Foundations for Democratic World Law
Glen T. Martin
All around the world today people are claiming to be “world citizens,” or “world patriots.” They are ascending to a worldcentric point of view. A fundamental impetus behind this transformation of human consciousness is undoubtedly the growing awareness of our climate crisis and the fact that we might make ourselves extinct through setting in motion an unstoppable climate change process that may soon make our planet uninhabitable for higher forms of life.[i] Global thinkers about our planetary crisis such as Ervin Laszlo, Jeremy Rifkin, or Thomas Berry emphasize the need, respectively, to actualize a “planetary consciousness,” a “biospheric consciousness,” or an “ecozoic consciousness.”[ii]
In this essay I argue that there are at least seven generic features of human consciousness that coalesce with the need for democratic world laws. Thinkers like Paul Raskin emphasize the imperative for “a great transition” to a new set of values that include a focus on the quality of life, human solidarity, and love of nature.[iii] Yet there are some others who hesitate in the face of these calls for transformation, questioning whether “western neo-colonial and imperialist values,” or falsely claimed “universalistic” values may be hidden beneath these movements that claim legitimate universality everywhere on Earth.
Indeed, one of the benefits of so-called “postmodern” thought has been to emphasize the relativity of perspectives and cultures and the difficulty of making broad generalizations that purportedly embrace all humanity. These thinkers shrink back from universal ideas in which “one size fits all” and in turn emphasize the vast cultural diversity on our planet. They engage in a deconstruction of claims to universality; they emphasize relativity and skepticism concerning all broad generalizations.[iv]
However, there are generic features of our human condition that have to do with homo sapiens themselves. These features may be mediated by culture and language, to be sure, but are not reducible to culture and language. Rather, they are what make culture, language, and civilization possible. Each feature might require a full volume to explain it in depth.
In this short essay I will simply point out some basic ones with a brief commentary. (1) The translatability of all languages into one another and the consequent possibility of genuine dialogue directed toward mutual understanding among all persons. (2) The inner process of self-transcendence at the heart of human consciousness. (3) Human temporality with its utopian horizon that complements this process of self-transcendence. (4) The widely recognized process of growth of consciousness through objective stages reflecting a universal human phenomenon. (5) The emergent evolutionism of the cosmic-human story as founded in contemporary science. (6) A perennial human capacity for transpersonal “cosmic consciousness” found in all world traditions. And (7) the nisus for universal laws solidifying and completing the human community that I have described in my earlier books such as Ascent to Freedom (2008), One World Renaissance (2016), and Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence (2018).
First, the discovery of the “deep grammar” of language, as shown by thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, and Jürgen Habermas,[v] has revolutionized our view of the human situation and engendered the movement fostering universal dialogue among cultures and religions. It opens for us the insight, Habermas concludes, that “a universalistic understanding of law and morality rests on the assumption that there is no definite obstacle to egalitarian interpersonal relations.” All human relationships are open to dealing with one another “in mutual and symmetrical recognition.”[vi] Great religious traditions around the world have already long understood this as our universal human capacity for “I-Thou” relationships. Movements such as the World Parliament of Religions in which religious leaders and thinkers from around the world come together in open dialogue directed toward mutual understanding illustrate this universality inherent in our common humanity.
Second, human self-awareness opens us to a process of perpetual self-transcendence as described by thinkers such as S.L. Frank and Errol E. Harris.[vii] During the 17th century, in his Pensées, Blasé Pascal famously pointed to human finitude, limitation, weakness, and contingency. However, he saw in this condition an indication of human greatness and dignity—for we are aware of these limitations and in this very awareness we transcend them. In the 18th century Immanuel Kant transformed this consciousness of limitation into a transcendental method inquiring after the a priori presuppositions of whatever we perceive or experience. Frank describes this method as “transcendental thinking, which investigates the essence of the logical-categorial connections themselves and therefore surpasses them.”[viii] Expressions of this process of self-transcendence are found in all cultures and literatures.
Some 20th century thinkers reached a clear understanding of our human situation in this respect. Errol E. Harris declares: “To be aware of finitude whether in oneself or another, is ipso facto to be, at least implicitly, aware of a standard by which one judges finitude. In the very act of judging, the finite is transcended.”[ix] The greatness and dignity of a human being is that we are self-aware, and in this very awareness we transcend our limitations. In the great world religions, this capacity leads us ultimately to the primordial ground of being (beyond thought and language). We are not entirely bound by culture or language or upbringing because to be human means to be able to see these limitations and hence transcend them.
Third, linked to our self-awareness of our limitations, we recognize the dynamic, self-transcending quality of human temporality, animated through what I have termed our “utopian horizon.” Thinkers such as Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger pointed out in the early 20th century that human beings are constituted as temporality.[x] Our entire lives are lived within a dynamic present in which we critically appropriate a remembered past and project our lives into an anticipated future that we want to be better than that past, a process that does not have to be exclusively linear but can embrace awareness of transtemporal dimensions.
Our anticipated future includes a utopian horizon of ideal human values such as truth, beauty, peace, justice, freedom, harmony, and self-fulfillment.[xi] No matter what our culture or background this dynamic is operational in all normal human beings. It includes the dynamic of human self-transcendence widely known as “freedom”—universal, and beyond culture and upbringing. Through a genuine dialogue directed toward mutual understanding we can come to mutual understanding with one another regarding all these values. Human beings as a species live within a utopian horizon calling them to actualize a redeemed and transformed self and world.
Fourth, a universal human process of growth and transformation of consciousness has been recognized for the past century by many thinkers, philosophers, and psychologists from Eric Fromm to Carol Gilligan to Ken Wilber.[xii] Even through the process of growth has been articulated in quite sophisticated forms, it can be summarized in simple stages: we grow from immature egoism to an ethnocentric consciousness in which we have internalized the values of our culture and community to a worldcentric consciousness in which we begin to think in terms of what Karl Marx called our “species-being.” Again, such a process of growth (connected with the above-described human capacities for dialogue, self-transcendence, and the envisioning of utopian transformation) appears universal, found in all cultures and literatures.
Fifth, the revolutionary paradigm-shift in 20th and 21st century sciences integrates our evolution as homo sapiens into the context of the cosmic emergent evolutionary upsurge from the first primal flaring forth some 13.8 billion years ago to the present. Mind, higher forms of life, and consciousness have emerged from the process and were implicit in the process from the very beginning. Science has given us this “universe story” showing the undeniable sameness of all human beings within the context of cosmic evolution.[xiii]
Sixth, these insights are not only conceptual conclusions from the sciences, they also can be found universally in forms of “cosmic consciousness” as this has been expressed by mystics worldwide throughout history and around the world today. Cosmic consciousness may be cultivated and expressed through different cultural forms. For example, an awakened Buddhist may express this awareness differently from an awakened Christian or Muslim. At this level, consciousness becomes ever more “transpersonal,” beyond culture, language, and personality. Many scholars have pointed out the universality of this level of maturity among all cultures and literatures.[xiv]
Seventh, there is a growing recognition that legitimate, universal laws are necessary to organize and regulate complex societies everywhere on Earth, and that thinking in terms of “laws,” is an a priori modality of human consciousness. Ancient kingdoms everywhere saw the need to issue “laws,” regulations, codes, such as the Indian Code of Manu or the regime of universal Roman Law. As philosopher Errol E. Harris observes: “Every organized society involves the regulation of the conduct of its members so as to make ordered cooperation possible.”[xv] The drive to coherence in complex societies has been fundamental throughout history and today is widely recognized as the need for universal world law.
In the 18th century Immanuel Kant showed that moral principles take the form of universal laws that we legislate for ourselves. Reason recognizes that “it is right” to do this or “it is wrong” to do that and takes the form of universal laws that we recognize as applying to all rational beings. (Similarly, mathematics and logic are constituted as laws recognized by the human mind regardless of culture or language.) Today, documents such as the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are formulated in just this way, for example: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”
According to the Universal Declaration, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Personhood and dignity are universal, beyond culture and language. Lawmaking in government, Kant argued, follows this same principle: lawmakers formulate universal principles of right and wrong, as sanctioned by government, to provide a framework for flourishing for all citizens.
Universal laws derive from our universal moral relationship with all other persons, as Kant had discerned, providing the framework for the flourishing of each within the bounds of the common good of all, ultimately assuming that the rights and freedoms of all human beings should be protected equally and justly. Human beings are not isolated atoms independent from society. We are deeply interdependent and require good laws to allow each person to flourish within the framework of a coherent and comprehensive whole. However, lawmaking is not yet universal to humankind.
Philosopher of law John Finnis sees national laws today as a becoming a “legal fiction” since planetary society has moved in so many ways to the global level. Errol E. Harris affirms with Finnis that authentic law is about the “common good” of society. He points out that no national laws can any longer promote the common good of their citizens since the common good is now at the global level of ending war, protecting universal human rights, and creating environmental sustainability. National laws, he says, are no longer legitimate law. Their legitimacy can be restored, he argues, only as part of a larger Earth Federation. Jürgen Habermas concludes that the phenomenon of globalization has called the entire system of nation-states into question.[xvi]
In today’s world, Ervin Laszlo observes, “we are no longer coherent with either each other or with the world around us.”[xvii] Part of the reason why we are not coherent with other human beings is that we have divided the world into nearly 200 autonomous regions recognizing no effective laws above themselves, each with the “right” to militarize itself to the teeth, each with the “right” to decide when and where to go to war, all of them spying on, and suspicious of one another.
Human beings, as free rational creatures, require law to enhance and solidify their coherence with one another. To think in terms of universal laws appears as an a priori structure of human consciousness at least since the Axial Period in human history some 2500 years ago. These seven generic features that have emerged during the past 2500 years constitute the theoretical basis as well as the moral demand for democratic world law.
Ratification of an Earth Constitution would make possible a further actualization of them all: from dialogue among all peoples, to enhanced self-transcendence, to recognition and actualization of our utopian horizon, to continued moral and intellectual growth, to emergent evolutionary possibilities, to a universal cosmic consciousness, to a coherent universal civilization under democratic world governing. These seven features, universal to homo sapiens, form the theoretical and moral demand for a united world, that is, for ratification of a Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
[i] See my book The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet (2021) for a review of this literature.
[ii] See James Gustav Speth, The Bridge at the End of the World (2008), Chap. 10, for an overview.
[iii] Paul Raskin, et. al., Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of Times Ahead (2002).
[iv] See, for example, Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972). For a critique of postmodernism, see James L. Marsh, Critique, Action, and Liberation (1995).
[v] See Noam Chomsky, On Language (1998). Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (1995). Jürgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society (1979).
[vi] Habermas, The Future of Human Nature, (2003), 63.
[vii] S.L. Frank, The Unknowable. Boris Jakim, Trans.(2020). Errol E. Harris, Atheism and Theism (1977), Chap. 3.
[viii] Ibid., 219.
[ix] Harris, Atheism and Theism, p. 52.
[x] Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind (1975). Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. Macquarrie and Robinson, Trans, (1962).
[xii] Eric Fromm, Man for Himself (1947). Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (1982). Ken Wilber, The Integral Vision (2007).
[xiii] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (1992). Errol E. Harris, Cosmos and Anthropos (1991) and Cosmos and Theos (1992).
[xiv] Rudolf Otto, Mysticism East and West (1932). Richard Maurice Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness (1974). John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion (2004).
[xv] Harris, Earth Federation Now: Tomorrow is Too Late (2005), 83.
[xvi] John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (1980), 150. Harris, Twenty-first Century Democratic Renaissance (2008), 134-35, Jürgen Habermas, The Postnational Constellation (2001), 60.
[xvii] Ervin Laszlo, The Self-Actualizing Cosmos (2014), 78.
Please note: The Great Transition Initiative Forum on the Earth Constitution is now live at:
Available directly from publisher at https://theoracleinstitute.org/bookstore or from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Constitution-Solution-Design-Living/dp/1937465284
 See my book The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet (2021) for a review of this literature.
 See James Gustav Speth, The Bridge at the End of the World (2008), Chap. 10, for an overview.
 Paul Raskin, et. al., Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of Times Ahead (2002).
 See, for example, Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972). For a critique of postmodernism, see James L. Marsh, Critique, Action, and Liberation (1995).
 See Noam Chomsky, On Language (1998). Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (1995). Jürgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society (1979).
 Habermas, The Future of Human Nature, (2003), 63.
 S.L. Frank, The Unknowable. Boris Jakim, Trans.(2020). Errol E. Harris, Atheism and Theism (1977), Chap. 3.
 Ibid., 219.
 Harris, Atheism and Theism, p. 52.
 Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind (1975). Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. Macquarrie and Robinson, Trans, (1962).
 Glen T. Martin, “Utopian Horizon Value Theory” (2020) in American International Journal of Humanities and Social Science: http://www.aijhss.cgrd.org/images/Vol7No1/1.pdf
 Eric Fromm, Man for Himself (1947). Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (1982). Ken Wilber, The Integral Vision (2007).
 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (1992). Errol E. Harris, Cosmos and Anthropos (1991) and Cosmos and Theos (1992).
 Rudolf Otto, Mysticism East and West (1932). Richard Maurice Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness (1974). John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion (2004).
 Harris, Earth Federation Now: Tomorrow is Too Late (2005), 83.
 John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (1980), 150. Harris, Twenty-first Century Democratic Renaissance (2008), 134-35, Jürgen Habermas, The Postnational Constellation (2001), 60.
 Ervin Laszlo, The Self-Actualizing Cosmos (2014), 78.
Please note: The Great Transition Initiative Forum on the Earth Constitution is now live at: