Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies
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Why we need a global ethics
Culture in search of a global ethics
Sources of a global ethics
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) The main elements of a global ethics
Global ethics in global governance
The role of a global ethics
To whom it may concern

A new global ethics
The main elements of a global ethics

The potential sources identified above have many facets and are too general to allow the derivation of a comprehensive system of precepts for a global ethics. They provide inspiration and indicate which principles or forms may find natural support in views people already hold and in practices they already affirm. Yet a global ethics must draw on further considerations. It will have to rely on certain universal principles, even if some particular culture may oppose them. This means that the justification of ethical principles is not dogmatic and derivative in character but is a matter of adducing and balancing numerous considerations of different kinds, origins and levels of generality. When the Commission now submits a number of moral concerns indispensable for a global ethics, its proposals should not be discarded merely as an attempt to impose certain arbitrary ideas and postulates from above. It is the Commission's view that these principles are well-grounded in various fundamental ideas which either carry great moral weight themselves or for which good reasons can be marshalled. Also, the Commission has carefully and self-critically sought to avoid any political partiality in its work. It has listened carefully to scholars, statesmen, artists and others from all parts of the world. Proposing a new global ethics must not be a political vehicle designed to patronize certain regions and demean their cultural traditions and values.

The Commission suggests that the following principal ideas should form the core of a new global ethics:

1. Human rights and responsibilities

As has already been outlined, today human rights are widely regarded as an indispensable standard of international conduct. Protecting individual physical and emotional integrity against intrusions from society, providing the minimal social and economic conditions for a decent life, fair treatment and equal access to the mechanisms for remedying injustices are key concerns a global ethics must make its cause. Though the core of human rights is fairly well delineated, formerly unforeseen trends such as fundamental threats to human life from human intervention in eco-systems suggest that new human rights such as a right to a healthy environment adequate for human well-being may have to be included in existing codifications.

At the same time it should be recognized that rights have to be combined with duties, options with bonds, choices with allegiances, liberties with ligatures. Bonds without options are oppressive; options without bonds are anarchy. Modernization has widened choices, but destroyed some connections. Indeed, choices without bonds can be as oppressive as bonds without choices. The aim should be a society in which liberty is not libertine, authority not authoritarian, choices more than actes gratuits, bonds more than painful restrictions.

There has been little examination of how different people perceive human rights or of the dynamics between the rights of individuals and collectives. In many cultures rights are not separable from duties. In South Asia, for example, human rights activists have discovered that indigenous people often find it difficult to respond to a general question as to "what are your rights?" in the absence of a contextual framework (such as a religion, a family, or some other institution). Second, they have found that in responding, people begin by explaining duties before they elaborate on rights. Third, people may resist speaking of rights with reference to instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that are either unknown or perceived as remote from their own experience.

Critics reject the idea of human rights and dispute their universality on grounds of their Western origin and their alleged individualism. The idea has roots in many religions and cultures, and the West has adopted and adapted many ideas from other cultures. But above all, the basic moral concern -- to protect the integrity and to respect the vulnerability of human beings -- is universal in its appeal and can be shown to be part of all major traditions of moral teaching. The criticism that human rights foster an individualism alien to non-Western cultures may be based on a misunderstanding. Although the idea of human rights does obviously make use of the notion of rights, these rights may better be seen as general principles denoting the fundamental moral concern that in a social and political community ought to find adequate reflection. How exactly these principles should be implemented and what type of institutional arrangements they enjoin is a matter of political imagination and requires taking into account already existing traditions and institutions. Some of the concerns expressed in the idea of human rights are indeed best expressed in a system of individual legal rights. Yet others, such as the human right to the social and economic conditions necessary for minimally decent life, call for a complex mix of institutions and policies. And the right to fair treatment may involve, inter alia, educating police and security forces and making them familiar with due process and similar principles. If some of the institutional arrangements instrumental for implementing human rights do involve individual rights, this is not because the idea of human rights is unduly individualistic. Rather, the reason is that individual rights give appropriate expression to the notion that in a limited number of ways all human beings are to be regarded as equal and such essential equality outweighs any claims made on behalf of group and collective values.

Making human rights standards effective worldwide requires the activities and co-operation of numerous actors. States and governments everywhere must show a sincere commitment to implementing human rights and practices conforming to them. There is scope for extensive international co-operation among all states. Yet there are also important roles for transnational actors, for international co-operation, and for the global civil society. Non-governmental organizations are crucial in carefully documenting individual cases and in generating publicity about human rights violations. Indeed, development is largely about making human rights effective. It means providing for every human being born into this world the opportunities to lead a full life, to exercise fully his or her economic, social, political and cultural rights.

2. Democracy and the elements of civil society

Like human rights, democracy must today be seen as a central element of a global civic culture in the making. Democracy embodies the ideas of political autonomy and human empowerment. It is no longer some vanguard or self-appointed Úlite but the people themselves who should decide about how to organize their collective life and what future to choose.

Beyond being a value in itself, democracy is also closely interlinked with several other important values. To begin with, there is an intimate connection between democracy and human rights. Democracy provides an important basis for safeguarding the fundamental rights of citizens. Governments are forced to take preventive action under the pressure of public opinion. Giving voice to those who have complaints is more likely to prevent major social disasters.

Interdependence and mutual causation again exist between democracy and development. In the long run, successful development depends on democracy. Development is not a technocratic enterprise to be implemented from central government downwards but requires the active participation of all members of society. People will be much more motivated to make a contribution if they can see themselves as true citizens who have a say in what direction their country should move and what development priorities it should adopt. Freedom of expression is both an end in itself, and as such is part of the meaning of development, and it has also instrumental value in promoting development. At the same time, democracy also depends on development. It is entirely consistent with good development performance, as Botswana, Costa Rica, Mauritius and other countries show. Although some authoritarian governments have also a good record of economic growth, such as some East Asian countries, once development, and particularly human development, with its emphasis on wide-spread benefits in nutrition, health and education, has proceeded beyond a certain stage, and when a literate and politically aware middle class exists, the claim of the people to participate in the political process becomes irresistible. The evidence for this is world-wide, from the ex-Soviet Union to East Asia to Latin America to South Africa. Only development can bring about those favourable conditions necessary to make democracy flourish.

There is also a complex link between democracy and peace. Democracy can be an important stabilizing factor internationally as democracies are less likely to go to war against each other. Nationally, the connection between peace and democracy is more precarious. If democracy is given a chance to take roots, it can in the long run diffuse conflict, though some measure of tension and even conflict is a mark of democratic politics and is to be welcomed. Conflicts over divisible resources can be the glue that holds society together. Much depends on politicians' skills and willingness to recognize grievances early on and to seek solutions in a conciliatory fashion. Especially in newly created democratic systems (but in mature democracies as well) the freedom of political expression is sometimes used for aggressive politics designed to deepen cleavages, to vilify others, and to deny them their rights. Moderation is a virtue vitally important for peaceful democratic politics.

While free, fair and regular elections, freedom of information and a free press, and freedom of association constitute basic ingredients of democracy and a free civil society, democratic procedures must be supplemented by constitutional safeguards protecting political, ethnic and other minorities against the tyranny of the majority. In a world in which, as has been remarked, 10,000 distinct societies live in roughly 200 states, the question of how to accommodate minorities is not of academic interest only but is a central challenge to any humane politics.

3. The protection of minorities

The powerful trends towards globalization have not erased national and ethnic movements claiming self-determination. On the contrary -- and the experience of Eastern and Central Europe after 1989 is evidence for this -- nations that were thought to have disappeared long ago are re-emerging. Too often, majorities are inclined to react with discrimination and repression to cultural minorities insisting on their identity and demanding some form of self-rule.

The desire of cultural minorities to assert their cultural identity or to give it political expression in some form of autonomy must be taken seriously. But, for economic reasons such as the existence of integrated national markets, the creation of new states is not always the best solution. Moreover, the creation of new states often gives birth to new minorities and new conflicts. Political and cultural ingenuity and imagination can bring new political solutions to old cultural conflicts.

In such situations, certain priorities should be established. First, members belonging to the minorities must enjoy the same basic rights and freedoms, and the same constitutional safeguards granted to all citizens. Second, whatever form of government is established (self-government, partial autonomy, a confederation or any other), the human rights of all members of majorities and minorities must be guaranteed. Human rights take precedence over any claims to cultural integrity advanced by communities. Third, tolerance and cultural conviviality should be promoted, encouraging cultural diversity. Experience warns, however, that cultural politics are sometimes used as a means to sow discord and conflict rather than forge mutual understanding and respect.

4. Commitment to peaceful conflict-resolution and fair negotiation

As will be explained in more detail below, the principles and values embodied in a global ethics must be seen as a moral minimum to be observed by all without qualification. Now those basic standards (such as human rights) do not suffice to resolve all international and global issues that involve ethical questions. For example, human rights cannot answer what constitutes fair trade or how the costs of eliminating environmentally damaging technologies should be distributed among the countries concerned. Though problems of justice and fairness are undoubtedly central to a global ethics, it is not possible to solve them by philosophical fiat because a simple and generally accepted principle of justice does not exist. Justice and fairness in transnational politics cannot be found by imposing some preconceived moral principle on the world. In this situation, all interested parties must be allowed to have a say. The resolution of disagreement must be sought by negotiation: all affected parties must be represented and have a voice in what principles or rules should decide the matter. Therefore, the Commission deems it imperative for a global ethics to include a strong commitment to peaceful conflict-resolution and fair negotiation.

There should be a commitment to building a "culture of peace." The enormous economic, social and human costs of armed conflict exceed the bounds of the tolerable. Military expenditures are a tragic waste of limited resources throughout the world. Unfortunately, military establishments are not convinced by the number of schools or village pharmacies that can be had in lieu of a tank. General arguments about higher social priorities are ineffective. They will have to be convinced that the build-up of arms is counterproductive in terms of their own objective, to wit national security. At the same time, the threats to peace, security and human development stem from our own policies and our collective choices, including the profits yielded from trade in arms.

The culture of peace is not just a theory or a set of principles. It is, as Frederico Mayor has pointed out, "a process by which positive attitudes to peace, democracy and tolerance are forged through education and knowledge about different cultures." It is a process that is built on the proactive stance of peace-building: preventive action before a conflict has broken out and corrective action after it has taken its human toll. It involves the participation of all parties to any conflict, the fostering of democratic process and respect for rights, and the non-violent management of conflicts. Peace-making techniques have existed in almost all cultures as people have used different practices to prevent the outbreak of conflict and bloodshed. Many cultures have revered their "peace promoters," individuals who served to mediate and defuse conflicts. It is the responsibility of each of us to expose the interests behind the arms build-up and to cultivate the skills of conciliation, peaceful co-operation and tolerance.

5. Equity within and between generations

Universalism is the fundamental principle of a global ethics. The ethos of universal human rights proclaims that all human beings are born equal and that they enjoy these rights irrespective of class, gender, race, community or generation. This implies that the basic necessities for a decent life must be the foremost concern of humanity. Universalism requires that in our anxiety to protect future generations we must not overlook the pressing life claims of the poor today.

The basic principle of intergenerational equity says that present generations must take care of and use the environment and cultural and natural resources for the benefit of all members of present and future generations. Each generation is a user, a custodian and a potential enhancer of humanity's common natural, genetic and cultural heritage and must therefore leave for future generations at least the same opportunities that it enjoyed.

How we human beings should relate to the earth and what our responsibility towards unborn generations is are two of the most challenging philosophical questions. Answers will have to draw on many sources. Perhaps modern civilization might have something to learn from local cultures that view individuals and generations as members in a chain of familial lineages.

How the principle of intergenerational equity should be understood cannot be answered without at the same time developing ideas about how to give it institutional form. One of the most interesting recent ideas is the proposal that the best way to protect the interests of future generations might be to provide for a representative in the form of a Guardian and a Guardian office to be set up within the framework of the UN and international law.

Why we need a global ethics
Culture in search of a global ethics
Sources of a global ethics
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) The main elements of a global ethics
Global ethics in global governance
The role of a global ethics
To whom it may concern

pijltje_beneden.gif (179 bytes) A new global ethics
Report text
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Recasting cultural policies
General introduction
General summary
Background Intergovernmental conference on Cultural Policies for Development
our creative diversity