An interview with Garry Davis, the first World Citizen
In a recent blog post, I introduced readers to Garry Davis, the first "world citizen," who has spent his life trying to convince fractious peoples of their shared humanity. He has throughout his life championed world government, with the support of people like Albert Einstein and Albert Camus. In 1956, Davis travelled to India to share his ideas and to learn new ones, and while in the country met Prime Minister Nehru. I had a chance to interview Garry Davis as a follow up to my earlier post.
1. Mr. Davis, what first led you to declare yourself a "world citizen?" What do you see as the benefits of this kind of classification?
First, professionally I am an actor. I have been in four Broadway shows plus summer stock shows. Second, when WW-II exploded on the world scene in 1939-40, I was drafted into the US Air Force. While in training, my elder brother, a sailor on a US Destroyer, was killed at the invasion of Salerno, Italy. From a base in England, I flew B-17s over Europe to bomb cities. In brief, I became a killer. Shot down over Peenemunde August 25th, 1945, we were interned in Sweden. Following the war, and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I decided to dedicate my life to world peace. That meant and means eliminating the condition of global anarchy, the breeding-ground of inter-national war, via the institution of world law. In turn that implied an individual affirmation of world citizenship, in short, the recognition of the sovereign character of the individual human being within the framework of the world community per se. The "benefits" would be evidently, a peaceful world and all that implies.
2. What first brought you to India? How long were you there?
I met Guru Nataraja following the events in Europe between 1948 and 1950 (See My Country is the World) on the SS America in mid-Atlantic. He explained that world citizenship was based on a "unitive" philosophy which he taught: the Brahma Vidya.
Intrigued, I began studying with him and eventually he invited me to India in 1956 following my declaration of the World Government of World Citizens on September 4, 1953. (This was the first voyage when the World Passport was used). I remained with him in Bangalore for 6 months during which he wrote The Memorandum on World Government.
3. Can you tell us a bit about Guru Nataraja and his Memo on World Government? What was your overall sense of support for the idea of One World in India during your 1956 visit?
Both Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Nehru expressed their support for world government in their writings. But Nataraja Guru's Memorandum on World Government was the first actual spelling out both its principles and modus operandi based on my declaration of world government on September 4, 1953, i.e. The Ellsworth Declaration from the position of the Advaita Vedanta, the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. At Guru Nʼs "Gurukula" in the Nilgiris, he instructed me in the 30 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.
[MB: Gandhi and Nehru actually tried to operationalise democratic world government through the United Nations from 1946 onwards.]
4. Can you tell us about your meeting with Prime Minister Nehru? How was the meeting arranged? What were your impressions of Nehru and his ideas on One World? How did Gandhi fit into the picture?
Mr Davis has provided a full transcript of his interview with Nehru as answer to this question. It is as follows.
Interview with Prime Minister Nehru
by Garry Davis
I wrote to Nehru for an appointment and within a few days received a letter from his private secretary stating that the Prime Minister would receive me on June 7th.
"Ask him for his blessing,' said the Guru as I left for New Delhi.
"His blessing! But he calls himself an agnostic."
"Any man has the right to bless another man's work when it is for the general good," replied the Guru. "Nehru is no exception. What greater respect can man pay to another than to ask for his blessing? He will understand this. Furthermore, I think he will give it. Remember, you are the disciple of a guru."
Four days and 1,000 miles later, I entered the imposing Foreign Ministry building with a briefcase in one hand, and a small wicker basket with fruit and nuts in the other. The day was excessively warm, well over 100 degrees, and the front entrance was covered by a huge bamboo screen against which coolie was splashing large buckets of water. He pulled aside the screen and I entered the dark exterior. To my right was a large desk behind which sat three elegantly dressed Sikhs, with great white cloudlike turbans resting or perhaps floating on their heads. They were broad bands of silk across their chests.
"You will take your seat," a light-skinned receptionist told me after I announced myself.
Soon a turbaned attendant appeared, motioning for me to follow him. As we walked through the halls and up a large stairway with magnificently carved teakwood banisters, I was reminded of a medieval castle. The floors were bare stone, the walls seemed to be granite, and the furnishings were sparse and impersonal.
On the second floor, attendants, padded to and fro, swiftly and noiselessly. I was ushered into a large room dominated by a huge window stretching to the ceiling and looking out onto the broad avenue on both sides of which were the apartment houses for members of the Lok Sabha, India's Parliament.
"Please come in, Mr Davis," said a smiling chap behind a huge desk. "The Prime Minister will see you presently. He's a little behind in his schedule." I took his proffered hand, almost tripping over my dhoti robe.
"I see you have adopted our dress," the Prime Minister's secretary said, smiling.
"Let's say it adopted me," I replied, wondering why I hadn't cheated by using a belt or at least a string to hold up the mass of material. It certainly would never do to have my dhoti slip away right in front of the Prime Minister of India!
One of the telephones rang. "Yes sir," said the secretary. Then, looking past me, he said, "You may go in now, Admiral." An elderly gentleman in resplendent uniform, sporting four inches of gold braid on the sleeves of his bemedalled coat, walked stiffly to the door at the right and disappeared inside. He charged out after several minutes, looking grim. Advancing to the chair at my left, plunged into it and started speaking in staccato Hindi to the secretary. The telephone rang again.
"Yes sir..." Then he turned to me. "You may go in now."
The Prime Minister was standing behind as great curved desk of tan polished wood, which, though with many things on it, remained unclustered and businesslike.
"Do come in, please," he said. His face for an instant surprised me. It seemed careworn, not as young as I had imagined from the strength and authority of his writings and speeches. His eyes were warm, friendly, and penetrating.
Not knowing quite how to present my offering, I held it up like an auctioneer showing a vase, and said in a strained voice, "I have brought you some fruit and nuts."
"Oh, how very nice," he said gently as I put it on the edge of the desk. Sensing my nervousness, he motioned to the leather chair in front of his desk. I sank into it gratefully.
He looked at me inquiringly, waiting for me to say something. I looked at him, wondering what to say.
"Do you know," I heard myself saying. "I don't have the feeling we are meeting for the first time. I've read so much of your writings and know so many of your thoughts, I feel as if I am meeting an old friend," I stopped.
"How long have you been in India?" he inquired quietly.
"I arrived April 4th," I told him, wondering whether I should bring up the World Passport at this point.
"I see. And where have you been since then?"
"First, I went straight to Bangalore, then up to Fernhill to the Nilgiris to visit Dr Natarajan who is my guru."
"Yes, I first met Dr Natarajan in 1950 when returning to the United States from Europe. I've been studying with him ever since."
"I see." He put his fingertips together. "And what does your...uh, guru, teach you?"
"He revealed to me why I was a world citizen," I said slowly.
"Ah ha...but didn't you know already?" he asked.
I laughed. "I thought I did, but it was more instinctive than reasoned...a feeling rather than a moral awareness. I gave that feeling all sorts of rationalizations: a sentimentalized brotherhood of man, world federal government, fear of World War III, and others. But I didn't really understand it from the contemplative point of view."
"And now you do?"
"Let me say I am on the right path."
We fell silent. He seemed absorbed in some thought.
I took the World Passport from my brief-case. My heart pounding, I said, "Do you know, Mr Nehru, that I travelled to India on a world passport?"
"A world passport? Really?"
"Yes." I handed it across the desk. He took it curiously and studied the cover.
"I see you have Hindi here." He opened the booklet, read the notice "Important" on page one, turned to page two where Guru Nataraja had signed "in the name of the Absolute" with his signature in place of Dag Hammarskjold's.
"Very interesting," the Prime Minister said.
"This passport identifies the bearer as a world citizen," I offered hesitantly.
"Uh, yes, I noticed that," he replied. Suddenly he laughed.
"Well, well, well, what have we here?"
"What page are you on, sir?"
I smiled weakly. It was the photostated Indian visa. "Yes, well you see, Mr Nehru, I waited some time for authorization to have your New York consul put the visa on properly, but...well, it never came."
"And so you pasted it on yourself?"
"I see. Very ingenious."
"You note near the bottom, sir, the entry stamp of the Bombay authorities?"
"This isn't your work also, it is? he asked, his eyes twinkling."
"No sir-not that I would have any compunction about doing it, but in the case of the rubber stamp it is easier to innovate than to forge, and besides, one keeps out of trouble."
"I quite understand. But tell me, Mr Davis, how did such a passport come into being?"
"You see, sir," I replied, gathering my thoughts, "I am a stateless person and have been for eight years. For the first five years, I found myself bouncing from jail to jail...."
"You've been in prison?" he asked in surprise.
"I've had my taste," I replied, "though not as much as you have, of course."
"But how could you go to prison simply for being a stateless person."
"Because a stateless person continually finds himself bumping against laws which don't protect him...especially as regards papers. If he's discovered without papers or can't get them for one reason or another, he simply languishes in prison under the polite term 'custody' until either he is given refuge - a degrading status - or sent to another nation to face the same idiocy."
"But surely the United Nations is taking care of this situation."
"The problem is too big for the UN," I replied. "It is a global problem and the UN is, after all, simply a club for states, with a glorified clubhouse. What can the UN do? It is still restricted by national laws."
He skirted this delicate point. "But where have you actually been in jail?"
"Well, I was in Brixton Prison in London..."
"In London!" he exclaimed laughing. "Well, and what did the British imprison you for?"
"I was on my way to India in 1953," I replied, and then told him briefly of my adventures in England.
"I decided when I was returned to the United States," I finished, "that I wouldn't leave again without a paper that at least identified me. Besides, I met dozens of people from all over in Brixton whose only crime was that they didn't have a paper from a so-called proper authority stating who they were. In fact, my entire eight years as a stateless person are a personal protest against this strangling bureaucracy."
"So you decided to make a world passport? Doesn't that add one more paper to an already overburdened world?" He asked.
"But it's a universal paper while all the others are restrictive," I answered. "I agree that no paper should be necessary ideally. What right does one man have to tell another whether he can travel on God's green earth? But stateless people feel this injustice more than others. We are a worldly people whether we like it or not and every moment of our lives we stand smack in the middle of the world anarchy..."
"Aren't you a bit of an anarchist yourself?" He asked quietly.
"Anarchist?" I echoed, looking at him in surprise. "Well, I suppose if you mean on the philosophical or spiritual level, perhaps I am. I certainly don't want anyone dictating what I should think or believe...though there is plenty of that today. But if you mean it on a political level, I am just the opposite. I insist on world law and order. That's my whole stand as a world citizen."
"I see," he said. There was another moment of silence. I heard the hum of the air conditioner for the first time. I wondered what was going on in his mind. I hadn't brought up any of the usual subjects: Bandung, Kashmir, disarmament, Goa. The interview seemed aimless, without tangible result...so far.
"May I present an Honorary World Passport to you, sir?" I asked. He nodded diffidently.
As I delivered the presentation speech referring to his personal courage and dedication to freedom, he began to take some interest. When I read that President Eisenhower was the first recipient of an Honorary World Passport, he leaned forward slightly. And when I declared that from this moment on he was to be considered a "Sovereign Citizen of the World," he broke into a smile.
As I handed him the passport with the typewritten speech on top, I told him I was embarrassed because though it finished, "In witness whereof, we have set our hand and seal," I had left my seal in Bangalore!
"Quite all right," he answered, opening his new passport. "No for such formalities. Oh, here's my picture! Where on earth did you get this one?"
It had been taken during a Satyagraha campaign where he wore a simple white shirt, front open, and had a particularly vivacious glint in his eye. He looked at it a long time.
"Well, this is very nice. I accept with pleasure."
I said, "I'm very glad, sir. Your moral support adds a great deal to my humble efforts."
"But I would like to hear a bit more about these efforts. What exactly do you do?"
I took out the latest issue of Values magazine and passed it across to him.
"This is our monthly magazine, sir, that is, the organ of the Gurukula Movement of which Dr Natarajan is the founder and head. It explains our activity and the principles underlying it."
He took it cautiously.
"Our basic principles, of course, are yours," I added, "one world and one mankind."
He looked up. "One world, yes, and even one mankind...but it is a difficult job. Look at the immense task we have right here in uniting India."
"Oh, we don't do any uniting, sir," I added hurriedly. "We start from the premise that mankind is already united and the world is already one. We merely advertise the fact, and when necessity arises, act upon it."
"Yes, as a world citizen, I daresay you would," he returned mildly.
"What I mean is, we try to represent the conscience of humanity in the face of absurdities and injustices. We contend that once men realize that they are all members of the same species here and now, not in some vague future, then the details of the world will fall into place naturally and spontaneously. That's what our world government does, simply represents man's moral value."
"Your world government?" he exclaimed, his eyes widening.
"You see, Mr Nehru, as world citizens we had to be represented by our own government," I continued rapidly. "So we declared a world government in 1953."
"Oh, I see. And what does your guru have to say about all this?"
"Oh, he supports it. He says it is the political corollary of the ancient Advaita Vedanta since it's founded on unitive and universal principles."
"Well, this is all most interesting."
With Dr Natarajan's words in my ears, I took a deep breath and said, "We would like your blessing, sir, for our work."
He looked at me sharply. "Well, I really don't know your work too well..."
"It is simply humanitarian work, sir, and we are fully dedicated and serious men. And, as I am in India for the present, it is necessary that I have your personal blessing in order to continue."
"Yes, well. You have my good wishes, certainly," he said.
I gritted my teeth.
"I truly appreciate that, sir, but as this work is grounded in the highest idealism, your blessing is required also. May I have it?"
He looked at me judiciously. I held my breath. He lowered his eyes and stared at his fingertips. The hum of the air conditioner seemed loud in my ears. After what seemed seemed an interminable time, a tiny sigh escaped him and a soft smile curled his lips. He looked up.
"Yes, of course," Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, "you have my blessing."
5. How do the two of you see world citizenship and world government in today's world? What kinds of problems might it solve? Might it risk creating any new kinds of problems?
Speaking for myself, given the collapse of time and distance due to both the technological and electronic revolutions plus the increasingly disfunctionment (i.e., war) of the entire nation-state so-called system-a carry-over from the 18th-19th pre-industrial, largely agricultural centuries, and given satellites permitting instant communication globally as well as biologically the identification of humanity as a species via the DNA code, the obvious solution to survival itself is to recognize the already unity of humankind bound both by contemplative and biological values as well as common social codes exemplified by such commonsense fictions as traffic lights red connoting "stop", and green connoting "go" throughout the world of drivers.
The very geo-dialectical principle of "the one and the many" being interrelated and bi-polar reveals the given unity and social purpose of humankind in the here and now. As to problems solved, since the opposite of world war is world peace, there is no intellectual, moral, social or environmental alternative to world government if humanity claims the right to survive on the planet.
8. You have championed concepts of international law. The UN is set to address some of these issues in a high-level conference this September. What are your hopes for this meeting? What would you like to see countries like India try to accomplish here?
As World Citizens, we interrupted a session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 22, 1948 "in the name of the people not represented here."
Following this event, in a letter addressed to me personally on December 9, 1948 by Dr. Herbert Evatt, first president of the UN General Assembly, read to a 20,000+ people's meeting at the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris openly admitted that the UN was not organized to "make peace," but only to "maintain" it once the "Great Powers" made it.
The following day the UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unanimously, the Communist bloc nations abstaining, which provides in article 21(3) that "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government."
In confirmation of the president's startling public revelation, on December 15, Eleanor Roosevelt, the US delegate and chairperson of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Commission, wrote in her column titled My Day: "How very much better it would be if Mr Davis would set up his own governmental organization and start then and there a worldwide international government. All who would join him would learn that they have no nationality and, therefore, not being bothered by any special interest in any one country everyone would develop what he believes to be a completely co-operative feeling among all peoples and a willingness to accept any laws passed by this super government."
In brief, I have "championed" not "international law" - which is an oxymoron - but enforceable world law which, by definition, accepts the already unified humankind bound by codes of conduct acknowledged and defined since ancient times by sages, masters, gurus yet without the advantages we possess today of instant communication and disadvantages of weaponry of ultimate power.
As for your question, "What would you like to see countries like India try to accomplish here?" it contains a false assumption: that India is real. Does it live? Have blood, lungs, heart, etc. etc.? People "accomplish". Nations are static. Tool designers change the world. "If you want to change anything," wrote Buckminster Fuller, "don't fight the existing reality. Make a new reality and you render the existing reality obsolete."
The World Government of World Citizen - a "new" reality - enjoys on September 4, its 67th year.
9. How can people get involved?
First by claiming world citizenship as an inalienable right. (See article 15 Universal Declaration of Human Rights plus 9th amendment to the US Constitution as well as preambles to all national constitutions with the exception of Saudi Arabia).
Second, by registering with the World Government of World Citizens, founded September 4, 1953. Third, by activating The Syngegrity Project which asks the question: How can we, as sovereign World Citizens, govern our world? Fourth, "mondialize" your village, town, city, state, university, etc. (See http://www.worldservice.org/mund.htm).
Fifth, educate yourself via this writer's books. (See http://www.worldservice.org/cat.html?s=4#books).
10. What are your plans for the future?
Immediate promotion and installation of the World Court of Human Rights. (See article 6 to 11, UDHR and http://www.worldservice.org/wsalstat.html
More about Manu Bhagavan
Manu Bhagavan is the author of "The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World" and associate professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
- + The shadow of December 6, 1992, Ayodhya, still continues to haunt the idea of India
- + A review of Ananya Vajpeyi’s new book, 'Righteous Republic'
- + An Interview with Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough
- + On India, Nehru and non-alignment: a tete-a-tete with acclaimed writer Nayantara Sahgal