For centuries, each culture within our world of multiple cultures has pursued its own elaboration of wisdom and its own internal economic and political affairs. Since the 20th century, it has been different. Not only have these cultures clashed with one another on the world scene, but humankind has become aware of an impending end, a possibility of extinction of the human project through nuclear holocaust or ecological destruction.
Today, the clash of the world’s cultures needs resolution and redemption. We need to ask one another if there is some meaning to the entire development of civilization. Is there some end or goal implicit in all our cultures, nations, races, and particularities that can unite us before it is too late?
As Ervin Laszlo points out in his new book Global Shift Now! A Call to Evolution, the coronavirus pandemic has “disrupted the power of the center,” making “system-wide” change possible. “For the first time in history,” he says, “we can consciously and purposefully choose our own destiny” (2020, 2). To ask this question itself puts the terrorist wars, our nation-state rivalries, economic calamities around the globe, the political contests, and the many self-interested economic ventures into perspective. To bury our heads in the sand and focus myopically on our emotionally-charged local problems and issues is today suicidal behavior, suicide not only for our nation with its local issues, but this myopic behavior also invites suicide for our planet as a whole as well.
Today, our very survival on this planet requires that we think and act globally. We need to “consciously and purposefully choose our own destiny.” Yet choosing this destiny will require a synthetic vision. It will require, as the title of Laszlo’s book suggests, “a call to evolution.” We must decide not only who and what we are as human beings but who and what we want to become. The destiny that we choose or recognize must synthetically unite global politics, economics, culture, ethics, and spirituality.
These five dimensions of human existence are not separate compartments. They are all linked. Our politics is always also about economics, as any politically-aware person knows. And both of these are about culture. Do we want a world-culture of war, the proliferation of weapons, and violent confrontations between nations, political groups, religions, or ideologies, or do we want a world-culture of peace, justice, and cooperative collaboration for the common good of humanity and future generations?
And ultimately all three of these dimensions (politics, economics, and culture) are about ethics and spirituality. They are about our inner attitude, about our awareness and compassion and rationality. Do we want an economics that ignores ethics in the endeavor to maximize private profit causing immense poverty, exploitation, and environmental degradation? Or do we want an economics concerned with a reasonable prosperity for everyone along with a sustainable, healthy environment?
Ethics and spirituality involve our sense that we are all the same within: all free, rational, sensing-feeling, beings who desire the fullness of life, who desire the joy and fulfillment of being alive and prospering on this magnificent, astonishing, beautiful planet—the sense that we share a common fate as we hurtle through space in our orbit around the sun. Is it possible for economics to be founded on love, justice, and synergistic cooperation rather than on raw individualism, unconcern for others, and brutal competition?
To synthesize politics, economics, culture, ethics, and spirituality within a workable framework for humanity means to embrace ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. This Earth Constitution establishes a democratic political framework for our planet that allows all persons to participate in the evolutionary development of our common destiny. Ervin Laszlo’s assertion that we need consciously to choose our own destiny remains relatively meaningless unless human beings establish a political-economic framework for making this happen.
To recognize a common destiny cannot remain just some vague wish that we all somehow get on the same page. If we have a common destiny, how do we make and implement decisions based on this destiny? Vague demands for “choosing” do little without the concrete apparatus for making and implementing our choices. The Constitution provides not only for human beings uniting as a political, economic, cultural, ethical, and spiritual whole. It provides the framework for making this holism effective across all these dimensions.
The Constitution is based on the ethical and spiritual principle of unity in diversity, and it is based on the premise of human dignity. Article 13 recognizes as a fundamental human right that the Earth Federation provide the conditions that allow “each child the full realization of his or her potential.” This stipulation, along with the entire design of the Constitution, points to the effective end or goal of human civilizational life: to provide each child opportunities for the full realization of his or her potential. Such a vision presupposes love, respect for all others, and cooperative synergy. The Constitution offers us a truly transformed world-system.
Some writers have argued that human beings cannot unite in this way until they have ethically and spiritually matured to a certain level. But human life is a whole. The institutions that we establish to govern ourselves and guide our economies influence our consciousness. Capitalism and the system of warring nation-states distort our consciousness into malicious, hate- and fear-filled, forms. We will not mature ethically and spiritually under these systems. Institutions are part of the wholeness of human life.
Changing the institutions helps change the consciousness. Just as consciousness perpetuates institutions, so institutions influence consciousness. The common human destiny that we need to envision and act upon as the coronavirus disrupts the old, dominant world powers is to embrace the holism of ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
Global democracy puts the destiny of the Earth for the first time in history into the hands of the people of Earth. It takes the power away from warring imperial nation-states, super-rich oligarchs, and multinational corporations. Unless the people of Earth take responsibility for their own future, we will have no future. The warring nations, the super-rich, and the multinational corporations do not care about that future. They are in the process of destroying it.
Uniting humanity under the principle of unity in diversity through the Earth Constitution will not diminish the wonderful diversity of human cultures, races, or religious forms. In fact, it will serve to protect these and transform them from conflicting, warring fragments into cooperating units of the whole recognizing and respecting their legitimate, profound differences. Some religions insist that there is no future without God, but unity under the Earth Constitution will only enhance the possibility of a future with God, since our present endless wars of religious fragmentation only diminish the presence of God in the world.
In nearly all cultural and religious traditions we find comprehension of our cosmic situation in terms of the three great principles of existence: God, human beings, and world. These three principles are not the same and need to be understood in their distinctiveness. Yet there is only one universe embraced by these three principles. They are also profoundly related. God and Man and World must be kept conceptually separate. Yet they are also inseparably related to one another, interpenetrating and interacting. The traditional word for this mutual interpenetration without assimilation is love.
The Earth Constitution itself, as a determinant document for uniting humanity and making possible awareness and effective decision-making for the common good does not specifically talk about God, or spirit, or ethics. But it takes these aspects of our historically fragmented cultures and religions and brings them forward into the framework of a united humanity who can work out its differences with love and mutual understanding rather than with hate, fear, and acrimony.
In his great book, The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery, Raimon Panikkar elucidates the holism of our human situation and the interrelationships of “God, Man, and World.” We need to bring ethics and spirituality forward within the framework of the Earth Constitution so that the profundities of our human situation can become evident to all people and so that our institutions can become attuned with these profundities to promote the fullness of life for all people.
Working on behalf of the Earth Constitution means working on behalf of a world-system in the service of all human beings living with equality and the fullness of life. It means bridging the present gap between political and economic institutions and the ethical and spiritual dimensions of human life. It means that the true end or goal of human existence can emerge into common view for the first time in history. It means that we have chosen, after the devastation of the coronavirus, to take the next necessary step in the conscious evolution toward our true human ends.
Getting through the economic and political chaos caused by the corona virus pandemic may be the least of our worries. The planetary climate is heating up steadily every year and the synergistic effects of this process will inexorably lead to the breakdown of the ecological balance of heating and cooling that keeps the Earth stable and temperate, which allows all higher lifeforms to flourish. The breakdown of this balance means that we will have passed so many environmental tipping points that the process of heating becomes unstoppable. Our planet will become a super-hot cinder block, possibly by the end of the 21st century, causing the extinction of all higher forms of life.
The pandemic has hurt the economy seriously, but the economy prior to the pandemic was hurting the ecology of our planet. The “free” capitalist fossil-fuel driven economy prior to the pandemic was worse for the world than an epidemic that will likely be under control within a year or so, allowing the world to get back to “normal.” However, “normal” is a disaster for the future of humanity and the ecological health of our beautiful planet Earth. The epidemic has interrupted this “normal.”
After the epidemic we need new economic, political, and cultural practices that provide the necessities of life to all people without destroying the environment that makes it possible to supply these necessities. Capitalism never provided these necessities in the first place. It funneled the wealth of the planet into the pockets of billionaires and millionaires while causing severe deprivation among at least 50% of our human brothers and sisters. Social scientist Christopher Chase Dunn speaks of “the absurdity of material deprivation in an age when the technological problems of providing basic needs are obviously solved” (1998, 340). The capitalist system itself is an “absurd” system.
Climate scientist James Gustav Speth writes that “most environmental deterioration is a result of systematic failures of the capitalism that we have today and that long-term solutions must seek transformative change” (2008, 9). We need, he says, to move to a “post-growth” society and create markets that work for the environment rather than against it. This, of course, must be a planetary phenomenon, for sustainable economic practices in one or just a few countries are not going the save human-kind from extinction by what environmentalists such as Joseph Romm (2018) and David Wallace-Wells (2019) call our coming global “heat-death.”
Climate scientists have near unanimous agreement concerning this projected scenario of planetary climate collapse unless there are rapid, drastic changes in the way global economics is practiced. Many advanced economists like Kate Raworth (2017), Richard Heinberg (2011), and Herman E. Daly (1996) have articulated the very doable parameters of a sustainable, non-growth economics. In this essay, I argue that putting sustainable economics into practice will require ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (www.earth-constitution.org). Only a united humanity with one environmentally conscious economic policy for all people and nations will suffice in time to restore and reverse (as much as is still possible) our descent into planetary heat-death.
Political unity under the Earth Constitution is not only essential for putting everyone on Earth on the same economic page, it is also essential because the present system (of run-away growth capitalism) is integral to the existing political system of militarized sovereign nations. Chase Dunn writes that:
The world-system has now reached a point at which both the old interstate system based on separate national capitalist classes and new institutions representing the representing the global interest of capitalists exist and are powerful simultaneously. In this light each country can be seen to have an important ruling-class fraction that is allied with the transnational capitalist class. (p. xix)
The state and the interstate system are not separate from capitalism, but rather are the main institutional supports of capitalist production relations. The system of unequally powerful and competing nation states is part of the competitive struggle of capitalism, and thus wars and geopolitics are a systematic part of capitalist dynamics, not exogenous forces. (p. 61).
The world system is indeed a system, run by undemocratic ruling classes, in which the political fragmentation into economically and militarily competing sovereign nation-states cannot be disentangled from the economic capitalism that dominates the world order. The global pandemic shows us that governments can address human needs apart from the so-called “free capitalist market.” Governments around the world are addressing the economic contraction caused by the virus with intentionally designed programs to allow citizens hurt by the pandemic to procure the basic necessities of life.
This is even true within the USA, the center of the fanatical global capitalist ideology. As Ellen H. Brown points out in Web of Debt (2007), all governments have the power to create debt-free money and spend money into existence on behalf of the good of society. The idea that money must be created as debt to private banking institutions (as in the US “Federal Reserve System”) is just nonsense. Common sense tells us what we need after the pandemic. It is simple and clear, but requires real transformative change.
After the pandemic, we need (1) non-growth sustainable economics for our entire planet, (2) debt-free government creation of money to provide all people with the necessities for living as well as investment in sustainable productive enterprises, and (3) global political unity overcoming the insane economic and military competition of nuclear armed autonomous nations operating in fear and secrecy. The time for “competition” is over, this absurd so-called “virtue” of capitalism. The time for unity, cooperation, and ecological harmony is long overdue. Survival requires that we overcome both the growth obsession of capitalism and the military obsession of rival sovereign nation states. Survival requires that we ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
Ratification of the Earth Constitution does not mean imposing a “top-down” set of regulations on the Earth. It means the synergistic empowerment for cooperation and collaboration on all levels of community from the local through the national, regional, and global. Such cooperation and collaboration are only possible within a planetary framework ensuring the equality of voice, the rights and dignity, of all the planet’s local and community participants. It requires planetary monitoring systems to protect the environment and careful use and monitoring of technological innovations. It requires demilitarization away from this awful waste of our planet’s resources on weapons of war.
Those anarchists, such as many in the Green Party within various countries, who think that you can have a planet of local sustainable communities with no central facilitation or coordination are hopelessly utopian. Human beings need rules for all of us, protecting our equality and dignity universally, and not leaving this protection up to the local egoistic struggles of community leaders in a global anarchy with no common equality before the law. As Chase Dunn expresses this:
The idea of global democracy is important for this struggle. The movement needs to push toward a kind of popular democracy that goes beyond the election of representatives to include popular participation in decision-making at every level. Global democracy can only be real if it is composed of civil societies and national states that are themselves truly democratic. And global democracy is probably the best way to lower the probability of another war among core states. For that reason, it is in everyone’s best interest. (1998, xxv)
Chase Dunn asks, who are the agents behind this movement? He answers: “all those who are tired of wars and hatred and who desire a humane, sustainable, and fair world-system. This is certainly a majority of the people of the Earth” (xxvi).
The global pandemic must wake us up to the need for global solutions (which the UN cannot provide because it is founded on the militarized sovereignty of independent nation-states). We need to overcome the insane fragmentation of militarized sovereign nation-states as well as growth-obsessed capitalist competition. Both of these aspects of our present world system are driving human beings rapidly toward extinction.
The Earth Constitution embraces all nations and peoples under the principle of unity in diversity. It fosters decentralized, cooperative communities, global economic justice, and environmental sustainability. It creates for our planet a harmonious peace-system, justice-system, and sustainability-system.
There exists, in sum, an easily accessible blueprint for solving our suicidal human problems on this precious planet Earth. It is called the Earth Constitution. In barely 30 pages, it applies the principle of unity in diversity to politics, economics, culture, and all forms of human fragmentation.
Races, religions, and nations now unite in a commonwealth that protects their diversity while integrating humanity into a successful future for all. After the pandemic, this is our central option and our way out of our present self-destructive modes of action and their corresponding absurd institutions. We need to act now to ratify the Earth Constitution. It is our real and only effective hope.
Brown, Ellen H. (2007). Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Third Millennium Press.
Chase Dunn, Christopher (1998). Global Formation: Structures of World Economy. Updated Edition. New York: Roman & Littlefield Publishers.
Constitution for the Federation of Earth, with an Introduction by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press. Also on-line at www.earth-consitution.org and other places.
Daly, Herman E. (1996). Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press.
Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Raworth, Kate (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Romm, Joseph (2018). Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Speth, James Gustave (2008). The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing the Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Wallace-Wells, David (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Tim Duggan Books.
What is the meaning of human existence? Who are we and why are we here in this world on this planet? It appears that we are at the end of the line. For the first time in history we understand that we are facing our own extinction. We are courting planetary omnicide with the weapons of mass destruction.
We are engineering in our bio-terror labs the organisms that could wipe out humanity at the same time we are developing nuclear weapons systems that can wipe out humanity. Environmentally, we have so altered the planetary climate-system that a progressive global warming has kicked in that could be unstoppable. Before the end of this century our planet could well become uninhabitable for human life.
The present pandemic has exposed our ideology of fragmentation and rugged individualism as an illusion. It has revealed with stark clarity that we are all in this together. Public health for the entire planet requires that we all work together to deal with disease and remain well.
Environmental health for the entire planet requires that we all work together to find ways of producing the necessities for human life while at the same time reducing our negative impact on our planet’s ecological system. Economic health for the planet requires that the goods and services that we all need be produced, transported, and distributed to human beings everywhere on the Earth through a cooperative effort that protects and addresses the environment, the health, and the well-being of all.
We are one species, one humanity, one civilization that has colonized this small third planet from the sun. Our inability to deal with our problems has now become lethal, omnicidal, suicidal. There is a growing understanding that we are one, interdependent species in terms of public health, in terms of environmental protection and restoration, and in terms of economic production and distribution. Why have we not learned this same lesson regarding politics and political organization? Why is there so little growing understanding that the fragmented system of militarized sovereign nations is unworkable and leading us to extinction?
In global political organization, we continue to maintain a system of absolute fragmentation consisting in nearly 200 militarized sovereign nation-states in conflict and competition with one another. Their competition interferes with all three of the dimensions of interdependence identified here: it endangers global public health, it disrupts global economic cooperation, and it seriously endangers the cooperation necessary to protect our planetary ecosystem. Any number of these nations possessing weapons of mass destruction could unilaterally initiate the process of wiping out humanity, and any one of the big nations in the world could prevent humanity for achieving ecological sustainability simply by refusing to cooperate with, for example, the reduction in carbon emissions.
Under this really stupid system of national sovereignty, for example, Brazil has the legal right to destroy the lungs of the Earth because these lungs happen to be its “property” as a sovereign nation. China has the legal right to produce trillions of tons of non-biodegradable single-use plastics that are burying our planet and destroying our oceans. The United States has the legal right to withdraw from planetary climate agreements altogether because it is a “sovereign nation” recognizing no law superior to itself, and Russia has the legal right to place its nuclear weapons on ever-faster hypersonic delivery vehicles, preparing the world for total Armageddon.
The United Nations itself, is founded on this bizarre system of national sovereignty. The U.N. is a dinosaur, institutionally entirely out of touch with the most basic need of humanity, which is a world system intentionally designed to support both human and ecological life. The U.N. charter is designed to support the system of national militarized sovereign nations. It is not designed to enhance the lives of all human beings.
What is the purpose of life? Leaving aside the many metaphysical and religious theories, isn’t the purpose of life to have each person live fully and develop his or her potential to its reasonable fullest? Isn’t the purpose of life actualizing our social capacity to live in harmony with others whose support and cooperation are necessary to developing our own potential to its reasonable fullest?
Isn’t the purpose of life to live each day to its maximum in joy and peace, love, justice, and harmony with both humanity and nature? Doesn’t the astonishing gift of being alive in this amazing cosmos invite us to dance for joy simply that we are incarnate and deeply aware? Shouldn’t we find fulfillment in simply experiencing this astounding life and in developing all the potential we have for creativity and joy in the positive fulfillment of our human and personal potential?
The present institutions of our world interfere with the process of actualizing our human potential. They defeat, for the majority, the ability to actualize the fullness of life and the joy of living. Some of them even destroy it. The economics of capitalism actualizes the potential for a few to become extremely wealthy while the majority are stranded in debilitating and constricting circumstances of poverty and deprivation.
The possession of weapons of mass destruction, like all weapons of war, causes fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and nihilism in people of all cultures and nations. These weapons represent a tremendous waste of the world’s resources, resources that could be used for healthcare, education, social stability, clinical services, and other ways to actualize the human potential of all persons. The system is bizarre, mad, and simply stupid.
Connected both with an absurd capitalism and a global war-system, both of which destroy human potential, is the political fragmentation of the world into sovereign nation-states recognizing no higher authority than themselves. This bizarre system of fragmentation means that people born into certain nations have vastly greater potential to actualize themselves and experience the fullness and fulfillment of a meaningful life than those in many nations trapped in the enforced poverty of the current world system, as are many nations of the global south.
All the present institutions of the world developed largely by accident, more or less randomly. Capitalism began during the Renaissance some five centuries ago. No one theoretically planned to develop such an economic system. It happened because of contingent historical circumstances. The militarized sovereign nation-state system, many scholars agree, can be dated from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, when nations decided there would be a central “sovereign” government ruling autonomously over its “internal” affairs and independent in its “external” affairs.
Therefore, the lawless system of militarized absolute political fragments began through contingent historical circumstances. No one thought out the political possibilities and said “yes, this system will give us a world of peace, freedom, and justice.” Indeed, right from the beginning, philosophers such as Spinoza and Hobbes in the 17th century pointed out that this system was inherently a “war-system” since sovereign states recognized no effective laws above themselves.
We are failing on this planet because we are living with institutions many centuries old that were never designed for human well-being and the fullness of life. The institutions leading us over the cliff of disaster and extinction were developed long before we understood that we are one humanity living on one tiny spaceship Earth with the absolute need to become successfully interdependent, working together to make our world work for everyone in peace, justice, and regenerative sustainability.
Some 20th century thinkers understood this crisis situation and addressed our failure to live under institutions that serve humanity and human life by creating the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. These thinkers, along with many thousands of world citizens, realized that we need to unite human civilization for the purpose of making a quality, fulfilling life possible for each citizen of the world while protecting the precious ecology of our planet for future generations.
Article 13 of the Constitution, one of its two bills of rights, states that it is the obligation of the Earth Federation Government to “assure to each child the right to the full realization of his or her potential.” The entire Constitution is built around this principle—a world system is designed for the fullness of human life. Its purpose is to allow us to live our lives in freedom, dignity, and sustainable integrity, to realize our full human potential.
Humanity is failing because we have no democratic institutional framework to effectively address our global problems and establish the conditions for human flourishing in peace, justice, and sustainability. We are at the end of the line, facing possible human extinction. The title of my forthcoming book is Design for a Living Planet. This title hits the nail on the head. Either we unite humanity under carefully designed institutions that protect and enhance human life and the joyful purpose of living, or we go down to perdition in wars, conflict, hate, confusion, and ultimately destruction of our planetary environment that supports all life.
Our most urgent task is to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. We need institutions designed to democratically protect human freedom, dignity, and capacity for the fullness of life. Now is the time to act. We are passing one point of no return after another. We must act now to ratify the Earth Constitution. Tomorrow it will be too late.
(Glen T. Martin is Professor of Philosophy at Radford University, President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) and President of the Earth Constitution Institute (ECI). He is author of 11 books and hundreds of articles about human economic, political, and spiritual liberation in relation to the potential transformation of our regressive human institutions.)
In many religious and spiritual traditions there are three primary dimensions. Perhaps the most well-known today is “body, mind, and spirit.” In our human articulation of the ultimate nature of the universe, three dimensions of our metaphysical situation are also often elaborated. In this essay, I want to mention the dimensions of the divine (or the ground of being) that we can experience in human life and then go on to reflect on one of them: the Logos.
Logos is one of the Greek words for “reason.” However, as we will see presently, its connotations go deeper than what we ordinarily mean by “reason” today. After the current pandemic and worldwide collapse of the old system of capitalist growth economics and nation-state militarized competition, what does the Logos say to us? How do we conform human life to the “deep, substantive reason” of the cosmos itself? Below, I argue that the Logos within us, the same Logos that informs the entire cosmic adventure, urges us to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (www.earth-constitution.org).
Three Metaphysical Dimensions
Many religious and spiritual traditions, including many Vedic traditions and schools of Buddhism, recognize three divine or cosmic dimensions. In this essay I will use Western terms of “Godhead, Spirit, and Logos.” Buddhism, of course (especially within the Theravada tradition) refuses to entertain such “metaphysical” questions about any “soul” (atman) or divine dimensions (Brahmin). (See, for example, Raimon Panikkar’s book The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha.)
Nevertheless, the Mahayana tradition does speak of “Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya,” the “triple body” of the Buddha. These have direct relationships with the three Western terms in ways that we need not go into here. Similarly, in the Vedic traditions (often called Hinduism), there is the triad of sat, chit, ananda. Again, elaboration of the profound meanings of these terms, often translated as “being, consciousness, and bliss,” could be of great value in reflecting on our human situation.
The Maha Upanishad of the Vedas affirms that “the world is one family,” which follows from a proper understanding of “being, consciousness, and bliss.” Swami Agnivesh derives from these principles, not a withdrawal from the world of action but the unity of transformative action in the world on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. The awakened person serves the oneness of humanity. And part of this service, for Agnivesh, includes advocacy for ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. I want to show that this same advocacy derives from the Western triad of Godhead, Spirit, and Logos.
In my own philosophical experience, I have found that there can be great value in discussing such metaphysical ideas, in spite of the fact that both today’s “positivism” and traditional Buddhism prohibit these discussions (each for very different reasons). In an age like ours, that prides itself on its one-dimensional practical materialism and obsessive individualism, metaphysical discussion about what transcends this immature ideology may be more necessary than ever.
In fact, there is a great need to discuss these things today because the world has lost its metaphysical and religious bearings. People turn to irrational fundamentalist religious sects that are so dangerous to our entire cosmic/divine human project. Nihilistic people, with no religion and no values, dominate our governments, with nuclear weapons at their fingertips. Fascist power and hate movements are on the rise. Everywhere there is corruption brought about by militarized secrecy, capitalist greed, and human ignorance.
Today we are reaping the consequences of a paradigm that arose during the last several hundred years, a paradigm that included dogmatic individualism, scientific reductionism, extreme empiricism, and so-called “value-free positivism.” However, the ancient Western traditions did much to articulate the three dimensions of our cosmic-divine human situation, which remain as valid today as they ever were. I will take the Christian tradition as one example only, since these three dimensions of our metaphysical situation are found in many traditions.
In the Christian tradition, there is the profound doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christian New Testament, written in Greek, calls the second “person” of this Trinity, the Logos. It calls the third person, Pneuma (spirit). And many writers in this tradition, such as Meister Eckhart, called the first person the “Godhead.” God, they say, includes all three “persons” (there is only one God, not three), but the first person (the Godhead) deserves the respect that Buddha accorded it by remaining silent. In the West this is known as “apophatic theology.” Remain silent. The Godhead transcends anything you can say or think.
14th century German Christian theologian, Meister Eckhart, expressed this everywhere in his marvelous work. The Godhead is utterly unsayable, incomprehensible, unknowable. We must become silent and discover this divine silence within (as Buddha also understood). Human beings can live from a union with this silence (since the silence is within us as well as without), transforming their lives in the process. After the pandemic, what kind of new human civilization would arise if we began to live with this awareness?
Much of the movement of Western philosophy has been to deny meaning to discussions like this. Western philosophy demands a different kind of silence—the silence of scorn for all appeals to mysticism, intuition, or awakening to the ground of being. However, even though human beings are constituted anthropomorphically in the sense that the world we encounter is a dynamic unity between the world itself and the cognitive abilities that we bring to experience that allow us to know the world, it is possible to speak of ultimate metaphysical ideas without “anthropomorphizing” them in a negative sense.
The primary western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all recognize a command from God that prohibits “idolatry.” The command is sometimes expressed as follows: “Do not take as ultimate what is not truly ultimate.” In my view this command prohibits fundamentalism and blind dogmatism in religion, all of which worships a false anthropomorphically conceived God. But the deep reason within us, the Logos, gives us the wondrous capacity to reflect on ultimate principles, without idolatry. Today, some thinkers, like Errol E. Harris in his book the Restitution of Metaphysics (2000), show the way for a renewed understanding of deep, substantive reason, what I am calling the Logos.
Perhaps it is especially important to apply this prohibition of idolatry to our discussions of the third “Person” of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In the history of Christianity, anything and everything that cannot be comprehended, from plagues to eclipses of the sun and moon to radical changes of heart, have been attributed to this “Holy Spirit.” In the English language, the word “spirituality” is a vague, catch-all term that can include almost anything. One of its meanings can include what Søren Kierkegaard called “inwardness,” an inwardness that is often enhanced by mindfulness and meditation. To what degree do we focus on what goes on within ourselves? So-called spiritual people are often more deeply aware of this inwardness.
The systematic practice of inwardness through mindfulness and mediation can open our lives to “the silence of the Buddha” and even union with the Godhead as expressed by Meister Eckhart. And, of course, all this bears directly on whether, after the pandemic, we want to move forward to a planetary civilization of people who are mindful enough not to destroy ourselves through endless wars or destroy the environment that supports all life on this planet.
In the remainder of this brief essay I would like to focus not on the silence of the Godhead, important as this may be, and not on the development of mindfulness and spirituality, important as these may also be, but on the concept of reason, Logos. From the 6th century BCE, Greek thinkers such as Heraclitus were focusing on the Logos. “Logos” can mean order, pattern, speech, reason, intelligibility. Its connotations for the Greeks included all these aspects.
The Christian Prologue to the Gospel of John, an early 2nd century document, speaks of the second person of the Trinity as the Logos: “all things were made through Him; without him there was not anything that was made.” The order, the structure of the world, recognized by the human mind, was created through the Logos, identified with Jesus as the Christ. Contemporary religious thinker Matthew Fox in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, and many Christian writers in the ancient world, rightly recognized this Logos as a cosmic phenomenon.
The work of God in the creation of an orderly world, as these thinkers sometimes put this, is cognizable by the human mind (itself a manifestation of Logos). The very order, beauty, and coherence of the world is a manifestation of God! “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork” declares Psalm 19:1.
What astonished the Greeks (and later the Christians) came to fruition in the immense accomplishment of Plato in the 4th century BCE. This was the realization that the human mind was a microcosm of the macrocosm, that the human mind was a small universe and participated in the same structural capacity as the larger universe: the common bond was the Logos. Plato’s theme was “participation” (methexis). It was not that each individual human being had his or her little reasoning capacity that could comprehend the order of the universe (that is our dogma today). It was rather that human beings and the human mind participated in the same order of the cosmos that flows forth from its divine source. Just as the heavens declared the glory of God so did the Logos within our common humanity.
Today, since Immanuel Kant in the 18th century demonstrated the extent to which the human mind contributes to the order and beauty of the world that we experience, we are more epistemologically sophisticated, of course, than we take Plato to be. However, the skeptics and relativists, like philosophers Richard Rorty in Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature, or Michel Foucault (in all his works), or Nietzsche in the 19th century, who argue that “there is no truth”, are way off base. The universe has evolved us. Out of the universe self-consciousness and reason have emerged. As far as we know, they have only emerged in us, on tiny planet Earth. Our world, with its order and beauty and coherence is not made by us (even when we recognize Kant’s insight).
It was made by the universe. The universe has evolved creatures such as ourselves with these gifts of reason and self-awareness—a true microcosm! Within us live all the dimensions of the Christian (or Buddhist or Vedic) trinities—the silence of God, the spiritual dimension, and the Logos (the capacity to discern, and live from, the order, beauty, and magnificence of our world). The modern world, since the rise of science in the 17th century, has by and large forsaken all three of these dimensions, but here I want to speak more about the Logos.
Plato had it right in many ways, although, as mentioned above, he did not perceive the extent to which the human mind, language, and culture influence our perceptions of the world. Plato saw that there were invariant aspects of our experience of the world, that the flux of phenomena followed intelligible patterns that we could not possibly have derived from repeated observations of changing phenomena. He hypothesized that discovering these intelligible patterns was a matter of “recollection,” that there was something in the human mind linked to “eternity” or the fundamental structure of the cosmos itself. Deep learning, true learning, was “recollection” of the intelligible forms of things buried beneath, so to speak, our ever-changing consciousness.
Plato correctly discerned that the recollection of the intelligible principles on which the universe is constructed is not by itself discernment of the truly ultimate. As sacred and foundational as the principles of intelligibility and coherence may be, there is a higher source—the One, itself “beyond being” and hence beyond intelligibility (Republic sect. 509b). Plato called this “the Form of the Good,” which was the incomprehensible source from which all things flowed and to which all things returned.
The Good was beyond being and beyond knowing, but could be discerned through enlightened understanding. Like the sun, Plato argues in Book VII of the Republic, the Good connects the mind (reason) with the object of knowledge (the intelligibility of things). It is the principle behind all things, drawing into harmony human beings and the cosmos. Humanity, whose mind is informed by the deep Logos connected with the intelligible principles of the entire cosmos, is a microcosm of the macrocosm.
Later in the ancient world, both Christian thinkers like Dionysius the Areopagite and non-Christian thinkers like Plotinus associated Plato’s principles of intelligibility with the Logos and the “beyond being” source of all things with the Godhead. Both are divine principles, and therefore the coherence and order of the world are also divine. In our day, when we understand the evolutionary upsurge of the cosmos since the Big Bang, we might put it a little differently. Today, we understand that the cosmos has evolved a being capable of awareness of the cosmic process itself, whose intellect and reason are fundamental cosmic principles embodied within the human principle.
Today, we can understand that we are not just passive observers of an evolutionary cosmos but that we are, in the words of Teilhard the Chardin, “the axis and the leading shoot of evolution” itself. Our freedom has meaning, and it is not there for mere self-promotion or self-indulgence. Both capitalism and nationalism have debased and destroyed freedom.
Our freedom is connected with the very foundations of existence. Unlike Plato and Plotinus who saw the intelligibility of the cosmos in terms of emanation and involution (flowing out from and returning to the source), we now comprehend freedom also in terms of “evolution.” The intelligible principle is evolving to higher forms—in and through us. Our job is to discover how to use our freedom to further the evolution of the deep intelligence of the cosmos. The principle of order, the Logos, has come to consciousness of itself in us. Harris writes: “In human self-awareness, the nisus to the whole has become conscious of itself…. It is this self-realization that determines the ultimate standard of value” (2000, 251).
Beyond Individualism, Domination, and Exploitation
Obviously, such an understanding bears upon our climate crisis and the pandemic crisis that the world today is facing. Nature is not something that we just manipulate at our will, available for our exploitation. We have debased our world and destroyed freedom in the process. The ecological structures of relationships, of fields within fields within nature, have an integrity that we should respect, revere, and love. The principle of organization in the universe has come to consciousness of itself in us, showing us “the ultimate standard of value,” and placing a great responsibility on us to continue as “the axis and the leading shoot of evolution.”
And our human relationships with one another and with nature should follow the same ecological principles of holism, harmony, and fractal-based coherence that we find everywhere in nature. These are features of the intelligibility of the world as we now comprehend it, and it is the same principle of organization (Logos) in us that makes us capable of this comprehension. As the leading shoot of evolution, we need to be using our reason and intelligence, not for selfish personal gain or for dominating nature, and not for regressing to earlier modes of consciousness, but for creating a new future and a new world. We will see below that the Earth Constitution can be a key in this process.
The traditional view of reason as Logos and humans as microcosm of the macrocosm began to change radically in the West with the demise of Medieval thought in the 14th and 15th centuries. The rise of nominalism, led by William of Ockham in the 14th century, argued that “only individuals exist” and that all the order, beauty, and coherence that we think we experience in the world is “merely subjective.” This tendency came to a head with such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century who posited human existence on the basis of materialism, nominalism, and individualism as a “war of all against all.”
And, indeed, modern history has born out this model: individual persons competing within capitalism and individual militarized nation-states competing on the world stage in selfish and brutal struggles for wealth, power, exploitation, and domination (cf. Martin 2010). When nominalism argued that “only individuals exist,” it was denying an objective intelligibility and coherence to the “external world” apart from our human perceptions of it.
Reason, therefore, was no longer the microcosmic, constituent Logos of Plato and the Ancients but was now reduced to becoming an instrumental tool in the service of human subjective wants and needs. David Hume in the 18th century proclaimed that “reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” Individualism, subjective passions without objective values, greed, and personal self-promotion began to characterize the Western world and much of the world colonized and influenced by the West. The whole of Western modernity follows from this paradigm shift.
Islamic criticism of Western corrupt self-indulgence understands something of this, as do many Eastern religious perspectives from Chinese Confucianism to Japanese Zen to Vedic forms of spirituality. However much we want to overcome the subjective individualism and valueless nation-state fragmentations fostered by the West, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Thinkers like Jürgen Habermas and Errol E. Harris have pointed to minority traditions in Western thought (running, for example, through Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel) that preserve and deepen the sense of Logos, of deep, substantive reasoning that transcends personal individualism as well as power politics.
The laws developed by the industrializing nations from the 18th to the 21st centuries, laws fostering both unlimited the accumulation of private wealth within capitalism and militarized competition of sovereign nation-states, primarily protected “property rights” and were formulated within the context of human greed for unlimited accumulation of private wealth and national power. Capitalism saw nature as simply what Martin Heidegger called “standing reserve,” available for exploitation as a source of wealth. Sovereign nation-states in Europe and North America saw the people of Earth as nothing but inferior tribes fit only for slavery, cheap labor, and imperial domination. Individualism and fragmentation reigned supreme. Life truly became a “war of all against all.”
Today, we are at the end of this line. We are threatened for decades now with the possibility of thermo-nuclear holocaust wiping out humanity and most life on Earth. We are threatened by an accelerating global warming and brutal climate collapse. We are threatened by uncontrollable pandemics. There appears to be no way out. The powers that be are planning for “business as usual” once the pandemic subsides. But thinking people know that business as usual is a prescription for planetary ruin.
Our New Vision Means a Higher Level of Integration
Today, there are many writers talking about a new, alternative world after the epidemic subsides. Some, like Charles Eisenstein in The Ascent of Humanity, say that we must overcome our isolated individuality and become once more in harmony with nature and our surroundings (“like the hunter-gatherers” of 12,000 years ago). It is indeed true that we must foster community, harmony, and a sense of the sacredness of all existence, but we do not want to return to a more spontaneous and primitive state of oneness with nature as if reason were limited to the false Newtonian paradigm and its negative consequences for human civilization.
If we are the “leading shoot of evolution,” given freedom to participate in the immense cosmic upsurge of the cosmos, then we need to move to a higher level of maturity and integration (of unity without losing diversity) rather than attempt to recover earlier “animistic” levels of oneness with nature. The fundamental organizational principle of the cosmos, its “deep reason,” has emerged in the human phenomenon. It is there in us as much as it is manifest everywhere in nature. We become aware of it not as egoists seeing nature as an object separate from ourselves, but as manifestations of the sacred cosmic principle ourselves seeing that same principle everywhere in nature.
The works of thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin, Errol E. Harris, Henry Stapp, and Ervin Laszlo have helped make this clear. We must move to a higher level of maturity and integration. We are not just recovering what is lost but bringing our entire evolutionary history to a higher level of integration and harmony.
Another aspect of our situation that many “spiritually” oriented writers largely ignore is the structural aspect. This is quite simple and exemplified often in history. It was pointed out in a very powerful way by Karl Marx—just as individual consciousness produces certain institutional systems (e.g., our brutal and competitive system of law and private property) so institutional systems reciprocally produce human consciousness. Change the system and you go a long way toward changing the consciousness. Don’t change the system and it is nearly impossible to change consciousness. We need to unite behind the holistic system offered by the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. It will go a long way toward transforming human consciousness in the direction of peace, justice, and authentic sustainability.
We have the ability to move forward, not backward. Forward means growing to another level in which we more fully understand the role of the Logos come to self-awareness in us. We need to emphasize the Logos, the deep reason of things transcending human instrumental uses of reason. Reason is not primarily a tool of the isolated ego. It is the immense cosmic gift to humanity. The description of the new, required oneness with nature coming today from many spiritually oriented authors leaves out the Logos, the deep reason of our human situation.
The Logos is not owned by individual subjectivities. It is transpersonal. (In some Christian thinkers like Paul Tillich, the Logos transcends the separation between subject and object. It is hyper-personal). There are depth dimensions to human reason that are not instrumental or strategic but are rather “communicative and transpersonal” (has Jürgen Habermas argues) and are also cosmic and embodied within the unity of human consciousness (as Errol E. Harris argues).
Indeed, the three dimensions of the ground of being or God all need to be actualized in our lives. We need to encounter the deep, transforming silence of God. We need to encounter the spiritual dimension of inner growth and mindfulness. But we must also encounter the Logos, the deep reason of things that informs our human being as well as the cosmos. Encountering these things does not lead to our own private “nirvana” in some egoistic personal salvation. As Swami Agnivesh reminds us, the world is one family and we must recognize this through economic and political integration under the principle of unity in diversity.
The first two aspects of the divine ground of being are not sufficient without the third because very often those advocating the first two appear to negate reason, to leave out our deep, substantive reason and even the need for science, cosmology, psychology, anthropology, etc. The sciences, properly done, continue revealing the many interrelated orders of being. The true scientific spirit in its deepest sense is not about dominating nature but emerges from the deep wonder and drive to understand nature, which itself is the transpersonal Logos animating our lives. We need both climate science and non-subjective metaphysical thought just as much as we need meditation and mindfulness. The Logos is cosmic, just as spirit is cosmic, and the silence of the Godhead can be termed super-cosmic.
Whole Human Beings Require a Holistic Civilization
After the coronavirus, let us emerge as whole human beings and create for ourselves a whole human civilization. Let us emerge as the true microcosms of the macrocosm that we are, embracing not only the deep silence behind the cosmos, and the mindful spirit, but also the deep reason that gives us our wondrous human freedom, our ethical insight, and our capacity to love the intelligibility and coherence of our cosmos. After the coronavirus, we must realize that we all share a common fate on this planet and that we need political and economic structures to embody that common fate.
Embracing the Constitution for the Federation of Earth will enhance this holism immeasurably. We want to empower not only local communities but the human community as a whole. We are all microcosms in our common humanity, no matter what religion, race, culture, or nationality. The Constitution derives from a deeper rationality than mere instrumental and strategic reasoning, although it also gives the concrete procedures by which we can practically address our global problems of war, poverty, and environmental collapse.
By uniting the world politically and economically we are mirroring the harmony and coherence of nature that unites the individuals within it as ecosystems of interdependence and interrelationship. We need to cultivate the Logos-dimensions of human life by creating what Ervin Laszlo calls a “holarchy” of interrelationships on the Earth, from the local to the global. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is designed to do just that.
The Constitution takes us beyond individualism to collective harmony. Humanity as a whole is itself a microcosm of ever-larger macrocosms, all the way to the fundamental principle of the cosmos itself. Ratifying the Earth Constitution will help us understand this. The Earth Federation will integrate us deeply into the rhythms of nature. It embodies the shape of the Logos for the 21st century, the new paradigm of unity in diversity. After the pandemic, we need to form the Federation of Earth.
Agnivesh, Swami (2015). Practical Spirituality. New York: Harper-Collins Publisher.
Before you finished eating your breakfast this morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured… We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr*
In the United States today there have been nation-wide protests against the institutional racism and violent, murderous policing that are fundamental to law enforcement throughout the nation. People are calling for de-policing, for fundamental reform in the way communities are run in the USA. Indeed, institutionalized racism is a fundamental problem going back to the foundations of the USA as a slave society in the 17th century.
At this same time, human beings around the world are suffering from extreme poverty, police violence, military conflict, and political corruption. Human rights are being violated and human dignity denied in multiple locations around the world. Wars are waging in dozens of countries using weapons often produced in the United States. Environmental disasters are happening in dozens of countries while the dominant world order expects to continue with business as usual as the COVID pandemic diminishes.
Attempting to address institutionalized racism in the USA is not going to affect our planetary human failure to create a decent world system supporting a flourishing life for human beings everywhere on Earth. Is the racist dehumanization of persons in the USA our central problem, or is this a symptom of a larger and more fundamental problem? Is the degradation and repression of the poor worldwide separate from the institutionalized racism toward the poor in the US?
What is our human civilizational project about? Who are we as human beings? What political, economic, and institutional arrangements will foster human dignity and freedom, and what kind of arrangements defeat or destroy human dignity? Will addressing institutionalized racism in the United States really solve our fundamental problems? Is this racism not a symptom of even larger and more fundamental problems that go far beyond the territorial borders of the US?
During the 19th century capitalism created an industrial proletariat of wage slaves whose human dignity and well-being were crushed beneath the horrendous conditions created by the so-called “free market.” This led many thinkers to place their hope in the vision of the poor for a revolutionary socialism that would overthrow the private ownership of the means of production and establish a democratic economic and political reality in which production would aim at human well-being rather than at the accumulation of private profit for the few.
But the hopes of many were dashed in August 1914 when the working classes of countries all over Europe chose not revolutionary solidary with one another but to join the armies of their respective nations in order to slaughter one another on the battlefield. The revolutionary socialism envisioning all human beings as possessing equal dignity and equal rights to participate in the production of the goods and services necessary for a flourishing life faltered in the face of the fragmentation of humanity into militarized sovereign territorial nation-states.
Throughout the 20th century humanity continued to institutionalize and militarize these sovereign territorial states, a system that was formalized in the Charter of the United Nations signed in San Francisco in 1945. These militarized territorial power centers had broken down in an even more horrendous Second World War and the victorious five powers were certainly not about to mitigate the concept of sovereign nation-statehood, especially since they saw themselves emerging as the world’s dominate power centers. The five would continue to operate in brutal ideological, economic, and military struggles with one another.
After the Second World War, the ideal of a just human society that allows for all citizens to flourish was de-revolutionized as the wealthy, first-world nations began to manage their capitalist enterprises to mitigate the worst effects of capitalism within their own borders. Working people accepted the resulting unjust division of wealth as long as they received enough to satisfy their own minimal living standards. National loyalty meant that the misery of the poor in third world countries did not activate revolutionary solidarity against their exploitation. Their suffering was their own problem, just as institutionalized racist poverty and violence were our problem. But perhaps this fragmentation itself was the real problem?
Nevertheless, the grounds for planetary solidarity were being laid, not by any radical political party, but by breakthroughs in the natural sciences and the humanities. In the humanities, the 20th century experienced major advances in the translation and interpretation of religious traditions from around the world. We began to understand that the traditional tripartite division of human beings into body, mind, and spirit has analogues in spiritual traditions around the world. Through the works of Erich Fromm, Jürgen Habermas, and others we began to understand the mutual integration of the social and the personal aspects of human life. We are inextricably bound to one another as social creatures for whom all languages are translatable into one another, and our personal selfhood is alone developed through our dependence and interaction with other persons. Some thought that spirituality by itself could transcend religion and unite humanity.
In the natural sciences, 20th century breakthroughs in cosmology and quantum physics began to reveal to us the holism of the cosmos and the integral connections of human beings with the cosmic process. We scientifically understood that all human beings are nearly genetically identical with one another, that we are one human race of homo sapiens living on planet Earth together. In evolutionary theory we began to see the emergent evolutionary development of body, mind, and spirit as connected with the cosmic evolutionary process itself. Humanity, emerging out of the unconsciousness of nature to freedom and self-awareness. We began to formulate levels of spiritual awareness away from egocentric existence toward worldcentric and cosmocentric existence.
We began to understand the immense mystery and intrinsic dignity of human beings in ways that had not been available to earlier millennia. However, not everyone appreciated this vast expansion of our human understanding of the immense evolutionary scope of the cosmos and human life on Earth within the cosmos. The shock created by this explosion of knowledge in the 20th century led many to retreat into narrow religious and political ideologies that reduced the vast mysteries of human existence to manageable dogmatic categories. Religious and political fundamentalism flourished in explicit denial of our central place in the 14 billion-year evolution of the cosmos. Irrationalism and petty egoism triumphed and, with it, religious bigotry, conflict, and even fascism. Similarly, racism triumphed (against all evidence to the contrary) and, with it, institutionalized racial prejudice and police violence.
Human beings in general appear, at this moment in time, to be too small-minded to encounter the quantum leap in comprehending our human situation that emerged from the 20th century humanities and sciences. The 20th century may have given us the degree of understanding necessary to effect human liberation and create planet Earth as a decent place in which all can flourish in peace and freedom. However, we have failed to rise to the occasion. We remain mired in religious fundamentalism, racial fragmentation, nation-state territorial divisions, and vast differences of poverty and wealth.
These four forms of divisiveness go together. They all represent the inability of human beings to comprehend fully their oneness with all other persons, the deep coherence of the spiritual message of all the great religions, or the illusory character of nation-state territorial boundaries. As Martin Luther King, Jr. says above, we need to recognize “the interrelated structure of reality.” The message of the most advanced 20th century sciences and humanities is holism, while the attitude of most human beings is fragmentation and division. The trajectory of history is universalism, while the cultural attitude of most persons is parochialism. The global COVID-19 pandemic has underlined these facts dramatically.
To really deal with racist institutions in the United Sates, or India, or China, would require persons who have absorbed the holism and ecumenism of the 20th century to the point of becoming global citizens. To go beyond the fragmentation of racism ultimately means also going beyond the fragmentation of religious and political fundamentalisms, the fragmentation of sovereign, militarized nation-states, and the fragmentation of extreme poverty and wealth. Institutionalized racism in the United States persists because the US itself is a fragment, an institutionalized territorialized entity of militarized violence separated from the rest of humanity by absolute borders and separated within by extremes of wealth and poverty.
People think in terms of small categories rather than holistic relatedness. “This is my nation, my private property, my religion, my white race.” This little “my” is an egocentric illusion fostered by a fragmented world system predicated on such illusions. “My nation,” is not fundamentally different from “my white race.” The job of the police is to protect those of property (“my private property”) from those without property, who are often persons of color. Really overcoming racism means living from a genuine holism: one planet, one humanity, one civilization. Racism, like nationalism, religious bigotry, and unlimited private ownership, is a product of egoism, of smallness and self-centeredness.
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth embodies the holism discovered by 20th century humanities and sciences. It, therefore, is not a secondary aspect of the movement of people around the planet to be thinking of themselves as global citizens, but rather at the very heart of this process. If we are thinking holistically we will need to think in terms of political and economic holism as well as spiritual, ethical, and cultural holism.
As a matter of fact, the present economic and political fragmentation of humanity actively interferes with our ability to achieve a holistic consciousness and a holistic planetary society. There is always some alien “other.” Those who are not my religion. Those of a different race. Those who are the enemies of my country. Those who are poor from whom the police must protect me. Suppose we end institutionalized racism in the USA only? Suppose the police recognize that Black lives matter? Then we can proudly boast a system in which our black and Hispanic citizens can equally enter the US military to destroy the lives of people of color in other countries. This hardly appears as a holistic solution.
If we want a system in which “black lives matter” in the US, what about black lives elsewhere? Do just American black lives matter or do all black lives matter everywhere? Solving institutional racism within the US will not make us more human or more decent if it simply means that our black lives can more equitably exploit, kill, and dominate black or Hispanic lives in Africa or Latin America.
If black lives really matter than so do the lives of peoples of all shades of skin color. The US government in recent years created “AFRICOM” (the Military Command for Africa) in order to counter China’s influence in Africa. We can now send our black soldiers to destroy black lives in Africa, or Hispanic lives in Venezuela, or Arabic lives in the middle east. Blacks on the streets of the USA may no longer be killed by the police, but does this adjustment within the US really mean that black lives matter?
Without holism, and the recognition of the dignity of every human being, we will not have made much progress. Racism is but one form of fragmentation. Fundamentalism another. Sovereign nation-states another, and unrestrained capitalism yet another. Let us really build a decent world for all, not simply try to make it better for this or that minority, whether immigrants, African-Americans, Kurds, or Palestinians. Local struggles are also global, but global struggles require changing the fragmented institutions themselves, creating economic, political, cultural, and spiritual holism.
This is why the Constitution for the Federation of Earth** is fundamental to all liberation struggles. It addresses our fragmented condition at its root. It establishes holistic economic and political institutions of unity in diversity, institutions that will themselves promote ever-greater holistic consciousness among the citizens of Earth. It affirms the principle of unity in diversity, as it says in its Preamble, “despite the existence of diverse nations, races, creeds, ideologies and cultures.” The holism of the cosmos, planet Earth, and human beings is here applied in a practical way to human civilization. If we are holistically one civilization and one humanity, then racism largely disappears.
Under the Earth Constitution, the people of Earth (whatever the color of their skin) are represented in 1000 electoral districts worldwide within the House of Peoples. The nations of the world are represented in the House of Nations, and the wisdom heritages from twenty grand districts around the world are represented in the House of Counselors. All agencies and organs of the government require unity in diversity from around the planet.
The World Parliament made up of these three houses represents the whole, and every new child born will be born into the embrace of the whole within which they will grow up in the midst of a diversity that does not fragment precisely because it is also a unity. Human beings will rapidly move to a worldcentric consciousness in which things like institutionalized racism will be as unheard of as things like sovereign, militarized nation-states. For who in their right mind would want to militarize some portion of humanity in conflict with some other portion? What world in its right mind would allow 200 people to own 50% of the wealth of humanity? What world in its right mind would allow something as superficial as skin color determine public policy?
Only a united world and united humanity can overcome racism. As Martin Luther King, Jr declared, just by finishing breakfast this morning, we have depended on half the world. A united world overcomes the egoistic divisions of race, religion, nation, and class. All forms of egoistic fragmentation go together. The Earth Constitution is a key to bringing humanity to a new, holistic level of existence.
The Earth Constitution recognizes and institutionalizes the fact that we are one world, one humanity, and one civilization. It solves the problem of fragmentation through predicating global institutions on unity in diversity. Ultimately, this will be the only way of overcoming racism, dogmatic fundamentalism, economic exploitation, or militarized nationalism. A united world will produce a transformed sense of human dignity, a unity in diversity in which each person is valued precisely because our personal dignity and our unity derive from the same source. We can affirm our wonderful diversity precisely because we are all also one humanity.
*Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church, December 24th 1967. Quoted in Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013, p. 23.
**Constitution for the Federation of Earth is found on-line at www.earth-consitution.org and many other places. See also Glen T. Martin, editor, Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.
Abstract. This paper investigates the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy. When and how is a political authority legitimate and what is the meaning of sovereignty in this context? Beginning with an overview of the ethical foundations of political authority, the paper proceeds to examine the concepts of economic legitimacy and political legitimacy, including the historical evolution of these concepts, in the light of these foundations. It argues that the concept of sovereignty has evolved to the world level and is no longer valid at the national level. It goes on to show that the globalized world order calls for just such an expansion of the concept of sovereignty and concomitantly of legitimacy. The paper concludes with two sample charts exploring the idea that legitimacy can be measured. It argues that, on nearly all counts, the Constitution for the Federation of Earth appears as more legitimate than the rapidly diminishing legitimacy of the system of sovereign territorial nation-states.
The Ethical Foundation for Political and Economic Deliberations
Political theory is about human beings. Economic theory is about human beings. They are both therefore rooted in ethics. What is a human being, and why should we be concerned to discover correct political and economic approaches to human life? How should our political and economic systems be conceiving of persons, and how should they be treating them? Dealing with political and economic theories must begin with the ethical dimension.
I want to underline that dimension by citing the central thoughts on ethics in relation to the legitimacy of governments by three major thinkers: Immanuel Kant, Alan Gewirth, and Jürgen Habermas. Since this is not an essay about ethics per se, I will simply introduce the fundamental thought of each so the reader can discern the essential background necessary for our investigation of political and economic issues. I take it that all three thinkers are pointing to the same fundamental ethical truth about human beings.
Kant’s famous categorical imperative states that we must treat every person as an end in themselves, never merely as a means. This imperative, Kant says, distinguishes persons (who have dignity) from things (which have only price). People are ends in themselves because they have an incalculable worth or dignity that our social and political thought must make a central consideration.
Indeed, Kant says that this categorical imperative demands (“obligates”) that we live under “republican” government that guarantees the freedom and equality of each and every person (1965, 84). It is important to notice that not only is the moral imperative to treat every person has having intrinsic dignity, but we are morally required to live under republican government because this protects our “freedom and equality.” All persons, for Kant, are free and equal in dignity and rights, and the function of government is to protect that freedom, dignity and equality thereby making possible moral relations and growth among citizens (1974, 289 ff).
For Gewirth, each person is a free agent making choices about how to move into his or her future. We are not determined by necessity as are mere things. It is precisely this universal human quality of freedom and purposiveness that generates the concept of human rights. Human rights are rights to freedom and well-being, both of which are necessary conditions of our having any chance of a successful future of realizing our purposes. It is precisely this human freedom that reveals the complementary concept of human dignity: “agency is both the metaphysical and moral basis of human dignity” (1982, 5). Just as, for Kant, government must protect our freedom and equality so for Gewirth, “the primary justification of governments is that they serve to secure these rights” (1982, 3). The support of the right to freedom (and its concomitant right to well-being) “is essential to the moral legitimacy of governments” (ibid., 18).
For Habermas, likewise, the moral community is also the legal community. With the waning of traditional metaphysical and religious world views, he writes, “we readjusted the practices of the lifeworld and of the political community to the premises of a rational morality and of human rights because they provided the common ground for a humane existence irrespective of any difference arising from the variety of worldviews” (2003, 73-74). Just as Gewirth locates human dignity and rights with the “freedom” of rational actors, irrespective of their personal worldviews or goals, so Habermas finds human dignity in this same universality of human free, purposive action (p. 37). Such human rights involve “the reciprocal and symmetrical relations of mutual recognition proper to a moral and legal community of free and equal persons” (p. 65). Such recognition provides “the moral foundations of the constitutional state” (p. 40)
In these brief considerations of the fundamental moral principle of human life in relation to the authority of government, we can discern the framework presupposed by the following reflections on the concepts of legitimacy and sovereignty. Economic and political arrangements must be judged in the light of whether they foster human dignity and freedom as defined by these thinkers, or whether they retard or defeat the enhancement of this dignity. Government is about the human beings who are governed. It is not about power for its own sake, not the self-interest of the governors, nor about the success of a particular class or group. It is about all the people equally as citizens before the law. The law must be directed toward their common good, a common good that includes their freedom and well-being.
My argument in this paper is that the Constitution for the Federation of Earth has a greater legitimacy than the (constantly diminishing) legitimacy of the system of territorial, sovereign nation-states. (see www.earth-constitution.org) It alone formulates the conditions for a significant realization of freedom and dignity in human affairs. We shall see that there are structural and historical impediments built into today’s economic and political systems that actively prevent the actualization of this fundamental moral principle of human society and history. The Earth Constitution transcends these impediments and provides the framework for bringing the human project forward to a significant culmination and fulfillment.
Discourse Theory and Legitimation Crisis
In 1973, Jürgen Habermas published his book called Legitimation Crisis. The assumption behind the book derives from Habermas’ identification of the equality and freedom of human beings presupposed by the fact that the basis of human communication is dialogue directed toward mutual understanding. Habermas showed that language itself would not be possible if it were not for these presuppositions, namely that every communicative statement presupposes a claim to truth, truthfulness, and normative rightness (1998). Instrumental or strategic uses of language are derivative from and ancillary to the communicative core of language. This resonates, in Habermas’ view, with the traditional metaphysical idea that human beings all share in equal dignity, and from this derivatively that human beings all have fundamental rights.
In the light of this Habermas examines the history of capitalism with respect to its claim to satisfy the needs of human beings, whether by an “invisible hand” produced from a “free market” or by a more visible hand provided by the welfare state that manipulates interest rates and public monies in order to maximize the stability and success of the capitalist order. The capitalist order, of course, is based on the idea of production for private profit and the unlimited accumulation of private wealth from this system.
The idea of unlimited private accumulation of wealth through the economic system may appear, on the surface of things, to violate the principle of equal dignity of all persons. Vast accumulations of wealth for the few contrast starkly with vast numbers of extremely poor and destitute people. Hence, this system requires legitimation in the eyes of the general population. But the question is to what degree can any particular economic system serve the freedom, equality, and dignity of persons “within the limits of the existing mode of production” (1973, 73-74). Are there inherent limits in the ability of capitalism to serve human freedom and dignity? The history of the role of the state in relation to this modern economic system reveals a series of governing systems part of the job of which is to legitimate the system in the view of the people (while at the same time, representing and protecting the economic elite within this system).
In his discourse theory of language, Habermas shows that a perfect communicative situation remains in the background of all our efforts at communication, presupposing equality and the same right of each person to speak, a situation that acts as a “counterfactual” standard by which we can judge the degree of our success. He calls this the “ideal speech situation” (1998, 367-68). Because we are creatures who interact in immensely complex and convoluted ways, this ideal speech situation is rarely, perhaps never, met. But nevertheless, it is always there serving as an ideal moral standard for human communicative interactions.
In Legitimation Crisis, Habermas reveals the historic struggle for a socialism in which the economic system is designed to serve the needs of people rather than the needs of the rich. Why should the economy serve the needs of everyone instead of primarily the rich? Just as the human condition presupposes the ideal speech situation so it presupposes that same equal dignity and rights of all in every domain of human intercourse, including economics.
The counterfactual ideal presupposed by economic relationships is symbolized in the ideal of “democratic socialism,” that is a society that is fully democratic in the sense that it benefits all its citizens with reasonable political and economic equality. The question in the background of Legitimation Crisis is whether capitalist society (qua capitalist) can ever approximate the legitimacy symbolized by the word socialism. Can it ever generate reasonable political and economic equality genuinely serving common human needs rather than the needs of some ruling class? A review of the statistics concerning human economic misery throughout the world today (in the year 2020), some of which is indicated in the chart at the end of this essay, indicates the inherent limitations of the capitalist system and thereby its limited degree of legitimacy.
Political Legitimacy: An Evolving Concept
Political thinkers have formulated the idea that certain political systems or political constitutions around which political systems have been organized are “legitimate.” Political systems are power relationships in which one group of people (the government) manifests exceptional authority to legislate, adjudicate, and enforce laws over another group of people (the citizens). What are the criteria for deciding if the group holding such power is holding it legitimately? For example, a government can take money from you, by force if necessary, in the form of taxes that are then supposed to be used in part for public safety and security. How is this different from a local mafia organization that requires businesses to pay a regular fee to ensure the safety and security of the businesses? Why is one power system considered “legitimate” and the other not?
The recognition of the legitimacy of a certain group of persons under a certain system of governing involves both domestic and international criteria. Internally the dominant criterion today is often called “popular sovereignty.” The people recognize the government, and not the mafia, as legitimate. We will discuss this further below. But it is also the case that “when other states recognize a sovereign state, they lend it legitimacy, and hence the capacity to engage in external relations: making treaties, engaging in trade, making war. In short sovereignty is conditioned by legitimacy, and this has international as well as domestic implications” (Bukovansky 2002, 3).
A theoretical “realist” approach to legitimacy might affirm an internal criterion of recognition (popular sovereignty) and an external criterion (international recognition) as sufficient. But the deep irony in this approach would be that “legitimacy” is determined by criteria that repudiate some of the central meanings of this concept that clearly have ethical implications. A “realist” or “positivist” approach ignores the ethical foundations of government articulated above by Kant, Gewirth, and Habermas. A government that has internal popular support and external international recognition is not thereby made legitimate in any substantive (moral) sense. Many governments in today’s world are dictatorships, undemocratic in the extreme.
Can there be an authentic “democratic legitimacy” that transcends popular sovereignty, a legitimacy in which the government really represents the common good of its people and this is demonstrated in ways that can be empirically demonstrated? Political historian Mlada Bukovansky writes: “democratic legitimacy today contends for hegemony in the international system within a broader shared framework centered on popular sovereignty” (2002, 10). The criteria for ethical legitimacy of governments, described above, suggests that there can and should be a higher standard of legitimacy called “democratic legitimacy.”
Nearly all governments today claim legitimacy on the basis of popular sovereignty of their populations. Are there some governments that represent the common good of their peoples more than others? Yet we will see that, ultimately, no government can any longer represent that common good sufficiently to claim full legitimacy, because that good has shifted to the planetary level. How, then, is the legitimacy of governments to be assessed?
Drawing on Habermas, we can affirm that systems are justified through how well they achieve their counter-factual value system goals. The system goals presupposed by today’s collection of sovereign nation-states, individually and collectively, involve addressing the common good of the citizens effectively, reasonably, and equitably. In a similar way, we have seen Habermas argue that rational discourse is justified through the counter-factual ideal speech situation.
A governmental political system involves a complex set of rules, relationships, and activities (including economic policies and relations) that purport to represent legitimate power over a certain population of citizens. What makes some such political systems more legitimate than others? If the criteria for legitimacy are not to be positivistic (as I will discuss further below), then legitimacy criteria must form a counter-factual ideal that serves as a moral and practical standard for existing governments.
A perfectly realized common good based on respect and concern for the inherent freedom and dignity of each citizen is the counter-factual goal for democracies. Given the complexity, weaknesses of the human condition, and limitations of the physical conditions of existence, this goal likely can never be reached in fact. Nevertheless, it can be approximated to a greater or lesser degree. Measurement of how well the government is doing in approximating that goal is the criterion of its legitimacy.
Similarly, politicians regularly promise to strive for counter-factual goals that the system is currently failing to achieve. This practice is not necessarily merely hypocrisy on their part (although it is often that too), but is an orientation built into the legitimation-value process of groups and individuals. As temporalized future-facing beings, politicians like the rest of us, understand that their legitimacy for office is related to their counterfactual goals and values (in spite of the fact that these may not be achievable within the framework of the current system). They are striving to achieve something that does not yet exist, and qua persons of governmental authority, they are in principle doing this on behalf of the people they represent.
The ideas that the power of government is rooted in the people and responsible to the people goes far back in western history to the ancient Greeks. However, this idea emerged in a more articulated form during the Renaissance and the 17th century in Europe to become formulated in explicit ways that became foundational for the concept of legitimacy in the modern world. Thinkers like 17th century Dutch philosopher Johannes Althusius (1995) argued that the authorities in government arose from the legitimate power (sovereignty) of the people and were responsible to the people in their governing. Legitimate power, he argued, promoted the common good of the citizens, not the special interests of some class or the governors themselves.
Similarly, much of the 18th century was dominated by the thought of John Locke who also rooted the legitimacy of government in the consent of the governed. The Enlightenment of the 18th century represented a great step forward in recognizing all human beings as equal in dignity and rights. The assumption arose that government represents all, and that “the people” should rule themselves, since all men have reason and can be guided by it. For Locke, governors were responsible to protect the natural rights of the people and to provide an “impartial judge” over all internal conflicts to ensure equal treatment before the laws. If the government does not adequately perform these functions, and instead there are abuses and injustices, then the people have the right of revolution—to recall the government and replace it with one that does protect their “life, liberty, and property” (1965).
The emerging capitalism of the 17th and 18th centuries required that authority no longer reside with the landed aristocracy or with a king claiming divine right of rule but that government now represent these human rights and support the elaboration of the laws of contract, property, and economic freedom. Hence, while the new political class of bourgeoisie claimed to represent universal human rights, in reality they wanted government to organize to protect their rights to the private accumulation of wealth. However, inherent in the concept that government arose from the people and was responsible to the people was the concept of democracy itself, that is, the idea that government comes from the people as a whole (not from wealthy people, inherited lands, or divine right) and is responsible to foster their freedom, equality, and dignity.
These criteria, of course, did not always the define central meanings of legitimacy and sovereignty. These concepts evolved. The three thinkers cited above who see government as morally responsible to protect the freedom and dignity of citizens all argue that the fact that these concepts have evolved does not mean that the concepts are merely relative to some historical situation. Rather, progress can be made and has been made. Human beings have really understood something about themselves and their proper relationship with governments. Nevertheless, it can be useful to look briefly at the evolution of these concepts.
Sovereignty: An Evolving Concept
“Sovereignty” means ultimate authority or rule. Today, the concept of sovereignty adheres to territorial nation-states in a bond something akin to superglue. A contemporary definition of sovereignty by political scientist Robert Jackson states that “Sovereignty is a foundational idea of supreme authority in the state, and an idea of political and legal independence of geographically separate states” (2007, x).
Jackson’s book Sovereignty traces the evolution of this idea since the Renaissance. Originally, the concept did not inhere in the government of a territorial state but in a person or persons who were “sovereign” over the diverse populations. Jackson calls this “dynastic sovereignty,” which prevailed in European politics of a long time. It was the period when kings, their families, and their descendants could claim supreme authority over entire populations.
Let me illustrate this view of sovereignty. In her book Legitimacy and Power Politics, Mlada Bukovansky quotes from a speech of King Louis XV to the Paris Parliament on 3 March 1766: “As if anyone could forget that the sovereign power resides in my person only . . . that public order in its entirety emanates from me, and that the rights and interests of the nation, which some dare to regard as a separate body from the monarch, are necessarily united with my rights and interests, and repose only in my hands” (2002, 1).
This mid-18th century statement of sovereignty was at that time in the throes of major revolutionary transformations. We have seen that thinkers like Althusius challenged these ideas in the 17th century in the name of supreme authority residing in the people. 23 years after King Louis XV made this statement the French Revolution overthrew not only the king but the entire concept of royal sovereignty. However, at that same time, the idea of the sovereignty of the people was becoming wedded to the idea of sovereign territory. If sovereignty belongs to all the people as human beings, how is it that it can be divided among various territories? (We will see below why this, even though understandable, was a major conceptual blunder.)
In that early modern period, of course, there was no conception of a tiny planet floating in space inhabited by a single civilization. Transportation and communications were slow, and even small countries appeared huge to their inhabitants. If the people were supreme, then the governing authorities were responsible to the people. And state systems, especially after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, some still monarchical, began to coalesce around territorial boundaries. Nevertheless, we shall see that territorial boundaries and sovereignty of the people are fundamentally incommensurable concepts.
As the early territorial state began to coalesce, its claim to legitimate territorial “property” under the rule of a single “sovereignty” was understood to be open ended. Governments, in spite of the formal claim that their authority arose from the people, saw themselves as “sovereign” over a certain territory. And the “right of conquest” along with other customary practices allowed this territory to be extended. This led to the era Robert Jackson calls “Imperial Sovereignty” in which European powers laid down rules for the legitimate acquisition and control of foreign territories “by treaty, capitulation, grant usage, sufferance and other lawful means” (p. 72).
However, the idea that sovereignty belonged to people was eventually understood to mean the self-determination and self-government of people, an idea that appeared to be in contradiction with that of the “right of conquest.” This notion of self-determination subverted the legitimacy of imperial sovereignty to the point where the world entered into a period of decolonization that was only significantly completed through the mediation of the UN during the 1960s and 70s. Jackson writes: “After centuries of legitimacy and legality imperial sovereignty become unlawful. This is explicitly registered in various UN General Assembly Resolutions, such as Resolution 3103 (1973)” (p. 77).
Since actual authority in any complex society cannot be in the hands of everybody equally, even if the people are thought to be sovereign, the idea of the rule of the people has more recently come to be thought of as “Parliamentary Sovereignty” or “Democratic Sovereignty.” In these conceptions, Jackson states, the sovereignty of the people is understood as mediated through a constitution that guarantees civil and political rights that check the power of government and becomes “a validating source of their legitimacy” (p. 89).
However, Jackson shows at length that this world composed of nearly 200 territorial units is not equivalent to the self-determination of peoples. The borders of these sovereign territories almost always include linguistic, ethnic, or cultural minorities who feel oppressed by the dominant ruling powers within each sovereign territory. His demonstration parallels that of Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities (2006), who likewise revels the arbitrariness and illusions generated by existing territorial borders that somehow lead us to imagine that the world of some 200 fragments in some way makes cultural, political, or ethical sense under the slogan of “self-determination of peoples.” It simply does not. He goes on to state:
In the twentieth century, the political map of the world became frozen in a territorial pattern shaped by borders established in the non-Western world by European imperial powers. Even through the territorial shoe does not come anywhere near to fitting the population foot in the greater number of cases…. International law sanctified all sovereign state boundaries regardless of population awkwardness or ill-fit in many cases.” (2007, 107)
As political thinker Emery Reves summarized this: “A picture of the world pieced together like a mosaic from its various national components is a picture that never and under no circumstances can have any relation to reality, unless we deny that such a thing as reality exists” (1945, 22).
However, the arbitrary nature of territorial boundaries is not the only problem with the modern notion of sovereign territorial states. A more central problem is that this system is inherently a war-system. This fact has been pointed out by thinkers from the 17th century to the present. Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Emery Reves, and Errol E. Harris all explicitly recognized this consequence of the system of territorial sovereign states. Jackson describes the system in this way:
Facing outward a sovereign is but one among many such authorities around the world…. All sovereigns, even the most powerful, must come to terms with this pluralistic reality. They do that by various means and measures that derive from their sovereignty. [This includes diplomacy, negotiation, international law, treaties, commercial relationships, and] related kinds of international organizations. They do that, in the final analysis, by means of war, which reflects the fact that there is no supreme authority above independent states for resolving disputes between them. (2007, 11-12)
Immanuel Kant also determined that the condition of territorial sovereign states was inherently one of war, since independent relations recognizing no law above themselves means that the relationship is one of power rather than moral freedom as guaranteed under a republican constitution. He determined therefore that the very existence of sovereign states was immoral and that the moral imperative was to move out of this condition through uniting under a world constitution “resembling a civil constitution” (1983, 115). Only thus uniting under a world constitution (hence, ending war through the rule of enforceable laws) could remove human beings from this immoral relationship.
Emery Reves wrote: “War takes place whenever and wherever non-integrated social units of equal sovereignty come into contact…. Wars always ceased when a higher unity established its own sovereignty, absorbing the sovereignties of the conflicting smaller groups” (1945, 121, emphasis his). This by itself establishes the fact that the system of territorial sovereignties is illegitimate and that an Earth Federation under the united sovereignty of the people of Earth is alone legitimate.
War (and being part of the war-system) is the very opposite of respect and concern for the freedom and dignity of each citizen. War turns one’s own citizens into dehumanized robots obeying orders to kill and be killed. It turns the citizens of some other territorial group into dehumanized, collective “enemies” to be maimed and killed, and their life-support systems destroyed. Even when not in battle, the very existence of territoriality that denies those outside one’s borders the same right to freedom and dignity as those within is dehumanizing to both those within and without.
Since government’s only legitimate role is respect and concern for the freedom and dignity of citizens, this function cannot authentically exist as long as there are other human beings in other territories who can be dehumanized as potential enemies to be destroyed. The war-system destroys human freedom and dignity, just as it destroys the legitimacy of governments that claim to represent that freedom and dignity. The freedom and dignity of persons does not end at territorial borders. Territorial borders are irrelevant to, and incommensurable with, the universal freedom and dignity of persons. Only a planetary Earth Federation could legitimately respect the freedom and dignity of each person.
Does this fact (that the world is organized as a war-system) by itself make the modern condition of territorial sovereignty immoral? Do any of these governments, with their militarism and refusal to submit to any law higher than themselves, exist with moral legitimacy? If the moral foundation of government is the protection and enhancement of the dignity and freedom of citizens, does being part of this war system demean and degrade the persons within these states? I maintain that it does just that.
Third, and perhaps most fundamental, it is not the war-system alone that makes the system of territorial sovereign nations absurd and immoral, today it is the fact that the common good has moved to the planetary level. No territorial fragment of the world can any longer effectively actualize anything resembling the common good of its citizens. For their common good would clearly include no longer having to live under the absurd threat of total nuclear annihilation or being wiped out by some other weapons of mass destruction such as bioweapons engendering a global pandemic.
And the common good obviously includes having an environment that will support human life and flourishing, something that no territorial fragment can effectively promote because this precisely requires a united Earth and the rule of enforceable democratic world law. With each passing year since approximately 1972 (when the first big UN environmental conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden) the territorial nation-states have seen their legitimacy decrease. They announced their failure again in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. They failed again in Johannesburg in 2002. They failed again in Copenhagen in 2009. The nations of Earth have failed their citizens repeatedly for nearly half a century and by today these governments have made themselves universally illegitimate. They clearly do not represent the common good of their citizens.
The current UN Sustainable Development Goals, in place from 2015 to 2030, are predicated on the same UN principles based on the system of territorially sovereign nation states. (1) These goals are voluntary and not mandatory for all participating nations (which in-itself means they will not and cannot be realized). (2) The goals clearly state that they are for economic “growth” (which environmentalists almost universally claim cannot be continued in the face of a finite and limited planetary ecosystem). As Bukovansky writes: “the legitimacy of the existing order may also be eroded by its inability to confront new material conditions” (2002, 233). The fantasy that sovereign nations can continue to measure economic success in terms of increasing GNP signals their inability to confront the new material conditions of planetary limitations and scarcity.
(3) The SDGs almost entirely ignore the population explosion (since powerful donor nations to the UN do not want that emphasized). (4) The SDGs present an extremely truncated and misleading set of ideas about the need for “peace.” They ignore the absurd threat to human existence by WMDs as well as the on-going imperialism of the major UN donor nations. (5) The UN SDG resolution clearly states that the “resources” within each national territory belong under the sovereign control of that nation (which means, for example, that Brazil has the legal right to cut down the lungs of the Earth).
The Sustainable Development Goals cannot succeed because they remain based on a territorial sovereignty paradigm and have not shifted to a planetary paradigm. They lend an entirely false “legitimacy” to the participating nations as if these nations were attempting to serve the common good of their citizens. But a false ideology that cannot effectively achieve the real, measurable common good of citizens is worse than none at all. Territorial sovereign nation-states have no defensible political legitimacy. The Sustainable Development Goals generate the illusion that these nations are legitimately attempting to serve of common good of their populations. But the common good is now planetary, and the territorial system not only cannot effectively serve the planetary good, it structurally impedes it.
Three Theoretical Approaches to Legitimacy
Positivism (e.g. HLA Hart, 1962). Positivism take its stand on the distinction between fact and value, between the “is” and the “ought” that was formulated in the work of David Hume and others since the 17th and 18th centuries. It holds that we must base our valid concepts on the facts and what is scientifically confirmable, not on unconfirmable and unobservable moral, religious, or metaphysical ideas. The only legitimation of a political system, therefore, is the fact that it is established. Hence, power and fact determine legitimacy, not moral sentiments. There are no value-criteria intrinsic to the law nor any established political system by which the law or system can be judged as lacking and hence illegitimate. As we saw above, another word for positivism is “realism.” Does a so-called realist analysis of the world make any sense at all? What about the so-called Nazi system of law being whatever is commanded by Hitler?
Some positivists or realists would say that Hitler had the power and the obedience of the majority of the population and therefore the Nazi government was legitimate. Others recognize a minimal set of formal criteria to which law should conform if it is to be considered legitimate (as formulated, for example, by Lon Fuller in his 1964 book, The Morality of Law). In this area positivists often overlap with natural law theorists. Legitimate law must have a consistent set of rules for behavior; the law must be publicized and known by the citizens; it cannot abusively use retroactive legislation by arbitrarily criminalizing behavior that was formerly legal; it cannot be self-contradictory; it must not demand actions beyond the power of its subjects; the rules must be consistent with the actual enforcement and administration of the law, etc. By these criteria, even a positivist or realist might affirm that Hitler’s government by arbitrary command, retroactive and contradictory laws, and constant fluctuation of the laws was illegitimate.
Natural law theory (e.g. John Finnis, 1980). Beyond these minimal (formal) requirements for law to be legitimately law, does the law and the political system need to foster the common good of citizens? For natural law theorists, there are substantive (rather than merely formal) values that can be recognized and articulated by human practical reason that serve as a model and guide for existing legal systems and a criterion of legitimacy for these systems. Values are not, therefore, merely subjective as positivism tends to hold but can be objectively discerned. These values inform both our public and private lives and publicly they allow us to distinguish good (legitimate) government from bad (illegitimate) government. Good government promotes the common good of the population, a common good that includes maximizing the freedom and dignity of each citizen. To the degree that the common good is effectively promoted, John Finnis argues, the government is legitimate.
Utopian Horizon Theory (G.T. Martin, 2018). Anthropologically, for humans all values and all legitimation require a counterfactual projection into the future within which values discerned as lacking in the present can be actualized. Hence, in all areas of human cognition and endeavor, the future plays a normative role in the present. Values need not be envisioned as metaphysical realities apart from human temporality. In political theory, such concepts as democracy, freedom, social justice, due process of law, legitimacy, and common good operate in this way.
These are all counter-factual ideals that arise as rational beings recall their past within a dynamic present that simultaneously projects itself into the future. This temporality lies at the heart our human existential situation. Values need not be conceived as metaphysical principles as natural law theory often asserted, whether coming from God or from reason. Rather, value is intrinsic to the temporal dynamics of each existential human being. We all live within a “utopian horizon” of counterfactual ideals. As Paul Tillich concluded, we experience transformative values as a “call” from the future upon our present condition: “through the demand, humanity is directed to what ought to be” (1987, 143-44).
Philosopher John Dewey, for example, developed a broad concept of “democracy” even larger than the concept of government. Democracy for Dewey is a moral ideal of the state of affairs that should obtain in all human relationships, a condition symbolized by the French revolutionary slogan of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Dewey writes: “Yet it is not ‘ideal’ in the sense of being visionary and utopian, for it simply projects to their logical and practical limit forces inherent in human nature and already embodied to some extent in human nature. It serves accordingly as the basis for criticisms of institutions as they exist and of plans for betterment. As we shall see, most criticisms of it are in fact criticisms of the imperfect realization it has so far achieved” (1963, 497-98).
Dewey’s description of how this ideal functions conforms to the Utopian Horizon theory. Although the moral ideal of democracy as a universal framework for all human relationships is indeed utopian in the sense of a perfect counterfactual ideal, human reason can discern the difference between imaginative future utopias that may well be in reasonable conformity with our “human nature” and fantasies incapable of realization. Reason can recognize relative practical validity of the ideals that inform human futurity in relation to present conditions and human potential. The wide disagreements among ethical thinkers often has to do with their assessment of our human potential and our possibilities for approximating these ideals, not necessarily the ideals themselves.
Similarly, Immanuel Kant, in his Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals (1964), argues the Categorical Imperative, the principle of universal law constituting the basic form of all moral judgements, generates out of itself a social goal that is at the same time a duty, namely that our behavior in the present should conform to the actualizing of a possible “Kingdom of Ends.” The Kingdom of Ends is the ideal of a society in which all persons treat one another as “ends in themselves, never merely as a means,” in other words, it is the counterfactual ideal of perfectly moral society. The Utopian Horizon model sees this utopian ideal as inherent in the very structure of human temporality. But reason can make this into a “practical utopia” by assessing how we can best actualize it in the here and now as well as in the immediate and long-term future.
In Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence (2018), I called this ability of human futurity to generate a counter-factual ideal our “utopian horizon.” This label will fit with many forms of natural law theory, including the ethical ideas of Kant, Gewirth, and Habermas discussed above. Its advantage is that it does not have to bring in the seeming metaphysical idea of “natural law.” Positivism is mistaken because the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ are inseparable in human life. They are both intrinsic features of human temporality.
Positivism looks to the past, to some revolution, some seizing of power that created an orderly society that has in fact managed to meet the formal requirements of law and retain the factual maintenance of power since that event. Legitimacy is just these facts. It is difficult to see how positivism could be progressive since it recognizes no ethical criteria that a society must strive for in order to maintain and increase its legitimacy. By contrast, natural law theory gives us the possibility of a progressive self-actualization of society and history. It posits the need to progressively actualize moral principles into the foundation and workings of society and history. For Kant, the categorical imperative functioned in this way as a guide to the progressive self-actualization of man.
Utopian Horizon theory claims to restore the proper place of human futurity within society and history. Even though (since the time of St. Augustine’s famous reflection of human temporality in Books 10 and 11 of the Confessions)we know that only the present exists. We know that the past does not exist except in memory, a memory that is both selective and interpretative. We know that the future does not exist except in imagination and anticipation. We know that we live in a dynamic, holistic, evolving present in which memory and imaginative anticipation interact as the basis for human action in the present directed toward that future.
Within this dynamism, Utopian Horizon theory restores the integrity and legitimacy of the future. This dynamism with its priority of the future is, so to speak, part of our truly astonishing and privileged God-given human situation. The future has just as much “reality” as the past, in one sense, but it also has an ontological priority ignored by positivism, natural law theory, and much of history. Utopian Horizon theory is not merely progressive but revolutionary. We human beings are made for futurity; we are designed to be transforming the present in terms of our memories of the past and our vision of a practical utopian future. We need definitions of legitimacy and sovereignty that accommodate the ontological priority and fulness of that future.
It is no longer simply “practical reason” that discerns legitimate utopian goals and the means to achieve them. For we are now living in an age that has recognized stages of human growth from immature egoism to higher levels that can be identified as moving to an ethnocentrism, then a worldcentric orientation, then a transpersonal cosmocentric level. These names reflect objective stages of human maturity and self-realization. The utopian horizon becomes less subjective and less egoistic as one matures. At the transpersonal levels reason also takes on an entirely different role. A new objectivity shows up that helps reveal the greater credibility of the utopian dimension.
In the broad sense, the reality of our utopian horizon includes the human recognition of the valid ideals of truth, beauty, justice, dignity, liberty, community, etc. Human beings live within a pervasive utopian horizon. The challenge for reason and moral growth in part involves considering the means for actualizing the utopian horizon implicit in human existence and evaluating the degree to which practical conditions in the present can be adjusted or transformed to maximize the utopian framework. We must become “practical utopians.”
Criteria for Legitimacy
Political legitimation. In my 2008 book Ascent to Freedom, I distinguished seven ethical criteria for legitimate democracy and five “effectiveness” criteria. The seven ethical criteria are recognition of human dignity, recognition of inalienable human rights, reasonable political and economic equality, the existence of public space sufficient for genuine communication, consent and active participation of the governed, articulated rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and representation of the common good of the whole. All of these, it should now be clear, function as counterfactual ideals that can be used to evaluate and improve existing conditions in the present. The five effectiveness criteria that I formulated in Chapter 10 of Ascent to Freedom, constitute some of the ways in which these moral criteria can and have been made actual within various nation-states (effective voting, security of citizens, methods of participation, etc.).
The US Constitution was approved by a few delegates in Philadelphia and then submitted to populations for approval. By what right was this done since the legitimate government of the 13 colonies was that of King George? They violently overthrew the legitimate government and instituted a new one based on counterfactual ideals that were written into the document: promises of democracy, religious liberty, freedom of speech, the rule of law, private property, civil justice, etc. However, in the 19th century, the right of private property was institutionalized to the extent that it trumped all other rights, giving the capitalists the power to exploit workers, employ children, maintain unsafe working conditions, and do whatever else was needed to maximize profits.
Every legitimate government contains three dimensions: (1) power to make, enforce, and adjudicate laws, unchallengeable by any individual, (2) conformity to the formal requirements of coherent law (as described above), and (3) ethical legitimacy in the eyes of the people that the government is striving to serve their common good (which is always a counter-factual good). Habermas references these dimensions in the following ways:
Legal validity has two distinct components: the empirical component of enforcement of law [which includes both the power and formal dimensions] and the rational component of the claim to legitimacy. Legal validity requires that both components be justifiable simultaneously to the addressees…. The law must at all times make possible more than legality, namely, obedience based on insight into the legal order (1993, 156)
A legal order is legitimate when it safeguards the autonomy of all citizens to an equal degree. The citizens are autonomous only if the addressees of the law can also see themselves as its authors…., that everyone can presume that the regulations enacted in that way deserve general and rationally motivated assent. (1994, 121-22)
Rationally motivated assent means the ethical dimension invoked by the counterfactual ideal of citizens seeing themselves as the authors of the law and perceiving that the law safeguards the autonomy of all citizens to an equal degree. No such government exists in fact. There are degrees of legitimacy rationally evaluated in the light of this counterfactual ideal.
The often-cited criterion of “consent of the governed” is far from the idea of rationally motivated assent. The governed can be manipulated in many ways that elicit their assent through irrational avenues. They can recognize their government as legitimate in protecting them from implacable foreign enemies, or they can be deluded by propaganda about “free enterprise” that in fact results in their loss of freedom as wage slaves within a class-dominated society. There are many ways to engineer irrational consent.
Neither does being recognized as a member of the international community of governments by the UN confer legitimacy in this ethical sense. Fifty percent of the governments in the UN general assembly are not democracies in any recognizable form. The UN criterion of recognition is basically positivist: any effective group in power over a certain territory conforming to the formal requirements of law will do. Legitimacy is purely factual, formal, and power-based. Ethical legitimacy (found, for example, in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) does not significantly enter into actual UN practices of nation-state recognition.
The concept of political or constitutional legitimacy is, therefore, not an absolute either/or. It is a relative concept applied to existing governments over a wide scale, from illegitimate to somewhat legitimate to perhaps significantly legitimate. If the standard of legitimacy is truly representing the common good of the people to the point where “the addressees of the law also see themselves as its authors,” then very few nations can be considered legitimate. However, surpassing these considerations, the concept of the “common good” has also changed radically in the past 50 years. It has been globalized. As we will see next, no nation today comes even close to being fully legitimate.
Brief Summary of main points so far:
Thus, we see that the concept of legitimacy, like the concept of sovereignty are:
Historically contingent in their past forms and changing over time, yet apparently pointing forward to an ever-greater coherence and consistency, beginning with the Renaissance and moving forward to present-day globalized conceptions of sovereignty and legitimacy.
Somewhat relative to context and subject to major confusions, such as becoming arbitrarily tied to geographical territories, but capable of being disentangled and clarified so that the concepts become more truly meaningful.
Contradictory in their past forms, not only when applied to defined territorial units but also when applied to systems with internal contradictions (such as the claim of governments to represent all the people while directing the power of government to the needs of an economic ruling class).
Morally Problematic in their past forms, when contrasted with the ethical foundation for all legitimate political and economic deliberations. Systemic contradictions, confusions, and impediments prevent governments from legitimately representing the common good of all their citizens.
The Globalization of the Concept of Legitimacy
It has been nearly 60 years since Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring helped to launch the global environmental movement. It has been 52 years since Paul and Anne Ehrlich published The Population Bomb showing that our planet was heading for the global tragedy of radically exceeding environmental carrying capacity. It has been 70 years since Einstein wrote that “the available weapons of destruction are of a kind that no place on earth is safeguarded against sudden total destruction. The only hope for protection lies in the securing of peace in a supernational way.”
Since 1945 the central problems of people everywhere have transcended national boundaries. Our central problems are global and any possible solutions to those problems must be global. Rachel Carson dedicated her book to Albert Schweitzer who said: “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth.” The idea of the world as a collection of militarized sovereign nation-states has not diminished in all these decades, and the UN system continues to operate around an antiquated system of so-called international law that enshrines this fragmentation. This system obscures our capacity to foresee and forestall. Each state is cursed with institutionalized myopic blindness.
All this while, humanity has been progressively understanding its global interdependence, its universal species identity, and its mutually shared common good. This common good includes preservation of the planetary ecosystem from collapse and the right to peace, including elimination of the threat of WMDs, as well as universal health care, health protection systems that minimize the risk of global pandemics, universal education, housing, food security, social insurance, etc. The common good of every person and society on Earth has now become the protection of the global environment, the elimination of WMDs, the end of pollution, coordination for food security, universal health care, and planetary social justice.
Yet nations continue to operate under the UN system and the International Law system that have been transcended by millions of thoughtful people for many decades now. They continue to operate with the “treaty system” in which representatives of each nation make some voluntary agreement with other nations to operate in certain ways. They continue to act as if the resources and ecosystems of the planet were the private property of each nation, and they refuse to recognize that the planet’s atmosphere, oceans, rain forests, and geophysical resources belong to all of us. They refuse to develop a legal category of world citizenship that properly designates each human being as a member of a global community sharing a planetary common good.
In a word, the governments of the world have refused to move beyond the outmoded Newtonian paradigm that was there at the founding of the nation-state system at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. They have refused to adopt the holistic, planetary perspective that is necessary to effectively deal with global problems and that now represents the common good of humanity. Each government continues to pour money into a military supposedly for its own defense and security in the face of a world situation that makes these things an illusion. These and other actions taken by sovereign states go directly against the genuine common good of their citizens. No government on the planet is today capable of actualizing the common good of its citizens since the common good is now planetary and beyond the effective scope of any and all territorial sovereign nations.
Based on the universal structures of our common humanity, the globalized approach shows that our expectation that the nation-state can secure our common good is unrealizable without global institutions in place that make this possible. Any legitimate system is organized around actualizing the common good. The principle of generic consistency (Gewirth 1982) declares that all persons and nations are the same in this respect. We all have equal rights and duties. Only institutions dedicated to realizing the planetary common good can be considered legitimate.
In terms of the three features of legitimacy discussed above, how can we rate the legitimacy of the sovereign nations versus the Constitution for the Federation of Earth?On the scale of power, most of the sovereign nations continue to have effective power over their citizens, but they use this power also to discourage the development of supranational forms of authority that could promote a genuine common good for the people of Earth. On the second feature of legitimacy, the formal requirements for articulating and enforcing laws, most of the governments also do fairly well. However, on the third requirement of legitimacy (ethical legitimacy derived from dedication to the common good of their citizens) the governments of the world fail miserably.
Their very assertion of their own territorial sovereignty helps defeat their ethical legitimacy. They are all ethically illegitimate. For the common good is now clearly planetary, global. The common good for humanity cannot be actualized by any territorial fragment, only through a government representing the united sovereignty of the people of Earth. The concept of sovereignty has shifted once again, freeing itself from its contradictory territorial embodiment. It has arrived at its logical culmination in the sovereignty of all the people of Earth as stated in Article 2 of the Earth Constitution.
It is here that the Constitution for the Federation of Earth shines brightly. The Constitution, and the currently operating Provisional World Government derived from it, lacks power. The Constitution, and the laws derived from it and passed by the Provisional World Parliament, however, do exhibit all the formal requirements of good law. However, on the third dimension of legitimacy, ethical legitimacy derived from serving the common good of the people of Earth, the Constitution and the laws derived from it by the Provisional World Parliament are by far more legitimate than any other document or political system on the planet.
Democratic and Efficiency Criteria for Legitimacy.
The Earth Constitution’s greater legitimacy includes the following (for a fuller account, see Ascent to Freedom, Chapters 9-12):
The sovereignty of the people of Earth is properly recognized and activated as the source of authority of the World Parliament and the agencies of the Earth Federation. As Emery Reves states: “We cannot have democracy in a world of interdependent, sovereign nation-states, because democracy means sovereignty of the people. The nation-state structure strangles and exterminates the sovereignty of the people, that sovereignty which, instead of vested in institutions of the community, is vested in [some 200] separate sets of sovereign nation-state institutions” (1945, 162).
The unity in diversity of all humanity is identified in the Preamble as fundamental to the entire Constitution. There can never be true unity under the system of territorial sovereign entities, and therefore the bigger and more powerful will always dominate and colonize the diversity. Only a unified humanity can end war and protect the planetary ecosystem. This principle is mirrored in the structure of all the agencies and organs of the Earth Federation government.
Universal rights including the rights to peace and a healthy environment. Hence, for example, the Constitution creates a peace-system (of universal enforceable laws) for the Earth to replace the war-system. For the first time in history the right to peace and the right to a protected viable environment are written into an authoritative document capable of legally actualizing and enforcing these most fundamental rights. No sovereign nation can possibly actualize these rights precisely because these rights are inherently global and require a global authority for their implementation.
The democratic inclusion of all the people of Earth. As the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts, people have the right to democratic participation in their societies. However, in a fragmented world system, democratic debate (in those countries on Earth where it is allowed) is largely debate over internal issues only. People have no genuine democratic say in war issues, global environmental issues, or human rights issues in other countries. If democracy means the rule of the people, then the people under territorial nations are cut off from ruling in precisely those areas most crucial to their future and even their survival.
Effective mechanisms for solving global problems beyond the scope of any nation-states. Like any well-designed governmental system, the Earth Constitution sets up mechanisms for effectively addressing the entire range of the Earth’s problems. Indeed, addressing precisely these global problems is outlined in Article 1 as the “broad functions” of the Federation—including ending war and ensuring disarmament, protecting universal human rights, ensuring global social justice, and protecting the planetary environment. Under the present system, if any nation were to allow its citizens to vote on these things, it would be decried for interfering with the sovereign “internal affairs” of the other nations.
Placing key resources of the Earth under the protection of the people of Earth. Article 4 gives the Earth Federation government the authority to really protect the Earth and its future. It places resources essential to the planetary ecosystem (for example, the atmosphere of the Earth, the oceans of the Earth, and the rain-forests of the Earth) under the authority of the people. It grants the government authority that transcends the so-called legal right that the absurd territorial sovereign nations now have to destroy our planet and its ecosystem, for example, to go to war, to exploit key planetary resources, or to pollute our planetary air, water, and soil.
Habermas asserts that we need to recall the 200-year old history of nation-states “if we want to understand why the welfare state has fallen upon such hard times.” The phenomenon of the nation-state within defined territorial borders took on a more or less convincing form for much of this history, he says, however: “today, developments summarized under the term ‘globalization’ have put this entire constellation into question…. This background will show how the transformed constellation we are currently witnessing touches on the most basic functions and legitimacy conditions of democratic nation-states” (2001, 60-61).
These “legitimacy conditions” are withering away. The nation-state cannot effectively deal with “globalization” in the sense of the lethal planetary problems we are facing on every side. In Natural Law and Natural Rights (1980), John Finnis describes the conditions that contribute to a group of people being a genuine community. One of the necessary conditions for being a community, he argues, is that the group be a political community with a single, constitutional government. Such a situation allows people to effectively relate to one another while promoting a common good that benefits the whole. However, global conditions are pointing beyond the nation-state which itself is becoming a mere “legal fiction”:
We must not take the pretensions of the modern state at face value. Its legal claims are founded, as I remarked, on its self-interpretation as a complete and self-sufficient community. But there are relationships between men which transcend the boundaries of all poleis, realms, or states. These relationships exist willy-nilly, in manifold and multiplying ways. . . . If it now appears that the good of individuals can only be fully secured and realized in the context of international community, we must conclude that the claim of the national state to be a complete community is unwarranted and the postulate of the national legal order, that it is supreme and comprehensive and an exclusive source of legal obligation, is increasingly what lawyers would call a ‘legal fiction’. (129-130)
The basis of the authority of the state is that it effectively promotes the “common good” or “flourishing” of its citizens, and no state can fully promote such flourishing unless it is democratic. The state is increasingly a “legal fiction” because it cannot be a “complete community” promoting the “freedom and well-being” of its citizens. Instead, the state must be concerned with national security, military defense, terrorism, foreign corporate invasions, currency fluctuations, international debt to private banking cartels (such as the IMF and World Bank), global economic competition, diminishing natural resources, increasing climate disruption, internal racism and inter-group rivalry, and increasing social chaos. Under these circumstances, no nation can any longer be truly democratic, and no nation can therefore be called a legitimate political community.
Errol E. Harris agrees. He writes, “Although no true community is possible among sovereign nations, it is possible among different peoples once it is realized that they have a genuinely common interest, and that annuls the raison d’être of sovereign communities….The restriction of sovereignty to national limits undermines the conditions of human welfare and frustrates the ends of civilized living” (1966, 187-88). Finnis calls the idea of a legally empowered global authority our “complete” human community, and Harris recognizes that “no true community is possible among sovereign nations,” precisely because they organize around national self-interest and deny any effective law above themselves that might bind them together into a genuine human community.
Harris discerns that a true global community constitutes a community of common interests “derived from the common needs of mankind as a whole” protecting our “universal interests in peace, security, material welfare and moral progress” (ibid 188; see 1950, 50-51). However, “a plurality of sovereign states is not a community and there is no monopoly of force by any agency representing the community of the world” (ibid., 200). Our universal human interests should bind us into a global community with a monopoly of authority to represent those interests. This means a genuine World Parliament, he argues, with the authority to legislate universal binding laws.
In the early twenty-first century, the concept of a complete community under the rule of law has now matured to its proper locus: the world community. Only the world community has the potential for becoming a “complete community.” The political framework of the world community (requiring ratification of the Earth Constitution)is more legitimate than any of the nation-states ever were. The world community does not attempt to cobble together a multiplicity of languages, cultures, and traditions, for it us based on our universal common humanity and the universal rule of democratically legislated law, that is, on principles, rather than arbitrary historical contingencies. It, therefore, can celebrate the immense diversity of persons on the Earth because community is now established on its proper basis of universal human unity in diversity.
Our global social contract under the Earth Constitution is not additive. It is not a matter of adding up “sovereign” nations like the United Nations attempts to do. The human community under the Earth Constitution is no longer additive of independent atoms but actualizes a new level of reality: humanity united, inseparable, indivisible, indestructible. The whole is clearly so much more than the sum of its parts. Our unity in diversity is manifested in a global regime of democratic laws premised on our newly actualized human unity. The human community is indeed completed by law. Our practical utopian horizon requires insight into the fundamental role that democratic world law plays in our common human future.
Philosopher of law David Luban affirms that the issue of the legitimacy of government is “the basic normative concept of political theory” (1988, 251). Harris agrees with Kant, Habermas, and Finnis that true democracy is a requirement of the human community as a whole and that sovereign territorial nation-states are no longer legitimate governing bodies. Their legitimacy (and hence their innermost mission as representatives of law and justice) can only be restored if they federate (unite) under an Earth Constitution and their sovereignty becomes limited to internal affairs, leaving global problems and global issues to the World Parliament, the World Courts, and the World Administration in which they each participate. Harris concludes,
So the national sovereign state is clearly no longer competent to secure the welfare even of the community over which it rules, for that is obviously dependent on the conservation of the planetary ecology and the maintenance of world peace, both of which are interests common to the whole of humanity. It follows that the national state is no longer rightfully entitled to wield sovereign power. But its inability to serve the common interest it forfeits its authority and thereby its legitimacy. (2014, 108)
Political theory has affected a paradigm-shift with respect to its “basic normative concept” of legitimacy. Legitimacy is can no longer be tied to the territorial level. Legitimate full sovereignty only lies with the whole of humanity. Sovereign nations are illegitimate unless—unless the nations unite under the sovereignty of the people of Earth as embodied in the Earth Constitution.
In this case, the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy will have been disentangled from the notion of territory and the nations are restored to legitimacy as administrative components of a planetary federal system. Territories are never sovereign in the sense of being separate from the rest of the world. People are sovereign. Under a planetary federal system, sovereignty descends from the whole to national levels, regional levels, and local levels. Administrative units have a limited sovereignty derived from the legitimacy and sovereignty of the whole.
Selected facts pointing to the economic and political legitimacy of nation-states
The following charts containing selected facts are meant to be merely suggestive and to symbolize something about the illegitimacy of the territorial nation-state system, namely that these illegitimate entities can and should be empirically rated on the degree to which they are destroying our human future through both their actions and their very existence under the flawed system of territorial sovereignty. The first chart rates the economic legitimacy (discussed above) in relation to the relative distribution of wealth between the rich and poor. The second chart rates political legitimacy (also discussed above) on the basis of the degree of CO2 pollution of our planetary environment from each nation and whether or not they possess nuclear weapons.
Key: UN Rich/Poor: The ratio of the average income of the richest to the poorest 10%.
World Bank Gini: A Gini index of 0% = perfect income equality while a Gini index of 100% = perfect income inequality.
Below: Countries that are actively defeating our planetary future through weapons of mass destruction and environmental pollution have no political legitimacy. For the reasons identified above, no country has full political legitimacy. The majority of countries have only low political legitimacy.
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists. CO2 emissions measured in Gigatons (GT).
We can draw the following conclusions about the concepts of legitimacy and sovereignty, when applied at the universal level:
At the global level, the concepts transcend in a very real way the historical contingency and evolutionary process, since they have now reached their proper universal locus. Human civilization has colonized the planet with creatures 99.9%+ genetically identical with one another. The appropriate locus for governing is planetary. The appropriate locus for sovereignty and legitimacy is planetary.
Although, like all concepts, they remain relative to context, we find that in the global context, there is a fundamentally appropriate and ethically central meaning to both. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Earth and legitimacy can be measured on the degree to which the Earth Federation government protects the freedom, dignity, well-being, and capacity to flourish of each person with reasonable equity and fairness.
The concepts are no longer internally contradictory. If economics is predicated on the well-being of people and not falsely predicated on an “invisible hand” that is supposed to accompany the unlimited private accumulation of wealth, then a fundamental equity and well-being for the entire planetary population can be achieved. Secondly, if sovereignty is predicated on government aimed at the common good at the planetary level, then there is no longer a contradiction between territorial fragmentation and the human common good. The Earth Federation government will have the authority, legitimacy, and effectiveness to “foresee and forestall” our collapsing planetary environment and to oversee the necessary demilitarization of the world.
At the global level, these concepts are no longer ethically problematic because they become founded (in a properly formed constitution such as the Earth Constitution) on the universal basis of all ethics: human freedom and dignity. This counter-factual principle derives from the ontological priority of our practical utopian future, a priority that helps secure legitimacy. The war system has been replaced by a peace system. Systemic injustice has been replaced by a justice system (including reasonable economic equity). An environmentally destructive system has been replaced by a sustainability system.
Ethically, therefore, the system designed by the Earth Constitution is 100% legitimate. Even though it does not yet have power or popular democratic legitimation, the Earth Constitution possesses a greater legitimacy than the antiquated system of fragmented territorial entities. It is open to ratification and further power legitimation under Articles 17 and 19, and its popular support continues to grow daily.
While at the same time the supposed legitimacy of the fragmented sovereign territorial states continues to diminish with each passing day. The legitimacy of many of them is already at zero. In the face of our seriously endangered human future, we urgently need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.
Althusius, Johannes (1995). Politica. Trans. Frederick S. Carney. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Publishers.
Anderson, Benedict (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso Press.
Bukovansky, Mlada (2002). Legitimacy and Power Politics: The American and French Revolutions in International Political Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Despite the very real danger of spreading the corona virus, there are hundreds of thousands of people in every large city in the USA, protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police and the institutionalized racism that has characterized US law enforcement since before and after the era of slavery. The protests have been going on for some 10 days without let up. Most of them have been peaceful (and hence legal) but there have been a few that have destroyed property, looted, or burned.
The reaction to the institutionalized racism of law enforcement in the United States is simultaneously a reaction to a racist, authoritarian, incompetent, and divisive President. Donald Trump represents what is lowest in the US system—the bigotry, the greed, the egoism, the elitism, and the authoritarianism. Trump was protected from impeachment by a Republican dominated Senate that represents the same superrich elite that supports the domination of wealth over justice in the US system. The same superrich class has colonized much of the Democratic Party as well.
Trump’s response to the largely peaceful social rebellion represented by these protests has been to call out the military to take action of “domination” against the protesters. “We must dominate the battle-space” he declares. He asserts that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The implication is that the looting and destruction of property is an offense that outweighs the right to life. Someone who endangers private property can be killed with impunity. The police and the military are there to enforce that domination.
Some US politicians have opposed Trump’s response by appealing to US founding principles such as “all men are created equal.” They have declared that these ideals must guide us to address institutionalized racist policing, judicial, and penal systems in an effort to make them fair, equal, and non-discriminatory. However, these values struggle side by side with another dimension of the US system: the dogma of capitalism, so-called “free markets,” private property, and the “right” to unlimited private accumulation of wealth.
The very nature of placing human beings into the commodity market, that is, making their labor another commodity along with pork rinds and kitchen pots is to institutionalize a principle that contradicts the ideal that “all men are created equal.” Human dignity is ignored when human life becomes just another commodity within an economic system directed to the private accumulation of wealth, rather than toward justice or freedom or equality. Under this system, the exploitation of human labor degrades the many in order to maximize the private wealth of the few.
The US was founded on contradictory principles, and these contradictions are manifest in today’s social rebellion ignited by the police murder of African-American George Floyd. The first principle includes the 18th century idea of human rights, human equality, and human dignity which animated some of the rhetoric of the founding fathers. The second principle, falsely embodied within the list of “inalienable rights” that the founders affirmed, was the principle of private property and the “right” to use that property to exploit others for one’s own personal gain. This is the fundamental principle of capitalism.
This latter principle in the 19th century led not only to the dehumanization of vast armies of workers in horrible factories, being forced to work 14 hours per day with nominal wages while their children as young as 7 and 8 years of age were forced to labor along side the workers in the “satanic mills” of the implacable capitalist system. It also led to the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of black Africans in tribute to this same satanic system: not only can private property make wage-slaves of penniless workers but it can turn human beings themselves into “private property,” the actual ownership and enslavement of other persons.
The institutionalized racism of the law enforcement system of the United States that the current rebellion within the US is protesting today, is the legacy of the system that idolatrously worships private property as more fundamental than human equality and dignity. Across much of the world there are protests in solidarity with the US rebellion, but the solidarity is not only with respect to institutionalized racism but also to a nation subjected to the criminal whims of President Donald Trump. Trump, who began his presidency by giving a huge tax break to the superrich corporations and bankers in the US, is not only the worst President in the history of a country that has had many terrible presidents. Rather, he has simply and clearly underlined the stark contradiction at the heart of the US system.
Trump does not care about people, but about his own and others private accumulation of wealth. He understands “domination” because that is what is necessary in a capitalist society. Despite the rhetoric about “equality and dignity” of citizens, the true function of law enforcement in the US is to protect the property of the rich from the poor. The institutionalized racism of law enforcement is only a legacy of the notion that even human beings can be enslaved as private property. The slaves were freed, but the worship of private property was never seriously questioned.
That is why during the coronavirus epidemic the US government is not forcing the big meat-packing plants and other industry giants to enforce social distancing and protection of their workers. In many cases workers are required to work in unsafe conditions, unprotected from virus exposure, or else lose their jobs. Private profit is more important than worker’s lives. And in many of these plants it is black and brown skinned people who are forced to take these wage-slave jobs.
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth transcends these contradictions because its fundamental principle is precisely the freedom, equality, and dignity of every person on Earth. It constructs the Earth Federation government on these principles and explicitly prohibits all forms of discrimination by class, sex, race, or religion. If the moral foundation of a system is correct, then its practical consequences will be correct. Our human condition around the planet is premised on contradictions rather than fundamentally correct principles.
One contradiction is between the worship of private property and the affirmation of human dignity. The two cannot go successfully together. Another contradiction is between the idea that the world can be divided into some 193 “sovereign” nation-states, recognizing no enforceable laws above themselves and the idea that we are all human beings with the same equality and dignity. These two concepts also cannot go successfully together. Either we are fragmented into “sovereign” lawless states, or we are one human family. We cannot be both. The Earth Constitution transcends the contradiction between so-called “sovereign nation-states” and our universal human dignity, just as it transcends the contradiction between the worship of the private accumulation of wealth and the equal dignity of citizens.
Global democracy, and a decent world for everyone on the planet, a world of peace, justice, and environmental sustainability flows from the fundamental principle that all people are brothers and sisters, with equality and dignity. The Earth Constitution, for the first time in history, gives us a set of governmental institutions not based on inherent contradictions. Uniting the world under this clear, single moral principle, is the only thing that can make possible a flourishing human future for our children. From this moral principle then flows pragmatic forms of politics and economics that empower and dignify people, rather than dehumanizing them.
The immense contradictions at the heart of the US system, exacerbated and manifested by Donald Trump and institutionalized racism, will never be solved as long as the contradictions are not dealt with. The US is a failed system precisely because it is founded on explicit contradictions. Our principle must be human dignity, not perverted and not adulterated by the irrational worship of private property and the unlimited accumulation of private wealth. The principle of unity in diversity behind the Earth Constitution gives us the fundamental model for true human liberation.
Even the criminal thought of a malefactor has more
grandeur and nobility than the wonders of the heavens.
G. W. F. Hegel
Many things have changed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Human beings have created weapons capable of wiping out humanity entirely. Globalization has greatly intensified the development of planetary consciousness. The global pandemic has revealed to us our interdependence with the rest of humanity. We are now acutely aware that we are one species living within one, unique ecosystem that supports our existence. We also understand that climate change is threatening to destroy the very conditions that support higher forms of life on Earth.
With increased planetary consciousness the conceptual description of the struggle for human liberation has also transformed. What can we bring forward from the revolutionary consciousness of past generations that can animate our own struggle to establish a just, peaceful, and sustainable world civilization? Should the revolutionary solidarity of the past animate our thinking today?
Today, we understand that liberation cannot be accomplished on a nation by nation basis. It has to be, as Einstein declared, “one world or none.” Today we understand that it is not only class consciousness that needs to be activated, but also planetary consciousness. Today, we understand that all human beings are interdependent economically, technically, and ecologically. Human liberation must be holistic. We must transform our thinking and our praxis to become holistic through and through.
In what ways are Karl Marx and Ernesto “Che” Guevara still with us? Che was a major spokesman for the Cuban revolutionary task of creating the hombre nuevo, the new man, and the educational and social system in Cuba that he helped found has indeed created many extraordinary human beings, some of whom I have met on my 6 extended trips to Cuba in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I supported and continue to support the Cuban revolution. Indeed, on the wall of my home in New York State I have a large framed photo of Che Guevara that was part of a limited edition series of prints taken from the work of the father and son team who chronicled the revolution: Osvaldo and Roberto Salas. This was a gift to me from my friends in Cuba to honor my solidarity with them.
There is a famous quote from Che taken from his letter to the Uruguayan editor of the journal Marcha that was first published in Montevideo in 1965. In this quote Che declares that “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love” (el revolutionario verdadero está guiado por grandes sentimientos de amor):
And it must be said with all sincerity that in a real revolution, to which one gives his all and from which one expects no material reward, the task of the vanguard revolutionary is at one and the same time magnificent and agonizing. At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality…. Our vanguard revolutionaries must make an ideal of this love of the people, of the most sacred causes, and make it one and indivisible. (1989, 14-15)
One of the Marxist criticisms of the class society during the capitalist era is that this society in its propaganda, art, and literature produces many fine ideals such as moral goals, human rights, and noble aspirations, but these ideals never penetrate into the day to day social and economic existence of people to the point where human domination, degradation, and exploitation are eliminated. Human beings remain in contradiction between their abstract idealism and the concrete material realities of existence. So-called “scientific materialism” was supposed to transform this situation by exposing the mechanisms of exploitation and thereby allowing us to create material conditions of production, distribution, and consumption that empower human freedom, fulfillment, and development, rather than exploitation and dehumanizing degradation.
Those in the leadership of the “revolutionary vanguard” in the effort to create the concrete conditions for human liberation, then as now, are animated by the love of humanity, of human dignity, and the destiny of the human project. The question is how to bring our love down from merely abstract ideals and allow it to transform the real political and economic relationships that determine everyday life on Earth. What are the elements of the equation? What role should abstract ideals still play, if any?
What is the real meaning of ending class society and empowering genuine justice and equality in human relationships? How does the hombre nuevo overcome egoism, selfishness, and greed to become loving, ego-free, and dedicated to others? How do we establish a world in which human dignity and flourishing are the foundational premises of spirituality, politics, and economics, rather than the reverse (which is the case nearly everywhere on Earth today)?
In his “Reminiscences of Marx,” Paul Lafargue (who knew Karl Marx well in his later years) tells us that the statement by Hegel at the head of this essay was one of Marx’s favorite aphorisms. Marx repeated it often along with another of his favorite aphorisms: “Work for Humanity.” Marx told him: “Science must not be a selfish pleasure. Those who have the good fortune to be able to devote themselves to scientific pursuits must be the first to place their knowledge at the service of humanity” (in Fromm 1992, 222-24). Marx’s revolutionary solidarity in these aphorisms can be seen to include the affirmation by Che Guevara that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. Much of Marx’s liberating vision can be derived from these two statements, and so should ours.
The first aphorism, that even the criminal is more wondrous than the stars, recognizes the cosmic depth, uniqueness, and greatness of the human project, and the second declares how we should be responding to that greatness—our love for humanity and human dignity should animate our work for its actualization in human history: “work for humanity,” Marx declares, serve humanity. Our lives should be such that “one gives his all” to human liberation “and from which one expects no material reward.” The true vanguard of human liberation will include only those whose lives are focused and dedicated in this way. Marx loved Hegel’s statement because it underlines the miracle and dignity of simply existing as a human being: even the criminal manifests this miraculous quality of being human.
As both Marx and Che Guevara understood, to work for the actualization of our human “grandeur and nobility” within history means that we must develop an understanding of why our human image is distorted, repressed, alienated, and maligned throughout the course of history to date. Why is there such an abyss between what human life is and what it should and could be? Why this historic divorce between the ideal and the real? Throughout Western history, values were kept is a metaphysical vault called “natural law,” or “God’s will,” while the concrete conditions on Earth were those of slavery, oppression, and injustice.
Indeed, the grandeur of man and our human potential was nevertheless recognized throughout western history from the ancients to the present. In the Renaissance it was recognized in thinkers from Pico della Mirandola to Nicolas of Cusa. Our human place in the Cosmos, Pico declares in his famous “Oration on the Dignity of Man,” is no fixed place because human beings have been given the capacity to determine their own nature. Our “human dignity” consists in this apparently miraculous position in the scheme of things (1965, 93-111). In the 17th century Blaise Pascal declared that “man infinitely transcends man” (Penses 434). It is our self-awareness, he affirms, that gives us this infinitely self-transcending quality. For both thinkers, as for Marx, our self-awareness gives us the capacity to create a decent world for all.
In the 18th century Immanuel Kant (1964) declared that our self-aware moral freedom placed us above the determined and mechanical workings of the cosmos. It demands that we work to transform concrete human affairs according to the ideal of a morally perfect society, which he called “the Kingdom of Ends.” In the 19th century Hegel saw human consciousness as the centerpiece of cosmic development toward ever-greater freedom and reason: “World history is the progress of the consciousness of freedom….and thereby the actualization of this Freedom as the final purpose of the world” (1953, 24). Hegel placed progressive transformation at the heart of the human project.
And in the 20th century (uniting East and West) Sri Aurobindo declared that “the universe and the individual are necessary to each other in their ascent” (1973, 49). For Aurobindo, the universe became self-aware in us as part of its evolutionary ascent. Our human task was to make those cosmic purposes come alive. In a statement that sounds as if it could have come from Karl Marx, Aurbindo writes:
The aim of economics would be not to create a huge engine of production, whether of the competitive or cooperative kind, but to give to men—not only to some but to all men each in his highest possible measure—the joy of work according to their own nature and free leisure to grow inwardly, as well as a simply rich and beautiful life for all. (ibid., 197)
For all three thinkers, human beings play a key role in cosmic history. Revolutionary solidarity first and foremost recognizes human dignity (this apparently miraculous depth and quality of human existence) and acts on this insight by “working for humanity.” Our transformative love strives to actualize this human dignity in concrete human economic and political affairs to allow a fulfilling and meaningful life for all, to allow the “free leisure to grow inwardly.” We are in solidarity with all others to share the vision of human potential and self-actualization, with all those who strive to bring the ideal out from some abstract mental heaven down into the concrete earthly relations between human beings.
Second, revolutionary solidarity lives from what I have named the “utopian horizon” at the heart of human temporality (Martin 2018). Every person exists within a dynamic present moment that simultaneously embraces a remembered past, and every person critically evaluates that past with respect to how it falls short of its real dignity and potential. We project from the present towards a better and transformed future. Marxist thinker Ernst Bloch (1986) demonstrated that this “utopian futurity” is fundamental to the revolutionary vision. The future that animates our human self-awareness is not some metaphysical heaven in which values exist divorced from our concrete earthly economic and political conditions.
The future is an ever-present pressure on our conscious lives to grow in awareness, love, and transformative vision. One begins to live from this future calling us to actualize the transformed self and society implicit within our futurity. It is precisely the vision of a transformed future that reason uses to critically evaluate a failed present and past. Human dignity emerges from the temporalized dynamic of self-transcendence itself, just as Pico, Pascal, Kant, Hegel, and Aurobindo had intuited. Bloch concludes:
The ultimate quintessence of classical natural law, without all the other accessories, remains the postulate of human dignity…. Thus we find the authentic inheritance of natural law that was revolutionary: the abolition of all relations that have alienated man for things that have not only been reduced to being merchandise but are even stripped of their own value. (1986, 203)
Third, revolutionary solidarity binds us under the transformational goal of freedom, a freedom that can only be realized through the blossoming future-driven power of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Human freedom, freedom for humanity, reveals the power of living historical beings who can critically evaluate the past and envision conditions of living that free us from slavery, degradation, exploitation, and domination. Revolutionary psychologist Erich Fromm asks, “how can man become so profoundly transformed that the values he has hitherto only recognized ideologically, become compelling motives for his personality and his action?” (1996, p. 95).
Just as ideals under bourgeois civilization have always been divorced from a horrific concrete reality of domination, exploitation, and human degradation so in each of us our ideals (the vision generated by our utopian horizon) have been divorced from the concrete reality of our lives. Philosopher Henry G. Bugbee writes: “The world as I take it reflectively and the world as I muddle through it then seem excruciatingly worlds apart. What is all this talk of love, of respect, of decision coming from one who is so often devoid of them?” (1961, 140). Fromm, like Marx and Che, insists that our highest values (our utopian horizon) must become “compelling motives” in our personalities and actions.
Fourth, revolutionary solidarity develops compassion for all those who have their dignity humiliated, denied, or crushed beneath the oppressive institutions and criminal classes who by and large dominate the system. The development of compassion by and large increases as our transpersonal moral maturity increases. Compassion is not a contingent human virtue to be cultivated by those who wish to post a laundry-list of their accomplishments. It is a living solidarity with other persons precisely to the extent that one lives beyond ego in solidarity with others.
Fifth, revolutionary solidarity projects us beyond “egoistic man” into post-egoistic community. We work to overcome egoistic self-interest in the name of the community of freedom and equality that is emerging within history. The slogan arising from the French revolution of liberté, égalité, fraternité animates a profound vision. The true freedom of each person arises in and through the genuine socialistic community in which the needs and self-actualization of each is empowered precisely because each contributes to the common good according to his or her abilities. The universal pattern of healthy human development modeled by transpersonal psychologists such as Ken Wilber (1978) today underlines Marx’s vision of transcending of bourgeois egoism for the higher self-actualization in which one lives from one’s “species-being,” and selves within community mutually empower and enhance one another.
Marx continually distinguished the so-called rights and ideals of the “abstract citizen” from the concrete egoism within which most people lived their lives in bourgeois society:
Political emancipation is a reduction of man, on the one hand to a member of civil society, an independent and egoistic individual, and on the other hand, to a citizen, to a moral person. Human emancipation will only be complete when the real, individualized man has absorbed into himself the abstract citizen; when as an individual man, in his everyday life, in his work, and in his relationships, he has become a species-being…. (1978, 46)
The “realm of freedom” arises beyond the “realm of necessity” that now dominates our lives when we focus our love and our energy on reversing the relationship between these realms (Marx 1981, 959). We transform the material realm of necessity so that it empowers freedom, equality, and community, no longer pretending that we must stay with the realm of necessity while “the best we can do” is help these ideals slowly evolve into reality. Up to now the “realm of necessity” has come before the realm of human dignity and freedom. We are revolutionary (rather than evolutionary) precisely because we act to reverse that relationship, thereby establishing human history (economic and political relationships) on a new foundation: human dignity.
Sixth, we must fully realize that revolutionary love is about the transformation of all human history. It is about human beings as a species and their historical assent from necessity to freedom, from egoism to the solidarity of love, from selfishness to compassion, from domination to justice and equality. In the process of understanding this we see that the sovereign nation-state exists as a merely contingent and passing historical phenomenon. In contradiction to what Hegel appeared to claim, that the nation-state was the culmination of the progression of the cosmic spirit (1991, sect. 360), we see today that the nation-state is destined to give way to the economic and political unity of humanity. Erich Fromm writes: “It follows that man will obtain the full capacity for objectivity and reason only when a society of man is established above all particular divisions of the human race, when loyalty to the human race and it its ideals is considered the prime loyalty that exists” (1950, p. 58).
At one time, the revolutionary thrust of history to some extent flowed through the organization of the so-called sovereign nation-state. Just as capitalism, Marx saw, was necessary to develop the forces of production to the point where production could serve the needs for everyone effectively, so the nation-state served as a cradle of freedom (as, for example, in the French and North American revolutions). The territorially bounded sovereign state, crystalizing in the 17th century, emerged within a deep relationship to expanding capitalism. As social scientist Christopher Chase-Dunn describes this: “The state and the interstate system are not separate from capitalism, but rather are the main institutional supports of capitalist production relations” (1998, 61).
The aspirations of people for freedom often centered on the end of colonialism, imposed by these “sovereign nation-states,” these supposed “cradles of freedom.” It involved struggles both within these nations and without, fighting endless social battles and anti-colonial wars and opposing the military domination of entire peoples by the imperialist powers. Both the dominators and the dominated defended nation-state sovereignty, the dominators because it allowed them to divide and conquer the world with relative impunity and the dominated because a limited “sovereign” territory appeared to provide a customary and quasi-legal “international law” defense for their liberation struggles. In neither case is human liberation in the deep sense served. A just society in one territorial sovereign state, struggling defensively against a capitalist world system, is not the central means necessary for establishing a world of universal peace, economic justice, and deep sustainability.
While it remains important to be in solidarity with those struggling within all nations for a just and liberated society (as well as with the nation-based struggles of countries like Cuba and Venezuela), we must remember that the ultimate goal is a united humanity and liberation from the reactionary dogma of sovereign nation-hood altogether. The only legitimate ultimate sovereignty is that of the people of Earth who, through their democratic World Parliament, delegate limited sovereignty to the nations, regions, and cities of Earth. In his May 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge, Marx declares: “Freedom, the feeling of man’s dignity will have to be awakened in the hearts of these people. Only this feeling, which vanished from the world for the Greeks, and under Christianity disappeared into the blue mist of the heavens, can again transform society into a community of men to achieve their highest purpose, a democratic state.”
Today, emerging planetary consciousness points beyond the failed system of militarized sovereign nation-states to the unity in diversity of all humanity. Nations do not disappear but take their proper place as regions within the whole. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth (2016) lays out the blueprint for uniting humanity under this principle. For the first time in history, freedom (and the end of class domination) becomes central to “the democratic state.” It provides the plan for a concrete embodiment of the hitherto abstract ideals of freedom, equality, and community. It shows how to bring these directly into political and economic reality so that the life of each human being exists within the nexus of conditions necessary for flourishing within a world of real peace, universal justice, and effective sustainability.
The human community as a whole then empowers the self-actualization of each. There is no longer a conflict between the state and the individual, for representatives are chosen directly by the people of Earth will far outnumber the nations in the World Parliament. When world law is based first and foremost on human dignity and well-being, the state loses its coercive and repressive character because it no longer dominated by a capitalist class running it for its own self-interest and self-protection. The class-character of the state dissolves. Universal, cosmopolitan democracy becomes the synchronous union of political and economic democracy.
The people of Earth now organize themselves through a democratic World Parliament that places our common human dignity and well-being above the sovereign nation-states, above the private banking cartels, above the multinational corporations and above the super-rich dominators of the planet. The sovereign power of the people of Earth, both representing and organized around human dignity, alone has the effective means to end the reign of terror and domination perpetuated by these four forces of fragmentation and injustice. Enforceable democratic world law, at our present stage of history, constitutes a necessary and effective means within the process of human liberation.
Under the Earth Constitution, these forces of domination and exploitation are not repressed by force or violence. This is part of the brilliance of its construction. Rather, they are allowed to “wither away,” so to speak, naturally reducing to their proper levels and relationships with respect to the whole of humanity. They wither to their proper dimensions (likely much smaller than at present) because the laws within nations and the lawless international system no longer support their domination.
Nations are not abolished; private banking is not abolished; corporations are not abolished; rich people are not abolished. But each will shrink to some perhaps important and possibly necessary function within the nexus of relations comprising the common good of the whole. Revolutionary solidarity is solidarity with the whole and with the inner promise of human history. It does not arise from an abstract ideal residing in heaven but from the dynamic futurity and capacity for self-transcendence that constitutes both the self-awareness of each human being and the foundational dynamic of human history.
Marx recognized political democracy as a great step forward, but it had not yet given us substantive democracy, which included control of the producers over the production process. Under substantive democracy, production exists for the common good of all and no longer for the private wealth of the few. The Earth Constitution in Article 8.7 puts control of the money of the planet into the hands of the people of Earth, both in terms of money creation and in terms of global public banking. It directs the uses of federation money for the common good of all, with equality and freedom.
The World Parliament generates laws (such as those enacted to date by the Provisional World Parliament) that allow the people of Earth to creatively and democratically produce the conditions for flourishing everywhere on the planet. Nations, private bankers, corporations, and wealthy individuals find their meaningful places related to the common good and the flourishing of the whole. As Buckminster Fuller pointed out, when we unite beyond the territorial nation-state, the world’s economy takes on a creative and productive synergy that make the former “mine versus yours” orientation in the world of scarcity obsolete: “they will not struggle for survival on a ‘you’ or ‘me’ basis, and will therefore be able to trust one another and be free to co-operate in spontaneous and logical ways” (1972, 88 & 95).
Today, in the early years of the 21st century as we face climate collapse and nuclear holocaust from the rogue collection of so-called sovereign nations recognizing no effective law about themselves, revolutionary solidarity means embracing the Constitution for the Federation of Earth as the key vehicle through which our love of humanity can actualize a world premised on human dignity and flourishing. The true revolutionary is indeed guided by great feelings of love. Both Marx and Che animate our vision.
Our love and our transformative praxis can bring those merely abstract ideals into political and economic realities, into concrete embodiment through the ratification of this Earth Constitution. After we pioneers, we “revolutionary leaders” have worked to get the Constitution ratified and world democracy established, future generations will truly want to sing-out in joy: Viva la revolución!
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The dogma of national sovereignty is an illusion and a curse. For those who understand the world system, the dogma of national sovereignty stands out as the single illusion that is most destructive of humanity’s quest for a world of peace, justice, and sustainability. “Sovereignty” means what is independent. In political affairs it means the highest authority for legislating, judging, and enforcing the laws—beyond which there is no further appeal.
If this highest authority is accorded to the governments of various territories on the Earth, and the planet is composed of nearly 200 such sovereign territories, then the fragmented result can only be a war system, a domination system of the strong over the weak, an exploitation system of the wealthy over the poor, and a system that inevitably results in the threat of nuclear holocaust and the destruction of our planetary environment. National sovereignty is the core illusion that is leading our entire planet to destruction.
Under the system of militarized sovereign nation-states, the powerful nations love sovereignty because it allows them to do whatever they want in the world. They invade, overthrow, assassinate, blockade, subvert, or manipulate elections of weaker nations at will. What about international law? Why does international law not stop them?
If, by definition, sovereignty means the highest legal authority, then so-called international law is a fraud, since you cannot enforce any laws over sovereign nations. You can only go to war against them or punish their entire people by some economic blockade. That is why the world disorder is founded on this treaty system, and even the UN itself is only a treaty of sovereign nations. Treaties between sovereign nations are unenforceable, or, as the UN system explicitly recognizes in article 42 of its Charter, treaties can only be enforced by economic blockades or war. In the international world system of today’s sovereign states, there is almost no such thing as enforceable law over individuals. Even in the year 2020, so-called international law consists of treaties that apply to whole nations (with no requirement that these nations be just, democratic, equable, or free).
The International Criminal Court (ICC), like the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, also appears as a sad joke within this distorted and unjust scheme of things (even though staffed by serious, well-meaning people). It is unwilling the prosecute the real criminals of the world who are at the head of powerful sovereign nation-states, criminals such as Ronald Reagan (who led the destruction of Nicaragua), Bill Clinton (who led the destruction of Yugoslavia), George W. Bush (who led the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq), or Donald Trump (who is attempting to destroy Venezuela and Iran).
These courts are not real courts because they are hamstrung by this dogma of national sovereignty. The entire flawed UN system is hamstrung by this same illusion. The self-determination of peoples, as with individual persons, can only come about under the rule of democratic enforceable laws that protect and empower the people of Earth through the principle of unity in diversity. Self-rule means internal governance and freedom for a people to democratically determine their own affairs. It does not, and should not mean, external lawlessness.
Under the system of militarized sovereign nation-states, believe it or not, the poor and weaker nations also love the dogma of sovereignty. This is because they have the illusion that this fantasy idea can protect them from the power-politics and exploitation economics that dominate the world. The utterly flawed Charter of the United Nations, based on this illusion of national sovereignty, speaks of “the self-determination of peoples.” It then institutionalizes a system in which the five big winners in World War Two (all of whom have a history as major imperial colonizers, exploiters, and dominators) control everything from their veto power on the Security Council.
The five big dominators of the world (China, Russia, Britain, France, and the USA) all love sovereignty because it allows them to divide and conquer the weak. The French have a history of brutal colonial empires in which the French “sovereign” state enslaved others. As recently as 2011 the French helped destroy the sovereign nation of Libya. From their lawless independence as the French “sovereign nation,” there was never anything to stop France from brutally enslaving Haiti, Algiers, or bombing Libya into chaos in 2011. No President of France as ever been arrested for such criminal activities.
China invaded Tibet in 1950 and the other nations of the world left Tibet to its own fate. Since they are “sovereign” nations, Tibet is not their first concern, only their own security and sovereignty is their first concern. The USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and the other nations left Afghanistan to its brutal fate, happy that it is not themselves that had been invaded. The United States and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003, and the other “sovereign” nations of the world weakly protested but did nothing and could do nothing under this fragmented world system. The system of sovereign nation-states is the perfect system of “divide and conquer.” Since the world is already divided, it is easy for big imperial powers to conquer.
Yet the people of weaker nations mindlessly continue to cling to the illusion of sovereignty. Every one of the six times that I visited Cuba during the lethal US economic blockade, the people of Cuba did not want to hear about uniting humanity under democratic law that ended the neo-colonial domination and exploitation system. They simply kept repeating to me, as if hypnotized, “we are a sovereign nation. The US has no right to do this to us. We are a sovereign nation. They must respect our sovereignty.”
The people of Cuba claimed to be revolutionaries. They claimed to be in solidarity with the oppressed worldwide. But in reality that was just empty rhetoric. Because real solidarity means uniting with others to create a decent lawful and just world for everyone. The people of Cuba did not want to really unite with others to make the world a just and peaceful place for everyone.
They were just selfishly concerned with their little corner of the world that they called their “sovereign” territory. The tragic irony of today’s world is that the weak, small nations cling to the same illusion of sovereignty loved by the big imperial nations, a world fragmented and disunited that is easy pickings for the imperialists. It is also easy pickings for the multi-national corporations and the private banking cartels of the world, like the World Bank and the IMF, enslaving the peoples of Earth through international debt. The exploiters love this fragmented system that allows them to get away with their economic pillage and systems of debt enslavement.
Some national constitutions in this lawless system of sovereign nations claim that “sovereignty belongs to the people.” But they do not really mean this. What they mean is that their government represents a tiny fragment of humanity within their territorial boundaries. Cross the border to another country and suddenly there is a different sovereignty supposedly belonging to a different people and territory. Territorial boundaries override the sovereignty of the people making this slogan meaningless. If government really represents the sovereign people, then it is all the people on the Earth. You cannot fragment the notion of sovereignty of the people into some 200 territorial units and somehow claim that the people are sovereign. The result is again power politics, militarism, neo-colonialism, economic exploitation, and chaos.
The world today is a world of power, domination, and exploitation relationships precisely because it is divided into nearly 200 units recognizing no effective laws above themselves. Any real rule of democratic law is enforceable over individual persons who have their rights and dignity protected by these same laws. Under the rule of real democratic law no one can say “I am a sovereign person and am therefore above the law.” Yet this is exactly the attitude of sovereign nations in their external relationships. Real law is enforceable over individual persons while at the same time empowering and protecting them. Real law derives from a democratic constitution through a legislature, and executive, and a judicial system protects all citizens equally before the law.
However, at the world level, the illusory notion of national sovereignty leads to precisely the opposite— lawlessness. Treaties of sovereign nations are voluntary agreements between supposedly independent entities. They can withdraw from the treaty. They can fail to meet their obligations under the treaty. A new government may come in that abjures the treaty. And they can each abuse the human rights of their own citizens with near impunity. The result is not only lawlessness and injustice. The result is a militarized world threatened with nuclear holocaust and an entire world system of lawless nation-states that care more about their own self-interest and self-preservation than they do about saving the collapsing planetary environment.
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth recognizes the sovereignty of the people of Earth. It is non-military because democratic law enforceable over individual persons requires only civilian police and due process of law. It protects every nation big and small because for the first time in human history it brings the rule of genuine democratic law into world affairs.
Under the Earth Constitution, individuals, including the heads of nation-states, are subject to the same enforceable laws as everyone else. The sovereignty of the people of Earth is then apportioned into legitimate governmental authority on various levels: at the local levels around the Earth in cities and towns, at the national levels of some 200 nations who have representation in the House of Nations, and then at the world level through the World Parliament. The world achieves, for the first time in its history, a peace system, a justice system, and a sustainability system.
The nations become states within the Earth Federation and the small states are protected because they are components of the larger system designed to protect and empower all its parts. In the federation of states called the USA, for example, the smallest state of Rhode Island has no fear that the bigger states will blockade or invade. It is protected by the rule of law for the whole. That is what we must do for the world if the world is going to have a future at all. To be truly united means that every person and every nation is protected by the whole.
The smaller or weaker nations of the world need to give up their illusion that the dogma of “sovereignty” will somehow protect them. The big nations love this dogma just as much as they do because a fragmented, lawless world system allows them to do whatever they want. The illusion of sovereignty gives us power politics rather than the politics of democratic justice.
The Earth Constitution joins all of humanity together under the rule of democratically legislated world laws that take away militarism, power politics, domination, and exploitation. The Constitution makes these corruptions nearly impossible because it removes the system of sovereign nations that permits and fosters such lawless corruption. It protects all persons and nations equally. It unites humanity under the principle of unity in diversity. It recognizes and is based upon the only true sovereignty—the sovereignty of the united people of Earth.
The Constitution for the Federation of the Earth is at earth-constitution.org You can sign the Earth Constitution there and also become a member of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA)
For an examination of why the Constitution for the Federation of Earth is protected against becoming totalitarian and undemocratic, read my comprehensive analysis called “Safeguards Against Totalitarianism” (Chapter Seven of One World Renaissance) found at http://earth-constitution.org/archives-documents/
Excellent discussions of the concept of sovereignty can be found in two books by Errol E. Harris: Twenty-First Century Democratic Renaissance (2008) and Earth Federation Now: Tomorrow is Too Late. Second Edition (2014)
Glen T. Martin, Ph.D., is President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), the main organization sponsoring sessions of the Provisional World Parliament and ratification of the Constitution or the Federation of Earth. His website is located at www.oneworldrenaissance.com