by Amanda Dugan
When the World Policy Institute was first founded, critics were quick to dismiss most of its programs for being “too idealistic” or “too ambitious.” As for the staff, they were just a bunch of “utopianists,” investing in an unrealistic hope for a better future. For the most part, it wasn’t that these critics disagreed with the Institute’s mission—they just didn’t understand how to translate these ideas into action. Others weren’t quite convinced of the Institute’s message, but were interested in its approach. Either way, the Institute faced an uphill battle as it tried to explain its vision to its colleagues and introduce world order thinking to the public.
The reluctant interest in the Institute’s approach and theories extended beyond scholarly articles and publications, and was reflected in the media’s handling of its coverage. For example, in 1967 the Wall Street Journal reviewed the Institute’s School program—one of WPI’s first official programs, which defined its earliest philosophy: that positive change would only happen if people were properly educated.
According to the article, which focused on the high school aspect of the program, “the trouble [wasn’t] so much with the high-school gambit; [it was] with the concept of world peace through world law… [it] had a nice rolling sound, but it covered what is rather demonstrably a delusion.” The piece continued with quips about designing a world system that would “out-Orwell Orwell,” while also warning against the dangers of indoctrinating America’s youth with the idea that war is “always bad.” As the author understood the message, this was the same as convincing children that “nothing is worth fighting for,” not even freedom, which is something no good American could support. Even as the author took a quote from program director, Betty Reardon, warning of the unintended consequences of teaching cultural understanding (it may emphasize conflicting values and interests, rather than resolve them), the article missed the point.
For example, the article’s concern about promoting “world law,” which it took to mean world governance, misunderstood the framework that the Institute wanted to promote as a way of protecting and advancing basic human rights on a global level. Rather than global governance, the body that the Institute had in mind was more akin to what is now the International Criminal Court. Although, when the Institute began discussing such a court (even courting Dizzy Gillespie to explain the framework in their first short film, 1964’s “The Hat”) it was over years before the Rome Statute was adopted. Thus, to say that the Institute’s ideas were ahead of their time would be an overstatement, but the resistance from critics and inability to comprehend its mission was understandable.
Still, by this point world order studies had already begun to take hold. What started as a seminar with the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1961 had evolved into a multi-level educational program reaching schools and universities around the country—and the world. By 1965, the Institute’s world order studies materials could be found at over 300 colleges and universities in the US alone. But even more impressive than the demand of its own materials was the Institute’s ability to develop new research centers within universities, establishing the importance of peace and world order studies as its own field. Among the earliest schools to establish these centers were Harvard University, Rutgers University, and the University of California at San Diego.
Following the launch of the World Order Models Project (WOMP), the impact and reach of world order studies continued to grow. Although WOMP was in part intended to provide materials to be used in the educational program, the prestige of its participants began to influence such prominent scholars as Robert Keohane, who explained in 1975 the need for a “set of normatively infused organizational strategies: ideas about how to design international organizations… in such a way that our basic values… will tend to be served.” The “basic values” according to Keohane, centered around international cooperation for conflict resolution, increased equity, economic welfare, and environmental protection—all of which reflected the WOMP values, a connection he openly acknowledged in the footnotes.
In addition to peer recognition, the Institute received an even greater acknowledgment in 1975 when the National Council for the Social Studies recognized peace and world order studies as a legitimate part of the social studies curriculum. According to the piece announcing this news in the Phi Delta Kappan—the journal of PDK International, a professional network of educators—the decision to accept this field of study could not come soon enough. Despite the importance of world order studies, the author explained, few educators and even fewer of the general public understood world order education, but this was changing. Because of the Institute’s work and its efforts to translate these ideas and complex issues into curriculum materials, the importance of a solution-centered, transnational approach to global issues was becoming accessible to the public.
World order education was, as the author described, an “affirmative action” program for a new set of values and a new way of thinking that had previously been discriminated against and dismissed. Yet, even as the Institute, through WOMP and its other staff, introduced this course of study and helped establish peace centers around the world, they were just starting to address a problem that continues today. But as James Lee Ray, former president of the Peace Science Society, explained in 1979—the impact of the Institute and its contribution would be more much more than what it was accomplishing at the time. Instead, it was the Institute’s ability to help the world “perceive and predict unexpected changes,” and anticipate solutions that had not yet been considered by more “orthodox” political circles. In other words, the success of the Institute would be its role in paving the way for new perspectives and innovative policies, which is the legacy that World Policy continues today.
Amanda Dugan is a Research Consultant for the World Policy Institute.
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