World Parliament for the 21st Century

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Summary No. 3 (November 4-10, 2002)
Universalism, Intercultural Dialogue and Global Justice

Arnaud BLIN
WP21 team


This week witnessed a high number of messages and presentations. The discussion on values, principles and purpose continued with a debate on universalism, universal values and intercultural global dialogue. We also touched upon one of the fundamental questions behind the creation of a world parliament : "what is justice on a global scale?"


Presentations continued at a rapid pace this week with people writing again from several continents. The group was diverse once again with a greater participation of women than during the previous two weeks. A couple of people who joined the discussion have been active with organizations such as the World Constitution Parliament Association and the World federalist Movement.

Continuation of the initial discussion on values, principles, and purpose

Due to the great amount of incoming messages, we decided to extend the initial discussion on values, Principles and Purpose another week, until November 17, thus pushing back the first "coffee break." Following is a summary of some of the ideas that were presented to the forum this week. The organization of these ideas is, as always, determined somewhat subjectively by the synthesizer.

Questions from the moderator

Drawing on the suggestion by one participant to base the WP on some primary principles and values (1 Respect and solidarity - 2 Transparency - 3 Coherence - 4 Protection - 5 A real representativeness - 6 Flexibility and adaptability - 7 Ci-Terrestrial-ship (Earth Citizenship)), the forum's moderator, Rob Wheeler, opened up the discussion with some questions:

- How can we ensure that global governance, or a world parliament, operates according to the values and principles that are agreed on?

- Which tools or instruments could best represent and define these values and principles, and which not, and why? i.e. a global written constitution, a whole of practices of international law without a central text, local - regional constitutions of laws, a charter statement, a universal code on the net actualized by the intervention of all people, or any other tool you want to suggest. (See this month's introductory message for more details.)

- How can we ensure that our global institutions begin to operate according to such principles? What mechanisms could be used to lead toward their adoption ? such as the Alliance Proposal booklets, Charter 99' Campaign for Global Accountability, Simultaneous Policy initiative, the Ubuntu campaign on transforming global governance, etc.


The 20th century will probably be known to historians as the century of the "isms": Nazism, Marxism, Fascism, Totalitarianism, Colonialism. Many of these "isms" had a common root: nationalism. And while some of the products of nationalism, such as Nazism are all but dead, nationalism still motivates many of today's political actions and ideological rhetoric. As a value for progress, nationalism has proven many a time in the past that it does not fit the bill. If the world is to move forward, other values must take over. A strong candidate might be universalism. In the words of one participant, universalism is "The only 'ism' that merits our support as the only value fit for the 21stcentury, adding that universalism is the only mindset for today, it is the only panacea for the social ailments plaguing our planet. If people can learn to adopt this value of universalism, if they can learn to put this principle above the concept of state sovereignty, then the practical concept of world government will automatically fall into place."

Does universalism necessarily entail obligations? Should universalism have its own language, untainted by cultural bias? One participant suggested that cultural and linguistic equality might be a prerequisite for a world parliament. But, since the adoption of one of today's current language would necessarily bring about inequality, perhaps one should try to adopt a neutral language such as Esperanto, or even Latin or Classical Arabic, because they are "nobody's language." For those who might think this a bit far-fetched or impractical, I will point everyone to the example of Israel, where the old Hebrew language was revived successfully at the end of the 19th century.

But, as another participant suggests, one could also view universalism as rooted in a western mentality that is based on a "mono-polar dimension" derived from static monotheistic cultures. Therefore, we need to look to something else. Thus, "only if we accept dualism or pluralism as *the* creative motivation will we have the chance to develop an attitude which respects inherent cosmic principles. Such an attitude will be characteristic for mental maturing and will open the eyes for the injustice which an elitist mentality has caused and still is forcing upon this planet and its inhabitants.

Intercultural global dialogue

Another way to look at universalism is through the perspective of an intercultural global dialogue. Considering the recent history of the world, a dialogue must take into account the rift between North and South. In that respect, both sides must find a way to co-exist in harmony. For example, non- Westerners could accept the idea that in building a humanized globalization, global common values should be developed. Westerners should open up some of the space they have occupied thus far and put aside their discourses about universalism, individual rights, equality, etc., and let the others build and put on the table their own visions of what the world should be, sometimes by re-appropriating Western ideas, and also surely being inspired by the best aspects of their own traditions. Through this, perhaps might we reach some common *universal* values, democratically formulated, and accepted by all of us, being the result of a dialogue in *equality* of conditions.

Justice on a global scale

The greatest work of political philosophy of the Twentieth Century is unquestionably John Rawls' *A Theory of Justice*. In this text, the author introduces an important concept, that of fairness, which he opposes to the utilitarian approach adopted by most liberal societies. Justice as fairness relies on a broad understanding of the social contract where all social values - liberty, wealth, respect, choices and possibilities- are equally distributed among the individuals of a society. The type of society where Rawls envisions this happening is a constitutional democracy. I found that his approach, if one extends it beyond the confines of the state, is very similar to several contributions made in the forum. For instance, one of the participants proposes that a "real" world democracy should be based on a some "indispensable minima" such as :

1. To endow the 6 thousand millions of inhabitants of the planet of the real capacity of participating in the public sphere, meaning that all human being, without distinction, should perceive from the public administration a necessary amount of money to be able to subsist in dignity, that is to say, above the threshold of poverty. If the life of a person depends on charity, favors or even contracts where he or she is not able to negotiate, this person doesn't have real capacity of political participation.

2. To endow us of a world political system that guarantees the freedom as no- dominance, that is to say, impeding the arbitrary interferences in individual life as well as in collectivities. If an individual or a community is vulnerable from arbitrary interferences this is not a true democracy.

Another contributor echoed Rawls' concerns regarding the close relationship between fairness and freedom by suggesting that we must take others into account: "those that don't have the indispensable essentials to eat, to drink, to sleep, to take shelter, to keep their health; those whose recognition of dignity, right, justice, liberty is not assured; all those that cannot express themselves with us in our exchanges, having yet others around them; those that suffer from being women, children, poverty-stricken men in a world of wasteful practices; those staying in different geographical places, having different histories; different needs, different environments. In short, a world parliament should not only be founded on values and principles, but on responsibilities, and a willingness to act as well.


This concludes the second week of the initial discussion on values, principles and purpose. Thus far, the discussion has focused on the relevance of *universal values* and on an understanding of what these values might be. While there is a definite consensus as to the need to determine these values, difficulties arise as soon as we try to come up with precise definitions. The dichotomy between Western and non-Western values is an important issue that needs to be resolved. Overall, participants are trying to find a good balance between general and specific values. In terms of principles and purpose, the discussion has been straightforward with a number of specific suggestions. These initial proposals should serve as primary material for the continuation of the discussion that, through a natural dialectical process, should enable us to later come up with a more consensual course of action.
Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer © 2003