Vital Signs

The Road to Brussels

I should have been prepared. My Brazilian student had already expressed his admiration for Fidel Castro and the glories of the Cuban healthcare system. Still, his next comment nearly made me swerve off the road as we drove back from lunch.

"Of course, some day, there will be a world government."

"That would be a catastrophe," I sputtered.

"Well, when we have evolved enough socially," he said.

In other words, never? I wanted to say. Instead, I bit my tongue. I was sure I was right, but I couldn't articulate the reasons. "A catastrophe," was all I could choke out. "An absolute catastrophe."

I've learned not to talk politics with him—he has a decent scientific mind, but when it comes to politics, he doesn't like to examine his beliefs—so I let the topic go. My inability to gather my wits enough to say why I was so sure was due in part to his timing: A few days before our conversation, Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott had made much the same declaration, predicting the arrival of world government in the 21st century. Talbott and his ilk are good at portraying themselves as a valiant vanguard, heroically overturning the stupidity of the past, so the idea is likely to continue to irritate us, like ants we can't quite clear out of the kitchen. But why, exactly, is world government such a catastrophic idea? What should...

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