One World Government: Definition & Concept

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson introduces the concept of a one-world government in philosophy and political theory. We'll learn about philosophers like Hobbes, Rousseau and Kant, who have offered skeptical objections to the idea. Then we will explore ways that the theory is understood in the modern, globalized world.

Who Should be President of the Galaxy?

You aren't the only one who prays for world peace. Since ancient times, great thinkers have struggled with the question of how to reach a common, global unity. It's one of the most elusive goals of all. One proposals calls for a world government. This idealistic notion claims that nations across the globe should/could align into a sovereign entity: a single, authoritative government.

Who would you elect as President of Earth?

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, author Douglas Adams parodies the concept of a one-world government. They elect Zaphod Beeblebrox, an idiot megalomaniac, to the post of President of the Galaxy. As Adams puts it,: ''It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.''

Can we put our differences aside for the benefit of the greater good? Is it even a good idea?

Pros and Cons

What would be the benefits of the world uniting under one common ruler? On the upside, thinking positively, a one-world government could solve rampant political problems such as war, poverty, and social inequality. It could even address the sustainable management of ecological resources.

But then, there are also a lot of unforeseen outcomes that could result from having a single dominant ruler. Philosophers and political theorist raise three main objections to the very notion of world government.

  • Is such a thing even possible?
  • Is such a thing even desirable or even necessary?
  • How could one central authority possibly represent the world's diverse cultural and political agendas?

History of the Debate

Medieval Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri offered the strongest argument in support of a one-world government. In The Banquet (1304-1307), he supported the idea of an omnipotent ruler. Dante suggested that, having attained all the power under the sun, a supreme ruler wouldn't wage war or engage in aggression because he's already in control.

''Because he possesses everything, the ruler would not desire to possess anything further, and thus, he would hold kings contentedly within the borders of their kingdoms, and keep peace among them.''

La Divina Commedia di Dante (Dante and the Divine Comedy) by Domenico di Michelino, 1465

Since then, other philosophers have tried to prove Dante wrong.

Hobbes and the Skeptics

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously wrote life is ''nasty, brutish and short.'' In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes applies this belief about man's innate moral corruption to political philosophy.

He reasons, if people are naturally flawed, then any single person who tries to rule the human race will inevitably fail. That's skepticism in a nutshell. It's a feeling that overwhelms people with doubt. It's also a philosophy for people who deny the existence of absolute truth and certainty. If absolute truth doesn't exist, then it follows that no single person should have authority over others. Hobbes believed that any form of supreme power would be coercive and despotic.


Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau followed Hobbes' lead. Like many other great thinkers of this late 17th-century intellectual movement, Rousseau promoted reason and individualism over absolute truth. Rousseau believed that an individual's freedom was stronger than the control of any government.

Un Diner de Philosophers by Jean Huber, 1773

In The Social Contract (1762), Rousseau claimed that world peace could be achieved if every state government would simply fall into balance. It's an either-or situation: either societies would thrive autonomously, or else the world would fall under the tyranny of the supreme ruler.

Kant's Amendment

German philosopher Immanuel Kant was also skeptical. Kant agreed with Rousseau that the world should not fall under a total dictator. But individual states should also limit the power of government.

In Perpetual Peace (1795), Kant outlined three prerequisites:

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