Human freedom requires the rule of democratic law. This principle has been affirmed numerous times in Western philosophical history. Perhaps the most notable example was Immanuel Kant in the 18th century who explicitly opposed the social contract theory of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes had maintained that government was required to ‘limit the freedom’ that human beings naturally possessed in the ‘state of nature’ prior to the creation of government.
Kant declared that true freedom only emerged with a republican social contract. It does not exist prior to that contract: only irrational choices and impulses. He asserted that the fundamental moral principle called ‘the categorical imperative’ dictated that we live under what he termed ‘republican government’ protecting the “freedom, equality, and independence” of each person under the enforceable rule of law.
Right is the limitation of each person’s freedom so that it is compatible with the freedom of everyone.
Without a republican government protecting our freedom, equality, and independence, we exist in a condition of ‘war’ within which there are no limits on human irrational impulses and nor restraints on what we can do to one another. Law is fundamental to human freedom.
As many thinkers have pointed out, human beings are intensely social creatures, who, apart from the social matrix, would have no intelligence, language, knowledge, or freedom. All these common features of our existence come from our collective existence, from one species (homo sapiens) and one civilization (universalis civilis) that has evolved upon the Earth. Moral right, for Kant, is the principle that recognizes this interdependence and universalizes it as a binding moral principle: “always treat each person as an end in themselves [as having infinite dignity] rather than merely as a means.”2
Public right, that is the justified coercive power of republican (or democratic) government, arises from the absolute moral union people make with one another when they combine under government to protect their liberty, equality, and independence. The only legitimate government, consequently, is that which protects these values. The function of proper government is to protect the freedom of each within the common good of all.
Under these Kantian principles, my personal freedoms to live my life as I see fit (with freedoms of speech, association, assembly, information, press and publication) are intrinsically social (that is moral) in nature. These freedoms are only made possible by republican or democratic government, since rational (moral) freedom only arises when the state of war against all is transcended within that union called by these names.
Without governmental authority protecting these freedoms, I am subject to the irrational power of others who may rob, violate, enslave, or exploit me for their own ends. Good government is both an intrinsically social phenomenon and a moral imperative. By making this social contract, people move from the ‘barbarism’ and ‘savagery’ in the state of nature (without government) to civilized moral living under universal moral laws. In his mature late writings of the 1790s, Kant repeatedly returned to these themes precisely because they are so fundamental to understanding freedom and its relation to moral and political rights.
In our contemporary 21st century, how many people understand these principles? Here in the USA, many people resent having to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID. Many people think that laws restricting guns or other dangerous weapons are a violation of their freedom, and many people think that ‘big government’ represents a growing incursion on their innate individual freedoms. Yet Kant’s philosophy of freedom correctly states that rational freedom (that is true freedom) is a collective, social and moral phenomenon. It makes no sense to try to conceive of a human being as being somehow free apart from the community that protects and enables their liberty, equality, and independence.
There is no such thing as a free nation
The rule of democratically legislated law, equally applied to everybody (no one is above the law), is the foundation for freedom, justice, and peace in the world. Something very similar comprises the opening words of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is implicit within that entire document. Yet human beings worldwide suffer from an immense cognitive dissonance, a stunning contradiction, when they continue to speak as if there could be such a thing as a ‘free nation’.
If genuine rational freedom arises from the social contract in which people unite under republican or democratic government dedicated to protecting each person’s freedom insofar as it is compatible with the equal freedom of all, then beyond the level of nations there is no such thing. So-called ‘sovereign’ nations by definition recognize no enforceable law above themselves. Nearly all the great Western philosophers since the 17th century have pointed this out (e.g. Spinoza, Hobbes, Kant, Locke, and Hegel), but who, if anyone, is listening? Kant repeatedly stated that the concept of a ‘free nation’ as used in his day was a contradiction, for what this really means is “a merely lawless freedom” that constitutes “a barbarous, rude, and brutish degradation of humanity.”1
Rational (genuine) freedom, he said, requires a federation of nations united in a contract “similar to a republican constitution.” Just as a ‘free person’ apart from the moral freedom guaranteed by republican or democratic government is truly a barbarian in disguise (“I will do whatever I want to anyone I want and no one has the right to stop me”), so a ‘free nation’ apart from enforceable democratic world law is simply a barbarian in disguise. Just look at the history of endless wars since the modern world system was first formulated at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
The sovereign nation-state system, enshrined in the UN Charter, is clearly a collection of barbarians enforced by the biggest and most powerful barbarians (entrenched today in the so-called Security Council) who simply do what they want to other nations, and there is no way to stop them, short of war. As Emery Reves expresses so well in his 1945 book The Anatomy of Peace3:
War takes place whenever and wherever non-integrated social units of equal sovereignty come into contact.
A sovereign nation, by definition, is a “non-integrated social unit,” recognizing no enforceable law above itself, and therefore, as Kant pointed out so forcefully, involved, simply insofar as it insists on its sovereignty, in a “brutish degradation of humanity.” Much of humanity, including heads of nations, live with this cognitive dissonance. The world as institutionalized in the UN Charter is intrinsically a war-system. War is not a contingent feature of the system that might not exist. War is the foundation of any system refusing to recognize the essential role of enforceable democratic laws in the protection of human freedom and dignity.
Oblivious to this contradiction, many of these nations affirm the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which begins with the ringing words, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” There simply is no genuine ‘recognition’ of our inherent dignity, nor our equal and inalienable rights, without a social contract that protects equally the freedom, equality, and independence of everyone. The rulers of most nations today are either liars or fools.
As Article 28 of the Declaration says, “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” What could be more obvious than that we do not have this social and international order but rather a barbarous perpetual war-system in the world? What could be more obvious than Article 28 stating that we have a fundamental human right to an international order that is truly “the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world”?
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth
This Earth Constitution was written by hundreds of world citizens and legal scholars working together for 23 years until the document was declared finished and ready for ratification at the Fourth Constituent Assembly in Troia, Portugal in 1991. It establishes a brilliantly designed true federation that unites the nations and peoples of Earth within a democratic union guaranteeing the freedom of each within the framework of equality for all. It is here, for the first time, that the concept of a ‘free nation’ becomes coherent.
For as we have seen, rational or moral freedom exists only within a republican or democratic social contract with laws capable of enforcing peace and ensuring freedom for all. The UN Universal Declaration says we have a right to such a world-system as does the fundamental moral principle articulated in its first paragraph. A free nation is one that is protected and empowered in its freedom through the rule of democratically legislated world law. Otherwise, there is only the rule of power rather than freedom — the big fish do as they please and the small fish suffer what they must. This is the barbarous world-system that we now have in place. It violates not only the rights of nations, but the rights of each person on Earth who deserves global respect for his or her human dignity and rights.
In terms of human political progress, the 18th century articulated for us a clear concept of political rights (speech, assembly, press, etc.); the 19th century articulated social and economic rights (education, healthcare, social insurance, etc.) and the 20th century global rights (to world peace and a protected global environment).4 There is no true political freedom when people are denied their social and economic rights, and neither can political and economic rights be protected and empowered in a world that structurally denies us world peace and a safeguarded ecological fabric within which life can flourish.
The intrinsic dignity of persons cannot be protected without all three levels of rights. The present world-system of so-called ‘free nations’ inherently violates our rights to live under the rule of democratically legislated world law. Just ask the suffering people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Ukraine, or many others if they think their human rights have been protected by this savage world system?
The functions of the Earth Constitution, articulated in its Article One, are clear: end war and disarm the nations, protect universal human rights, diminish social differences, and protect the ecological fabric of life on Earth. Why this as yet should be unfamiliar to most people is a mystery to those of us across the globe who affirm the need to democratically ratify the Earth Constitution. Local problems can only be effectively solved by local governments, national problems by national governments, and global problems by global government. This is not merely a utilitarian argument because what we are as human beings — our intrinsic freedom and dignity — demands the enforceable rule of democratic law for all the Earth.
The Earth Constitution is not just a draft or vague set of principles (like the Earth Charter, for example). It sets up a concrete integration of institutional tools to address all these global problems and brings human freedom to fruition in a world system to which we have a right since it alone gives us the framework of democratic law that makes freedom and dignity practicable and possible. Nations become free, just as persons become free, when there is a world system that protects and empowers freedom and equality for all.
There is no authentic freedom prior to this. We in the USA must pay some 50% of all our tax dollars for militarism and endless wars, and the majority of nations on Earth believe they must maintain a military to protect… what? Their right to endlessly worry about ‘national security,’ subversion, incursion, or invasion of some foreign enemies. This is hardly freedom, and ‘national security’ always trumps human rights and dignity both at home and abroad.
The creation of a World Parliament under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth changes nothing except the structural violation of human rights worldwide embedded in the current world system. Nations remain nations and participate in the Parliament through the House of Nations. The people of Earth participate directly from the grassroots level in the House of Peoples, and through special mechanisms, wise people representing the good of the whole Earth are elected to the House of Counselors.
We need neither violent revolution nor disruption of our current, toothless planetary institutions in order to empower the Earth Constitution. All we need to do is see clearly that the world-system as it now exists intrinsically violates human freedom and dignity. All we need to do is actualize our dignity through voting to ratify the Constitution. Human beings are coming ever closer to self-destruction through environmental collapse or nuclear war. We have learned to live with cognitive dissonance and debilitating contradictions.
Article 17 of the Earth Constitution gives us the way out. Simply vote to ratify the Earth Constitution. The Provisional World Parliament operating under Article 19 is currently setting up the mechanisms for secure on-line voting.
The world is both very close to self-destruction and also very close to self-liberation and self-realization. Which will it be? The answer is entirely up to us.
1 Kant, Immanuel (1983). Perpetual Peace and Other Essays. Trans. Ted Humphrey. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
2 Kant, Immanuel (1964). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. H.J. Paton. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
3 Reves, Emery (1945). The Anatomy of Peace. New York: Harper & Brothers.
4 Martin, Glen T. (2021). The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet. Independence, VA: Peace Pentagon Press.
5 Constitution for the Federation of Earth. In print with the Institute for Economic Democracy Press, Appomattox, VA, 2010 and 2014.