The idea of world citizenship has been put forward in periods when the existing structures of inter- State relations were fragile and endangering life and society: by Socrates when the classic Greek city states were under strain; by the Stoics when the Roman Republic was being transformed into the Empire; at the Renaissance as, again, the city-States were too narrow a framework for the expanding cultural renewal; by Anacharsis Cloots at the time of the French Revolution; by some of the Abolitionists during the US Civil War when equality between free and slave was at stake.
In the same way, modern world citizen action has been a response to important challenges faced by the world community. Individuals who saw the dangers of traditional ways of thinking and inaction have acted together to promote loyalty to humanity as a whole.
There have been three waves of modern world citizenship action. The First Wave, manifested in 1938 by the creation in England by Hugh Schonfield of the Commonwealth of World Citizens, was a response to the growing power in Europe and Japan of narrowly nationalistic dictatorships. Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany was the outstanding representative of this dangerous aggressive nationalism.
Likewise, the following year, 1939, the Association of World Citizens was created when the clouds of war had gathered, and an ideology in opposition to narrow nationalism was required. The Association began at the same time in England and the USA by persons who had been active in the League of Nations. Salvador De Madariaga who had represented Republican Spain at the League, Henri Bonnet who had headed the Intellectual Cooperation Section of the League, and James Avery Joyce, a young British lawyer active in youth efforts for the League of Nations.
The First Wave of world citizen action was unable to prevent the Second World War. The war ended the possibility of active cooperation among members. Thus the war ended the First Wave, although many of those active on the eve of the war helped to form the Second Wave of world citizen action.
The Second Wave was a response to the massive destruction of the Second World War, of the use of atomic bombs, and the start of the Cold War. Under the leadership of Lord Boyd Orr, the first director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world citizens were particularly active in efforts against hunger and for a world food policy. 1948 and the proclamation by the UN General Assembly meeting in Paris of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the high point of the Second Wave. In 1950, the start of the Korean War and the structuring of the Cold War into military alliances - NATO and the Warsaw Pact - put an end to the Second Wave of world citizen action. However, many world citizens were active in the 1950-1990 period to lessen the dangers of Soviet-USA confrontation, to abolish nuclear weapons and to bring colonialism to an end.
The Third Wave of world citizen action can be dated from 1990 as a response again to narrow nationalism as seen with the break up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the failure of nationalistic responses to major ecological challenges. Again world citizens are organizing in collective efforts such as the Association of World Citizens to develop strategies for the benefit of all humanity and to promote efforts based on justice and cooperation.