Chapter 14 - The Human Aspiration to Unity
Although World War I seriously disturbed world trade, its conclusion with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 expanded the British Empire to its maximal extension, making it inherit the German Empire colonies in Africa. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Near East produced the acquisition by the British of Palestine and Iraq. However, the war intensified nationalist movements in the colonies, at a time when England was exhausted by her war effort. The result was that, for the next two decades, she had to adopt accommodating policies. She granted independence to Egypt (occupied since the end of the 19th century) and Iraq, as well as constitutional autonomy to her domains,338
eliminating Parliament control over their governments. One of these domains, the Free State of Ireland, completely separated from the Empire, becoming an independent republic.
We may consider the situation of the British Empire between world wars as a period of inertial survival. Such a situation would be seriously disturbed during World War II (1939-1945). Some of the English possessions, such as Hong Kong and Burma, were conquered by Japan. In August 1942, India rebelled, even though its army collaborated in the war effort. The war being fought in favor of freedom, it was natural for domains and colonies to demand –and for England to grant– many concessions of self-government. The climax of the English decline in power was reached with the signing by Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the Atlantic Charter, on August 14, 1941, categorically declaring the right of all nations to self determination. Such a declaration actually committed England to the emancipation of all her colonies. The fact that this historical document was signed on board a ship in the midst of the ocean separating Europe and America was a good symbol of the transfer of world power, from England, whose Empire was expiring, to the United States of America, whose ascension to global power was thereby confirmed.
This ascension of a new world power occurred in the midst of such extreme and important circumstances –precisely during a deadly fight against one of the most tyrannical and evil attempts at global domination in history– that the new predominance was clearly marked as based on principles and methods totally alien to previous empires. Colonialism was condemned a priori, and the new global unification would have to support itself upon trade, the spreading of knowledge and technological progress, together with a vast common effort toward applying science, technology, and peace to achieve the gradual participation of the planet’s entire population in the quality of life already obtained by the United States. Such a noble aspiration, taken very seriously by nations throughout the world, was explicitly formulated by President Roosevelt in his famous Four Freedoms proclamation.339 As a result of all that, during the Cold War period with the Soviet Union and beyond, the world was going to witness the spontaneous diffusion of the US cultural ideals and models, the characteristically-American memes, throughout the whole world. Such diffusion would prepare the terrain for the second great globalization wave which would explode, after a long postwar era, from the eighties of last century onward.
Meanwhile, Western Europe quickly recovered from war, helped by the Marshall Plan financed by the United States, around the axis of reciprocal rapprochement between the old proverbial enemies, France and Germany (the section occupied by the Russians excluded). On May 9, 1950, in mutual agreement with the German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer and based on the ideas of Jean Monet –one of France's most illustrious thinkers of the 20th century–, Robert Schuman would make a declaration proposing to place the whole French-German production of coal and steel under a High Authority, common to several European countries. This document represents the beginning of what will later be called the Schuman Plan, namely the idea of creating a European federation based upon an economic community. The actual sharing of the Ruhr coal and steel production meant a radical change of destiny for the regions on both banks of the Rhine, devoted since ancient times to the manufacturing of the ammunitions which periodically decimated the European population. The solidary production of strategic materials in such a key region made a new war between France and Germany not just unlikely, but materially impossible. The establishment of such a powerful productive unit, open to all European countries willing to participate and which would supply the basic elements of industrial production to them on an equal footing, provided a strong incentive and foundation to their economic unification. Italy and the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) quickly joined the Schuman Plan. These events would be the starting point for the creation of a wider European Union, currently having twenty five members, whose authorities are presently discussing the terms for a future common political constitution.
In contrast to these events, Eastern Europe had been suffering a cruel fate of forced unification as part of the Soviet Empire. When the difference in life conditions between both sides of Europe turned the divided city of Berlin in the preferred way of escape from the communist prison, the Russians made the seclusion even more obvious by starting to build a wall on August 13, 1961. Somewhat later, in Czechoslovakia, another part of Europe subjugated by the Russians, a group of politicians –endowed with a reforming ideology– decided to clean the socialist system from its totalitarian adherences through the displacement of the prevailing bureaucracy, inert and good-for-nothing. From 1963 to 1968, the sectors opposed to reforms managed to resist. In 1967, though, during the IV Congress of the Writers’ Union, outstanding figures from the Czech intellectual elite openly refused to comply with the discipline imposed by the constituted powers. The iron leadership of Antonin Novotny was mortally injured. He was forced to submit his resignation as first secretary of the party on January 5, 1968, being replaced by the Slovakian Alexander Dubcek. The first measures of the new team, directed to satisfy the claims of the Slovak nation, were followed by a series of other liberating actions.
In April 1968, the Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party approved an action program which summarized the principles of a “socialism with a human face.” Among the proposals that stood out were a certain degree of economic freedom, the creation of a socialist politically-pluralist regime, the autonomy for the labor unions, and the recognition of the right to strike, together with equality of rights for the Czech and Slovakian populations. In foreign policy, State sovereignty was affirmed, preserving cooperation with the USSR and the countries of the Warsaw Pact but opening the door for contacts with other States. In the cultural and religious fields, freedom of religion, artistic creation, and scientific research were guaranteed. Unfortunately, this sweet taste of freedom, known in history as Prague's Springtime, was doomed to be cruelly interrupted. On August 20, 1968, the Warsaw Pact troops, led by the USSR, occupied Czechoslovakia, crushing the democratization process. On orders from the Czech political leadership, the national army put no resistance to the invaders. “Military resistance would have been a double suicide of Czechs and Slovakians,” reasoned Alexander Dubcek a quarter of a century later while attending a historians' conference. Conditions were not yet ripe for a revolution which was only to succeed two decades and a half later. It was not to begin in Czechoslovakia but in Poland.
In August 1980, as a result of strikes demanding better working conditions for the Polish workers, public authorities were forced to acknowledge their right to establish a labor union in conformity with international standards, i.e., independent from the State and the governing party. The Solidarnosc (Solidarity) union had been born, led by the charismatic Lech Walesa. Solidarity was bound to play a transcendental role, as a momentous social and political movement representing the aspirations for liberty, democracy, and better political opportunities of the Polish Nation. The imposition of martial law in December 1981, along with the arrest of several thousands of leaders, members, and supporters of Solidarity, sent the new organization underground. Paradoxically, the new situation made possible the mobilization of massive demonstrations at a much larger scale than those staged up to that moment. Such a situation had no precedence in the history of Marxism-Leninism. A massive civil disobedience, inspired by Solidarity, led to the fall of the communist system, first in Poland and immediately later in the other countries of Eastern and Central Europe. From May to August 1989, Hungary dismantled its border with Austria, circumstance which twenty thousand Germans took advantage of in September to escape toward Western countries and freedom.
Soon afterwards, massive demonstrations were unleashed in East Germany, forcing its head of government, Erich Honecker, to resign from his post in October 1989. Travel restrictions were abolished by the new government on November 9, what provoked the rush of thousands of people that very day to border checkpoints; the guards opened the gates and let them all through. Facing this general stampede, the new ruler resigned as well, causing the Chancellor of Federal Germany, Helmut Kohl, to offer the “Ten-Points Program” that precipitated the reunification of Germany under the Federal Constitution. Currency unification would follow as the next step of this historic process, on July 1990. It represented a considerable and generous sacrifice of purchasing power on the part of each and every citizen of the West Germany Federation. In September 1990, the “Two Plus Four” (the two German States plus the four winners of World War II) officially approved the end of the occupation, authorizing the reunification of the two Germanies. A grandiose miracle, yearned for by the vast majority of Germans during decades and which no one would have thought possible at such short term even a year before, had occurred. An even greater surprise was still in store, to occur a year later: on December 1991, under the astonished gaze of the whole world, the Soviet Union disintegrated without bloodshed, being replaced by fifteen independent –at least in intention democratic– States.
How could all this have happened? Historians will devote a great amount of time and energy discussing their causes. One key reason is obvious, however: the immeasurable difference in productivity of the two opposing economic systems, the USSR socialistic centralized planning and the USA free-trade market. After decades of an arms race, the benumbed Soviet economy could not bear any longer the huge military expenses which consumed most of its GNP, to the discontent of its poorly-served people. In contrast, the American military apparatus –matching the Soviet's with largess– was backed up by an agile and innovating economic machinery, involving a much smaller part of its GNP. Most of it was expended in private consumption, to their citizenry's satisfaction.
The world only realized it was entering a new era in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, event which immediately became its symbol, as its erection had been the Cold War's. The gestation of this important phenomenon, however, had been going on throughout the entire preceding decade, by the coordinated action of two outstanding politicians with similar ideas, ruling at the same time their respective countries, the United Kingdom (what was left of the British Empire) and the United States of America: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, respectively. This process began in the United Kingdom, with the wide liberalization of the economy undertaken by Thatcher, which Reagan would proceed to emulate in his own country. The transcendence of this coordinated action in two of the largest world economies was surely to produce a huge impact at the global economic scale. The international commentator of the New York Times newspaper, Thomas L. Friedman, a convinced liberal, describes thus these remarkable events:
The Thatcherite-Reaganite revolutions came about because popular majorities in these two major Western economies concluded that the old government-directed economic approaches simply were not providing sufficient levels of growth. Thatcher and Reagan combined to strip huge chunks of economic decision-making power from the State, from the advocates of the Great Society and from traditional Keynesian economics, and hand them over to the free market. (1999).
George Soros, in his book about globalization, describes thus the phenomenon, with the emphasis on financial markets:
Under the influence of globalization, the character or our economic and social arrangements has undergone a radical transformation.... The globalization of financial markets has rendered the welfare State that came into existence after World War II obsolete....
This outcome is not accidental. It was the objective of the Reagan administration in the United States and the Thatcher government in the United Kingdom to reduce the ability of the State to interfere in the economy, and globalization served their purpose well. (2002)
If we compare the two contemporary globalization periods, the corresponding volumes of trade and capital flow –relative to GNP– as well as the labor flow through borders –relative to population number–, they turn out to be very similar. However, the new wave differs from the previous one by the intensity with which the world has come to integrate itself into one big market, as well as by the number of countries and people participating in the process. The absolute numbers before 1914, large for their time, turn out to be minuscule compared with current numbers. The daily monetary exchange, for instance, was counted in 1900 in millions of dollars. In 1992, it reached 820 billions; in April 1998, it was already 1,500 billions and continued growing. Around the year 1900, the flow of private capital from developed countries toward developing ones was measured in hundreds of millions of dollars and affected a few countries. In 1997, it reached 215 billions of dollars and is affecting most, if not all, countries.
The current era of globalization not only differs in magnitude; it is also different in quality. The previous wave revolved around decreasing costs in transportation, thanks to the inventions of the railway, the steamship, and the automobile. In the current wave, globalization builds itself around decreasing costs in telecommunication, thanks to microchips, satellites, optical fiber and, above all, Internet.340 These technologies have unified the world much more intensively than the simple exchange of raw materials and finished products. They have allowed companies –without affecting their unity of action– to locate different segments of their production, research, and marketing in different countries, thanks to computers, teleconferences, and electronic mail.341 In John Chambers’ words, President of Cisco Systems, the difference between the two globalization waves is that the first one joined people with machinery in factories, the second one is gathering knowledgeable people in virtual firms. The resulting contrast in speed and efficiency is just enormous (Friedman, 1999).
Not only corporations, also common and ordinary people, exchange services globally today. They do so in various different ways: from simple data-processing or secretarial services, passing through translations or fashion designs, to medical consulting, software writing, or stock-market intermediation; all this from their own homes. They can do it due to the spectacular progress in telecommunication technology and to the striking decrease of its costs. A personal computer currently costs several times less than what a writing machine was worth in 1930, at the end of the first globalization wave. A one-minute call between New York and London was worth that same year –in today’s purchasing value– more than US$300; thanks to Internet, its cost now, at the beginning of the 21th century, is practically nonexistent.
The fact that world business can be done by simple individuals, from their own homes, is an exclusive characteristic of the globalization we currently live under. In August 2003, I had the chance of meeting a young French family who vividly personify the extraordinary circumstances that surround us today. A few years back, the husband decided to invest his savings in transactions of precious metals through Internet, from his apartment in Paris. He was extremely successful, but his wife did not like him to sit before the computer for long night hours, reviewing quotations of the New York Stock Exchange. They decided to move to Costa Rica, with the complete equipment of their business, a portable computer. The quality of their family life remarkably improved, with no harm to their business.
The possibility to begin and maintain world businesses on the part of individuals means an acquisition of economic power of great importance. Such empowering is complemented by another, similar in importance, of a political nature. Before Internet, it was never possible –as it currently is– for a person to be thoroughly informed about hot topics of national or international life, and able to mobilize other people living anywhere in the world, in favor of the most diverse causes (including resisting globalization!). This double phenomenon of economic and political empowerment of common people is bound to have wide and deep consequences for humankind in the nearest future.
Apart from economic or political considerations, it is not possible to exaggerate the influence of the Internet in daily life. Thanks to Internet, we now have a common global postal system, a common global shopping mall, a common global library, and even a common global university. I started writing this book at the turn of the century. At that time, my work as researcher and writer was still performed in a fairly conventional manner, the same that had supported my research and writing during the previous twenty years, based on visits to select libraries and bookstores in key major cities of the world. Almost imperceptibly, as the world-wide web enriched itself with an increasing number of first rate sites, I started to depend more and more, for the preparation of my typescript, on the resources I enjoy from being connected twenty-four hours to wide-band Internet on my own desk in my own home. At first, I subscribed to specialized on-line services. Currently, I hardly do even that anymore. Google generates all the materials I wish to check in a matter of seconds, free of charge.
The globalization contemporary movement is essentially based on the removing of obstacles for communication among human beings. This does not mean that the norms which have ruled social exchanges since the beginning of time are prone to disappear. It is simply that those constrains are changing into something different and better. The globalization phenomenon not only means more international freedom to trade goods, services, knowledge, as well as financial assets, but also the emergence of a growing number of norms and regulations to which nations must submit, on penalty of important punishments and sanctions. Each day, countries are a little less able to take unilateral measures on economic policy: they are obliged to observe new international regulations to which internal economic policy must conform. In other words, the field of action and discretionary margin of national governments tend to be more and more reduced in a world increasingly globalized (Lizano, 2003).
These rules fundamentally refer to capital circulation between countries. At the end of World War II, most nations began to strictly control their capital transactions. The institutions created by the Bretton Woods Agreements Act in 1944, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were designed precisely to facilitate international trade in an environments of restricted capital flows. These controls were removed only gradually. Financial markets began to expand quickly thanks to the momentum of the petroleum crisis of 1973. Capital was substantially freed from internal and external restrictions at the beginning of the 80’s, in the United States and England, under the Reagan and Thatcher initiative, as mentioned before. However, the financial markets only started to be truly global at the beginning of the 90’s, with the collapse of the Soviet Empire. This is not the first time wherein financial markets have been able to act free of international constrictions. They had done so already in the 19th century and in the years preceding World War I. Clearly, if history is able to teach us something, the globalization process we are currently living in is anything but irreversible. The first globalization wave came abruptly to an end; if it has happened before, it can happen again. (Soros, 2002).
In this perspective one fact stands out: poorer countries, in greater need of investment, are not hindered anymore by their lack of local financial capital. Correspondingly, world savers are not confined to invest only on their national markets but have the possibility to search anywhere in the world for the best investment opportunities, yielding more than the local ones. If in unglobalized times each State had to secure the internal creation of the capital it needed in order to satisfy its population's aspirations; in contrast, under the new order, governments just need to ensure internal conditions capable of attracting to the country an important part of the financial global capital, formed anywhere in the world, for which all nations compete at all times. Since such a capital will only be inclined to install itself in a country that guarantees its preservation and growth, it is prone to preventively retract from the nations which tend not to qualify under the rules of the international financial institutions. These implicit global regulations acquire their legitimacy and force not mainly from punitive legal sanctions but from the concurrence of the different countries seriously determined to get the largest possible portion of the world international capital. This situation gives great weight to the need of having sensible internal regulations. In addition, the dread of being ignored on account of better conditions presented by other countries imposes on the globalization wave a characteristic accelerated tempo, undoubtedly much more demanding than that of old economic environments protected from international competition. Facing these new implicit rules, essentially grounded on the financial market, some may wonder if globalization does not represent a fundamental weakening of national States and of the rule-of-law institutions which we have inherited from the English, French, and American revolutions (Molina, 2003). Such worries are unfounded. In a globalized world, with permeable borders, the judicial and political institutions that constitute the State are even more –not less– important, than in the old fragmented world. Indeed, what are the internal conditions that a country must have to be attractive to foreign investment? Above all, those that have to do with juridical security. Its law system must fulfill international quality standards: be technically well formulated, alien to confusion or contradictions, open to public scrutiny, and stable. Its judicial system must be well organized, equipped with impartial and efficient judges. Appropriate real-estate property registries and copyright offices must exist, invulnerable to fraud attempts.
During the protectionist and interventionist era, government growth was unavoidable. In the globalization era, quality, not size, is what has become supremely important. A smaller government is now needed, since it is not called upon anymore to assign resources; markets do that. Since large bureaucracies tend to justify themselves by imposing unnecessary and harmful regulations, they are incompatible with success in the globalized world. In contrast, a better government is required, faster and more intelligent, with bureaucrats capable of supporting exchanges without drowning them in paperwork or letting them stray off-course. Public administration must be efficient, but above all, upright: a corrupt administration is what frightens capital about toward other places. If there is something that globalization cannot tolerate, it is a corrupt government; its people pay dearly for that. Why would the world financial capital, with so many alternative investing opportunities, settle down in a country where everybody has to be bribed in order to do business? Corruption means unpredictability, and what capital abhors the most is not knowing what to expect.
To ensure security, probity, and order in a country is of the utmost importance. Creating state-of-the-art conditions for telecommunications is also necessary: one should remember that this is the technological feature on which the current globalization wave is grounded. States cannot decline their responsibility of ensuring that such an infrastructure does exist. Employment, knowledge, and economic growth inevitably gravitate at the present time toward societies that are better connected, having more networking and bandwidth. It is through them that one can more abundantly accumulate, display, design, invent, manufacture, sell, provide services, communicate, educate, and entertain. Networking and bandwidth are, in the information era, the distribution system of companies selling merchandise, in the same sense as railways were such during the first wave of globalization. Countries are now more and more measured by how close their populations are to universal connectivity, what proportion of their inhabitants are on line all the time, irrespective of where they might be, as well as how much variety of services they can obtain or render through Internet. We have violently moved from a world where the key to wealth was the quantity of inherited, conquered, preserved, or exploited territory, to a world where the key is rather how well the individual person, country, or firm accumulates, participates in, and develops knowledge (Friedman, 1999).
If we have learned something from the events of the last few decades it is that, with the help of computer science and Internet, free-market capitalism has no rival as the more effective system to generate higher and growing standards of living. Other systems might perhaps divide more equitably the (smaller) pie they may be able to produce; but no other system would generate income for that distribution neither in a larger amount, nor faster, than free market capitalism. People better disposed to let capitalism destroy their non efficient companies, so that scarce capital be redirected toward more productive and innovative enterprises, are those who will prosper. In contrast, those who prefer to count on the government's protection to preserve their unproductive business, will irremediably be left behind. This tendency will continue to get more stringent, as more and more politicians and countries, both on the basis of economic theory and the sour lessons of recent historical upheavals, join the growing group of countries with free and globalized economies. In a world each day more competitive, only one road rests available to achieve higher standards of living for the general population. The only open question is the speed with which one advances on that road, proportional to the degree of international competition one is prepared to accept. According to Thomas Friedman, a country with the audacity and wisdom to recognize these realities is said to be wearing the golden strait-jacket, the mythical garment of globalization. A country still not wearing it, should do it soon, lest its exclusion from the collective bounties currently being created by globalization. For a country to wear this uniform, it must adopt the following golden rules:
In sum, diminish polity and maximize society, so that ever more things get determined by private contract rather than public mandate.
A country who believes that these changes can be resisted without paying an ever increasing price, is deluding itself.
Globalization creates duress, but also opportunity. The same duress and opportunity of he who takes his chances on the
marketplace, now maximized by the size and potential of a unified universal economic environment.
All that said, we cannot neglect the fact that globalization imposes strictures and anxieties not present in previous eras. During the Cold War, the dominant anguish was the ever present eventuality of sudden and total extinction of the human species in an atomic holocaust. That anguish eclipsed lesser anxieties about uncertainty of personal or social development, considerably limited due to the restriction to commerce imposed by protectionist policies or regimes. All in all, the social milieu was relatively fix and stable, not existing as much anxiety about rapid change or the possibility of losing the job in a company downsizing induced by the pressing need of surviving in a heavily competitive world. Governments are called to do less now in the field of production, since they must renounce to allocate the economic resources in order to survive competition. In contrast, they are called upon to do more to improve the safety nets to help individuals or groups suffering the dent of the required recurring adjustments of the economic machinery. They have to do so out of a sense of humanitarian responsibility, although using restrain and intelligence to avoid affecting the quality of spiritual and material life the population have already obtained and would continue to acquire within a globalized free-market.
A frequently-heard complaint about globalization is that it tends to destroy local values and to leave
people swimming in an environment of mere material stimuli, with impairment to family life and social traditions that make
life worth living. Thus, for instance, Carlos Molina, –Costa Rican philosopher– worries about globalization implying the
relegation of vernacular entrenched traditions which infuse spontaneous significance to lives (Molina, 2003).
We consider that worry untenable in the face of bare facts. Take as an example the case of Costa Rica –his and my own fatherland–, familiar to both of us. Its experience during the first globalization,342 cries out exactly the opposite: its opening-up to global markets and cultures not only did not suffocate Costa Rican idiosyncrasy but fortified it and brought it to higher levels, contributing to the maturation and decantation or our republican and libertarian values, through cultural and educational reforms occurring during the last decades of the 19th century and the first of the 20th. One could object that the British unification of the world was not as aggressive from the point of view of transmission of values, given the low speed with which information traveled in those days. However, the speed was sufficient for the ideas of the European Enlightenment to reach Latin America and kindle up the fight for independence all over the subcontinent.
As to the current wave of globalization, it is worth noticing that the UN report on human development published in 1999 clearly concludes that no research has demonstrated that people are being homologized at all. In addition, The Economist's Survey of the 20th century (Staff, 1999) clearly indicates that it is only in the film industry that USA is culturally dominant. In music, books, sports, food, beverage, fashion, and many other cultural fields, local suppliers dominate the markets and foreigners are even making much of a dent in the internal American market.
In fact, the opening of the borders to global trade and instantaneous communication through Internet is in no way weakening traditional cultures of the different populations of the world. On the contrary, it has upgraded them by giving them an immense and diversified audience, made up of people of the most diverse countries and cultures, creating mutuality relationships enabling the participants to be at the same time receivers, givers and protagonists of culture. Never before have there existed so much opportunity at the disposal of groups with very different interests, tastes and beliefs, without proportion to the particular size of each of them, thanks to the digital and communication revolutions (Negroponte, 1995; Friedman, 1999).
The handsome promise implied in the message of President Roosevelt's four freedoms, which provoked so much enthusiasm and created so much expectation at the end of the Second World War, was little by little suffocated by the Cold War tensions and, for the middle term, totally incinerated in the sixties together with the tropical forests of Viet Nam. Even so, the message of the Enlightenment is still alive in our culture. The great battles against 20th totalitarianism are part of the history of the world that we should systematically review in classrooms and fori and make recurrently explicit. Roosevelt's four liberties will continue to be relevant as long as they are not the common patrimony of all humankind. In great part that wonderful program has been fulfilled, as well documented in the survey of the 20th century cited before, by a comparison between the number of democratic states at the beginning and at the end of that century; however, there is still much to be done.
The fundamental message of the 18th century philosophers and the ideals and lessons of the Second World War (the last just war, according to many) are as important today as they were when they were thought out for the first time. However, many experiences have accumulated and great discoveries about our own selves and the world have been accomplished which require that we rethink and enrich them. In a time when globally we have come to accept that the problems of commodity production and distribution among the population have the best chance of been resolved by the automatic coordination of millions of wills, and not by the coercion of political organizations, the intellectual leaders of the world should concentrate their energies in a renewed proclamation of the good news of human fraternity. A simple message as the "four liberties," complemented with a call for the preservation of the Earth ecology and the universal liberation of women, can serve as well as any of similar intention, if there exists a concerted effort to extract from them all their axiological consequences.
Similar preoccupations are reflected in the recent writings of George Soros, a Hungarian immigrant to the U.S. who became billionaire trading currencies in Wall Street. This financial genius has for a long while dedicated his energies and money to promote open societies in the world.343
Guided by this noble purpose, he devoted himself in the years previous to the fall of the Iron Curtain to stimulate East European countries to open up their economies and liberalize their political systems, to such a point that his interventions may very well have been instrumental in the historical events which changed the destinies of the populations in that part of the world. As a citizen of the United States, he has been urging lately that the foreign policy of the Government rekindle the flame inherited from the Enlightenment, present in the Union since the proclamation of independence. He argues that, from that historical moment, two tendencies diametrically opposed entered into play in the U.S. politics: the altruism of the open society underlining the generic interests of humankind, on the one hand; on the other, the geopolitical realism emphasizing the particular interests of the Nation. At the beginning of independent life, and during a long period afterwards, the generic humanist vein predominated, to a point never done before in history by a great power. Regretfully, that altruistic inspiration went progressively down relatively to its contrary tendency, in proportion to the ascension in rang the country was gaining in the concert of nations. The two tendencies have continued to be discernible, vying for predominance in the policies of the country, mainly in concordance with the alternation in power of the two political parties and the variations in mood of popular culture. The purest examples of the predominance of the generic principle was incarnated, for Soros, in the towering figure of President Jimmy Carter. The predominance of the selfish tendency, he used to see years ago in the eminently unlikable figure of President Theodore Roosevelt (Soros, 2002). I believe that if he were to publish his book today, he would undoubtedly change the latter selection to President George W. Bush, to whose non reelection he ineffectually committed a considerable part of his fortune, after denouncing his administration as a serious risk to the republican and liberal traditions of the country and contraindicated to any attempt of fostering the open society using as model the United States of America.
A fundamental principle defended by Soros in his book on globalization, which one cannot but applaud, is that no society can exist without moral motivation. He claims that, in the current global unification, the benefits of market productivity might not suffice to motivate the tremendous collective effort required to face the risks and remove the obstacles that a project of such a magnitude implies. It is not a question here of morality in the traditional sense: observing religious precepts or accepting restrictions on sexual conduct which –at least in societies with the separation between religion and State inherited from the Enlightenment– are private matters. It is rather a question of the responsibilities that we have as generic beings, as member of the human genus, for the general welfare of humankind. It would seem that only a message against injustice and discrimination systematically committed against human beings by other human beings, or in favor of fending our fellow creatures from actual or potential misfortune which affect them as such human beings (not only as children, customers or friends), may give solid grounds and impulse to an enterprise of such scope.
It is here where the so-called Occidental culture,344 forged in the Renaissance and culminating with the Enlightenment in the 18th century, has something quite rich to contribute: the idea of the open society. This idea corresponds to the universal kernel in the meme of libertarian democracy but is not necessarily identical with it. Europe is not in Europe. As the antique Rome,345 its generic and universal idea of civilization must transform itself in order to survive. Our libertarian democracy is not the only possible incarnation of the just, non oppressive government which it epitomizes. Several universal principles embodied in it are essential and must stay, as the freedom of expression and association, the equitable treatment of minorities and of minority opinions, and the rejection of the principle that alien cultures are enemies by definition and should be fought against. The idea of the open society must include also the equity among ethnias and genders, economic progress and the fight against extreme poverty or generalized unhealthiness. In today's world, it must as well include remedy to the political conditions prevailing in many poor countries, whose extreme poverty is a clear consequence of bad government.346 Unfortunately, international assistance is the major support of those regimes, in the measure that foreign aid is almost always guided by geopolitical, rather than humanitarian, considerations (Soros, 2002).
In a world under unification there are problems which the automatic operation of international markets by themselves might not solve. They claim, to be overcome, for international regulations. Without the cooperation of the United States, this kind of agreements are very difficult to obtain and apply. Regrettably, this great power, economic and military leader of the world, has not, up to now, been cooperative enough with those initiatives. It has resolutely opposed anything that limits its sovereignty, refusing to join the International Criminal Court, the Mine-Ban Treaty, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, many International Labor Organization conventions, and several esoteric conventions like the Sea-Rights Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The sole area where the USA has been in agreement to subordinate its sovereignty to international institutions has been the facilitation of international trade. Unfortunately, this is not sufficient to guarantee a secure future for humankind. With the recent historic election of Barack Obama as President of the United States –a revolution by itself– there are reasons to believe that this regrettable situation might change drastically in the very near future.
Among other perils, the human race is currently on the verge of a cataclysm due to climate change by excess production of greenhouse gases. On February 2, 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared the evidence of a climate-change trend “unequivocal,” and human activity the “very likely” driving force of global warming during the last one hundred years. The same scientific panel had reported in 2001 that humankind had “likely” played a role. The addition of the small word “very” did more than reflect the growing scientific evidence that the release of carbon dioxide and other gases has played a role. It underlined a qualitative change in the nature of the debate, not any longer about the question of whether humans are responsible, but on what is to be done about this serious problem. The subject had a red-carpet moment in October 2007, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received the Nobel Peace Prize, in conjunction with former Vice President Al Gore. The award both vindicated Gore's cautionary film about the consequences of climate change An Inconvenient Truth, and a United Nations panel previously vilified by those questioning the scientific basis for a human role in global warming.
In a well-substantiated report, a United Nations' panel of scientists meeting in November 2007 in Valencia, Spain, described the mounting risks of climate change in language both more specific and more forceful than any previous assessments. Synthesizing data from previous studies, they pointedly specified the imminent global calamities if governments fail to act, like the melting of ice sheets that could lead to a generalized rise in sea levels and the extinction of many marine species. In spite of the report being more alarming than its predecessors, some researchers still consider it an understatement. Notwithstanding its thoroughness, the study did not take into account some global economic trends, including the larger than predicted current economic development of China. Some experts conclude that no matter what humans do to try to control greenhouse gas emissions, a doubling of them is all but inevitable by 2100. There is no telling at this point how living in our world would be like under those extreme conditions, most probably a totally different planet. And yet, many energy and environment experts see such doubling as a foregone conclusion, unless there is a prompt and sustained shift away from the current pattern of unfettered burning of coal and oil, as well as an aggressive expansion of non polluting sources of energy. Should greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the average temperatures by the end of the century could match those seen in the last warm spell between ice ages, 125,000 years ago. At that time, sea levels were 12 to 20 feet higher than today, since the extra water is now trapped as great ice masses in Greenland and Antarctica.
There are still other pressing risks. The combined problems of the exhaustion of fossil hydrocarbons and the reduction of agricultural land are the most critical ones for the present and near future. Biofuels are renewable products, in contrast to coal or fossil oil –about to be depleted. For that reason, both the US and Brazil have already legislated to promote their use, and subsidized their production. Those measures were acclaimed when they passed. However, that enthusiasm is fast subsiding; in fact, it is changing to its very opposite, the reason being that people have realized that the production of biofuels competes with land for the production of food for human consumption. It has been noticed, for instance, that the grain required to fill-up only once a four-wheel-drive car could keep alive a person for a whole year.
Nuclear weapons is another grave problem that must be tackled with renewed vigor. Standing arrangements are unstable. The current nonproliferation treaty was created as a club of nuclear powers who tried to exclude nonmember States. However, this policy have created an incentive for aspiring countries to acquire nuclear capability as soon as possible; to the degree they seriously try, it is just a matter of time for them to succeed, as the cases of India and Pakistan demonstrate. Unless the international community seriously commit itself to solve this problem, a real danger exists that humankind eventually perishes by its own hand. The United Nations, with the support of all global powers, must assume seriously this transcendental responsibility, avoiding concomitantly the shameful and inhumane situation where a country –allegedly possessor of atomic weapons– could be attacked unilaterally, disregarding the mechanisms of international security.
The United States is currently, and probably will be for decades, the only military power at world level. It will lose a great historical opportunity if it would continue emphasizing the perpetuation of its domineering position, organizing wars at whim, instead of polishing its humanitarian traditions and reassuming its better role as leader of the open society. Under the Bush administrations the open society crusade has been subject to its most serious stress. Since the end of the Cold War, the supporters of geopolitical realism were searching for the enemy they were missing in the new unified global situation, to justify their extremist positions. The September 11 terrorist attack provided one without a hitch, supposedly justifier of generalized worldwide “war against terror.” Recent political events give the world hope that, instead, the American Union will promptly reassume her position as champion of the open society in the contemporary world.
This optimistic view of the future may –or may not– come true. It is perfectly possible that the beautiful intellectual and pragmatic adventure initiated in the Delaware Valley more than two hundred years ago, will come to an end. As we have reviewed in the last chapters, more than once in the historical past a great open society transformed itself, gradually or violently, out of lack of vigilance from its people, into a dictatorial oppressive empire. More realistically, as the current economic crisis suggests, the Union might lose shortly its current status of superpower, lumbering under the weight of the financial overreach of its banks, citizenry and government, as several political analysts have lately insinuated. Let us hope instead that she does continue for a long time as primus inter pares in the concert of civilized nations.
Note 338: Colonies already enjoying some degree of self-government since mid 19th century, in particular Ireland, Canada, and Australia.
Note 339: The Four Freedoms were proclaimed by the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, on his annual speech before Congress, on January 6, 1941. They are: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Note 340: See Appendix Q: A MEME CALLED INTERNET.
Note 341: According to a report by USA Today on April 24, 1997, computer programmers employed by IBM write programs at Tsinghua University in Beijing in the Java language. At day’s end, they send their work through Internet to an IBM laboratory in Seattle. There, other programmers continue working over the same material and, at the end of their day, send the pack in their turn to the Computer Science-Research Institute of Belarus and Software House in Latvia. From there, the work is sent once more to the East, skipping the night, to the Tata Group in India, which passes it on, finally, again to Beijing, where the programmers of the Tsinghua University find it on their computers when they enter their offices in the morning. The project is appropriately called “Java Around the Clock.”
Note 342: See Chapter 13, THE BRITISH WORLD UNIFICATION.
Note 343: The expression "open society" was used for the first time by Henri Bergson in 1932 in his Two Sources of Morals and Religion. The first source is tribal and supports a closed society, whereas the other is universal and gives foundation to open societies. (Bergson, 1946).
Note 344: On our approximately spheric planet. we should rather qualify it as European.
Note 345: See Chapter 13, THE HUMAN ASPIRATION TO UNITY.
Note 346: This problem is systematically ignored by the United Nations and other organisms integrated by representatives of sovereign States, many of which are failed States dominated by corruption. (Soros, 2002).