Quincy Wright: A World Citizen’s Approach to International Relations
Featured Image: Quincy Wright, Professor of International Law at the University of Chicago, from the 1940 MacMurray College Yearbook, where he was one of the speakers on “The Essential Elements of a Durable Peace” at the MacMurray Institute. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Contemporary movements that stressed the need for world citizenship started on the eve of World War II when the spirit of aggressive nationalism was at its height in the policies of Germany, Italy and Japan. There was a need to develop balance by stressing the unity of humanity and the interdependence of the world. These concepts of world citizenship were articulated by a leading professor of international law, Quincy Wright (1890-1970) of the University of Chicago who felt that States must shape their domestic laws and foreign policies in such a way as to be compatible with the tenets of international law.
A Study of War
Quincy Wright spent most of his teaching life at the University of Chicago. He was active in debates among international relations specialists on the place of law – and thus of universal norms – in the conduct of States. In 1942 he published his massive A Study of War which combined a philosophical-legal approach with a more statistical-quantitative one. He was very concerned with the quality of university teaching on war and peace. His 1955 The Study of International Relations remains an outstanding multi-disciplinary approach to the study of world politics. (1)
World Citizens Association
He served as a bridge between professors of international relations and the growing ranks of peace researchers and the world citizens movement. Quincy Wright was a leader of a first World Citizens Association founded in 1939 serving as its Secretary with Anita McCormick Blaine as Chairman. (2)
Unfortunately, the strength of the nationalist tide was too great, and a balance by stressing world unity could not be created in time. The Second World War broke out in Europe shortly after the creation of the World Citizens Association. Japanese nationalism had already brought violence to China, but too few people reacted. Japanese nationalism continued in an unbalanced way, leading to the attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor, which provoked U.S. entry into the war.
“In the modern world, the security and prosperity of all individuals and all groups are closely bound together. The preservation of civilization depends upon the ability of national states and diverse peoples to live together happily and successfully in this rapidly shrinking world. Since all individuals today suffer or benefit by conditions the World over, every man has interests and responsibilities as a world citizen.”
Second World War and The Cold War.
Even though the Allies won the Second World War, the start of the Cold War presented many of the same issues as had been present in 1939. In his 1949 address as President of the American Political Science Association, Wright posted a dark picture.
“While inventions in the fields of communications and transport and interdependence in commerce and security make for one world, the actual sentiments of people have been moving toward more exclusive loyalty to their nations, more insistence that their governments exercise totalitarian control over law, defense, economy, and even opinion. Materially the world community steadily becomes more integrated, but morally each nation gains in solidarity and the split in the world community becomes wider. Under these conditions, people await with a blind fatalism the approach of war. Disaster seems as inevitable as in a Greek tragedy.”
What have world citizens to propose?
Wright sets out three steps which remain the framework for world citizen action today. As a first step, world citizens must provide a process of systematic observation: what new political conflicts are likely to develop? What methods are likely to be used? What goals are likely to be striven for? In short, what is the nature of current tensions, struggles and conflicts?
System of world law
The second essential step is to provide proposals for negotiated resolutions to these struggles and conflicts within the framework of a system of world law.
“What arrangements will assure that world politics operates with reasonable respect for human personality, for civilization, for justice, for welfare – all values which most men will recognize? How do we work so that the political struggles going on in the world will utilize only methods consistent with human dignity and human progress? World citizens are willing to take one step at a time anticipating that if one step in the right direction is taken, it will be easier to win sufficient consent for the next steps.”
Education for World Citizenship
Thus today, the Association of World Citizens which builds on the earlier efforts of the World Citizens Association has made proposals for mediation, conciliation, and confidence-building measures for armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma) and the Ukraine-Russia conflicts.
Education for Global Citizenship.
The third step which Wright proposed was longer term but essential: education for world citizenship. If men must be world citizens as well as national citizens, what picture of the world can command some of their loyalties however diverse their cultures, economies and government?
“The primary function of education – developing in the individual attitudes appropriate to the values of the society in which he is to live – and, in progressive societies of adapting those values to changing conditions – all citizens need to feel themselves citizens of the world.”
Thus, through education, a widespread sentiment of world citizenship must be developed. Thus, the Association of World Citizens works in cooperation with UNESCO’s major program “Education for Global Citizenship.”
Today, the Association of World Citizens is proud to build on the steps outlined by Quincy Wright. We face the challenges of our time as he faced the challenges of his time.
1) See Quincy Wright. The Study of International Relations (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1955)
See also Quincy Wright. The World Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949)
2) For biographies of Anita Blaine, see! Gilbert A. Harrison. A Timeless Affair. The Life of Anita McCormick Blaine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) and
Jacqueline Castledine. Cold War Progressives. Women’s Interracial Organizing for Peace and Freedom (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012)
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens