Glen T. Martin
What increases in complexity as we go up the scale from electrons to macro-molecules and beyond, is not ‘gross matter’ but organized systems….Nature itself contains the seed of its own self-transcendence, for once become conscious of itself an organism is, as we have seen, aware of its own limitations and has thus transcended them. If, besides, it is the expression of a universal tendency to self-completion, it will inevitably refuse to rest in the limitations it discovers and will persistently aspire after a perfection which lies beyond its merely finite aspect.
Errol E. Harris
This essay examines why we need to embrace the Constitution for the Federation of Earth as our new founded world system that enhances and institutionalizes human freedom and dignity. It is also a commentary on this quotation from philosopher Errol E. Harris. It links the principles addressed by Harris in this quote with the evolution of the human idea of freedom and with our aspiration for ever-greater freedom and perfection. In doing so it asks the great question of freedom—what is human freedom, and how is this wondrous gift of nature to be protected and enhanced? (cf. Jonas 1984).
The human idea of freedom dates back to the Axial Period in human history. This was the period when human beings first became mature enough in their evolutionary development to be able to clearly distinguish themselves as individuals from the environing forces of nature and the collective consciousness of the societies that encompassed them. Scholar of religions John Hick describes the “the emergence of individuality” during this period, which at the same time made human beings capable of “personal openness to transcendence” (2004, 29-30).
However, this period not only made us capable of “personal openness to transcendence,” it also made us creatures for whom our very being became a process of dynamic self-transcendence. We became aware, as Hick puts it, of “the disturbing and yet uplifting thought of a limitless better possibility” (ibid., 32). This resonates with Harris’ observation above that human beings will “inevitably refuse to rest in the limitations” of our finite world and finite selves but “will persistently aspire after a perfection which lies beyond [our] merely finite aspect.”
This dynamism of human life can be termed “freedom.” But what is freedom? The word sounds so enticing? We want to be free; we crave freedom. This often appears as “freedom from”—freedom from want, from fear, from direction by others, from limitations or irritations. But concomitant with this “freedom from” is a positive idea of self-determination—we want to be ourselves, we want to determine our own lives, we want the autonomy and individual integrity associated with self-determination. We want to actualize our potential for the fullness of being.
However, the “self” that wants these things often turns out to be a trickster, an evil demon in disguise who fills us with conflicting aims, goals, desires, and impulses, tearing us apart from within and driving us to think of “freedom” as a curse from which we might want to escape. But our escape from the apparent curse of inner conflict and impossible ambiguity is precisely through the freedom of self-transcendence. We move to higher levels of thought, being, and action (cf. Martin 2018).
Self-determination involves self-transcendence, and self-transcendence brings us to higher levels of integration, coherence, fulfillment, and hence freedom, including freedom from immature versions of selfhood. Freedom as self-determination becomes not the right to be left alone to actualize individualized impulses and desires but the dialectical movement toward ever-greater wholeness, integration, and self-realization, not only within, but also without, in terms of others, society, nature, and the whole of existence. Our developing experience of inner freedom complements our conception of outer freedom—of society, of history, and of the ground of Being.
I begin to understand the social nature of my “self.” Who and what I am is a product of interaction with others throughout my life
–span. As numerous psychologists have pointed out, the very possibility of my having this separate “I” from which I interact with others is contingent on that same interaction that allowed this “I” to emerge from childhood oblivion into self-conscious awareness. And yet this social-psychological self opens into a deeper selfhood, a transhistorical, transpersonal selfhood. To live from the deeper selfhood requires diminishing, transforming, and transcending the surface selfhood.
I realize that freedom involves neither autonomy (over and against others) nor heteronomy (simply being a cypher of the whole). Freedom involves actualizing myself in and through the dance of part and whole (experiencing the inseparability of part and whole). It consists in manifesting the whole within my life through the absolute uniqueness of my part in the dance.
I begin to realize that my personal capacity for self-transcendence is inseparable from the self-transcendence that is built into the human social project, but also into the cosmic project that characterizes the evolutionary emergence of human life itself. That is, since I am not an autonomous atom separate from history, society, or civilization, but rather what I am is inseparable in fundamental ways from history, society, civilization, and Being, then self-transcendence needs to be a social and cosmic phenomenon as well as a personal, individual phenomenon. As Indian sage Jiddu Krishnamurti never tired of saying: “your mind… is society….Your mind is humanity, and when you perceive this, you will have immense compassion” (1989, 83 & 86).
What then is freedom? If I conceive of myself falsely as an autonomous atom with the right and duty of “self-determination,” I find myself placed over and against society, history, civilization, and even the ground of Being. My life becomes an attempt to assert my freedom in conflict with the demands and imperatives of other people, society, and government. My “freedom” becomes structured as constant war, constant rebellion, perpetual conflict with others and society. My freedom becomes no freedom—only struggle, unhappiness, and despair.
Yet as human beings (Harris says above) we can become aware of our own limitations and thus transcend them. We can see that this “negative” conception of freedom is not adequate. We can see that society itself can be organized to empower the freedom of each of its citizens, and that a society so organized will be freer as a society than one premised on fragmentation and conflict among its parts. A society in which the members trust one another and share a commitment to a constitution or encompassing set of laws that are substantially agreed upon is a society that makes possible the flourishing of its individual members so much more fully than one in which the individuals are in perpetual conflict with one another and with the society as a whole.
It may even become a society in greater harmony with the ground of Being. To bind with one another in solidarity helps activate compassion, caring, kindness, and other aspects of the process of self-transcendence. Society may begin to approximate what philosopher Immanuel Kant called the “kingdom of ends,” the trajectory of human moral growth toward a point in which all members of society treat one another morally, respecting one another’s dignity and never using one another as a “mere means.” In traditional religious parlance, human life may even begin to approximate the “Kingdom of God” on Earth.
The “kingdom of ends” or even the “Kingdom of God on Earth,” as numerous sages have declared, will not be a kingdom of sober and solemn moral nerds or prudes. It will be a dance and a celebration, a perpetual joy and celebration in the rhythms of birth, growth, flourishing in the fullness of life, death, and rebirth (cf. Panikkar 2013). A large portion of freedom (although not all) is the freedom of joy in living, of participating in the wonderful rhythms of life, in the dance of the cosmos, nature, and one’s own dancing body and mind.
The freedom to feel this fullness and joy in living requires self-transcendence. But such a “true and final renaissance” of the Spirit cannot happen, Christian sage Nicholas Berdyaev declares, until after “the elementary, everyday problems of human existence” are solved for all peoples and nations, and the “bitter human need and the economic slavery of man will have been finally conquered” (1969, 130-31). That is the role of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. It ends war and removes poverty from the Earth, making possible a greater fullness of life for all peoples and nations.
The principle of transcendence is there in nature and the principle of self-transcendence is there in humanity. The next step for humanity is the move to a unity in diversity that requires a genuine unification—political, economic, and moral. It is part of nature’s drive to self-completion. It will solve our most elementary political and economic problems and make a more “true and final renaissance” possible. Teilhard de Chardin affirms that love leading toward unification is fundamental to the cosmic nisus emerging within humanity (1969, 145). Indian sage Rabindranath Tagore declares that love
i an end in itself. We do not ask what love is for, we just love. Love is “nirvana” (2011, 161-62). Love is essential to both self-transcendence and to the fullness and joy in living.
This same principle operates with regard to the system of nation-states that has encompassed and strangled our planet for the past few centuries. A popular idea during the past century has been “self-determination.” This idea has asserted itself against the opposing movement of imperialism and domination of the weaker nations by the stronger. From both points of view freedom is diminished. Obviously the weaker spend much of their energy and resources in struggle against the oppressive imperial system, thereby diminishing and distorting their “freedom.” But the imperial system itself, struggling to suppress the recalcitrant parts and perpetually needing to be on-guard against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” is never free for actual self-determination. Life becomes a war of all against all, a never-ending quest for freedom against relentless odds.
The ideology of capitalism gives us the same self-defeating logic. Capitalism envisions society as a collection of self-interested individuals and businesses, all placed together within a “free market” in which they are to compete in the process of accumulating private wealth for the owners and entrepreneurs. The result is a perpetual worry about the “competition,” the feeling of an endless need for growth, for the accumulation of extra wealth to protect against downturns or failed investments, and relentless pressure to produce, a never-ending rat-race of competition, uncertainty, and suspicion. There is no true “flourishing,” no true joy in living under capitalism because the system is predicated on scarcity, deprivation, and inequality between rich and poor.
The “free market” is neither free for those within the clutches of its economic and psychological imperatives, nor for the persons caught within the economic rat-race free as individuals. As with the system of militarized sovereign nation-states, this economic system results in absolute winners and losers. The smaller and weaker nations are oppressed or destroyed; the smaller and weaker individuals and businesses are oppressed or destroyed. The weaker are endlessly exploited to enrich the stronger. In the name of “freedom,” freedom is lost. In the name of self-determination, the capacity for self-transcendence is diminished.
So we need to unite with others inwardly, socially, and ontologically. We need to actualize what Karl Marx called our “species-being,” our common humanity, our healthy solidarity with one another—sharing our common humanity, striving toward mutual respect and understanding, and toward our common reality as we arise from the ground of Being. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth provides the pathway beyond the fragmentation of militarized sovereign nation-states, beyond the fragmentation of dog-eat-dog capitalism, and beyond our immature notions of freedom and individualistic self-determination.
It does this by recognizing the sovereignty of humanity. Humanity is understood as our fundamental, common being, a collective moral reality from which the system of governing is explicated and deduced. Unlike every merely territorial constitution, the Earth Constitution begins not with “sovereignty” (power or authority) over this or that territory. It begins with the mutual recognition of our collective humanity: that the common good of all is sovereign, not the “interests” of mere fragments that inevitably destroy our planetary common good. To draw on a quasi-religious idiom: we need to forgive ourselves for these immature sins of fragmentation and division. With Harris, we must “refuse to rest in the limitations we discover;” we must strive for the self-transcendence toward the ever-greater perfection of completion—to become whole.
Redemption begins with the embrace of our human collective reality encompassing our precious planet Earth, that is, not with territory but with human dignity, human rights, and human justice. For the first time this trinity of dignity, rights and justice reveals our “third generation rights” to planetary peace and to a protected, healthy planetary environment. For the first time, therefore, the fundamental principle of “unity in diversity” can be actualized, for only with this profound human unity (humanity as sovereign) can we really embrace and respect the wonderful diversity of nations, races, ideals, religions, cultures, genders, persons, and visions.
Only from the point of view of deep political-economic-civilizational unity can the parts have the genuine freedom to be diverse and engage with the processes of self-transcendence. The hundreds of world citizens working together who wrote the Earth Constitution between 1968 and 1991 intuitively understood these principles and the authentic human liberation that would take place once the sovereignty of humanity was recognized and the Earth Constitution activated.
Study of the Earth Constitution reveals it as a profound freedom system. Balances and harmonies, unity in diversity, are built into every agency, every department, every authority. A diverse and balanced World Parliament is created that has the legitimate moral authority to transcend the system of militarized (so-called) “sovereign” nation-states and transcend the horrific economic system that impoverishes the poor and enriches the rich.
The freedom-system established by the Earth Constitution takes account of human weaknesses and foibles while empowering all officials who take a “pledge of service to humanity.” It enshrines a World Parliament representing all peoples as well as the common good of the whole to act on that vision of the common good that ends war, disarms the nations, protects universal human rights, diminishes social differences, and protects the ecological fabric of the Earth (Article 1). This is the next great step in human freedom—the real meaning of “self-determination” derives from actualizing our true unity in diversity.
The Constitution creates, in other words, a freedom community, that solves our most fundamental problems deriving from fragmentation and empowers humanity to engage in our cosmic vocation of self-transcendence. The Constitution itself, is an open, evolving document (under Article 18) in which the details of its freedom system are available for regular reexamination and evolution. The Constitution is not only a result of conscious evolution. It is a blueprint for making possible further human conscious evolution. Freedom involves a process of perpetual self-transcendence, and ever-greater harmony with other persons, humanity, nature, the cosmos, and oneself.
As Errol E. Harris declares, the process of self-transcendence in us (our freedom) derives from the cosmic nisus for self-transcendence. We have within us (as we become ever-more conscious of ourselves) the ability to “aspire after a perfection” that transcends the “merely finite.” Our journey of human social solidarity involving recognition of the sovereignty of humanity leads beyond itself toward human perfection—through our nisus for the Infinite. Our joy in living is empowered when we live in and through the Infinite, when the Infinite permeates all our finite activities with its unspeakable fullness and flowing cosmic rhythms.
Encountering the Infinite through our inherent capacity for self-transcendence does not take us away from this life and this Earth but enlivens it with true flourishing, joy, rhythm, and dance. The Constitution promises to “assure each child the right to the full realization of his or her potential” (Article 13). Our potential is realized in community, in love, in the joy of living just as much as it is realized in the development of our personal gifts and talents. Only an established world community can actualize the potential of each and every child. In the vision of human beings living with peace and freedom as a true kingdom of ends in themselves, a kingdom premised on and overflowing with respect for human dignity and freedom, we find the fragile roots of a truly possible Kingdom of God on Earth.
Harris, Errol E. Atheism and Theism. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1993, p. 57.
Hick, John (2004). An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Jonas, Hans (1984). The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press.
Kant, Immanuel (1964). Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Trans. H. J. Paton. New York: Harper & Row.
Krishnamurti, Jiddu (1989). Think On These Things. New York: Harper & Row.
Martin, Glen T. (2010). Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press. The Constitution is also on-line at www.earthconstitution.world.
Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Human Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Martin, Glen T. (2021). Design for a Living Planet: The Earth Constitution Solution. Independence, VA: Peace Pentagon Press.
Panikkar, Raimon (2013). The Rhythm of Being: The Unbroken Trinity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Tagore, Rabindranath (2011). The Essential Tagore. Eds. Fakrul Alam & Radha Chakravarty. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1969). Hymn of the Universe. New York: Harper Colophon Books.