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July 29, 2013

Peace activist and stateless 'citizen of the world' Garry Davis dies aged 91

By Spear's

You might not agree with his premise that statelessness is the path to global peace, but you can still admire his original thinking, and his 60-year dedication to an idealistic cause in a world full of cynics

Garry Davis, a peace activist and self-declared ‘World Citizen No 1’, has died aged 91. In 1948 Davis renounced his US citizenship, announcing that he would instead be a citizen of the world. He believed that the only way to global peace was through abolishing nation states, and so in 1953 he issued himself a ‘world passport.’ His brainchild, the World Service Authority has since issued hundreds of thousands of these documents. 

Despite these impressive figures, Davis (pictured below left) may not have achieved everything he’d hoped — for a start, only Togo, Mauritania, Ecuador, Zambia, Tanzania and Burkina Faso officially recognise World Passports as travel documents. He did, however, ensure that his 1950s creation remained relevant to the modern era — both Assange and Snowden were sent World Passports.

This may not have been a solution to Assange and Snowden’s extradition battles, but it did illustrate why, for some, the idea of cutting off ties to any nation state is an attractive one.

Last issue of Spear’s I researched voluntary statelessness and questioned if — just as companies like Apple have avoided tax by setting up subsidiaries that aren’t based in any country — the wealthy might choose to cut off all ties of nationality in order to avoid taxes. 

It’s unlikely that the rich will become stateless in any large numbers — and in fact America is one of very few countries that permits citizens to become stateless — but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone experimented with statelessness for tax purposes. 

If they did, they might share Davis’s anti-government, anarchic stance, but they’d lack his idealism and life-long belief that statelessness is a path to global peace. 

I sadly can’t support Davis’ premise that nation states are the source of all war — war pre-existed the modern nation state, nationalism isn’t the source of all conflict, government’s aren’t the only source of violence. But I can admire his original thinking, and his 60-year dedication to an idealistic cause in a world full of cynics. 

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