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“Where I stand is where I sit and to whom I speak.”

de Dr. Wilhelm Hofmeister

Abridged report of the International Symposium of October 27th to 28th 2006 in Rome

An International Symposium staged by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation together with the Papal University of Gregoriana to examine “The Purpose of Politics and Business – New Challenges for the Social Sciences in the Age of Globalisation” in Rome on 27 and 28 October 2006.

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No, they were not just paying lip service to ethical or moral relativism. This was already precluded by the venue where the International Symposium was taking place. Nobody would suspect the Papal University of Gregoriana of retreating from ethical positions without considerable thought. On the contrary: Jesuit General Peter Kolvenbach emphasised the importance of ethical positions in all areas of human action right at the outset of the symposium, especially in the field of business, which has to focus much more on the importance of preserving social cohesion. This postulate was reaffirmed again and again by the participants in the discussion from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the U.S..

At the heart of the symposium was globalisation and its impact. Not the pros and cons, the winners and losers, however, but rather some fundamental questions which arise as the process of globalisation proceeds apace and which are in danger of being lost sight of with the commoditisation of many areas of life. Is the whole point to constantly accelerate the velocity of trade, flows of capital, communications, to further reduce time and space and to keep the system up and running, or is this all to some end which may even live up to ethical standards which apply to societies? Have the foundations of societies changed, and if so, in what way? Is the age-old question of “What is a human being?” being answered in another manner today? How do societies integrate? And not least: how is policy-making reacting to new questions, and what are the limits and borderlines of business and economics?

In the words of the Chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Prof. Dr. Bernhard Vogel, the debate over values, which was initiated by these questions, has not kept pace with economic and technological progress. He called for an effort to resist a passive notion of human beings. People are endowed with freedom, are able to shape their environment, and they possess social skills which should also be fostered in the age of globalisation. This is also involves justice and solidarity, but the notion of freedom also urgently needs to strengthened. Not freedom in the sense of selfish pursuit of one’s own interests without heed to others, but rather freedom in conjunction with responsibility, not least for society itself.

The call for a generally understood way of dealing with freedom is all the more relevant because, as some of the speakers in the debate argued, there is otherwise a danger that human beings will not only be reduced to the dimension of rational actors in the age of globalisation, but that they will only be accepted if they function along these lines. This type of reductionism, however, fails to do justice to the complex nature of human beings. This tendency must be countered by the realisation that human beings cannot survive as individuals. “I am, because we are – and we are, because I am.” With this African saying, Peter Henriot, from Zambia, reminded us that individuals are part of society.

Globalisation relates not only to the notion of individuals, however. Societies as a whole and their integration capabilities are being challenged. Policies which maintain and guide social order are hence being confronted with new challenges at present. These policies have to shape societies – even though the national state has lost its latitude to shape society, and by the same token policy must not lose its reference to values or ethical views even though the plurality of views does not make it any easier for members of society to accept certain binding values as points of orientation.

To meet this orientation task, the policy arena itself has to live up to high ethical standards. Participants from Latin America, Africa and Asia all noted the phenomenon of corruption in this context, however, which is not only demonstrated by the absence of ethical attitudes, but rather also by a tendency to disavow the political process as a whole and, with it, democracy. On the other hand, one cannot be content with declarations of intent to eliminate corruption in the future. What is needed, rather, is an institutional framework as well as mechanisms guaranteeing calculability and transparency in order to make ethical views have an impact on the political sphere as well.

As a result of the weakening of the national state in the age of globalisation, the capability of policy-makers to shape society at the level of individual states is, however, limited. This goes not least for the acceptance of ethical standards. These constraints on policy-making also result from the fact, however, that international efforts in the direction of global governance are still too weakly developed and are marked by clear democratic deficits. The development of global political structures is not keeping pace with economic growth, which means that societal processes are too one-sidedly based on an economic perspective. There are no shackles on competition and consumerism, nor are ethical principles able to prevail.

In view of these constraints and limits, Alois Baumgartner from Munich also noted that human deeds will always remain fragmentary and incomplete. But this cannot serve as an excuse for ethical and moral relativism. This realisation of one’s own limits is, rather, a source of hope: if individuals do not always have to have their way, they have a feeling for, and are willing to invest in, solidarity. This understanding can also subject competition to limits in the age of solidarity and above all provide people an orientation: business and politics are not an end in themselves – rather, they have to be focused on human beings.

The central issue of concern to participants from all over the world was thusly raised. Here it was astonishing to see how different social realities and experience are also reflected in the analysis of basic questions forwarded by the symposium. “Where I stand is where I sit and to whom I speak.” Different experience with the effects of globalisation of course also has an impact on the perspective of every individual. What is positive for some persons may be very negative for others. Is our view sufficiently aware of this at this stage? It would appear that we still devote too little attention to experience in other parts of the world. But our self-confidence apparently blinds us at times to other experience which we ourselves could ascribe to.

This goes not only for the field of business. Globalisation, according to K. S. Nathan from Singapore, has fostered a sharpening awareness and radicalisation in countries in South Asia where Islam has a major impact. Not least as a defensive reaction to cultural imposition, people in Malaysia and Indonesia are witnessing a politicisation of religion and along with it restrictions on personal freedoms even though these countries tend to be counted among the real winners of globalisation.

This translates into completely new challenges for the coexistence of religions and societal integration. But one can also at the same time learn from other experience. In Africa, as Peter Gichure from Kenya and Lawrence Schlemmer from South Africa reported, this appears to function with much fewer problems. The discussion over religion and politics must therefore not be reduced to the topic of fundamentalism.

Nor can the issue be, as it were, to simply repeat the reputed economic advantages of globalisation like some sort of mantra. Too many persons are excluded or will have no opportunity to ever feel these positive effects. The globalised economy needs limits and an order to include even more people instead of excluding them. Even though Chile has been one of the winners of globalisation since it opened itself to the world market, in the opinion of Andrés Sanfuentes from Santiago it still has a great unmet need for a global regulatory policy. Globalisation without marginalisation appears to only be possible through a globalisation of solidarity.

But this once again raises the question of the human being and human dignity, which needs to be devoted much more attention by actors, by policy-makers, by business leaders and economists, and not least by social scientists in general, who must not forget the importance of values. Alejandro Angulo from Columbia, Peter de Souza from India and José Cruz from the Philippines all agreed on this at the end of the seminar, just as they all shared the hope that another world is possible. The precondition for this, however, is that policy makers and business clear-sightedly pursue a purpose – and this can only mean placing human beings at the heart of all political and government actions.

(Note: The individual presentations given at the International Symposium will be published in a book by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the near future.)


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