The Buzz

The World Citizen

He may have just been crazy. Garry Davis’ stump speech in his 1988 campaign for the presidency of the United States—he was running on the ticket of the World Citizen Party—begins:

Fellow Earthlings:

I want you to know from the outset that I am a Leo with Gemini rising and the moon in Aries.

It had, on the day of that speech, been nearly forty years since Davis walked into the U.S. embassy in Paris, raised his right hand before an official, and taken a formal oath renouncing his American citizenship. He declared himself to be a “world citizen,” and shot to international notoriety several months later when, his French visa nearly up, he camped out on the steps of the Palais de Chaillot, which had been declared international territory to host the Secretariat of the new United Nations. Davis requested recognition of his world citizenship, arguing that without documents he’d be imprisoned if he remained in France, and imprisoned anywhere the French sent him. “On the seventh day,” wrote Davis,

I received my answer. I was expelled forcibly. The U.N. Secretariat, not having any police, requested the French Ministry of the Interior to please "invade" their so-called international territory and remove this piece of international flotsam. So on Sept. 17th about 50 French policemen, wearing their sternest looks, came in, took me against my will and deposited me in France again, a distance of about 10 yards.”

And so, after five years of wandering the world with no nation or international organization to represent him, expelled from country after country by confused customs officers, he declared for himself a world government. Until his death a few weeks ago, the expansion of that government was his credo. The World Government of World Citizens, claiming power everywhere but based in Vermont and Washington, D.C., issued passports, birth certificates, exit visas, and occasionally conducted elections. (“Dear World Citizen: As a candidate for World President, I hereby solicit your World Vote. A World Ballot is enclosed.”) It could claim nearly a million registered world citizens.

Davis’ ambitions for the world government were impressive. Having seen the dark side of nationalism from a Second World War bomber, he was determined to liberate humanity from its divisions, replacing sovereign nations with one sovereign leadership. Peace would follow, and with it, prosperity—not only would swords be beaten into ploughshares, but the world government would be joined by a World Citizen’s Corporation,

which has as its purpose the complete integration and coordination of all the physical resources, means of production, and labor of the entire planet, for the direct benefit of all the consumers thereon, which excludes no one. Such a one world consumer's cooperative, linked to no politics or private interests because of its very inclusive nature, would allow each and every working world citizen to benefit directly from his or her labor and the labor of his or her neighbor throughout the total world community.

Davis appears to have failed. Yet for him world government and world citizenship were always real—“if we stumble, falter, even fall, there are others to carry on, for the reality of Man's Unity is a truth that cannot die.” Well, it was a metaphysical reality, one in which the world’s jumble of sovereign nations stood in contrast to the “inherent total sovereignty with full authority and rights...of individual man.” The world government he proclaimed in 1953 “exists only in his person, but since all men are world citizens with full world sovereignty...the proclamation of world government is every man’s right, privilege, and responsibility.” He further declared the point at which he stood—in the city hall of Ellsworth, Maine—to be “World Territory.” He noted that “a point has no dimensions...and therefore no physical existence.” Yet nonexistence had its existential advantages—“it having no physical existence, my claim needs no confirmation on the part of the national authorities as such...As a world sovereign, existing legally only in a worldly sense, I am able to give this point a legal existence.”

That metaphysical certainty—and the dream of a world economy that abolishes private interest—put Davis among the twentieth century’s multitude of utopians. Yet while the others measured their successes in mass graves, collective farms and Lebensraum, success for Davis was a fresh stamp in his World Passport from yet another bewildered official. He quickly came to learn, in declaring himself a sovereign government, the rough and tumble world that sovereign governments inhabit—he was imprisoned dozens of times, shipped back and forth between unwelcoming countries, and once spent weeks stuck on a bridge crossing from France to Germany, the Germans not letting him enter and the French not letting him return.