In Search of a Global Ethic

Aug 31, 2011


Jan 6, 2022

These reflections on the Carnegie Council Centennial theme were published August 31, 2011.

A hundred years ago Andrew Carnegie thought that world politics was about to change forever. War would be abolished. Just as private war in the form of dueling had passed from the scene, so too would the slaughters of public war become a relic of a bygone age. Carnegie even had a specific plan for how he could help make this happen. He would provide funds to build a home for an International Court of Arbitration at The Hague. He would support a League to Enforce the Peace—later to become the League of Nations. Through these new mechanisms, just as individual disputes became settled according to domestic law, international disputes would be settled by the principles and institutions of international law. Barbarism would be eclipsed by more civilized practices.

Carnegie believed in moral progress. He had adopted a version of Social Darwinism popularized by Herbert Spencer: the world was evolving in a positive direction, attitudes and expectations were changing for the better. He had good reason to think this way. In his lifetime, slavery had been abolished and the industrial revolution was beginning to bring benefits to society in health, education, and personal opportunity. Living conditions were improving for the burgeoning middle classes and he was going to do his part to make a difference.

In the early 1900s Carnegie was known as “the richest man in the world,” having sold his stake in the US Steel Corporation to J.P. Morgan. By 1914, the eve of the First World War, his profile was something like that of Bill Gates today: a business tycoon who had decided to spend the last third of his life as a philanthropist. In his famous essay on the duty of the successful business man titled “The Gospel of Wealth,” Carnegie wrote, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” His stated goal was to give away 90 percent of his fortune before his death to improve the conditions of society. He became one of the world’s greatest idealists. And he had many successes in pursuing campaigns for social reform, including building hundreds of public libraries throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, helping to reform higher education, and contributing to the arts and culture, famously symbolized by the construction of Carnegie Hall in New York City.

But there is no denying that Carnegie missed the mark on the peace issue. Almost 100 years later, we are left with painful questions. How did Carnegie’s dream for peace go so sour? Why was there so little moral progress in international relations? Why was his civilized approach to conflict so marginalized? And why did the 20th century end as the century of mass murder, featuring world wars, atomic weapons, genocide, and seemingly endless cycles of ethnic conflict?

Perhaps more importantly for us, what makes us think we can do better in the 21st century? As president of the Carnegie Council, I am beginning to plan for the Council’s Centennial in 2014. If 1914 held out the prospect of perpetual peace, 2014 certainly looks like the acceptance of permanent war. What should we make of this? And how will this look to our successors in 2114?

This lecture is my attempt at an answer. It is my report to Mr. Carnegie 100 years on. And it is the first draft of a letter I am planning to put in a time capsule for the Carnegie Council bicentennial in 2114.

Three No’s and Three Yes’s

Experience tells us that moving forward we would be wise to stop three common patterns of behavior by asserting three no’s for international politics: no crusading; no nihilism, and no equivalence. The failures of the past 100 years seem to fall into one of these three baskets: excessive and naïve moralizing on the one hand; crude and erroneous dismissals of moral concern on the other; and the fallacies of moral relativism in between. Each of these failures needs to be recognized, clarified, explained and stopped. Each no then needs to be answered with a yes—a positive principle upon which to build a global ethic.

First, let’s consider the problem of excessive moralizing, or what Hans Morgenthau called “the crusading spirit.” The crusading spirit is found in many ideologies—”isms” and doctrines that are often absolute and always universal and abstract. Absolutes and moral abstractions in politics should raise a red flag. Ideologies like nationalism, Marxism, communism, religious fundamentalism and even Western liberalism in the wrong hands, have been great simplifiers, prone to excesses of political operators who use them to cloak their political interests in the guise of high-minded moral purpose.

Ideology and moral abstractions in politics tend to lead to what philosophers call a monism: a commitment to a single unified doctrine. Historians point out that monisms in politics have long been a road to ruin. The atrocities of the 20th century are largely attributed to the monisms of the fascists and the communists (Hitler, Stalin, Mao)—utopians all, each with a universal project that would entertain no resistance.

Moral aspirations never stand outside of the context of power and interests. Woodrow Wilson’s post-World War I dream to “make the world safe for democracy” by instituting collective security through a League of Nations was indeed a laudable, moral goal, as was Mr. Carnegie’s similar dream before the war. But Carnegie and Wilson missed an important point. The aspiration alone was not enough. Nations act on their perceived interests. Collective security depends on all nations within the system to see their interests the same way—to see the same threats, and to be willing the pay similar costs in blood and treasure. This wasn’t the case then, and it’s not yet the case now.

Looking at our own country we have no choice but to recognize that high moral rhetoric is an ongoing, bipartisan fact of U.S. foreign policy. As a nation with deep Calvinist roots, our political discourse is riddled with moral language and images, and our political culture demands a moral dimension. We hear of America as exemplar: as the “city on a hill.” We hear of America as redeemer: the champion of human rights and democracy. America likes to think of itself as a moral nation, whether it is Jimmy Carter’s policies of human rights promotion, Ronald Reagan’s targeting of the Soviet “evil empire,” or George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda.”

Yet it is important to note that purity, whether it is in the service of human rights, the just war, or the promotion of democracy, just isn’t possible. Those who look for it always come to grief by the hands of their own moral certainty. Utopian thinking always fails because it does not conform to the realities of lived experience. Think of the utopian novels you might have read: Animal Farm, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. All utopias end in dystopia. Why? They fail because they attempt to perfect the imperfect.

We become moral not by proclaiming how moral we are, or how evil the other side might be. We become moral by making difficult choices between competing moral claims and recognizing that tradeoffs and uneasy compromises are often necessary. We recognize that like the Cherokee parable, we all have two wolves within us, one good and the other evil. There is a struggle between them. Which one will win? As the parable says, the one that wins will be the one that we feed. We can never eradicate the evil we see in the world, just as we can never eradicate the evil capacities that lay dormant within each and every person.

As a moral nation we understand we are working “toward a more perfect union;” and as the cliché goes, it is about the journey, not the destination. We are a work in progress and always will be. We are a nation born in sin—slavery marked us from the beginning. Even our “good” wars demanded terrible costs: let us remember the use of the atomic weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and let us not forget the ongoing loss of innocent lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We become moral by taking on these difficult cases, confronting them, and challenging the simplified, sentimental, and utopian versions of our story. What makes us moral is our decision to act, to reckon with the consequences, to be accountable, and to be open to self-criticism and self-correction.

So my first “no” is really about the limits of moral exceptionalism so proudly hailed by many of our leaders today. There is a deep problem of self-righteousness that has infected our politics. We saw some of this self-righteousness in the idealism of Carnegie and Wilson. In their “certainty” of the evils of war and in their prescription for ending it for all time, they failed to grasp the resistance that others might have to their globalizing project. We see a related kind of certainty in the so-called war against terrorism of the past decade. The wrongness of al-Qaeda-class terrorism has led to an absolute and totalizing response: expansive and comprehensive doctrines of preemption, demonstration, (shock and awe), liberation, and democracy promotion. The abstract moralism of a phrase like “moral clarity,” despite its occasional comforts, has produced excesses that have undermined our goals.

What the moralists of the past century and recent years have missed is a sense of proportion and contingency in their responses to the evils and injustices they see. No single moral imperative can make a citizen’s or a statesman’s choices automatic. As Alexander Hamilton pointed out, we should not fall into the trap of believing that morality in politics is one dimensional and that change is likely to be linear and ultimately harmonious. In The Federalist Papers he writes famously, “Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?”

While Hamilton was writing about the founding of the American republic, his observations would have been no less relevant for the early 20th-century architects of international law and organization. How do we deal with the challenges of aggression and domination and the moral imperative to protect the weak? The American founding fathers came up with the idea of balancing power—the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judiciary would provide checks and balances for countervailing factions and interests. Power and the self-interests of factions would be balanced and held accountable—not avoided or bypassed. The early planners for international organization in Mr. Carnegie’s time had no similarly effective remedy at their disposal. The planners seemed to assume a convergence of the interests of a wide variety of actors rather than a divergence of values, ideas, and commitments. This was a fatal flaw.

Where does this leave us? The “no” to simple-minded moralism should be met with a “yes” to pluralism. Pluralism is the term used to recognize the legitimate claims and interests of others. My working definition of pluralism is “empathy for diversity while recognizing what is common in the human experience.” Pluralism is a pragmatic approach as compared to the ideological approach we see from the purveyors of moral clarity, whether they be war-on-terror advocates on the political right or human rights advocates on the political left.

We feel the full weight of pluralism when we view a great work of art or read a classic text. Through these encounters, we can understand the experiences and the value systems of others. We enter into another world and experience part of it as others do. As Isaiah Berlin puts it, monism holds that “only one set of values is true, all others are false.” Relativism holds that “my values are mine, yours are yours, and if we clash, too bad, neither of us can claim to be right.” I’ll say more about the wrongheadedness of relativism in a moment. But first, let’s look at a more promising approach: pluralism.

In searching for the most compelling description of pluralism I could find for you, I came across the work of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, who has written a book in response to Samuel Huntington’s book, The Clash of Civilizations. Sacks response to Huntington’s thesis is captured in the title of his book The Dignity of Difference. Sacks’s response is especially noteworthy because it comes from a man of deep religious faith (you would think he would be monist, a fundamentalist!). Using the Bible story of the Tower of Babel as his illustration, Sacks reminds us of the story where there is an attempt to bring the entire world together to speak one language and follow a single operating system. Here is what the Rabbi said at the Carnegie Council on this theme of pluralism:

God saw that Babel was…the first totalitarianism, the first imperialism, the first attempt at fundamentalism. How am I defining fundamentalism here? I would say it is an attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world. And having seen the building of the Tower as attempted fundamentalism, God confused the languages of humanity at Babel and said, “From here on there will be many languages, many cultures, many civilizations, and I want you to live together in peace.”

Thus God calls on one man, one nation, to be different in order to teach all humanity the dignity of difference. God lives in difference, and the proof is that his people are given that mission to be different.

So, as the rabbis put it so beautifully almost 2,000 years ago in the Mishnah, when a human being mints many coins in the same mint, they all come out the same. God makes every human being in the same image, His image, and we all come out different; and it is that difference which is the basis of the sanctity of life, because every life is unlike any other life—incidentally, even genetically identical twins are not identical. Therefore no life is substitutable, no life can be made good by any other life, and therein lies the sanctity of life.

This commentary emphasizes the paradox of pluralism. We share a common humanity. Yet what unites us is the fact of our differences. And so, Sacks embraces diversity while reminding us of our essential sameness. When we put this idea to work in arranging social institutions, you can see that the premium is on managing differences. The goal is not to make everyone the same; it is rather to find ways to build on basic commonalities, live with differences, and to escape the all-controlling moral dogmas that frequently shape our experiences.

Our second “no” is the rejection of nihilism. Nihilism is the assertion that there is no “ethics” in international affairs. Nihilists assert a crude form of realism. This includes the nihilism of those who think nothing of using violence and ignoring any sort of rules or restraints to get what they want. It can also include unreflective versions of the realism of the Athenian generals in Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian Wars, who argue that in war “the strong do what they will and the weak do what they must.” Classical realism emphasizes three main concepts: anarchy (no controlling authority above the state); the will to power (aggression and competition as inherent in human nature); and tragedy (the inevitability of conflict over interests, fears, and points of honor).

It is easy to go down the rabbit hole or the vortex of this kind of realism. We can view the history of international relations—and life in general—as simply a struggle for power. It is a brutal contest, and the strong emerge only to find ways to ceaselessly maintain, if not improve, their standing. Structural realists like John Mearsheimer try to make a science of this approach, isolating the variable of “power” as the main fact, and arguing that “what money is to economics, power is to international relations.” In this scheme, power is the only fact that really matters; and power is indeed a “fact” that can be separated from “values” like justice and fairness. Further, Mearsheimer argues that everyone thinks about power the same way—everyone wants to maximize their share of it: full stop.

Critical theorists (or post modernists) aren’t far behind in their cynicism. Postmodern critics argue that international relations have evolved as a system created by powerful actors in a manner that favors the interests and maintains the prerogatives of the powerful. Rules, norms, and laws thus favor the status quo and the most privileged actors. In this view, ethical standards are merely instrumental; they are, in the end, a form of oppression. While there is some truth to this observation—as with Mearsheimer’s—it is my view that this is an inadequate account of what we see in international affairs today.

The reality is that we do find expressions of values in politics above and beyond the pursuit and maintenance of power. As the philosopher Simon Blackburn puts it, “Human beings are ethical animals…we grade and evaluate, compare and admire, and claim and justify…Events endlessly adjust our sense of responsibility, our guilt and our shame, and our sense of our own worth and that of others.” In foreign policy terms, we understand that there are constraints that have real meaning for conduct. We take seriously concepts such as atrocities in war, and the moral imperative to relieve human suffering in areas of poverty and depravation. Values such as fairness, justice and humanitarianism have resonance. There are some things that should be done. And there are others things that we just shouldn’t do. I do believe that we see universal moral sentiments that reflect this.

So the “no” nihilism must be met with a “yes” to a positive alternative. For me, that positive alternative is the idea of rights and responsibilities. The challenge with arguing for rights and responsibilities as the rock bottom principle for a global ethic is that while we can achieve agreement at levels of high abstraction, the agreement begins to fray as we get down to cases. This is because at some level, arguments become political—they become about differing values and interests (this is why I began with the discussion of pluralism!). This realization need not be debilitating. But it does speak to the challenge of forging moral agreement in ways that are actionable in policy terms.

I begin with rights because I recognize something universal in them—a universal moral sense based on sympathy and mutuality. In preparing for the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947-48, the philosopher Jacques Maritain famously wrote, “We agree on these rights on the condition that no one asks us why.” Pragmatists have argued that in the end, foundational arguments, that is, where rights come from, may not really matter. Simple, factual observation of the need for human rights and the work that human rights arguments do to provide protections may be sufficient. After all, the facts of the genocides and gulags in such recent memory should be sufficient to make the case that protections are needed. The argument is simple. Why rights? Well, where would we be without them?

Despite unending controversies over the origin, standing, and composition of rights, one aspect seems widely accepted. That is, any rights claim implies a corresponding set of duties and responsibilities. The formula for rights is straightforward: rights are protections and entitlements that require a corresponding set of duties and responsibilities. The assignment of duties and responsibilities is especially relevant to our project as we think about charting a new course for global politics. One way to clarify the issue of responsibility is to consider rights claims in terms of “perfect” and “imperfect” obligations. Perfect obligations are specific and direct. For example, we have the perfect obligation not to torture. Imperfect obligations are more general, less specific, and inexactly targeted. So in the case of torture, there is the requirement to consider the ways and means through which torture can be prevented.

Although this is not a precise illustration of the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties, consider the infamous case of Kitty Genovese. Kitty Genovese was a 28-year-old woman who lived in Kew Gardens Queens in 1964. One night on her way home, she was stabbed several times by an unknown assailant and left to die. Her case became widely known because it was alleged that 38 people passed her by as she lay dying in the street. No one helped her. Presumably, each of the 38 passers-by thought someone else would help, or they didn’t want to get involved. Whatever the precise details, this scenario helps to elucidate the point about perfect and imperfect duties. We all share the basic duty not to harm. But we also share the basic duty not to allow the conditions of harm, and that when harm is done, to mitigate the effects of it. The exercise of imperfect duty is far from altruism. It is in our own self-interest to live in a community where people are not left to die in the streets.

In looking at global concerns today, we see several obvious cases where both our direct and indirect participation in the mitigation of harms is inevitable. Whether it is the global economy, the global climate, or in areas such as humanitarian relief and the “responsibility to protect,” there is no dodging the questions. Should the United States lead? Should it play a supporting role? Should it help design and create new arrangements? What about our roles as individual citizens acting outside of state institutions? These questions about fair contribution are open-ended, but inevitable, given our concern over rights and responsibilities. If international politics were about power and power only, we wouldn’t debate these questions seriously. But we do. Therefore, nihilism is not an option.

Having ruled out monism in favor of pluralism and scratched nihilism in favor of rights and responsibilities, it remains to address the final no: no moral equivalence. Moral equivalence is the bankrupt idea that all moral claims are equal and relative. Moral equivalence entertains the familiar idea that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This hopeless relativism makes an ethical approach to politics irrelevant. So it must be addressed.

I would submit that like the argument against nihilism, simple observation gives us the basis to challenge the argument for moral equivalence. Although often controversial, we can indeed distinguish between terrorists and resistance fighters; we can make distinctions between the human rights records of a country like Libya and the United States; and we can distinguish between environmentally friendly policies and those that are degrade the natural world. In the street-fight that is often the reality of international affairs, there should be moral minimums (things to be avoided) as well as desired outcomes (aspirations). In rejecting moral equivalence, we can and do make some basic distinctions that create the possibilities for positive social change.

Putting this into the context of foreign policy, we see that our national interests are not self-defined or self-evident. Our interests are constructed according to our values—the things we care about most. They are frequently the product of moral and political argument. Arthur Schlesinger once wrote that “It is precisely through the idea of national interest that moral principles enter most effectively into the formation of foreign policy. The function of morality is not to supply directives for policy. It is to supply perspectives that clarify and civilize conceptions of national interest.” He goes on to point out that “The moral content of national interest is determined by three things: by national traditions, by political leadership, and by public opinion.”

The “no” to moral equivalence can be easily replaced by a “yes” to enlightened self-interest based on the values we are committed to. Two values that we ought to care about with increasing concern in our current era of intense globalization are the values of reciprocity and mutuality. Several years ago, we had a presentation at the Carnegie Council from the then-Korean Ambassador to the UN, Young-jin Choi. He was so eloquent on this notion of enlightened self-interest, that I wrote down his remarks and I want to share them with you now:

No nation can be truly happy, secure, or stable when there are many failed states out there. This is not because we want to be altruistic, but this is because we want to ensure more fully our own national interest. So, in a way, enlightened national interest is a better form of national self-interest, and this is the way we have to go.

…Many biologists now think that altruism is part of our evolution. This is not something imposed…but is part of our genes, part of biological evolution, because [cooperation and concern] ensures our better survival, it ensures our better self-interest. [Just as we may be hard-wired for competition and conflict; we also may also be hard-wired for sympathy and cooperation as a means to promote survival.]

So in the face of the growing problem of transnational issues—international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, communicable diseases, and overpopulation—we have a concept to deal with them, which is enlightened national interest. It may be time to introduce ethics in international relations, and not just for the sake of altruism but for our own sake.

I think what the ambassador was saying is that not all problems of international relations are zero-sum. Not all of our challenges are winner-take-all propositions. There are many opportunities—in fact, there are many necessities—that require cooperation and non-zero thinking. Non-zero thinking focuses on the possibilities for win-win outcomes. What the Ambassador was saying is that we need a realism that accepts win-win thinking as not only as a theoretical possibility but as a necessity in a global world where have so many common interests and where so many of our problems are collective action problems. This approach is one author has called “the realist case for global reform.”


If we accept the three no’s and three yes’s more or less as described, what then can we conclude? I think if Mr. Carnegie were here today, I could look him in the eye with a sense of optimism. Despite the many intractable conflicts we see in today’s world and despite the vast inequalities and unfair circumstances, there are common interests we can build upon. In a globalizing world, we have more opportunities to work toward harmonizing norms and standards to make the world a less militaristic and more peaceful place. It is reasonable to think that the days of large-scale industrial war may be numbered. And perhaps the concept of war itself might evolve into something that looks more like cooperative policing than the “total-war” scenarios we have seen over the past 100 years. We have a lot of work to do here—especially in the area of reducing nuclear weapons—but it is feasible, especially if we base it on a common ethic.

We have learned that the real weight of ethics is in the granting and withdrawing of legitimacy. Let’s remember that the mitigation and cessation of evil practices ultimately comes from the assertion of core values. The end of slavery began with various revolutions and rebellions—yet the source of its ultimate demise was its loss of moral legitimacy. Communism, for the most part, ended in similar fashion. The Soviet Union collapsed when the values that held it together were no longer credible and sustainable. Its legitimacy evaporated. The same could be said of apartheid South Africa. We have seen more regime change in recent years because of the power of principles rather than the power of the gun.

Surely, legitimacy is playing a critical role in the uprisings in the Middle East. Mubarak, Qaddafi, and other Arab leaders have faced a tipping point. When their rule and their regimes became perceived as illegitimate, this illegitimacy became the decisive force for change.

New struggles for legitimacy can be found everywhere. We see moral consensus forming rejecting the tactic of terrorism. We see movement on the need to address climate change. We see new initiatives to shore up the so-called nuclear taboo and to move toward radical reductions in the number of nuclear weapons. We see strong voices rejecting genocide and promoting the Responsibility to Protect. We see robust responses to issues of global health. We see serious attention given to the status of women. We see concern for global poverty and the plight of the least well off expressed in the aspirations of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. All of these issues are gaining normative legitimacy. They are providing leverage for action. But making progress will take time, and debate around these issues will be the battleground for global ethics for some time to come.

We can use the coming years to build upon a universal moral sense and sense of shared destiny brought on by the forces of globalization. Some of the old problems will remain. We will continue to face the perils of demagogues (H. L. Mencken once defined a demagogue “a person who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”) And we will continue to think creatively on how to align our values with new institutional structures.

The 20th century brought us amazing normative shifts. Standards have risen, expectations have changed. Universal education, the right to vote, social security, civil rights, women’s rights, the rights of minorities, environmental awareness—all are considered basic and fundamental; and all at one time were considered impossible to achieve. Mr. Carnegie was right to see the opportunity for moral progress. And while there have been many disappointments there is no reason to abandon the project and in fact, every reason to re-double our efforts.

The task now is to adjust to new circumstances. Global networks and communication are providing increased capacity to find common ground with people we will never meet. These interconnections are the new frontier for human relationships and politics. Globalization is our new reality. And a global ethic based on shared interests and values is perhaps now more possible than ever.

There are many examples of a new global ethic in emergence. We see it in areas such as security, climate, and education. Global risks and collective action problems are no longer marginal. They are front and center in policy debates. Projects are springing up that are ambitious but incremental. Each has begun to change expectations and reflect the demands of a global ethic.

In considering the security agenda, we have the example of former Senator Sam Nunn, the leader of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the engine behind the Global Zero campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons. NTI develops new strategies and new partnerships to work toward the reduction of nuclear threats and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons. Whether it reaches its ultimate goal of abolition or not, “Global Zero” has entered the consciousness of a new generation of strategists, policy makers, and concerned citizens.

The climate agenda has generated numerous examples of a global ethic in the making. One of the most promising is the C40 Climate Leadership Group co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. C40 is an organization that brings together the leaders of the world’s largest cities to share best practices on local efforts that will help to address climate change globally. The C40 works by “planning and measuring the impact of local initiatives that reduce emissions from energy, waste, water supply, and transport, and policies that increase cities’ resilience to climate change.” In C40 and in similar initiatives, environmental issues are no longer seen as something abstract and “out there.” They are part of the daily lives of people everywhere.

The education agenda is similarly well-positioned to evolve, energized by the possibilities of instant world-wide communication. A prime example is Professor Michael Sandel, who is leveraging this opportunity by taking his Harvard lectures on “Justice” to online audiences around the world. In a recent New York Times column he is quoted as saying, “Students everywhere are hungry for discussion of the big ethical questions we confront in our everyday lives ….My dream is to create a video-linked global classroom, connecting students across cultures and national boundaries—to think through these hard moral questions together, to see what we can learn from one another.” With this initiative and others like it, education has reached a new stage. It is now global.

So with these examples in mind, how will we know when a global ethic is gaining traction to the point where it is actually making a difference? A meaningful global ethic will shape personal identity. Individuals in even the most remote locations will begin see themselves as part of a global economy, a global climate, and a global information system. Values and priorities will evolve to take into account global-level concerns. Zero sum thinking will begin to give way in some circumstances. Political and social arrangements will evolve. More and more, systems and structures will be designed to align with global expectations.

A global ethic will inspire, not legislate; it will offer insight not rules and regulations. The goal is not to make everyone the same or impose consensus. It is rather to preserve liberty and diversity by recognizing a new reality and the ethic that must come along with it. Life on earth is fast becoming a shared destiny. A global ethic is no longer a luxury. It is a practical necessity, and I believe more and more people will begin to see it as such.

Michael Walzer tells us that a moral world is not the same as a world in which everyone acts with perfect ethical result. This is not possible. However, it is possible to have a world in which the idea of morality is central to decision making. If we can create a world where empathy, responsibility, and humility are taken seriously, then the search for a global ethic need not be in vain.

Mr. Carnegie should be proud of what he has accomplished. He failed in predictable ways but succeeded in ways he could not have imagined. Because of his efforts and those of like-minded people, the concept of a global ethic is alive and kicking.

To our successors in 2114, I predict that much of what I have said here will look quaint. We will have failed in some areas, for sure. But I suspect we will be successful in others. The audience in 2114 will have despairs of their own, many quite dire, I am sure. But they will have also seen some progress since the days of 2014.

Privacy Policy

You may also like

FEB 27, 2024 Video

A Carnegie Council Conversation with the UK Home Secretary

In this speech, the UK Home Secretary outlined the range of opportunities and challenges faced by countries as a consequence of migration.

Left to Right: Abiodun Williams, Erez Yoeli, Joel Rosenthal. October 18, 2023.

OCT 18, 2023 Video

Unlocking Cooperation: A Global Ethics Day Special Event

In this keynote event for Global Ethics Day 2023, Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal led a conversation on the psychology behind cooperation; ways that states, institutions, ...

Jerusalem at night. CREDIT: joiseyshowaa.

OCT 11, 2023 Article

Terror Attacks in Israel: A Complete Rout of Ethical Principles

Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal condemns Hamas' shocking terror attacks in Israel. What are we to make of such a complete rout of ethical principles?

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation