Planetary Maturity and Our Global Social Contract. Part One: Planetary Maturity

Glen T. Martin

March 2014

On the surface of it – in this early 21st century – our planet seems to be descending into global war and planetary chaos. The so-called ‘war on terror’, the fragmentation of some 193 supposedly ‘sovereign’ nation-states, the egoism and greed of the tiny ruling class that controls 50% of the world’s wealth and most of its power, the spread of weapons, wars, and violence around the globe – all these phenomena give the impression of a divided world that cannot conceive of a viable, coherent, and peaceful future. Books such as Globalistan: How the Globalized World Is Dissolving Into Liquid War by Pepe Escobar tend to underline this perception.

However, these surface phenomena may lead us to ignore the deep coherence and interconnections that continue to emerge worldwide pointing to a new planetary maturity. Everywhere people are recognizing the right, the necessity, and the beauty of people to be different – to look different, to have different traditions, cultures, religions, and ways of life. Everywhere people are ever-more aware of those in other parts of the world – their tragedies, their conflicts, their struggles for survival and a decent way of life. Everywhere the languages of human rights and democracy are being used, even by the rulers of apparently non-democratic nations. This article will argue that we need a global social contract under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth to solidify and actualize our planetary coherence and interconnections in such a way that it will both protect and respect our diversity, our freedom, and our future.

For more than a century, the central on-going discovery of all the major sciences has been the deep coherence and holism of our universe. Everything that exists is coherent and deeply integrated into its species and its environment, except for human beings. However, the immense problems of environmental destruction, poverty, and war that are devastating our planet cry out for a paradigm shift from fragmentation to holistic integration. That paradigm-shift would embody a global social contract through which human beings begin cooperating to build a decent future for our planet and all its creatures.

Ever since Einstein discovered the cosmic integration of the space-time-matter-energy continuum that we call our universe, science has been confirming and expanding this insight into the interrelated and interdependent field-structure of the universe and everything within it. This interconnectedness of all things has been famously discovered at the micro-cosmic quantum level as well. It exists at every level from the subatomic to the astronomical, encompassing the whole of the universe. Scientists in the late 20th and early 21st century have also discovered an astonishing inter-coherence in the biological world all the way from the genome level, through cells, organs, organisms, species, regional ecosystems, to the biosphere of our planet as a whole.[i]

A similar coherence has been shown to be true of human consciousness, human perceptions, and the connections between human bodies. Controlled experiments with what used to be known as ‘paranormal’ communications have shown that prayer for sick people, even strangers, really does make a difference, that an amazing communication takes place between identical twins, or between people deeply in love, or even between strangers who have meditated together.[ii] The coherence and non-verbal communication for which traditional tribes and indigenous peoples are famous continues to exist in contemporary humanity, although suppressed in the modern world by a variety of fragmenting and interfering factors.

In addition, anthropologists, such as Donald E. Brown, have studied the impressive set of ‘human universals’ that all human beings manifest.[iii] And linguists, such as Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker have shown the universality of the capacity for language in all normal human beings.[iv] While at the same time, philosophers of language, such as Jürgen Habermas, have revealed the universality of the capacity for ‘dialogue directed toward mutual understanding’ that characterizes all users of language.[v]

Similarly, in the realm of the world’s great religions, we have scholars such as John Hick showing, through an examination of the scriptures themselves, the amazing coherence of the underlying ethical vision. It is a vision that emphasizes various versions of the Golden Rule as well as the encouragement of ‘agape/karuna’ (love and compassion) by all the great religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.[vi]  Hick, building on the work of Karl Jaspers and others, also described the process of the emergence of the common and universal structures of human consciousness simultaneously all over the world during the famous ‘Axial Period’ of human history from about the 8th to the 2nd century BCE.[vii]

Similarly, in the area of scholarship concerning ethics, the early 20th century age of positivism is significantly over in which thinkers assumed that ethical values were ‘merely subjective’ and/or ‘merely conventional’. Influential and prominent thinkers such as Habermas, John Rawls, and John Finnis are positing universal ethical principles that operate within all persons of ethical maturity and good will.[viii]  Human beings live within a universal ‘field’ of valuation. We are all evaluative beings, every day of our lives evaluating things as good or bad, as beneficial or harmful, as beautiful or not. Every human being is a ‘pole’ or ‘node’ of this process, an ‘end’ in his or herself with rights and dignity, at the same time that we are each a wave or fluctuation in the valuational field that is humanity.

This realm of ethical scholarship is complemented by the psychological/cognitive studies of human development – the processes of human growth to higher ethical and cognitive levels. There is an amazing agreement among those who study this, from Abraham Maslow to Lawrence Kohlberg to Carol Gilligan to Habermas to Ken Wilber.[ix] There is a similar coherence of pattern found in the ‘stages of faith’ studied by James Fowler.[x]  For Gilligan, for example, the process of ethical growth moves from the Egocentric level to the Ethnocentric level to the ‘World-centric’ level to a highest ‘Integrative level’.[xi] The lower Egocentric and Ethnocentric levels, characterized by self-centeredness and cultural partiality, are superseded, as we grow to maturity, by levels of universality, coherence, compassion, and integration with all persons everywhere.

As John Hick and Karl Jaspers had already pointed out, the development toward maturity in individual persons is paralleled by the development toward maturity of human consciousness and the human species in general. A similar understanding of this multi-faceted development has been advanced in several books by ‘integral’ scholar, Ken Wilber.  Wilber divides these advances in our understanding of holistic development into four sectors that he calls the ‘I’, ‘IT’, ‘WE’, and ‘ITS’ quadrants of Integral Theory. The ‘IT’ quadrant involves the scientific development of the coherence and holism of everything in the physical universe from the micro to the macro levels.

The ‘I’ quadrant represents the pattern of growth of the individual consciousness, for example, from the egocentric self to the mythic self to the achiever self to the sensitive, holistic, and, finally ‘integral’ selves.  A similar pattern obtains in the ‘WE’ quadrant where human beings culturally and collectively advance through stages called power gods, mythic order, scientific-rational, pluralistic, holistic, and ‘integral’.  Wilber is pointing out the astonishing convergence between science, personal growth, and the evolution of our human species consciousness.

His fourth, ‘ITS’ (or systems), quadrant largely parallels the first three but appears to be seriously lacking in identification of what is necessary at this stage of human history and development. His stages in this quadrant include early nations, corporate states, value communities, holistic commons, and ‘integral mesh networks’. Wilber’s ‘integral vision’, however, lacks the understanding of the urgent need for a global social contract. He correctly sees that human organized ‘systems’ will continue to evolve in evermore cooperative and coherent ways, but he fails to see the absolutely vital function of democratic world law at this point in history.

In my 2005 book, Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation, I offered a theory of ‘planetary maturity’ that encompassed this movement toward an integral and coherent planetary civilization on the Earth.  I argued that ‘planetary maturity’ included three components, each of which was necessary and none of which is sufficient alone: a rationally based critical social theory that is complemented by development of compassion, and these together resulting in a transformative ‘active nonviolence’. As the above cited thinkers substantially agree, the spiritual/ethical development of human beings includes an ever-increasing compassion for other persons and, ultimately, as the Buddhists put it, for ‘all sentient beings’.  Carol Gilligan, for example, observes that at the highest level of ‘Integration’ the caring orientation that predominates in women’s development is integrated with the logical-universality orientation that predominates in the development of men.  Hence, caring or compassion is fundamental along with rational universality.

Compassion alone is not sufficient because we equally need the development of our critical rationality in the form of what Millennium Dawn calls ‘critical social theory.’  We need to be able to analyze the predominant institutions that dominate our world to the point where we discern their outmoded, violent, regressive, and fragmenting character. Critical social theory, as Millennium Dawn articulates it, does not simply mean exposing the fragmenting and exploitative nature of the global economic system, it also means discerning the fragmenting and inherently dangerous nature of the system of sovereign nation-states.  It is on this point that Wilber and so many other apparently progressive and visionary thinkers fail.

Indeed, anywhere in the world where I have dialogued with so-called ‘progressive’ thinkers, I often run into this same blindness. Progressives are often astute at critical analysis of the disastrous global economic system, but they frequently insist that the imperial and neo-colonial nations should ‘respect the sovereignty’ of the weaker, developing nations.  They lack a critical insight into not only the inherent insufficiency of the system of sovereign nations but the ways in which the nation-state system is utterly inseparable from the exploitative and environmentally destructive global economic system. They lack a full-spectrum ‘critical social theory’.

Perhaps all intellectually and morally mature persons recognize our common humanity and have adopted a ‘world-centric’ point of view. However, there is a wide gulf between intellectually recognizing our human unity-in-diversity and freeing oneself from the fragmented systems ingrained in our consciousness since birth. The sovereign nation-state system (commonly understood as first actualized at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648) institutionally violates the interdependent field of our humanity – our astonishing unity-in-diversity of valuation, spirituality, cognitive development, civilizational culture, and communicative capacity.

         Millennium Dawn goes on to show not only the inseparability of a deeply discerning critical social theory with a developing universal compassion and how the synthesis of these two sides of our human potential is actualized in a transformative ‘active nonviolence’. It also explicates a more complete critical social theory. As many thinkers in the ‘world federalist’ tradition have understood (going all the way back to the leaders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom during the First World War and their philosophical roots in Kant’s Perpetual Peace of 1795), global capitalism is not the only problematic institution blocking human advance toward a harmonic world civilization.

         There is also the outdated system of sovereign nation-states to which capitalism is joined at the hip, a global disorder which is inherently a war system, and exploitation system, a system of national egoism, and a system of planetary fragmentation. The system of corporate capitalist domination uses the powerful nation-states and their military might to protect and extend its control of markets, governments, resources, land, and labor over the entire planet. Most everyone recognizes this at some level, but few draw the clear, logical conclusions.  Part Two of this article will discuss those logical conditions and the imperative for a global social contract.

(Glen T. Martin is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Program in Peace Studies at Radford University. He is author of nine books and dozens of articles concerning human liberation, democracy, and the philosophy of law. He was also a 2013 recipient of the GUSI International Peace Prize.)


[i]      Laszlo, Ervin, Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2007.

[ii]       Ibid., pp. 30-34.                                 

[iii]     Brown, Donald E., Human Universals. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

[iv]      Pinker, Steven, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: Harper Perennial, 1994.

[v]       Habermas, Jürgen, On the Pragmatics of Communication. Edited by Maeve Cooke. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

[vi]     Hick, John, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent. Second Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

[vii]    Ibid., Chaps. 17 and 18. Cf. Jaspers, Karl, The Origin and Goal of History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.

[viii]    Habermas, Rawls, and Finnis: The substantial agreement among these thinkers involves their broad universalist orientation. I am not arguing that they agree with one another in all details of ethical theory. See Habermas Communication and the Evolution of Society. Thomas McCarthy, trans. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979. Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971. Finnis, John, Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.

[ix]     Wilber, Ken, The Integral Vision. Boston: Shambhala, 2007. See also Wilber, Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.

[x]   Fowler, James, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981.

[xi]      Gilligan, Carol, In a Different Voice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.