Human Dignity and World Order: The Elements of Global Order and Disorder

Glen T. Martin

If the ‘I’ negates disorder, that very I, which is separate, will create another

form of disorder….that is, I see disorder in myself: anger,

jealousy, brutality, violence, suspicion, guilt….

The mind is totally aware of all this disorder.

Can it completely negate it, put it away?

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1972: 106-7)

This statement by one of the world’s great spiritual teachers also applies at the level of human political affairs. If you see disorder in the world, and you see that it derives from false premises, you cannot reform the disorder. You must simply negate it, put it away. One cannot create a civilized and humane social order from false premises, which imply disorder. The false premises of the present world logically imply disorder and empirically result in massive planetary disorder.

Planetary political affairs must begin with true premises, which imply order. By ‘political affairs,’ I mean the principles by which we govern ourselves and organize our social, economic and civilizational relationships. The principles of political life are the first principles from which all order and civilized human relationships derive. They are the principles of human dignity. Order derives from true premises. Disorder cannot be reformed.  It must simply be negated so that a founded global society can take its place.

The principles of human political affairs (civilization) are quite simple and function as a ‘natural law’ for human life.  Political philosopher John Finnis, for example, gives one version of these principles in his influential book Natural Law and Natural Rights. Every rational, clearly thinking person recognizes them in one form or another. They are the principles of human dignity, of the recognition of each person in terms of his or her humanity. These principles can be expressed and enumerated in different ways. In this essay I will discuss them as five most basic principles for human civilizational and political affairs.  They are (1) universality, (2) unity in diversity, (3) individual flourishing, (4) reason and love, and (5) a community of dialogue directed toward mutual understanding.

Before we enter upon our discussion of these principles of order in relation to human dignity, I want to say that we should not assume that the solution to our problems on this Earth will be easy or without sacrifice. We long for a world community based on universal recognition of human dignity and the other self-evident principles that we will be examining. But our agony and our motivation must also be our grief at the immense suffering of people worldwide: their immense suffering in wars and wanton violence; their immense suffering in cruel systems of economic exploitation and dehumanization; their immense suffering due to many forms of social, political, economic, or sadistic humiliation. We must think, write, and act out of our unspeakable grief at the holocausts going on everywhere on our precious planet. There are no facile answers. There is no easy route to a world founded and sustained on human dignity.

The first of these principles is universality. Human dignity, natural rights, and responsibilities belong to all human beings without exception. Such universality has never been realized in human affairs even though it has been recognized by some of the most ancient texts and philosophical schools such as the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome. It is a principle that became central to 20th century thought as expressed, for example, in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Articles 12 and 13 of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (see Martin, 2010b). In the early 21st century, we are long past the time when this universality has become an absolute necessity for the survival of humanity. Human dignity, rights, and responsibilities must become universally foundational in human affairs.

Yet our primary planetary institutions operate in direct violation of these principles.  Both the global economic system and the system of sovereign nation-states violate the universality of human rights and dignity. The economic system operates as if economics were a set of inviolable quasi-scientific laws (supply and demand, “free market,” etc.) which have nothing whatsoever to do with the moral universality of human dignity and human rights. The result of this contradiction between moral universality and global economics is that some two billion of the Earth’s population live on less than two US dollars per day.  Their human rights and dignity are violated by this system of division and fragmentation that ignores their humanity by making possible economic theft, systemic exploitation, commodification (turning human beings into market commodities), and consequent dehumanization.

Similarly, the system of sovereign nation-states divides the planet into approximately 193 independent territories recognizing no constitutional government and no enforceable laws above themselves. All so-called “international laws” are merely voluntary treaties on the part of these sovereign nations. Since they are voluntary, nations can withdraw, ignore, or withhold assent to any particular international agreement.  In practice, under such a system the stronger dominate and exploit the weaker.

These truths have been pointed out ever since Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay on “Perpetual Peace,” yet little has changed in this system of world disorder since that time. Then, as now, small or weaker nations are coerced into accepting ‘laws,’ including trade and monetary rules, imposed by the powerful nations and their financial institutions. Universality, the principle that human rights and dignity be institutionally recognized and systematically protected throughout civilization, is inherently violated by this system of institutionalized fragmentation. National sovereignty contradicts the moral universality of human dignity and human rights. Scholars commonly identify the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 as first recognizing this concept of national sovereignty. Under this historically constructed ideology (which is neither natural nor moral) the moral universality of human dignity and human rights is systematically and institutionally ignored.

There can be no true civilizational universality to human rights and dignity without a Constitution for the Federation of Earth that embodies this universality and translates it into enforceable world law. The principle of national sovereignty fragments the world into incommensurable territorial units, most of them militarized, in response this condition of a lawless international world disorder.  From the principle that nations recognize no law above themselves (disorder) you cannot derive the universal recognition of human rights and dignity (order). You can only derive more disorder. But seeing the horror and destructive nature of disorder (perpetual wars, destruction, dehumanization, deception, and exploitation), one can simply negate that disorder, put it aside. We must take our stand on right order premised on universal human dignity and human rights. Our obligation is to found planetary systems of universal validity, for example, by recognizing the authority of the Earth Constitution, from which civilization can derive all valid universal laws protecting the human rights and dignity of every person on Earth.

The second principle of order is the principle of unity in diversity.  For all phenomena within the universe, twentieth-century science has shown that the diverse parts of reality cohere with one another within systems that unite them into ever-larger unities. Unity in diversity constitutes the structure of the universe and operates on a multiplicity of levels composed of parts within wholes that are in turn parts within ever-greater wholes. In his book, The Tao of Physics (1975),physicist Fritjof Capra summarizes the insight of 20th century science in the following way:

Thus modern physics shows us once again – and this time at the macroscopic level – that material objects are not distinct entities, but are inseparably linked to their environment; that their properties can only be understood in terms of their interaction with the rest of the world. According to Mach’s principle, this interaction reaches out to the universe at large, to the distant stars and galaxies. The basic unity of the cosmos manifests itself, therefore, not only in the world of the very small but also in the world of the very large; a fact which is increasingly acknowledged in modern astrophysics and cosmology. In the words of the astronomer Fred Hoyle:

        “Present-day developments in cosmology are coming to suggest rather insistently that everyday conditions could not persist but for the distant parts of the Universe, that all our ideas of space and geometry would become entirely invalid if the distant parts of the Universe were taken away. Our everyday experience even down to the smallest details seems to be so closely integrated to the grand-scale features of the Universe that it is well-nigh impossible to contemplate the two being separated.” (209-210)

 Human beings form one level of unity in diversity within this vast scheme.  Our unity is that we are all human. Our diversity is that each person is a unique individual with a unique social and cultural background. Our humanity and individuality form an inseparable whole. Yet the institutionalized disorder of our planet, embodied in its antiquated economic and political systems, systematically violates this principle.

As I argued in my book Triumph of Civilization: Democracy, Nonviolence, and the Piloting of Spaceship Earth (2010a), sound political principles are founded on unity in diversity.  These principles must be universal to all human beings since the unity that unites us is precisely our common humanity, a common humanity that demands institutional embodiment within a planetary democratic constitution that regulates economics and human relationships in the service of human dignity. Under global capitalism this unity is broken through vast mechanisms of exploitation where people are dehumanized and alienated from their common humanity. The profits for a few are extracted from the cheap and dehumanized labor of the many who are being used as tools for production or services for the few.

Similarly, under the disorder of sovereign nation-states, the world is fragmented into competing territories violating the fundamental principle of political order that all be united by a common constitution that recognizes and protects the great diversity of persons and groups. Persons outside of each nation have no rights or freedoms according to the laws of the nation, for laws only apply internally.  From the disorder of capitalism and sovereign nations, order can never follow.  Only by ratification of the Earth Constitution can we negate the disorder and affirm the orderly starting point of universal unity in diversity.

The third fundamental principle of human and civilizational affairs is the principle of individual human flourishing. The purpose of law and the function of legitimate constitutional government is to promote individual human flourishing. The right to the conditions that make flourishing possible belongs to each human being, as, for example, philosopher Alan Gewirth has pointed out in his book, Human Rights: Justifications and Applications (1982).

Flourishing means that I have readily available opportunities for satisfying my physical needs for nourishing food, fresh water, sanitary conditions, shelter, clothing, social security in case of illness or old age, and other vital necessities. It means that I have easily available possibilities for education, and for availing myself of the fruits of human knowledge and culture. It means that I have the right to political participation in government. It also means that my flourishing in these respects takes place within a framework of peace, social justice, and a decent, healthy planetary environment.

All three generations of rights are necessary as the framework for a world that protects individual human flourishing: first-generation political rights, second-generation economic and social rights, and third-generation rights to planetary peace and a protected environment. Only the Earth Constitution is built on protection of integral human rights as a whole. The famous formula of utility cannot give us the principle of individual human flourishing. The idea of promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people fails in a number of ways, including the issue of means and ends. The idea of utility does not give us universality.  We are not speaking of the greatest happiness of the greatest number but of the “deontological” right of each person to live within conditions that promote his or her flourishing.  

Individual human flourishing needs to be the principle of both means and ends, for it is the individual human being alone that has dignity and universal rights. No human as an end in himself or herself may be used as a means for the happiness of others, whether this be workers exploited for the happiness of capitalists, human rights sacrificed for the “national interests” of imperial nation-states, or presently living persons sacrificed for a greater happiness of future generations.

Under capitalism, individual human flourishing for vast numbers is destroyed by the process of supply and demand treating human beings as commodities to be used in the service of private profit. Under the nation-state system, the individual human flourishing of those outside the territorial boundaries is of no concern to national governments. Foreign policies conducted in national self-interest (inevitable within this system of fragmentation) invariably violate individual human flourishing for those outside these boundaries, and (because military expenditures deplete internal resources and destroy democratic openness) for citizens within nations as well.  The only way to establish legitimate government directed toward providing the framework for individual human flourishing is to establish a world constitution that supersedes the global institutions that now impede universal individual flourishing for all persons on Earth.

The fourth principle of global political order includes the right and duty to develop our reason and our love. This is related to the above three principles and an extension of them. The core of individual human flourishing involves the development of reason and love.  As philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm has argued in Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics and other writings, reason and love, our two highest human qualities, should be holistically integrated within every human being. Each of us needs to recognize ourselves, Fromm writes, “as part of humanity, of living according to a set of values in which the full experience of love, justice, truth, is the dominant goal of life to which everything else is subordinated; it means a constant striving to develop one’s powers of life and reason to a point at which a new harmony with the world is attained; it means striving for humility, to see one’s identity with all beings, and to give up the illusion of a separate, indestructible ego” (1962: 156-7).

The a priori framework of legally articulated social and economic conditions provided by government at all levels, from local to planetary, must maximize the possibilities for the development of reason and love in the citizens. This principle that the function of good government is to make possible this development of ‘virtue’ or ‘human excellence’ in citizens was first elaborated in western political thought by Aristotle, some 2400 years ago.

Aristotle saw that the defining characteristic of the human animal was rationality and that the development of excellence also included informing our emotions and desires with this rational principle. He focused on friendship as a highest form of love in human relationships.  During this same period, Plato developed this inseparable complement of reason in terms of eros (‘love’ understood as desire).  A human being is a synthesis of these two principles.  Plato’s Symposium articulated the role of love as a sublimation and shaping of desire to become the indispensible ally of reason.

Four centuries later, Jesus Christ expressed the fundamental role of love in terms of caring for others, compassion, and deep respect for all persons, even ‘for the least of these my brethren’ (agapé). In truth, love is properly understood as combining all of these aspects of human relationships.  Friendship, desire, and compassion, rationalized and sublimated into practical reason, secure our right relationship to the world, its creatures, and other persons. Love includes our solidarity with human beings and all of life. It binds people together in friendships, families, communities, and the human community.

Reason, the complement of love, sees the universality of the human community that love binds together. Reason sees the self-evident truths of the natural law principles articulated in this essay and acts to secure these principles in human political, economic, and social affairs. Love empowers reason in this task. Without love, reason can become heartless social engineering. Without reason, love can become self-indulgent and ineffective sentimentality, often exhausting its energy in addressing the symptoms of human misery rather than its causes. Love supplies energy to reason and its universally affirmative character. It lifts reason to its highest potentialities.

Reason here is not merely instrumental or technical reason calculating how to achieve ends that arise from irrational, blind desires. In Communication and the Evolution of Society, Jürgen Habermas reconstructs Max Weber’s famous study of capitalism in which Weber pessimistically concluded that human beings had little hope in the face of the domination of our highly “rationalized” economic and nation-state institutions. Habermas’ critical analysis illuminates larger dimensions of reason, communicative and directed toward mutual understanding, that underline our potential for a higher synthesis of reason and love as articulated by thinkers like Fromm. The idea that reason as a mere instrumental servant to blind desires is a modern perversion of the profound tradition of synthetic reason in western thought. From Plato to Aquinas, rather, reason was understood as cognitively aware of the moral dimension and the primary ends of human life, ends that are also comprehended intuitively by the love that binds us together with the world, other creatures, and the human community.

Love is a principle of order just as much as reason, for love is a foundation for the relationships that bind us into the wholes within wholes at levels ranging from our family to our planetary community. Love also binds us to our wonderful planetary home and the ultimate cosmic miracle of the universe within which we live our lives. The conception of blind, heartless economic ‘laws’ promoted by global capitalism is not only untrue, but it is a principle of disorder than cannot be reformed or evolved into an order premised on love, which means a world of peace, justice, and human flourishing. This disorder must be negated by our reason and our love, and a global social democracy must be founded premised on the priority of human dignity and human rights within cooperative economic relationships.

The same is true of the system of sovereign nation-states. This ‘system’ is no system, for it is an institutionalized disorder dividing humankind into some 193 incommensurate entities without any binding principles of law or justice above themselves.  Living in this system encourages both lack of reason and lack of love towards people in other nations. We are loyal to our own nation and disloyal to the rest of humanity. One cannot evolve this system into one premised on human dignity while retaining the principle of national sovereignty which is the essential component of this disorder. One must negate the disorder and establish an order founded on genuine principles, summarized by the five basic concepts articulated in this essay. Sovereignty must be replaced by a global social contract founded on the human community itself.  This means the ratification of a Constitution for the Federation of Earth that establishes universal order, based on reason and love, in human political affairs for the first time in history.

The final principle in universal human political affairs is a community of dialogue directed toward mutual understanding.  Such a community of dialogue must be institutionalized within the universal laws under the Earth Constitution. The moral imperative for dialogue directed toward mutual understanding (as opposed to strategic or manipulative uses of speech) has been shown by Habermas (1998) and others to be fundamental to language itself and hence to being human. Political life under laws characterized by universality, unity in diversity, human flourishing, and reason and love must also be structured to make communicative speech possible, to build a world-community of mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect.  The World Parliament created by the Earth Constitution transcends political struggle among self-interested parties through structuring speech to optimize the possibility for dialogue directed toward genuine understanding and communication.

Under the global capitalist system of disorder, speech is pressured to become commercial or manipulative speech directed toward maximizing self-interest. Under the nation-state system of international disorder, speech is institutionalized to be the speech of deceptive diplomacy, veiled threat, and strategic maneuvering on behalf of perceived national self-interests. Nowhere is communicative dialogue encouraged because the disorder of these global institutions leads to the disorder of dishonest speech.

Communicative dialogue directed toward mutual understanding among equals is a fundamental principle of order interrelated with the other four principles expressed in this essay. Communicative dialogue invites (and assumes) universality. It invites (and assumes) unity and diversity. It invites (and assumes) human flourishing, reasoning, and love, just as these principles in turn invite and assume communicative dialogue.

Global Institutional respect for human dignity in a world that protects human flourishing cannot evolve or emerge from disorder. True conclusions cannot derive from false premises. The false premises of global capitalism and so-called ‘sovereign’ nation-states cannot provide the basis for an evolution of truth with regard to the human condition or human political affairs. The disorder must be abandoned, simply dropped. Dropping disorder does not mean failing to preserve what is valuable about the United Nations or other global institutions that have some features premised in human dignity, for example, the World Health Organization or the High Commission on Human Rights. Such institutions are preserved when the false Charter of the UN is replaced with a genuine Constitution for the Earth premised on the truth of human dignity.

 In place of false institutions premised on fragmentation and division, there must be a founded society, established on the five principles discussed here.  In place of the disorder of the current world anti-system, we must make a paradigm-shift to the principles of order and truth. We need a world that is premised (founded through a founding ratification convention) on universality, unity in diversity, human flourishing, reason and love, and communicative dialogue.  We need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Works Cited

Capra, Fritjof (1975). The Tao of Physics – An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Berkeley: Shambhala.

Fromm, Eric (1947). Man for Himself – An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston.

___________ (1962). Beyond the Chains of Illusion. My Encounter with Marx and Freud. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gewirth, Alan (1982). Human Rights: Essays on Justification and Applications. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Habermas, Jürgen (1979). Communication and the Evolution of Society. Thomas McCarthy, trans. Boston: Beacon Press.

_____________ (1998). On the Pragmatics of Communication. Edited by Maeve Cooke. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kant, Immanuel (1957). Perpetual Peace. Louis White Beck, trans. New York: Macmillan.

Krishnamurti, Jiddu (1972). You Are the World. New York: Harper & Row.

Martin, Glen T. (2010a). Triumph of Civilization: Democracy, Nonviolence, and the Piloting of Spaceship Earth. Pamplin, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

___________. (2010b).  The Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Pamplin, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.  (The Constitution can also be found on-line at www.worldproblems.net,   www.worldparliament-gov.org, and a number of other websites.)