Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 255 | Octubre 2002



A Global Ethic

Can international consensus be achieved on a set of principles that could form a planetary ethic? In the past ten years, the first major steps have been taken, with the world’s theologians and churches in the lead.

Hans Küng

The question of the soul or the spiritual dimension of Europe cannot be ignored in the process of European political and economic integration. In 1992, Jacques Delors, then president of the European Union, said, "If in the years ahead we don’t succeed in giving a soul, a spirituality, a meaning to Europe, we will have lost the game."

Europe is not a market; it needs a soul

Europe’s soul cannot be technocracy, much less the plutocracy on which presidential elections are decided in the United States. Such a notion, which sees Europe above all as a market, an organization, an economic network, a financial network, is the central concept in functional economics and politics, defended not only by the technocrats in Brussels but also by many different interest groups and lobbies in the 15 countries of the European Union. On this point, Delors insisted: "Trust my experience. We will not build Europe with political skill or economic savoir-faire alone. It will be impossible to realize the potential of the Maastricht Agreement if we do not have a spirit."
Faced with this huge financial, economic and social organization without a soul, one might be tempted to join John Paul II in calling for a "spiritual" renovation. But the soul of Europe cannot be Christianity of the sort envisioned by the Pope with his re-evangelization campaign.

Europe’s soul must be a
deeply humanistic, inclusive ethic

Europe’s soul and spiritual dimension can consist only of an ethic that would in fact be influenced essentially by Christianity and promoted by the Christian churches, but would be open to our times and could be shared by non-Christians. This means that Europe too needs a deeply humanistic, inclusive global ethic that unites and obliges, whose ultimate underpinnings and concrete norms can be provided by the great religions, especially those like Judaism and Islam that are closely related to Christianity. How much would we gain in Europe if we were to act once again on the basis of non-negotiable standards, norms that leave no room for debate because they enjoy absolute validity even when they must be applied in very concrete situations? How much would we gain if we could once again take it as a given that, for example, politicians do not lie, business managers do not deceive us and bankers do not rob, if we could rest assured that the people in the managers’ offices and economic and political decision-making centers will firmly say, "there are some things we just don’t do"? In the field of foreign policy, this would mean that in place of either realistic or idealistic politics, we would engage in realistic politics with an ethical underpinning.

An ethical foreign policy instead of
either a realistic or idealistic one

No to realpolitik, no to realistic politics. In this space I cannot do a lengthy analysis of realistic politics, as I did in my 1997 book, A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Economics, following the thread of major figures like Cardenal Richelieu, Bismarck and Kissinger, so I will instead sum up some of the conclusions of that analysis:
- Although we distinguish politics from ethics, we cannot separate them. Ethics cannot simply be subordinated to politics, much less to economics and economic efficiency and effectiveness.

- Ethical norms must be valid with respect to choosing political ends as well as political means. A worthy political end can never justify immoral means, even in case of need.

- It is possible to conceive of realistic ethics the same way we conceive of realistic politics. The conflict between realistic politics and ethical requirements is not inevitable.

If I argue against realistic politics, I do not in doing so defend idealistic politics. I have analyzed this in the light of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, which seem to me to merit consideration still. If the just peace that Wilson, branded an idealist, called for at the end of the First World War had not been supplanted by the peace imposed in Versailles by the supposed realists Clémenceau and Lloyd George, Nazism and the Second World War may well have been avoided. Wilson’s politics were not idealistic and much less realistic.

Certainly, we must not overlook the weak points in idealistic politics, which are especially clear in the case of the United States. Idealistic politics can be hypocritical: people criticize the use of force by other countries but practice it within their own sphere of influence. It can be illusory: global intervention carried out with no discernment criteria can easily turn into profound national isolation if it fails. It can be ineffective: a politics based on convictions and moral ideas alone, behind which there is no political or, in most cases, military force that can make it real is ultimately condemned to failure.
One must speak clearly to both sides, the realists and the idealists. The idealists should remember that totally subordinating politics to ethics does not do justice to the autonomy of politics and leads to irrationality. The calculation of forces and interests must not be underestimated. And strict impartiality regarding issues of human rights, sanctions and abuses, for example, must be demanded of any morally inspired political crusade.

But the realists should not forget that uncoupling politics from ethics goes against the universal validity of ethics and leads to amorality. Values, ideas and norms must not be restricted by politics. We must advocate ethical responsibility in a society that is largely individualistic and hedonistic, and in response to militaristic foreign policies. There is a clear middle way between realistic and idealistic politics: the way of politics conducted in a spirit of responsibility, as Max Weber and Hans Jonas proposed.

Combining political calculations, ethical
criteria and an open, searching attitude

The simple ethic of efficacy brandished by realistic politicians, for whom the political end sanctifies all means including immoral ones like lies, deceit, betrayal, political crimes and war, is of no use in building a new order and a new Europe.

Nor is the simple ethic of good intentions upheld by idealistic politicians, for whom it is enough to have a worthy end and moral motivations regardless of the real correlation of forces, the real possibility of bringing that end about or its possible negative consequences, of any use in building a new order and a new Europe.

Only an ethic of responsibility can build a new Europe and a new world order. The foreseeable consequences, especially the negative ones, of a particular policy must be intentionally and realistically looked into and assumed responsibly. In the postmodern paradigm, the art of politics consists of combining political calculations with ethical criteria in a convincing way, while always maintaining an open, searching attitude.

Seeking an ethics for all of humanity

Are there universally accepted ethical criteria, ethical principles on which we can all achieve consensus? If there are, they could form the core of a global ethic, a common ethic for humanity. When I published the book Global Responsibility: in Search of a New World Ethic in 1990, I could refer to very few documents produced by global organizations that endorsed it. But the Declaration of a Global Ethic was proclaimed by the Parliament of the World’s Religions meeting in Chicago in 1993, just three years after that book. On that occasion, I had the honor and the responsibility of drafting the declaration. Another important document was the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities (1997) proposed by the InterAction Council of former heads of state, under the leadership of former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, which I also drafted in accord with the Declaration of Chicago. The third Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in Cape Town in 1999, took up the lines of the Declaration of Chicago and made them concrete through A Call to the Guiding Institutions.

During the International Year of Dialogue among Civilizations in 2001, the idea of drafting a global ethic reached the United Nations. Along with Jacques Delors, I had the honor of belonging to a group of 20 eminent international figures called together by Kofi Anan to draft a manifesto for dialogue among civilizations. This document, called Crossing the Divide, brings together many elements of this global ethic, which also found its way into the UN General Assembly’s official resolution. The work on common ethical patterns thus already has an important place in the global agenda of dialogue among civilizations.

The basic demand of all these declarations is to specify what is the minimum that can be required of people and what is meant by the idea of authentic humanity, in contrast with inhumanity-bestiality. "We all know that now as before women and men are treated inhumanely all over the world: they are robbed of their freedom and their opportunities; their human rights are trampled under foot; their human dignity is disregarded. But might does not make right! In the face of this inhumanity, our religions and ethical convictions demand that every human being must be treated humanely! That means that every human being—without distinction of sex, age, race, skin color, language, religion, political view, or national or social origin—possesses an inalienable and untouchable dignity."

Four ancient norms remain current

It is a worthy sign of our times that not only a Parliament of Religions but also United Nations representatives expressly assume these two principles as the basis of a global ethics: "Every human being must be treated humanely," and "What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others."
The two principles must form the unchangeable, unconditional norm for everyone, for the family and for social groups, for all kinds of races, nations and religions. On these grounds, the declarations of both the religions and the United Nations say YES to four indisputable norms:
- Responsibility for a culture of non-violence and respect for life: Respect all kinds of life! The ancient imperative in response to so much crime, even perpetrated by children against children, is more valid than ever: Thou shalt not kill!
- Responsibility for a culture of solidarity and a just economic order: Work with justice and nobility! In times of globalization, this ancient norm is important: Thou shalt not steal!
- Responsibility for a culture of tolerance and a life in truthfulness: speak and act truthfully! In response to the many political scandals of recent years, we have to make this ancient norm come to life again in people’s consciousness. Thou shalt not lie!
- Responsibility for a culture of equal rights that generates partnership between men and women: Respect and love one another! At a time in which all taboos are breaking down: Do not abuse sexuality!

Just, plural, fraternal,
peaceful, ecological and ecumenical

The humanist dimension of foreign policy is now essential. It is an issue of respecting fundamental human rights and freedoms, of taking a stand for respect for international law, of helping developing countries as well as those in Eastern Europe to improve the living conditions of their populations, of helping them in the case of disasters or armed conflicts. It is a question of encouraging and sustaining peace, preventing conflicts and overcoming crises.

Europe would have to show greater political involvement on the international stage and take a stand for:
- An international social order that consists of a society in which human beings enjoy equal rights, live in solidarity with each other and overcome the increasingly wide abyss between rich and poor.

- A pluralistic global order: a recognized pluralism of cultures, traditions and peoples, where there is no room for xenophobia or anti-Semitism.

- A fraternal world order: a renovated society of men and women, in which women have the same share of responsibility as men at all levels and can freely contribute their qualities, viewpoints, values and experiences.

- A world order that encourages peace: a society that supports the fostering of peace and peaceful conflict resolution; a community of peoples that collaborate in solidarity for the good of all.

- An ecological global order: a community of human beings and all creatures, in which the rights of all living beings are respected.

- An ecumenical world order: a society that creates the conditions for peace among nations through unity and peace among religions.

Four principles
All of this can be summed up in these four principles:
- There can be no peace among nations without peace among religions.

- There can be no peace among religions without dialogue among religions.

- There can be no dialogue among religions without some universal ethical norms.
- There can be no survival on our planet without a universal, global ethic.

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