Day: July 1, 2016

Arthur C. Clarke and his vision of world government

A world government is there in the background of

As I write, the aftermath of Brexit is being felt around the world — Britain’s historic exit marking an end to the forty-year membership of the European Union. It’s ironic that this should coincide with the launch of The Medusa Chronicles, because the EU, a voluntary nation-states, is a kind of regional prototype of a world government of the kind which we feature in Chronicles, and which featured prominently in Arthur C Clarke’s own thinking, and his writing.

A world government is there in the background of A Meeting with Medusa, the 1971 novella which we took as our starting point. By the 2080s, we’re told, humanity enjoys a “secure and prosperous global society.” When Howard Falcon plans his mission to Jupiter it is under the sponsorship of a directorate of “Long Range Planning” and a “Bureau of Astronautics.” We extended this model in our sequel – even though our utopian world government ultimately crumbles under the pressure of an existential war. Clarke, however, had been writing of world governments at least as far back as books like The Deep Range (1957).

A future world government was a common assumption in post-Second World War SF, presumably inspired by the multinational institutions that emerged after that war – the UN, the EU. Their purpose was to prevent a war between countries armed with atomic weapons, and to manage such challenges as poverty on a wider scale than the nation-state. You could even find it in children’s fiction. In Gerry Anderson’s space-opera TV puppet show Fireball XL5 (1962-3), the heroic Colonel Steve Zodiac serves in a World Space Patrol. “We now had the United Nations and I imagined, rightly or wrongly, that there would be a World Government in the future,” Anderson said.

But the idea of a world government has a longer history. In the nineteenth century Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, was one perhaps surprising advocate: “We are living at a period of the most wonderful transition, one which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end to which all history points – I mean, of course, the realization of the unity of mankind.”
His way of achieving that aim was to tie together the empires of Europe with bonds of royal marriage, as if one sprawling dynasty ruled all. To that end he arranged the marriage of his eldest daughter “Vicky” to “Fritz,” heir to the throne of Prussia, the most militant of the German states. But in the 1870s Chancellor Bismarck dismissed Albert’s dynastic fancies; he unified Germany under Prussia by leading it into war with France. Later the First World War slaughtered millions, even though the monarchs of Britain, Germany, Russia and the rest were all related.

HG Wells’s Modern Utopia (1905) depicted a world state with unified travel and economic management – but it was not truly democratic, being governed by “Samurai,” a self-selecting elite class. Churchill was an early opponent …read more