Post-Modern Globalisation: A Portrait
Marguerite A Peeters FAITH Magazine November-December 2007
A Global Cultural Revolution
Since the end of the Cold War, hundreds of new concepts have spread like wildfire to the remotest corners of the globe, expressing themselves through the means of a new language. Higgledy-piggledy, let us give a few examples:
globalisation with a human face, global citizenship, sustainable development, good governance, consensus-building, global ethic, cultural diversity, cultural liberty, dialogue among civilizations, quality of life, quality education, education for all, right to choose, informed choice, informed consent, gender, equal opportunity, empowerment, NGOs, civil society, partnerships, transparency, bottom-up participation, accountability, holism, broad-based consultation, facilitation, inclusion, awareness-raising, clarification of values, capacity-building, women’s rights, children’s rights, reproductive rights, sexual orientation, safe abortion, safe motherhood, enabling environment, equal access, life skills education, peer education, bodily integrity, internalisation, ownership, bestpractices, indicators of progress, culturally sensitive approaches, secular spirituality, Youth Parliament, peace education, the rights of future generations, corporate social responsibility, fair trade, human security, precautionary principle, prevention...
It is very difficult to deny the predominance of these concepts in contemporary culture – the main feature of which is to be global.
This apparent mishmash of words and concepts may not be altogether condemned nor endorsed. Genuine human aspirations and perennial values got entangled with the bitter fruits of Western apostasy, which corrupted the process of globalisation from within.
The new global language, however, tends to exclude words specifically belonging to the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as: truth, morality, conscience, reason, heart, virginity, chastity, spouse, husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, complementarity, service, help, authority, hierarchy, justice, law, commandment, dogma, faith, charity, hope, suffering, sin, friend, enemy, nature, representation...
Did not Jacques Derrida, the master of postmodern deconstructionism, propose in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, shortly before his death in 2004, the elimination of the word “marriage” from the French civil code so as to resolve the issue of the juridical status of homosexual couples? The exclusion of certain words is a factor that must be taken into consideration when analysing the challenges of the global ethic.
The cultural changes that have taken place since the end of the cold war have the magnitude of a global cultural revolution. Their implications are extremely complex and must be carefully examined.
The new culture is not limited to the adoption of a new conceptual framework: the new concepts became dynamic action principles, which have already led to concrete and irreversible transformations in all sectors of social and political life. These transformations affect us all in our daily ives, especially in the areas that are the most important for personal and social morality, such as education and health. They involve new laws and policies, radical changes in mentalities and lifestyles, codes of conduct for businesses and institutions, changes in the content of curricula and textbooks, new norms and decision-making methods in politics, health care and education systems, new strategic priorities for international cooperation, radically new approaches to development,fundamental transformation of democratic principles and mechanisms - a new social ethos imposed on all.
Everywhere in the world, societies and nations now live in a culture governed by the values of consensus, diversity, partnerships, sustainability, holism, choice, gender equity, bottom-up participation and so on. For better or for worse, whether or not we are aware of it, the global culture educates us all. The new values are ambivalent. The possibility of a genuine consensus coexists with a radical agenda. Ambivalence is not a synonym of toleration and choice, although that is how it might appear. Ambivalence is a process of deconstruction of reality and truth which leads to the arbitrary exercise of power, domination and intolerance. The paradox of postmodernity is to seek to deconstruct the modern ways of exercising power yet at the same time introducing new,more sophisticated and subtle ways of power-grabbing.
Integrated in a culture, the new concepts are not a jumble. They are in a dynamic driven by an inner logic. The new concepts are interrelated, interactive, interdependent, indivisible, mutually reinforcing. They belong to a system, a whole in which all is in all. For example, in the new system, good governance, which presupposes consensus-building and bottom-up NGO participation, is the way to implement sustainable development, which goes through gender equity, of which universal access to reproductive health, itself founded on informed choice and the right to choose (i.e. the right to abortion), is the precondition. The new paradigms are themselves holistic- to the point of totallyincluding each other.
A new ethic gives the new paradigms their unifying configuration. This ethic is global. The global ethic has taken the place of the universalvalues on which the international order had been founded in 1945 and is by now considered obsolete. The starting and end points of the global ethic are not those of the traditional concept of universality: the global ethic is marred by radicalisation. It is impossible to understand it without relating it to the “new theology” which preceded the cultural revolution and pushed God’s transcendence beyond our ken, entrusting meaning to man.
A Quiet Revolution
Most of the new norms have not yet formally entered international law and therefore are not yet legally binding. Yet the power of the revolution was such that they bind differently, not only governments but, primarily, mentalities and behaviours inside all the cultures of the world.
In spite of its devastating efficiency, the cultural revolution went almost unnoticed. It has been a quiet revolution. It took place without bloodshed, without open confrontation, without coup d’état or overthrow of institutions. There has never even been, anywhere in the world, an open and sustained democratic debate on the content of the new concepts. Without wanting to minimise the responsibility of those who did not take the revolution seriously while it was happening, these factors contribute to explaining that no organised opposition or resistance manifested itself.
The revolution took place both above and underthe national level. It happened through the UN and especially through the NGO movement, abusively called “the civil society movement”. The true owners of the agenda are not governments or the citizens they represent, but pressure groups pursuing special interests.
Bypassing democratic principles, the revolution did not upset the external structures of political institutions. It did not change their mandate. It did not bring about a new political regime. Radical changes of mentality and behaviour occurred within institutions, inside enterprises, schools, universities, hospitals, cultures, governments, families - and inside the Church. The institutional façade remains standing, while foreigners already occupy the rooms. The enemy must be sought within: inside is the new combat ground.
The Implementation of Post-Modern Globalisation
How was the global revolution implemented? The end of the East-West divide coincided with the fast acceleration of economic globalisation. The financial and economic power of multinationals grew exponentially, while the power of nation-states seemed to diminish. The UN sought to strengthen its institutions and to position itself at the strategic centre of global “governance”. Proclaiming it had received an ethical mandate, claiming for itself a monopoly over ethics in the era of globalisation, the UN presented itself as the only institution capable of making globalisation human, ethical and sustainable. It offered to counterbalance the global economic power of the market with its “universal moral authority”. Furthermore, the UN argued that “globalproblems” required not only global solutions, but global values - a global ethic that only the UN would be able to forge and to enforce.
No sooner was the cold war over than the UN organised an unprecedented series of intergovernmental conferences.
The purpose of the conference process was to build a new integrated world vision, a new world order, a new global consensus, on the norms, values and priorities for the international community in the new era: education (Jomtien, 1990); children (New-York, 1990); the environment (Rio, 1992); human rights (Vienna, 1993); population (Cairo, 1994); social development (Copenhagen, 1995); women (Beijing, 1995); housing (Istanbul, 1996); and food security (Rome, 1996). The conferences were conceived as a continuum, and the global consensus as a package integrating all the new paradigms within a new cultural and ethical synthesis.
It took only six years for the new consensus to be built and globally endorsed. The implementation phase started in 1996. Since then, the agents of the revolution have seen to it that no debate reopened or questioned the alleged consensus.
The internet revolution of the mid-1990s, the mushrooming of partnerships and of informal transnational governance networks (grouping multibillion dollar foundations, like-minded politicians, NGOs, representatives of the world of finance, enterprises, academics...), globalisation under all its forms and the decentralisation and regionalisation strategy of the UN effectively brought the global agenda to the regional, national and local levels.
By its mandate, the UN is an intergovernmental organisation. The “global consensus” was supposed to reflect the will of governments, themselves supposed to represent the will of the people. De facto, however, the global norms were constructed by “experts” chosen in function of their ideological slant and like-mindedness.
How was it possible for ideologues to grab global normative power? Since the 1960’s the May ‘68 generation, the powerful population control lobby and its multi-billion dollar industry, ‘eco-feminist’ and other secular Western NGOs and postmodern academics had occupied key positions at the United Nations and its specialised agencies. While Western governments were busy containing the Soviet threat during the Cold War, a minority of like-minded ideologues working within international bureaucracies and operating in networks was acquiring indisputable expertise in the various socio-economic areas addressed at the conferences. After 1989, they emerged as the experts which the international community needed to address the new issues at the centre of international cooperation. Withoutencountering opposition, these ideologues exercised global normative leadership under the guise of their expertise.
In 1989, the most prominent thinking was that the “end of ideology” had automatically put the world in a state of consensus. According to the new mindset, issues had allegedly become only pragmatic in nature: the “neutrality” of the new issues placed at the centre of international cooperation seemed self-evident: environmental degradation, gender inequity, population growth, human rights abuses, rising poverty, lack of access to education and health care and so on. Moreover, the UN argued that these problems were “global” by nature. According to this logic, governments primarily needed, not a democratic debate, but technical expertise and the grass-roots experience of the NGOs. The error of the majority was and is to adhere to the neutrality mythwithout paying attention to the fundamental anthropological stakes of these questions.
The global ethic posits itself above national sovereignty, above the authority of parents and educators, even above the teachings of world religions. It bypasses every legitimate hierarchy. It establishes a direct link between itself and the individual citizen – the dynamic of a dictatorship.
The Post-Modern Vision
The cultural revolution found its engine in postmodernity. Postmodernity destabilises or deconstructs, first of all, modernity, the cultural synthesis that has prevailed in the West since the treaties of Westphalia (1648). To the extent that postmodernity also deconstructs the abuses of modernity – that is, rationalism, institutionalism, formalism, authoritarianism, Marxism and liberal pessimism, it has a providential character. But postmodernity also advances Western apostasy further than modernity. In postmodernity as in modernity, not everything is black or white.
The social upheaval of May 1968, its rejection of morality and authority, its radical exaltation of individual freedom and the fast secularisation process that followed precipitated the transition of Western societies to the non-repressive civilization advocated by Herbert Marcuse, the postmodern father of the Western cultural revolution. Postmodernity implies a destabilisation of our rational or theological apprehension of reality, of the anthropological structure given by God to man and woman, of the order of the universe as established by God. The basic tenet of postmodernity is that every reality is a social construct, that truth and reality have no stable and objective content. Reality would be a text to be interpreted. It isindifferent to the postmodern culture that the text be interpreted in this or that manner: all interpretations would be equal in value. If there is no “given”, then social, political, juridical, spiritual norms and structures can be deconstructed and reconstructed at will, following the social transformations of the moment. Postmodernity exalts the arbitrary sovereignty of the individual and of his or her right to choose. The global postmodern ethic celebrates differences, the diversity of choices, cultural diversity, cultural liberty, sexual diversity(different sexual orientations). This “celebration” is in fact that of the “liberation” of man and woman from the conditions of existence in which God has placed them.
A Self-evident Anti-norm Norm?
Post-modernity has a paradox at its heart. The concept of free will contradicts the normative character of the postmodern values and in particular of the right to choose, the supreme value of the new culture. Post-modern radicalism postulates that the individual, in order to exercise his right to choose, must be able to free himself from all normative frameworks – whether they be semantic (clear definitions), ontological (being, the given), political (sovereignty of the state), moral (transcendent norms), social (taboos, what is forbidden), cultural (traditions) or religious (dogma, doctrine of the Church). Such an alleged “liberation” becomes an imperative of the new ethic. It goes through the destabilisation and the deconstruction(two keywords of postmodernity) of clear definitions, the content of language, traditions, being, institutions, objective knowledge, reason, truth, legitimate hierarchies, authority, nature, growth, identity (personal, genetic, national, cultural, religious...), of all that is considered universal, and, as a consequence, of Judeo-Christian values and divine revelation.
When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, Western culture by and large still recognised the existence of a “natural law”, of an order “given” to the universe (and therefore of a “giver”): “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity” (article 1). The Universal Declaration hence speaks of the inherent human dignity of all members of the human family. If it is inherent, human dignity needs to be recognised, and human rights must be declared, not fabricated ex nihilo. In 1948, the concept of universality related to the recognition of the existence of these rights. Universality had a transcendent dimension and therefore, moral implications.
Universal human rights became radically autonomous from any objective and transcendent moral framework. The purely immanent principle of the right to choose is the product of that divorce. Postmodernity claims the right to exercise one’s freedom against the law of nature, against traditions and against divine revelation. It re-establishes the rule of “law” and democracy on the right to choose, in which it includes the right, in the name of a new ethic, to make intrinsically evil choices: abortion, homosexuality, “free love”, euthanasia, assisted suicide, rejection of any form of legitimate authority or hierarchy, mandatory “toleration” of all opinions, a spirit of disobedience manifesting itself in multifarious forms. The right to choose so interpretedhas become the fundamental norm governing the interpretation of all human rights and the main reference of the new global ethic. It supersedes and “transcends” the traditional concept of universality. It positions itself at a meta level. It imposes itself and claims for itself a globally normative authority.
A Necessary Lack of Clarity
The absence of clear definitions is the dominant feature of all the words and expressions of the new global language – of all postmodern paradigms. The experts who forged the new concepts explicitly refused to define them clearly, claiming that definitions set limits on one’s possibility to choose one’s interpretation and contradict the norm of the right to choose. As a consequence, the new concepts have no stable or single content: they are processes of constant change, enlarging themselves as often as the values of society change, as often as possibilities for new choices emerge. Social engineers say that the new paradigms are “holistic” because they would be inclusive of all possible choices.
Let us give a couple of examples: reproductive health and gender. Reproductive health, the key concept of the 1994 Cairo conference, is “defined” in paragraph 7.2 of the Cairo document. The pseudo-definition is one paragraph long, fuzzy, deprived of clear substance, ambivalent, all-encompassing. The absence of clarity is strategic and manipulative. The goal is to allow the coexistence of the most contradictory interpretations: maternity, contraception or abortion; voluntary sterilisation or in-vitro fertilisation; sexual relations within or outside marriage, at any age, under any circumstance, as long as one abides by the triple precept of the new ethic: the partners’ consent; their health security; and respect for the woman’s right to choose.Reproductive health is the Trojan horse of the abortion lobby and of the global sexual revolution. In spite of its eminently incoherent character, reproductive health paradoxically became one of the most applied norms of the new global ethic.
Gender, the key concept of the 1995 Beijing conference, fully integrates the concept of reproductive health. It is “defined” as the changeable social roles of men and women, as opposed to their unchangeable reproductive functions. The agenda hiding behind this vague “definition” is the deconstruction of the anthropological structure of man and woman, of their complementarity, of femininity and masculinity. The role of the woman as a mother and spouse and her very nature as a woman would be nothing more than a social construct: “one is not born a woman, one becomes a woman,” said Simone de Beauvoir. The deconstruction of the human person as man and woman leads to an asexual society, to a “neutral” society, without masculinity and femininity, which however places thelibido at the heart of the law. The deconstruction process eventually leads to a society without love. The gender concept is the Trojan horse of the Western feminist revolution in its most radical aspects – a revolution that has already successfully spread to the four corners of the world. Gender is at the very heart of global development priorities and in particular of the Millennium Development Goals.
There is a direct nexus between gender deconstructionism and the “sexual orientation” ideology (bisexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, heterosexuality...). The global ethic puts all these “choices” on the same level. The Cairo conference introduced the concept of family under all its forms: this allegedly holistic concept includes traditional families, reconstituted families, and “families” made up of same sex “parents”. A majority of Western nations seem to be following this path now.
In postmodernity, the individual becomes the “free” creator of his own destiny and of a new social order. He can choose to be homosexual today and bisexual tomorrow (sexual orientation). Children can choose their own opinion, irrespective of the values they receive from parents (children’s rights). Treated as equal “citizens”, they participate in the political decisions that affect their lives (Youth Parliaments). Students choose their own curriculum at school, educate each other, and teachers become mere “facilitators” (peer education, education for all, lifeskills education). Women play the social roles of men (gender equity, unisex society). NGOs make global policy, and governments conform to their values (goodgovernance). Women’s groups “clarify” the doctrine of the Church and democratise the Church (clarification of values, participatory democracy). The euthanasia lobby becomes a staunch advocate of “human dignity”. Reproductive health means the right not to reproduce (“safe” abortion, universal access to the “widest range of contraceptives”). We are all equal citizens with equal rights, bound together by contractual relations without love. The world is upside down. What the global ethic deconstructs is the very anthropological structure of the human person.
The Dictatorship of Relativism
The postmodern ethic of choice boasts of eliminating hierarchies. Ye t by globally imposing the “transcendence” of the arbitrary choice, it engenders a new hierarchy of values. It places pleasure above love, health and well-being above the sacredness of life, the participation of special interests groups in governance above democratic representation, women’s rights above motherhood, the empowerment of the selfish individual above any form of legitimate authority, ethics above morality, the right to choose above the eternal law written in the human heart, democracy and humanism above divine revelation – in a nutshell, immanence above transcendence, man above God, the “world” above“heaven”.
The new hierarchies express a form of domination over consciences, what Pope Benedict XVI, prior to his election, called a dictatorship of relativism. The expression may seem paradoxical: dictatorship means that there is a top-down imposition, while relativism implies the denial of absolutes and reacts against anything it considers as “top-down”, such as truth, revelation, reality, morality. In a dictatorship of relativism, a radical deconstruction of our humanity and of our faith is somehow being imposed on us in “non-threatening” ways – through cultural transformation. Relativism wears a mask: it is domineering and destructive.
In the past, what the West called “the enemy” (such as Marxist-Leninism or bloody dictatorships) used to be clearly identifiable, single, external to Western democracies, aggressive, centralised, ideological, regional. That “enemy” used top-down, brutal methods, such as power-grab by force, a repressive political regime, imprisonment and killing. It resulted in national or regional totalitarian regimes. In the postmodern world, the enemy is fuzzy, hidden, legions, internal to institutions, “friendly”, diffuse, incoherent, decentralised, subtle, quiet, global. Its strategies are soft, bottom-up, cultural, informal, internal. The end result of the global dictatorship of relativism is the deconstruction of man and nature and the cultural propagation of apostasy in the world and in particularin developing countries.
Like the ideological systems of the past, the global ethic will end up deconstructing itself. Replete with inner contradictions, it is not sustainable. Christians should not assume, however, that the emerging global civilization will come back by itself to common sense and traditional values: the new culture must be evangelised.
The Christian Specificity
The global civilization is called to be that of love. The new global culture is the culture that the Church is now called to evangelise.
We are, as Jesus puts it, in the world but not of the world. Ye t the reality is that all over the world, Christians are tempted, often out of ignorance, to mistake the paradigms and values of the global ethic for the social doctrine of the Church, “culturally sensitive approaches” for the evangelisation of culture, the “equity principle” of the new ethic for the Judeo-Christian concept of justice, “awareness-raising” and “sensitisation” for the moral and theological education of conscience, “gender mainstreaming” and “women’s empowerment” for the Judeo-Christian teaching on the equal dignity of man and woman, “positive living” for living with theological hope, the arbitrary “freedom to choose” for freedom in Christ, human dignity for the eternal law written in the heartof man, “reproductive health” for healthy procreation, “safe motherhood” for healthy mothers and children (whether born or unborn), “behaviour change” campaigns (that are geared towards the use of contraception and condoms) for chastity, “human rights”, “entitlements” and “non-discrimination” for the good tidings of God’s merciful love, the agenda of UN conferences and of the Millennium Development Goals for an integral development respectful of people’s values and cultures – and so on.
Christians sometimes fail to distinguish the new, constructed, allegedly “holistic” ethical system from God’s holistic and eternal design of salvation, not realising that the two logics lead in different directions. They are implied in countless partnerships, the drivers of which are agents of the global ethic. The Church must have self respect and keep her independence from the radical agenda. A vital line separates the post-Christian humanism of the global ethic from a genuine and complete Christian humanism driven by salvation in Christ and promoted by the Church. In practice, this line no longer clearly appears. To recover Christian identity, to disentangle it from ambivalent agendas is an urgent task for the Church.
Confusing the Christian kerygma and the global ethic carries a double danger. First, the new concepts tend to occupy the space that should be occupied by evangelisation. Christians preach human rights, sustainability and the Millennium Development Goals instead of preaching the gospel. Little by little they are seduced by secular values and loose their Christian identity. As John Paul II put it in Redemptoris Missio, “In our heavily secularised world a ‘gradual secularisation of salvation’ has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man who is truncated, reduced to his merely horizontal dimension.”
Secondly, if Christian leaders use the concepts of the new ethic without explicitly clarifying what distinguishes them from the social doctrine of the Church and from the gospel, as is often the case, the faithful will be at a loss and will tend not to discern the difference. The resulting confusion may lead the Christian flock to a gradual erosion of the faith.
In Novo Millenio Inuente, John-Paul II invited us to start from Christ: such is the new departuret o which we are called now.
Among influential postmodern philosophers, let us cite Sigmund Freud, Frederic Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jürgen Habermas, Jean-François Lyotard, Richard Rorty, Jacques Derrida, Michel Onfray.