Citizen of the World?

On my way back from Mauritius (see July 3 blog) we passed through Israel to attend a family wedding and meet up with some old friends. During a pleasant dinner with some of these good friends, I was asked if I was planning on returning to live in Israel.

I arrived in Israel in 1945 with my mother (three years before the creation of the state) as a Holocaust refugee. I grew up there, I was educated there, I fought in some of the wars there, my son was born there, and even though I have lived in the United States since 1969, I still feel Israeli. My wife is American born and my whole family, all of which lives in the United States now, is proud and happy to be American. I hold both Israeli and American citizenships, and I share their pride.

Unavoidably, any conversation about Israel has to address the political climate. My friends, my wife and I all believe that a political agreement with the Palestinians to create a Palestinian state side by side with Israel is absolutely necessary and the conditions to facilitate such a solution must be created in the near future.

My answer to my friends’ question was that I am happy where I am and that I cannot see myself returning to Israel to retire. They were not surprised by my answer, having decided that I have become a “true” American. I responded with a “declaration” that I actually think of myself neither as an American, nor an Israeli, but rather as a “Citizen of the World.” I explained that I dearly love both Israel and the United States, but I have come to realize that the planet that we live in is in peril and this affects all of us.

I left the dinner with a bad taste in my mouth. “Citizen of the World???” What was I thinking? It sounds bombastic and meaningless. I was absolutely convinced that everyone around the table felt the same way.

I came back home, and as I was going through the New York Times, one of the first things that popped up was an obituary and front page article on Garry Davis (NYT-July 29) by Margaut Fox: “Garry Davis, Man of No Nation Who Saw One World of No War, Dies at 91.” Before reading it, I was completely ignorant about his existence and the movement that he was promoting.

According to the article, Garry Davis renounced his American citizenship on May 25, 1948. He remained stateless until his death. This self-inflicted status gave him some difficulties in traveling, but he managed to work around them. His theory was that most wars are caused by sovereign states, so, if we were to eliminate sovereign states, we would ensure peace. Renouncing his citizenship was the first step in that direction. He was regarded as the Dean of the “One World” movement that, according to the article, can count approximately one million members. He referred to himself not as a person without a country, but instead, as one without a nationality. According to the article, adherents to the One World movement have included some very prominent people, among them, Albert Schweitzer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein and E. B. White.

I was not aware of any of this at the time of my short dinner chat in Israel. However, learning of it didn’t make me feel better; I am not inclined now to join the “One World” movement and renounce my two citizenships. My concern during the discussion was not for world peace; instead, I looked to our ability to take care of the planet, focusing on climate change. If the planet starts to become uninhabitable, things all around us will get ugly, both physically and politically.

At present, world governance is based on sovereign states. Only sovereign states can enforce rules and regulations, including those agreed upon in international treaties.

Abolishing sovereign states would not eliminate wars. Some of the most destructive wars in recent history didn’t take place between sovereign states, but were instead civil wars or wars focused on international terrorism. Renouncing nationalities would only make such wars worse. Abolishing states and relying on “World Government” would remove any form of control from the hands of the constituents and make governing impossible.

During my recent travels in Southern Africa, I observed how much of a difference the presence or absence of effective government made in how people were doing. Four countries that we visited during our recent trip will serve to illustrate the importance of functioning government to the well being of the people and the environment: Botswana, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. Botswana and Zimbabwe are land locked states, while Madagascar and Mauritius are islands in the Indian Ocean. All four countries got their independence from the colonial powers after 1960, starting out as very poor nations with little infrastructure. Botswana and Mauritius are now flourishing, middle income, fast growing countries, with stable governments. Zimbabwe and Madagascar, meanwhile, are failed states (this is a commonly accepted term there), whose income/capita is not much different from the corresponding data from when they first got their independence. (One can get more data about the economic performance of all four countries at the World Bank website).

In the coming blogs, I will focus on environmental impacts in some of these countries and the mitigation and adaptation steps that are being taken. The performance of the local governments will play a central role. There is no question that the present state of world governance can be improved, mainly through the establishment of fair enforcement mechanisms to preserve the physical characteristics (both regional and planetary) that are essential to our collective survival. Abolishing national government would have the reverse effect.

Comment on a potentially game changing Op-Ed in Thursday’s (August 1, 2013) New York Times.

It is rare for me to post a comment about a current event after having already written my blog. It is even more uncommon for me to agree with every word of an Op-Ed written by four prominent Republicans. Thursday’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, “A Republican Case for Climate Action” by William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman,  marked just such an occasion.

Republicans have occupied the White House for 20 of the 31 years since the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The four writers of the Op-Ed collectively held the office of the Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency for 12 of these years. Anne Burford, the first administrator of the EPA under President Reagan, died in 2004. As they and a growing percentage of the population concede, the numbers with regards to climate change speak for themselves. The acknowledged need for domestic and international action to mitigate climate change is no longer divided neatly between our two major political parties. Hopefully this will lead to progress on more than just a dogmatic note.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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5 Responses to Citizen of the World?

  1. John Jones says:

    First we have to find an American President that is not a lawyer and an American

  2. toby52 says:

    chriskoz,

    The American President has first of all to be a good politician, and there are no academic qualifications for that.

    The last US President without a college degree was Harry Truman, and he did not do too badly. He was a better President that many who had far superior academic achievement.

    Abraham Lincoln never even made it to the contemporary equivalent of a high school, and he outsmarted many products of Yale and Harvard in his career.

  3. toby52 says:

    The great American Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison put on the masthead of his newspaper “Mankind is my Country”, which is another way of seeing yourself as a citizen of the world.

    Garrison, though, wanted the North to ditch the slaveowning South, something that would probably have prolonged slavery. He denounced and publicly burned the US Constitution as a “Covenant with Hell” because it recognized slavery (albeit in a roundabout non-explicit sort of way). The Constitution, bad and all as it was, was in fact the slaves’ best hope (see the film Lincoln).

    That suggests renunciation of citizenship may not always be the best tactic to build an integrated one-world society. I have always encouraged my own children to see themselves as multinational and multiethnic people, but with a certain grounding. The philosopher Anthony Appiah (himself of English and Ghanaian parentage) calls it “rooted cosmopolitanism”.

    PS Appiah’s choice of words echoes Stalin’s attacks on Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans”.

  4. chriskoz says:

    It’s actually strange that we have to go back 100y to find a president with a solid academic background. After such long drought on mindful people on the top job, it would be desirable to elect some luminaries to this office. In the utopian “world government”, there should be sicentist in charge… But I’m not sure if they’d be willing to take such role, or if just the contrarians would vie for it…

  5. At the other end of the educational spectrum, President Woodrow Wilson earned a PhD in history and political science from Johns Hopkins University. He’s the only president to earn a PhD. In 1902, he became the president of Princeton University, after serving as a professor there.

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