Like the belief that the global economy can be effectively managed in the common interest, the vision of a global society governed according to democratic principles could be dismissed as wishful thinking.
Grand political designs, it is argued, rarely come to fruition, and, when they do, they usually bring tyranny and tragedy in their wake. But that profoundly pessimistic and conservative perspective of the past does not do justice to the breadth of the human experience or to the technologically transformed potential.
We would do better to follow the historian, Jay Winter, in distinguishing between "major" and "minor" utopias. Whereas major utopian attempts to impose blueprints for social perfection have frequently ended in disaster, minor utopias have been pursued with more modest and achievable goals in mind. They have aimed, he said, at "partial transformations, steps on the way to a less violent and unjust society".
It is to such "visionary temperament" that many of the great achievements in the organisation of human affairs should be credited. Those who experienced the Depression could not have imagined that, within a generation, a welfare state would entitle everyone to social security from cradle to grave. Very few who fought in the First World War, or resisted fascism, or endured Soviet communism, or lived in the Cold War would have anticipated the growth of a peaceful, integrating Europe with a democratic Germany at its centre. Victims of the Holocaust would have hoped, but would have doubted, that genocide and other grave violations of human rights would become universal crimes for which political leaders could be held to account before an international court.
I believe that it is not so much the end goal that matters as the restless process of striving towards it. As Oscar Wilde put it: "A map of the World that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of utopias." Now, as never before, we have the means as well as the need to make such progress. And because we can, we must.
Taken from Lord Kinnock's Marlborough Lent Lecture, 'Global Governance in a World Turned Upside Down'Reuse content