Monday, July 12, 2010

Comenius and Homo Universalis

Comenius's Decade

Comenius and Homo Universalis

This is a re-re-re-write of an early chapter in People Without Borders

Comenius's Decade
International opinion polls show again and again that most humans are world federalists. That is, a large majority of the human race as a whole believe wholeheartedly that world problems can only be solved by a government representing the entire human race. Given the chance, most people in most nations would welcome an electoral system where each human being has a vote in a popularly elected United Nations. A global polling institution reports that,
"There is strong international support for various approaches for making the UN more democratically representative. Large majorities around the world favor direct elections of their country's UN representative to the General Assembly, a new UN parliament with directly elected representatives, and giving non-governmental actors a formal role in the United Nations." <>
  This broad support, they go on to say, "appears to be derived from a perceived need for collective action to deal with global problems and from a belief in the efficiencies of collective action." The pollsters express this sentiment of the world's populace rather weakly. This is not something that modern intellectuals like to talk about. But the implications are clear. We must take policy beyond barriers of national boundaries; borders and nationalities exist only in the imagination. Half-hearted negotiations between states can never solve the environmental problems facing us all. International agreements among many disparate groups will never constitute good governance, even if they were being honoured, which they tend not to be.
  The question that we should all be asking, then, is not whether there should be a world government but rather what kind of union should it be? Should there be a world senate as well as a world parliament and a world court? Would a strengthened, democratic United Nations suffice, or is it better to start again?
  These are not new questions.
  It is not well known that many of them were asked and answered brilliantly some three hundred and forty years ago by the Eighteenth Century reformer John Amos Comenius in his posthumous masterpiece, Universal Reform, or Panorthosia.
  Aside from his accomplishments as a school principal, pedogogical theorist and language teacher, Comenius late in life became a peace negotiator during the war between Holland and England. He finished his masterpeace, Panorthosia, a comprehensive plan for world peace through both world and local government, on his deathbed. The only extant copy languished in an obscure library for centuries and was only fully translated into English in two volumes in the 1990's. As soon as I read it I was persuaded that here is the most insightful and appealing plan for a world government that I have ever come across. It should be studied carefully by anyone with aspirations to world citizenship. People Without Borders is largely my response to the possibilities opened up by the ideas in Universal Reform.
  Unlike the all-embracing, monolithic states that make up the United Nations today, Comenius envisioned institutions designed from the ground up as inherently localized and decentralized. Long before Lord Acton said that, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," Comenius understood that it is a very bad idea to invest power in individual leaders. This, he pointed out, is in accordance an admonition in the Sermon on the Mount to "call no man master." Corruption is an inevitable result of disobeying divine commands, not only to call nobody master but also to "seek and ye shall find," never to delegate one's own obligation to search and serve to anyone else.
  The closing chapters of Panorthosia recommend that the human race come together in an intercontinental constitutional conference. Organizers there would hand out to each delegate a condensed version of Panorthosia, as supplemental reading. The representatives there are elected or appointed from each continent; they in turn choose members of standing world institutions that will meet permanently in a world capital -- he suggested London. The global senate and parliaments are then regularly re-elected at this conference, which he suggested take place every ten years. Members of these international institutions, one for each continent and one for the whole world, are initially ratified by all levels of national governments, but once a world election is held this can stop, since their moral authority will rest in the hands of the people of Earth.
  This meeting to be held every decade is no ordinary conference with narrow, limited ends. It tasks experts and educators with choosing or devising international standards of all kinds, including a world language and common weights and measures. Today, of course, we would also include climate change and wildlife conservation among its areas of regulation. Educators at the conference would also devise a world curriculum, which would encourage diversity while removing the artificial barriers of class and culture. An economic section would also seek to eliminate the gap between rich and poor.
  I should note here that the comprehensive approach of Panorthosia has already had an influence on the evolution of the United Nations. This was recognized when passages from Panorthosia were translated into English for the first time in the commemorative volume published at the formation of UNESCO in the 1950's. After almost three centuries, his advice that Panorthosia be used as conference material at a world convention was finally taken.
  The distinctive feature of Comenius's proposal is in my opinion a stroke of genius every bit as revolutionary for the realm of human governance as anything that Copernicus, Darwin or Einstein did for their specialties. Rather than a single world body, the global constitution should institute a three chambered parliament, in accordance with the "call no man master" principle. The three parliaments address each of the three main concerns of human life, enlightenment, ethics and peace.
  One chamber he called the "college of light;" its members are charged with the reform of science and education. The second parliament, the "holy consistory," acts as a parliament of religions. Its job is to remove the plagues of fundamentalism and interfaith conflict. A third parliament, a "dicastery of peace," addresses the basic purpose of politics, laying the groundwork for peace on earth.
  "These will serve as three universal antidotes to the plagues which have afflicted us in the past... For the college of light will purify the light of understanding ... The holy consistory with intent to maintain the zeal for piety will salt ... against elements of moral corruption (such as impiety and hypocrisy). Lastly, the dicastery of peace will keep the whole political world in order, so that no power either succumbs in face of danger to its possessions or degenerates into tyranny by destroying the possessions of others." (Panorthosia, Chapter 25, p. 142)
  This in a Comenian democracy all three houses are independent and equal, yet cooperative one with the others. As the "call no man master" principle demands, each body is independently elected and funded. Constitutional stipulations protect the balance among them and legal protections keep one from lording it over the others.
  We are used to living under a monolithic state where politicians jealously guard their own bailiwick, and where power is all but absolute. To us, that is what government means. It is all but impossible to picture anything different. The absolutist state with centrally empowered leaders makes certain that politics will dominate and, if it chooses, subjugate science, economics, education, the arts, and every other important expression of human nature. The state either sets one religion over all others, or ignores ethics and matters of faith completely.
  A Comenian government would be the reverse of this. Every voter is enfranchised not with one vote but at least three. Instead of a monolithic state government, all levels of government, from family to neighbourhood right on up, use the three chambered model. Each is affiliated with the others in a sort of franchise system dividing power among three semi-independent institutions.
  Why three?
  We all are called upon in our lives to balance three basic expressions of humanity. Each of us has a relationship with nature and the physical world. Each of us is enlightened by a philosophy of life, science and education. Therefore, each of us is a member of the College of Light.
  Second, we have have a relationship to God, and seek our own place in eternity and infinity. That is, we all in some way participate in expressions of religion or art. As such, we are members of the Consistory of Holiness.
  Third, each of us relates our fellow man. Every human being has the object of establishing peace, reciprocity and political harmony in the world. This qualifies us as card carrying members of the Dicastery of Peace.
  Our triple human responsibility should be expressed in our service to all institutions we come into contact with, especially the family, neigbourhood and the workplace. As a result, the narrow democratic principle of "one man one vote" becomes instead, "one person, three votes." Every government at every level of society, from the global right down to the family and the individual, somehow expresses each of these three pursuits.
  As mentioned, John Amos Comenius, was no dreamer of an imagined tripartite perfection. He embodied all three qualities that he sought to introduce into governance. He was an experienced peace negotiator, a renowned educational reformer, one of the founding fathers of the Royal Society, and a leader in his religious community, the Moravian Brotherhood.
  Just as Comenius himself in his long career somehow straddled all three of the great potential sources of human progress, politics, science and religion, the government he designed calls upon us, upon each world citizen, to attempt a similar challenge. Panorthosia goes into great detail about how each of us should seek to unite science, religion and politics in our life. Only by taking on the ambitious goal of becoming a Renaissance Man, only by having amateurs work alongside specialists, will governance strike a happy balance between the needs of both individual and society.


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