As legend has it, Groucho Marx sent the Friars Club a telegram that read, "Please accept my resignation. I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
At least the Friars Club had standards. What to make of the United Nations? It has a single criterion for membership: existence.
Admittedly, this is an unattainable standard for such fictional realms as Westeros, Erewhon, Kreplakistan and numerous locales from the TV series "MacGyver" (Gnubia, Kabulstan et al.). But if you're a nation-state that actually exists, you're a shoe-in, like Kate Upton trying to get into a nightclub or a Kennedy applying to Harvard.
There are other, more exclusive organizations around the globe. Many are important, but most of them have fairly uninspiring membership requirements, too. The most common are regional outfits based on geography, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the African Union or the European Union. And there are plenty of economic clubs, such as OPEC and the G-8. Although the G-8 is essentially back to being the G-7 these days because Russia was kicked out, at least temporarily, for general evilness.
But evilness won't get you kicked out of the U.N. Just ask North Korea. One need only review the repugnant record of the U.N. Human Rights Council (formerly the U.N. Commission on Human Rights), which for decades has served as a magnet for the world's most vicious regimes. It's a global version of what economists call "regulatory capture." The worst offenders don't want to be chastised by the agency, so they take it over. These Legion of Doom nations then spend most of their time condemning Israel as a way to pander to their domestic populations and take the focus off themselves. Since 2006, the UNHRC has condemned Israel nearly 50 times -- far more than Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, Libya and Iran combined. Feel free to criticize Israel, but if you think its human rights record is worse -- never mind vastly worse -- than Syria's or North Korea's, you're a fool.
Heck, the Chinese and the Russians -- and before them, the Soviets -- aren't merely U.N. members, they are power brokers. As permanent members of the Security Council, they get to veto any proposal they want. The authority of the Security Council is derived entirely from military might, not moral right, which is why we're on it, too.
And yet, whenever a resolution makes it through the greasy sluices of the United Nations -- often as a result of some cynical compromise with undemocratic, corrupt or grasping regimes -- people talk about it as if it's a moral triumph of some kind. That's because when it comes to international affairs, the rule is that it's better to be wrong in a big group than to be right alone.
This is not to say that the U.N. doesn't do anything worthwhile. Irrigation projects and vaccination programs are great, but they don't need the U.N. to exist. Just because some things need to be -- or should be -- done, it doesn't mean that the U.N. needs to do them.
I understand that abolishing or quitting the U.N. is a lost cause. The idea of a world without a club that any nation can join is too horrifying for transnational elites and the pundits who hobnob with them. And the childish dream of a Parliament of Man will never die, even though an institution that meaningfully lived up to that idea would spell the doom of the United States of America.
But the existence of one club with low or no standards does not preclude the creation of another with higher standards.
So I return again to an old hobby horse of mine (and many others). Let us set about to create a new League of Democracies. The standards for entry wouldn't have anything to do with race or geography or even wealth (though wealthy countries tend to be democratic countries so long as the wealth is derived from broad prosperity and not merely natural resources exploited by oligarchs). The standards would be simple: democracy, the rule of law and respect for individual liberty. A formal consensus among such countries would actually have the moral authority the U.N. only pretends to have.
Such an organization might inspire nations to better themselves on the grounds that it would be an honor to be a member rather than an entitlement that comes with mere existence.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JonahNRO.