our conception of the goal to which mankind should aspire. Our vision of the objective is not so clear, nor is our definition of the ideal so firmly established or so fully agreed among ourselves, as we have thought. Fresh thinking about the end that we should and do pursue, as well as continued thinking about the means that should be adopted, is in order.

The need for such re-examination of our position becomes evident when we are introspective enough, and sufficiently honest with ourselves, to recognize the tensions that exist within our system of values. We are torn between unity and pluralism, freedom and authority, stability and change, peace and justice. Perhaps the major theme of our advocacy and striving is unity. We proclaim the reality of interdependence, deplore the divisiveness of national sovereignty, and look forward to “One World.” In the field of international organization, we tend to accept the proposition that “bigger is better”; we champion universality, idealize multilateralism, and pin our hopes on the integration of small parts into larger wholes. But we applaud the breaking down of colonial empires, endorse the concept of national self­determination, and sympathize with the struggles of peoples all over the world to assert their national identities and to achieve and sustain independent statehood. Fragmentation of the international system is the order of the day—and we, proponents of global integration, give it our blessing! We aspire to the creation of a more orderly and stable world, more tightly organized, more effectively managed, and better equipped to impose authoritative control from the center over recalcitrant and self-assertive states. But challenges to authority in the name of freedom and to stability in the name of progress are far more likely to gain our support than are moves to resist such challenges. We desire peace, but find it difficult to condemn revolutionary violence. We purport to regret the fact that the world has been unable to devise and put into operation a collective security system for the reliable enforcement of the peace; if such a system were in being, we would surely find ourselves denouncing it as a scheme for shoring up an unjust status quo, a device both doomed by the forces of history and damned by all right­thinking men. These examples should suffice to establish the point that, whether we realize it or not, we are deeply divided within ourselves—perhaps more deeply than among ourselves—as to the nature of the world that we seek. The problem of redefining our end deserves a prominent place on our intellectual agenda.


I can imagine no more appropriate focus for the effort at redefinition than the concept of community, a major feature of our conventional vision of world order. This concept has posed divisive issues for our fraternity, pertaining to its relationship with formal institutions. Some of us—world governmentalists, for instance—have given priority to the establishment of ambitious structures, expecting the development of supportive elements of community to follow. Others—for whom “Niebuhrians” may be an appropriate label—have tended to reverse this sequence, arguing that the building of institutions should await the completion of substantial consensual foundations. My own place has been in the latter camp, as I have believed that the nature of the society beneath governing institutions is of more basic importance than the nature of the institutions presiding over society. These debates should not, however, be allowed to obscure the fundamental agreement that has prevailed as to the critical importance of community. We have regarded it as the essential underpinning that must—sooner or later, before or after—support whatever institutions the world comes to rely upon for its order and welfare. We have pictured our ideal system as a world community, capable by virtue of its being a community of creating or sustaining the institutions required for the management of its common concerns.

Our notion of world community has been derived—sometimes consciously, sometimes not—by analogy from national societies. We have identified national community as the indispensable basis of the well-ordered national state and, even when we have rejected the idea that the state’s governing apparatus should be copied at the global level, we have accepted its underlying community as the model for international emulation. The world community must be the national community writ large; when we have that kind of world, we can contrive to make it a workable and livable system. This has been the central element and the irreducible minimum of our consensus.

Given the prominence of the concept of community in our definition of the end to be pursued in the international realm, it is appropriate to concentrate upon that concept as we re­examine our objective. Is community the right word for what we have in mind? Do national states in fact rest upon national communities, and owe whatever success they may achieve as systems of order, welfare, and justice to those foundations? Can we realistically conceive of developing community on a global scale? Is world community what we must have if mankind is to survive and flourish? I do not pose these merely as rhetorical questions, but, in asking them, I mean to betray growing doubt that they can be answered in the affirmative.

What is a community? I recognize that in attempting to answer that question I enter upon a perilous enterprise, for I am trespassing upon the territory of the sociologists—and, if my impression derived from limited acquaintance with their literature is correct, even they have not agreed upon a single and clear-cut definition of the term. Any definition that I may propose will necessarily be an arbitrary one, no more entitled than any other to universal acceptance. Moreover, I am aware that the qualities that may be regarded as fundamental to community characterize different human collectivities in varying degree, so that it is probably more accurate to treat community as a relative than as an absolute category. But it is too late for those of us who think seriously about international relations from the perspectives of disciplines other than sociology to abstain from invoking the notion of community, in deference to the proprietorship of sociologists. Properly or not, we have taken the term for our own, and it is therefore incumbent upon us to ponder the questions of what we mean by it and whether our use of it makes sense—not to take refuge in the thought that it appears indefinable, or that its definition should be left to others with more suitable expertise than our own.

I suspect that I am not alone in finding it easier to start by identifying communities than by defining community. I call up an image of community, and I note that it invariably appears as a small, intimate, face-to-face group. I think of a family, perhaps an extended family. I recall the cluster of families living upon neighboring farms, within which my mother grew up and I spent my boyhood vacations; it was, in fact, called a “community” to distinguish it from an incorporated town. I remember a tiny village in the Ozarks, where everyone knew all about everyone else. My under­ graduate college comes to mind—an aggregate of less than five hundred people with pride in their collective identity and the fierce conviction that they were superior in all respects to members of the college on the other side of town. I think of an academic department to which I once belonged, part of a huge university, which for a few years seemed rather like an extended family. I know small towns in which the Methodists and the Baptists seem to me to constitute distinct communities. Perhaps the Greek polis was a community, and Rousseau’s Geneva. A medieval manor, a Jewish ghetto, the miners in a Welsh pit, an Amish settlement, the Negroes of Benzonia, Mississippi—all these strike me as probable candidates for the community designation. It is likely that most people have the sense of belonging, or the memory of having belonged, to at least one small group that they conceive as a community—a scout troop, a high school class, a military unit, an athletic team, an occupational group, or a band of neighbors.

What are the characteristics of the relationships that may be thought to prevail, or expected to prevail, within such relatively small groups—features of their inner life that constitute the essential quality of community? One thinks of such collectivities as “We-groups,” somewhat insulated from, differentiated from, and perhaps opposed to or threatened by, “They-groups.” Members of a particular group have a sense of knowing and understanding each other, and of being very much alike. They share a common history, situation, and prospect. Their interests, concerns, and values provide a basis for solidarity. Mutual reliance is a product of their recognized interdependence; having been thrown together, they have grown together. They take pride in their corporate identity; the collectivity shapes and nourishes their individuality. Although disharmonies inevitably occur within such groups, there is a general expectation that conflicts will be resolved without violence. Trust, forbearance, and mutual respect tend to prevent antagonisms from disrupting the fabric of unity. In the last analysis, members can be counted upon to stand together, to protect and assist and share with each other, and to demonstrate devotion to the common good.

This is, of course, an idealized view of community, and it is obvious that the reality of group life is at best an approximation of the ideal. We must not forget that the relationship of “brotherhood,” which evokes such warm associations, has throughout history included the Cain-Abel type among its variants. The record shows that intra-familial conflict is widespread, and that perpetrators of violent crimes tend to find disproportionate numbers of their victims within their own segments of society. But these facts prove only that intimate groups often fail to become, or to remain, true communities. Such failures do not discredit the conception of the essential nature of community that I have set forth, nor do they disprove the proposition that relationships of the kind envisaged in that conception are unlikely to develop except in the intimate setting of small groups. I suggest that our model of community is and should be found in the sense of solidarity and corporate identity, and in the spirit of mutual reliance and joint responsibility for promotion of common values and purposes, that pervade the human “ingroup”—the tight little island of social life—at its best.

With this model in mind, we can approach the central questions of our analysis: Is this sort of thing to be found at the basis of the successful national state? Does community constitute the formula for national governability? If so, is it transferable to the global level? Is community achievable, or even conceivable, on a universal scale? All these questions point to a single issue: the expansibility of community. Can community be writ large without becoming so distorted that it undergoes a fundamental change of meaning? How big can a community become without ceasing to be a community?

Intimacy and homogeneity seem to me such essential elements that I begin to be skeptical of the possibility of extending community well before one reaches the conception of globalism. Indeed, the challenge to that possibility may be invoked at the metropolitan stage; I am inclined to regard New York or London as a congeries of communities, and to boggle at the notion that such a city is or might reasonably be expected to become a single community. The obvious implication of doubt about the applicability of the concept of community to New York or London is that skepticism should deepen as one considers its possible application to the United States, the United Kingdom, Chile, or India. Skepticism should ripen into disbelief when attention is directed to Europe, Latin America, the Arab States, the “Third World,” or the “Free World.” Disbelief should give way to sheer incredulity when the notion of world community arises. In short, I am strongly inclined to the view that community is exclusively a small-group phenomenon.

The critic may insist that this is an arbitrary position, one which fails to take into account the historical forces that change social structures. Human communities have been steadily enlarged, so the argument runs, and there is no reason to postulate a limit to the size and scope of the community that may evolve. Modern methods of transport and communication, the spread of education, the prevalence of tourism, the intensification of economic and cultural exchange—all these and other factors are inexorably breaking down the walls that have divided mankind into discrete units, promoting the mingling of peoples, fostering the awareness of interdependence, and encouraging the enlargement of social, political, and moral horizons. Is the achievement of global community not simply a matter of cooperating with and capitalizing upon these powerful forces, and contriving to reduce or eliminate the artificial rigidities of obsolete structures that impede the progressive movement of history toward its natural and logical culmination?

To my mind, it is less clear that the forces of modernization are promoting the development of large communities than that they are eroding the foundations of small ones. Concerning the latter, there can be no doubt. Mobility, migration, the mass media of communication, the extension of the tentacles of industrialism and bureaucracy—all these tend to shatter the protective shells of small segments of society and to undermine the bases of their distinctiveness and solidarity. The community in which my mother grew up is no more; its members have scattered from Maine to California. Villagers drive to urban shopping centers, commute to industrial jobs, and abandon local barn dances in favor of watching national television programs. Divorce is only the most conspicuous symptom of the breaking down of the “togetherness” of families. If the (white) South was ever a community, it is no longer; it has been dissolved in the United States.

Such dissolution of small communities may be deplored, but it cannot easily be resisted. Welsh nationalists protest against and try to reverse the decay of the identity and self-consciousness of Wales, asserting that it has been and ought to remain a national community, but they seldom recognize that the real enemy of Welsh nationhood is modernization, not an oppressive or insensitive English-dominated government in London. For better or for worse, the dynamic forces of our time are destroying the insularities and the solidarities of groups ranging in size from the nuclear family to the minority nationality. If, as I suggest, genuine communities are to be located near the smaller end of that range, it follows that virtually all of them are being affected by the solvent of modernization.

This process inevitably entails significant losses to the cultural treasury of mankind, and those who deplore and seek to counteract it deserve something better than to be put down as nostalgic old fogies (or troublesome young fogies). Is compensatory gain to be discerned, though, in its paving the way for the creation of larger communities essential to world order? One cannot be sure. It is by no means clear that the building of a global community, if that is conceivable at all, will be furthered by the demolition of smaller ones. Although it is evident that the exclusiveness of subordinate communities may pose an obstacle to the consolidation of a larger whole, it may also be true that such units are essential building-blocks for the larger construction. The shattered family is not conducive to social order in the United States, nor is the chaotic national society a boon to the United Nations. The breaking down of small communities—and of such intermediate units as the Welsh nation—under the impact of modernization may not be a contribution to the creation of world community, and it certainly is not evidence that such a creative process is underway. Nocommunity, rather than worldcommunity, may be in prospect. At any rate, we have clearer indications of the decline of small communities than of the rise of larger ones.

Even if it could be demonstrated that the world is clearly moving toward political and administrative substituting a few large units for many small ones, that in itself would not prove that larger communities are emerging. Labels do not decide the case; just as calling the world organization the “United Nations” does not mean that the nations are united, adopting the name of “European Community” does not indicate that the members of that grouping have become or will become a community. The world is in fact undergoing simultaneous consolidation and fragmentation of its political entities, and neither of these tendencies appears to be foreordained to achieve dominance. The urge to create larger units is accompanied by, and may have been partly responsible for stimulating, a striving for devolution. In the United Kingdom, pressure to concede some sort of autonomy to Wales and Scotland seems at least as strong as inclination to incorporate the entire state in a European entity. Moreover, it should be noted that such devolutionary urges reflect the conviction that meaningful community is to be associated with units smaller than, not greater than, existing states. One detects agreement with the contention of Raymond Aron that “the truly intelligible field lies below and not above politically organized society.”

Welsh and Scottish nationalists are preoccupied with the value of community—and this preoccupation leads them to insist that the United Kingdom should undergo a measure of disintegration, not involve itself in a process of integration with its European partners. I think their insight is fundamentally correct: while the United Kingdom is, for many important purposes, too small, it is too large to constitute a genuine community. If our central concern is to make political units coincide with communities, we shall find ourselves committed to the proliferation, not the consolidation, of such units.

This analysis leads me to the conclusion that we have made a fundamental error in assuming that the successful national state rests upon a foundation of community, and in deriving from this assumption the corollary that an effective system of world order must similarly be undergirded by a community of global dimensions. The concept of community seems to me simply inapplicable to units on the scale of the national state, and, a fortiori,to such a unit as a world organization. We are free to use the word, of course, but we mislead others and befuddle ourselves if we do so. Taking refuge in the relativity of the sense of community does not remedy the situation; since the intensity of community varies inversely with its extension, any conceivable global unit would be characterized by so weak a sense of community as to render nonsensical the application of the label of community. I cannot escape the conviction that we would do well to abandon the notion of community in formulating our conception of the world order that we need and desire.


This is not, I hasten to insist, a cry of despair. Though I am pessimistic about the possibility of creating community on a global scale, I am optimistic about the possibility of our getting along without it. My argument is not that the necessary is impossible, but that the impossible is unnecessary. This seems to me the implication to be drawn from a realistic examination of the political model with which we started—that of the successful national state.

This model must be approached with caution. The successful state, as I define it, is a just and stable social order—a society that meets the needs, serves the purposes, and satisfies the claims of its members well enough that it can maintain internal peace and order without excessive reliance upon repression or coercion. It is, to put it differently, a governable entity, one that veers neither toward tyranny nor toward chaos, but is manageable by processes that involve more of persuasion than of compulsion and rely more heavily upon respect for law than upon enforcement of law. Some states have never been successful, and no state has always been successful, in this sense. Success is relative, variable, and fragile. Appraisal of success is a subjective matter, and honest disagreement about degrees of success achieved by particular states is to be expected. Nevertheless, all of us have an image of the successful state, drawn in part from fragments of human socio-political experience and in part from ideal formulations, and it is this, magnified to universal proportions, that we regard as the solution to the world’s problems.

I suggest that the successful state is not a community, but a society that has become manageable in the absence of community. It has not created a national community, but has learned to maintain national peace without it. It has contrived not to reduce diversity, but to limit and control the implications of diversity—to minimize pressures for unity and to dispense with the need for it. Its theme is accommodation, not assimilation; the secret of its success lies in its capacity to harmonize the communities that it encompasses. Such a state is best described as a system of managed pluralism.

The development of that system poses two interdependent requirements: the constituent communities of the state must be, or become, manageable, and its political leaders must be, or become, skilled in the art of management. The adjustment of the social segments to each other and to the whole society is the critical problem. Given the combination of adjustment-potential on the part of the sub-units of national society and adequate adjustment technique on the part of its government, success can be achieved. The governability of a society, not itself a community, depends upon the harmonizability of the communities that exist within it and the harmonizing-ability of the leaders who preside over it. This, I believe, is the lesson to be learned from the record of the successes and failures of states as order-promoting and order-keeping enterprises.

With this lesson in mind, we can reformulate our conception of the nature of world order. I suggest that the objective be defined as the maintenance of order among communities, not the achievement of the order of a community. Our aim should be not community but manageable pluralism, not brotherhood but citizenship, not unity but tolerable diversity. The world toward which it seems sensible to aspire is not one in which smaller communities have been dissolved and absorbed into an all-embracing community, but one in which continuing existence and even their flourishing have become compatible with and conducive to the order of the whole.

Perhaps the ultimate meaning of this analysis is that we cannot escape from international relations. The notion of world community can be interpreted as an escape mechanism, beguiling us with the promise that we can evade the task of solving the problems of the multistate system by creating a unitary system in its stead. My contention that the “Relevant Utopia” is a global society that achieves order among communities without itself becoming a community forces us back into confrontation with those problems; it suggests that we must accept the necessity of learning to cope with the disharmonies inherent in a pluralistic system. 





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