Remembering the death of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1955 in New York, Michel Camdessus reflects upon the spiritual meaning of the globalization process.
United Nations, New York, 7 April 2005
Globalization: Threats and Opportunities
Let us first try to accurately discern the opportunities and threats of today’s world. It’s certainly not easy because the world, carried onwards by globalization, seems everyday more out of control.
- inability of the nation-state to deal with new problems that manifest themselves on a global scale,
- cultural annihilation,
- the “ultimate systematic challenge”- the blatantly evident inequalities and the marginalization of the poor.
The first risk constitutes, in itself, a metaphor for the twenty-first century: it’s the continual welling up of problems (climate change, crime- principally financial, drugs, information piracy, migration, large epidemics, and others) that ignore the boundaries of nation-states, and in the face of which these states are powerless. All is happening as if a widening split were being established between the globalization of productive systems, the thousands of variables that affect the lives of our contemporaries in one side and the slow pace of progress towards adaptation, and the convergence of political instruments designed to respond to these new questions. The proliferating uncertainties have prompted our contemporaries to pose the question: “Is there a pilot on our plane as we make our way through the heart of this ever increasing turbulence?”
A second risk affects human societies as their very heart: their cultural identity. A Babel-like unification of the world, and the crushing of the treasure which is the diversity of these cultures, represents the opposite of the personalizing unification of the world. While conscious that this risk is the reverse of the opportunities that globalization presents to the cultural enrichment of the world, reaction is indispensable.
The heterogeneity of the globalizing process, in conjunction with the inequality found in the diffusion of its benefits, creates another risk- that of the marginalization of countries and whole regions. While some developing countries have understood how to seize the forces of globalization so as to accelerate their pace towards economic progress, not all have. Those countries incapable of participating in the expansion of global commerce, or of attracting a sizable volume of private investment, risk being forgotten in the market of the global economy. The countries most exposed to this risk are precisely those poor countries that are desperately in need of markets, investments, and the growth that globalization could bring them. Everything happens as if the poorest countries have no place on the map of global investments. It is thus to be feared that the gulf is still being widened between the two extremes.
At times the world has even seemed to resign itself to this reality, as if we could settle for cutting short our losses. But since September 11 we know it better. Neither violence, nor misery, is confined; these evils are systemic, like contagious diseases and environmental degradation. In this era of globalization there is no longer room for the old illusion of a hidden prosperity.
Development must therefore be a common process, but for this to happen we need to know how to seize the opportunities globalization offers us in building a better future. What are these opportunities? At closer look, they are rather impressive. Since the seventies, the amount of exchange in goods and services between countries and continents has nearly tripled. The increase in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has seen remarkable growth as well, and is now in excess of 800 billion dollars a year. The level of integration in financial markets today is without historical precedent. The combined influence of economic market expansion, global unification of currency markets, and the boom in new information/communication technologies, has created objectively favorable conditions for the development of the world economy. These opportunities hold out the hope of accelerating development, and creating the necessary conditions therein, for those southern hemispheric countries ready to join the integrative current of the world economy. Have we not helped millions of people quickly enter into the global economy who but a few short years ago were still on the fringes? It is certainly a prodigious and fundamentally positive development in human history. These new arrivals are principally the poor laborers of large, emerging countries, and they legitimately aspire to greater prosperity and wealth. Let us therefore see what globalization is first and foremost: a fantastic moment of progress in which countless numbers of Chinese, Indians, and others are pulling themselves away from their conditions of extreme misery.
Let us add to this the quantity of exponential advances that have been accelerated by the network of think-tanks and by scientific progress. Certainly, there are risks with regard to the manipulation of the human being, but there are also innumerable opportunities: the decryption of the mysteries of the living being, an economy that is more respectful of the environment, advancement of information/communication technologies, etc.
All told, we could see in the forces of globalization a set of fantastic dynamics working at the service of man’s brightest qualities: his creativity, his sense of solidarity, and his still atrophied sense of responsibility for the world in its totality. We would then be in a world which, not without disorder, many troubles and much suffering, is now making itself one for the better by the incessantly accruing speed of the diffusion of knowledge, the multiplication of opportunities for travel and establishing contacts, and the responsiveness of societies to the woes suffered by peoples at the furthest extremities of the globe, as seen, for example, in the recent tsunami. Our contemporaries are becoming evermore aware of the fact that the world is becoming more closely knit. All major events, even tragic ones, nourish this growing universal perception of globalization, and lend greater viability to the opportunity of bringing about a universal civil society, one already found at the origin of many of mankind’s achievements in the twentieth century. In one word, they are opportunities.
Threats and opportunities! But less us recognize, for the sake of our contemporaries, that the threats seem to outweigh the hope of defeating our atavistic woes. Many have given up hope, basing their hopelessness on the old premises of multinational organizations’ irresistible thirst for power, while still others still dream of the day when there will be a universal popular uprising overthrowing such a system. This is, however, only another way of losing oneself in illusions. Rather, our world, in its complexity and confusion, is once again at the cusp of a ‘critical moment.’ Everything is happening as if the decades in which we live now, that appear to belong to the era envisioned by the French Jesuit scientist Teilhard, are not fulfilling their potential. ‘Planetization,’ according to Teilhard, takes place in the dual process of convergence and personalization. As it is, one of the two has taken longer to manifest itself. Personalization has been detached from convergence. The fulcrum of our crisis is to be found here. Recall that Teilhard had forewarned us about this ‘critical point.’ Did he not write the following in February 1935:
It seems to me psychologically inevitable that, in the next two or three generations, Humanity will ask itself what is the meaning and value of the pain it inflicts on itself; and I have little doubt that the answer will be an act of faith in the Future. Otherwise it would be the end of Evolution. I think, as you do, that we are on the cusp of a critical moment…
Two or three generations… here we are! What should we do? The answer is easy to formulate: the task given is to carry forward the progress of personalization to the heights of all that, on the material plane, is rapidly binding the world together more tightly. This is how we are to move forward from this ‘critical point’ towards the future of humanity; we are to humanize this world of ours.
From the ‘Critical Moment’ -today- to the Future of Humanity
Although he never pretended to be knowledgeable in organizational sciences or in economic and social matters, Teilhard left those who would, in the future, be in charge of world affairs, several points of orientation so that their efforts might be directed toward “a humanizing perspective.” These orientations are reducible to three essential recommendations:
- “act together, in a grand, and common hope,”
- build world cohesion
- promote human solidarity
Each of these three orientations calls for some commentaries.
“Act together- first and foremost an act of significant mutual confidence!- in a grand, common hope.” I can’t help but think, as relates to this point, about the Institution that I directed for thirteen years, a job that included the responsibility of “giving hope to all our members.” To try to convince problem-wracked countries that they can overcome their difficulties, that there is never a hopeless case in human affairs, that if they deploy all their efforts the international response will not be lacking, and to seek to garner support for this country (of which the world had despaired) from enough of its friends so as to allow it to retake its place in the community of nations, is surely a difficult, but indeed fascinating, task.
We can identify a few large orientations that might concur beyond this common confidence and hope, to draw together more closely the principles of convergence and personalization, cohesion and solidarity.
Multilateralism is clearly, ever since World War II, the first of these. Developed in response to errors and the attitude of ‘every nation for itself’ that had instigated the war, it seems to remain today the only response to face the problems of universal dimensions that we see emerging today. Although its progress can appear despairingly slow, and we may even go through periods where unilateralism seems to hold the advantage, it remains the unquestionable approach. Multilateralism, in effect, offers the opportunity to all countries, from the largest to the smallest, to assume their responsibility in solving the universal problems that can only be efficiently broached at the global level. This explains the importance of the project undertaken today to revamp the structures intended to serve the common universal good. The effort to reform the United Nations, as well as global financial institutions, should deepen this process and intensify the process of reflection concerning global public goods.
In fact, what is needed is for the system inherited from the post-war era to be replaced by a system reformed in a spirit of subsidiarity that responds to the problems brought to the fore by globalization. This new system also needs to put in place a framework of global regulations designed to deal with global problems. This reform, like that of financial institutions, will take form only if the means are found to give a rightful place to poor countries in instances of decision making. That is why I find the initiative to expand the G7 by opening it up to representatives of the third world, forming a sort of Economic and Social Security Council, so important. The emergence of this governance body would be but a first step. We have to work towards what John XXIII, that other prophet, sought forty years ago- not a world government, but a “public authority of universal competence” in those areas where it is needed.
Besides the advantages multilateralism engenders for better world governance, partnership presents another means to progress. Adopted as a central strategy for North-South relations during the
Partnership must no longer remain a State-State project. Rather, it must be multidimensional. It ought to extend to enterprises, financial institutions, and civil society. We are far too accustomed to leaving responsibility for drawing up initiatives on matters of international life to States. The partnership that needs to be put into practice today engages not only States, but also enterprises, financial institutions, and civil society. Let us not pass quick judgment on those large enterprises that are trying to respond to Kofi Annan’s request for such partnerships. Many of them have an authentic recognition of the solidarity they share in the development of the countries where they work. But allow me to emphasize most particularly the role of civil society. It can have a major role in the construction of the future through constant personalizing action. The future of the world is in its hands. Convergence and personalization can only proceed together if this concern is fully addressed by a civil society to which we all belong- a civil society that needs to be better organized to be able to monitor what we are doing in its name.
The Anglo-Saxons have this nice expression: “Act locally, think globally.” The “act locally” is not the shrinking of a gloriously universal action. Rather, it’s the opposite: it’s an essential action. It is put to work in the manner that the authors of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognized as binding on all men: act in all things “in a spirit of fraternity.” All action carried out in a fraternal spirit, no matter how modest, helps to build civilization. For Christians it is an essential component of what they seek to build, namely a “civilization of love” that John Paul II untiringly called for.
In this construction of cohesive and global solidarity we cannot ignore the essential dimension of respect for binding agreements. The world has accustomed itself to organizing large conferences and concluding them with the signing of grand engagements, only to rush to forget these agreements. There is need here for a radical change. We must, as citizens, demand that our commitments be respected, all the more because they were reiterated during the UN conference held in
Finally, the concept of sustainable development and the politics that it inspires, especially the promotion of global public goods, is another indispensable dimension in the construction of the future. Its structure contains in itself three dimensions that are profoundly in sync with Teilhard’s vision: first, those “world developments”, the demand for a development oriented towards social cohesion, and finally the respect for creation and its fragility, as it stands in peril of being pillaged.
This concept of sustainable development is now at the heart of global institutions’ politics, and at the origin of many global organizational efforts. This concept illustrates well the fecundity of Teilhard’s thought, as well as its contribution to the organization of the world. Just like the multilateralism, partnership, cohesion and solidarity that I have just evoked, this last concept of sustainable development will only be able to continue growing if it continues to be vigorously carried forward, in a spirit of global citizenship, by civil society. Its emergence on a universal level is, in parallel and synergistic fashion with the establishment of global institutions, one of the manifestations of what could be the advent of the “noosphere”. It’s already at the origin of many advances towards a more just world.
It’s in the ranks of civil society that this universal dimension of citizenship essential for a new, veritably democratic global governance structure, can develop. As long as Non-Governmental Organizations are free of political influence, transparent in their financial affairs, respectful of democratic legitimacy, and intransigent with respect to the truth and non-violence, they can, in many circumstances, be the avant-garde of this process. NGO’s, like multilateral institutions, must not give up the effort when faced with the difficulties of the present age. Teilhard would have said: “Let us conjure up the threat of strikes in the noosphere.”
***Here then are several paths towards humanization and globalization that the international community gathered here is trying to open so as to give the person his rightful place. This is a task that many, both here at the UN and all around the world, have given themselves to in hope, finding in it their full realization as men and women. It is a modest path, insufficient in many respects and often judged harshly, that is constantly at risk of being doubted or abandoned due to inertia or the pressure of contrary forces. Let us not hide the fact that it is a difficult path where a new effort is needed at every turn, and where we are reminded at every step, that the necessary change must begin with us! Progress is therefore often uncertain, under the assault of critiques, and in the night. The task’s difficulties, even its setbacks, would not have surprised Teilhard, or reduced his enthusiasm. He would have recognized such developments to be in line with his intuitions concerning the noosphere: stupefying developments in research and communications, growing awareness of exigencies- both those of solidarity and ecology, and the evidence of a world becoming more tightly knit. He would even recognize the progress made towards ‘this spirit of fraternity,’ this duty that none dare now to remind us of. It’s fraternity that will save the noosphere. Teilhard would probably feel more intensely what he called, “the necessity of specifying and organizing the total natural-human effort.”
In September 2000 before the World Bank and the IMF, President Havel, an agnostic, spoke in the same line of the need to add another type of restructuring to those which these institutions have the responsibility of promulgating: “I believe that it is time to think of a new restructuring: that of the value system on which our current civilization rests.” How do we restructure a value system? Without illusion, Havel added: “…We will have difficulty in achieving this end if we do not find in our hearts the strength to question and to re-found an order of values that we would be ready to share and honor despite our diversity, and to link these new values with something that is situated beyond the horizon of either immediate interests, or a given person or group. But how can we achieve this goal without a new, powerful influx of human spirituality?” Spiritual leap that, for Teilhard, should realize itself in “a similarly profound aspiration” directed not towards Something, but rather Someone: this someone who has been working from the beginning, this someone who “himself attracts men, and reaches them through the unifying process of the Universe.”
 In case you have forgotten them, allow me to remind you of what they were. By 2015:
- diminish by half the proportion of those persons living in extreme poverty, those suffering from hunger, and hose who do not have access to potable water;
- put in place universal primary education and obtain the equality of the sexes in education;
- reduce by three-fourths maternal mortality and by two-thirds infant mortality for those under the age of five;
- stop the progression of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and start to reduce it;
- ameliorate the lives of 100 million persons living in slums.
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|Written by : Michel Camdessus
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Other articles by this author
- The Sustainability of Sustainability... (26 June 2007)
- Global Challenges of Water Resources (10 October 2006)
- China and the World: from Assistance to Partnership (10 October 2006)
- Ethics and Finance in a Globalizing World (09 October 2006)
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