There is a compelling need to define and proclaim a new global ethic for humankind and all other forms of life. It is dramatically clear today that our earth is made up of interdependent nation-states and that whatever happens on one part of the planet affects all the rest. Whenever human rights are violated, all of humanity suffers. The basic premise of this global ethic is that each of us has a stake in developing a universal moral awareness, each of us has a responsibility to the world community at large.
I. The Need for a Global Moral Consensus
We who endorse this Declaration begin with the conviction that every human person is equal in dignity and value. We wish to encourage this development of free, democratic, and pluralistic institutions that promise individuals opportunities to pursue their personal goals, express their talents, and realise their unique visions of a human life.
We wish to maximise human freedom, the autonomy of the individual and personal creativity. We believe in mitigating human suffering and in ensuring positive social conditions so that all people will have the opportunity to achieve happiness and the fullness of life. We do not defend unbridled license; rather, we encourage moral growth and the highest reaches of human discovery and achievement.
The world is divided into diverse ethnic and national communities; each of us has specific moral obligations incumbent on his or her role in these communities. There are, however, basic moral decencies that are commonly recognised as binding in virtually all civilised communities of the world. These ethical principles embody the collective heritage of humankind. They have been tested in the crucible of human experience by their consequences for human good. They include the need to be truthful; to keep our promises; to be sincere, honest, loyal, and dependable; to act with good will; to forbear from injuring other persons and their property; to be beneficent, compassionate, and fair, to show gratitude; to be just, tolerant, and co-operative; and to use peaceful methods to negotiate differences.
These ethical principles have all too often been applied selectively only to the members of a cohesive group – whether tribal, ethnic, national, racial or religious. Moreover, competition among groups has often engendered animosity and hatred. It is time that we clearly enunciate these ethical principles so that they may be extended toward all members of the human family living on this planet.
The great religions of the past have often preached universal brotherhood. Unfortunately, intolerant or divisive faiths have made this moral ideal almost impossible to implement. Narrow parochial doctrines of salvation have made it difficult for those outside particular denominations to be fully entitled moral consideration from those within. Secular political ideologies have likewise asserted the universality of their ideals, yet they have often resorted to force to impose their views on those who differ with them.
In recent centuries nation-states have emerged, each a law unto itself, each exercising ultimate sovereignty over those living within their defined territorial boundaries. For a long time national self-determination was considered progressive, for it liberated ethnic groups from foreign domination. With the decline of colonialism, new countries have come into being – there are now more than 150 nation-states. National governments can play constructive roles in maintaining a system of law and order and can encourage economic prosperity and cultural development within their own boundaries. They can help to achieve conditions of harmony and enrichment for the people living under their jurisdiction.
Regrettably, however, many nation-states have violated the rights of their citizens, or they have resorted to violence to achieve their national purposes: the bloody wars of history demonstrate that the “rule of the jungle” often prevails on the international level. For there does not as yet exist a body of world law, universally recognised and respected by all countries of the globe and supported by the force of law on a trans-national and national level.
Economic rivalries between nation-states, regional blocs, and multinational corporations dominate the world scene. National budgets, taxation, trade, commerce, and fiscal and economic development policies are made in haughty isolation, without concern for their effect on the global community.
Fortunately, there have been efforts at economic and political regional co-operation. There have been pacts and treaties between countries and regions. Rules of civilised behaviour have emerged to govern these interactions, recognising mutual interests. Unfortunately, they do not go far enough. The negative consequences of nationalistic chauvinism have been vividly demonstrated: balance-of-power politics and economic exploitation, racial strife and religious bigotry, hatred and violence.
There is an urgent need to develop new political, economic, cultural, and social institutions that will make possible the peaceful co-existence and co-operation of the various regions of the globe. Before this can be fully achieved, however, it is essential that we reach a genuine world-wide ethical consensus that recognises our responsibilities and duties to the world community.
II. Human Rights
The beginnings of a new global ethic are now evident. Universal declarations of human rights enunciate the rights of all human beings. We strongly support these declarations. We here affirm the following:
- All persons are born equal in dignity and value.
- They are entitled to rights and freedoms without any distinction of sex, race, language, life stance, creed, political opinion, national or social origin, property, or birth.
- The right to personal security and self-protection.
- The fundamental right to personal liberty. This includes:
- freedom from involuntary servitude or slavery,
- freedom from harassment,
- freedom of thought and conscience,
- freedom of speech and expression, and
- moral freedom to express one’s values and pursue one’s lifestyle so long as it does not harm others or prevent others from exercising their rights.
- The right to privacy, which means that the right of others should be respected regarding:
- the control of one’s own body,
- sexual preference and orientation,
- reproductive freedom,
- healthcare based on informed consent, and
- the desire to die with dignity.
- The right to intellectual and cultural freedom, including:
- the freedom to inquire and to engage in research,
- the right to adequate education,
- the right to cultural enrichment, and
- the right to publish and express one’s views.
- The right to adequate health care
- The freedom from want, which means that society should guarantee
- the right to work,
- the satisfaction of basic needs when individuals are unable to provide for themselves,
- care for the elderly,
- care for the handicapped, and
- the right to adequate leisure and relaxation.
- Economic freedom, including
- the right to own property,
- the right to organise, and
- protection from fraud.
- Moral equality, which entails equal opportunity and equal access.
- Equal protection under the law, which is vital in a free society:
- the right to a fair trial,
- the protection from arbitrary arrest or unusual punishment, and
- the right to humane treatment.
- The right to democratic participation in government, which includes a full range of civil liberties:
- the right to vote,
- the legal right of opposition,
- the right of assembly and association, and
- the right to hold religious beliefs or not to hold such beliefs.
- The rights of marriage and the family:
- the right to marry or co-habit,
- the right to divorce,
- the right to bear and raise children,
- the right to sex education and to low-cost family planning.
- The right of children to be protected from abuse and physical or cultural deprivation.
III. Human Responsibilities
Concomitant with the recognition of universal rights is the obligation of individuals to develop moral responsibilities. Individuals have responsibilities to themselves, to their own health care, their economic well-being, and their intellectual and moral growth. A person has a basic duty to become all that he or she is capable of, to fully realise his or her talents and capabilities.
Individuals also have responsibilities with others: Parents have the responsibility to bring up their children and provide them with food, shelter, love, education, and cultural enrichment. Children have concomitant duties to discharge in regard to their parents, to love, honour, and support them, and to help care for them when they are sick or elderly. Two individuals who have freely entered into marriage or co-habitation have duties to each other so long as the relationship is viable. Moral devotion does not depend solely on blood ties, but extends to those with whom one has developed ties of friendship. Similarly, we also have moral responsibilities to others in the smaller communities in which we have everyday relationships: teacher and student, shopkeeper and customer, doctor and patient, factory worker and consumer and so on. There are also duties and obligations that we as citizens have to the towns and nation-states in which we live and work.
Last but not least is the need to recognise that each of us has responsibilities to the world community, for each of us is, a) a member of the human species, b) a resident of the planet Earth, and c) an integral part of the world community. It would be appropriate for the citizens of each nation or region of the world to add the following affirmation to their pledges of loyalty:
* I pledge allegiance to the world community, of which we are all a part.
* I recognise that all persons are equal in dignity and value
* I defend human rights and cherish human freedom
* I vow to honour and protect the global ecology for ourselves and for generations yet unborn.
IV. The Ethics of the World Community
Humanism, we believe, can play a significant role in helping to foster the development of genuine world community. We recommend the following for consideration.
- Moral codes that prevail today are often rooted in ancient parochial and tribal loyalties. Absolutistic moral systems emerged from the values of the rural and nomadic societies of the past; they provide little useful guidance for our post-modern world. We need to draw on the be moral wisdom of the past, but we also need to develop a new, revisionary ethic that employs rational methods of inquiry appropriate to the world of the future, an ethic that respects the dignity and freedom of each person but that also expresses a larger concern for humanity as a whole. The basic imperative face by humankind today is the need to develop a world-wide ethical awareness of our mutual interdependence and a willingness to modify time-hardened attitudes that prevent such consensus.
- Science and technology continue to advance rapidly, providing new ways to reduce famine, poverty, and disease and to improve the standards of living for all members of the human family. The great imperative is to extend the benefits of the scientific revolution to every person on earth. We need to guard against the population explosion, the destruction of the environment, and the reckless use of technology. We disagree with those fearful voices seeking to censor science and thus limit future discoveries that could have great benefits for humankind. Biogenetic and neuro-biological engineering hold enormous promise; yet such research is extremely controversial. New reproductive technology calls for new legal and ethical thinking to protect the rights of the people involved and avoid commercial exploitation. Critics warn that we might be opening a Pandora’s Box. Proponents reply that although we must be alert to possible abuses, each new scientific advance in history has had its prophets of doom. The frontiers of space exploration continue to beckon humankind. We have hurled satellites to the moon, to the planets, and even beyond our solar system. Scientist tell us that it is technologically feasible to build space colonies and to mine other planets. The possible adventures in space that await us are truly Promethean in dimension. Computers and other electronic media facilities instantaneous communication to all corners of the planet. Yet in many countries the mass media or organs of propaganda often abdicate their responsibilities be feeding the public a diet of banalities. We face a common challenge to develop scientific education on a global scale and an appreciation for critical intelligence and reason as a way to solve human problems and enhance human welfare.
- The awesome danger of thermonuclear war is held in check only by the fear of “mutually assured destruction”. Fortunately, the great powers have entered into an era of negotiation for the reduction of nuclear arms, which is welcomed be men and women of goodwill. Still, these negotiations are no substitute for a broader diplomacy that promotes more fundamental understanding and co-operation. We have not yet learned how to control warfare, for there does not exist any super-national sovereignty with sufficient power to keep the peace between nation-states. We submit that it is imperative that such a sovereignty be created. The United Nations has made valiant attempts to develop trans-national political institutions – but so far with limited success. We recognise that in this quest for a world community, we still need to guard against the emergence of an all powerful non-democratic global state. We believe, however, that it is necessary to create on a global scale new democratic and pluralistic institutions that protect the rights and freedoms of all people. As a first step humankind needs to establish a system of world law and to endow the World Court with enough moral force that its jurisdiction is recognised as binding by all the nation-states of the world.
- The disparities in economic wealth between various portions of the globe widen. Economic development in the Third World is now virtually stagnant. Massive debts to foreign banks, runaway inflation, and uncontrolled population growth place a heavy burden on fragile economies and threaten to bankrupt the world’s monetary system. We believe, however, that the more affluent nations have a moral obligation to increase technological and economic assistance so that their less developed neighbours may become more self-sufficient. We need to work out some equitable forms of taxation on a world-wide basis to help make this a reality.
- Economic relations today are such that many corporations are multinational in scope, and some of these have been successful in promoting intercultural tolerance. All regions of the globe – socialist and non-socialist alike – are dependent upon the continued flow of world trade to survive. Interest rates, deficits, capital investments, currency and stock market fluctuations, commodity prices, and import quotas in any one nation can influence trade on a global scale. The loss of industries in some countries and the consequent rise in unemployment are a direct function of the ability to be productive and compete effectively for international markets. The governments of the separate nations nevertheless continue to prepare their budgets in haughty isolation and primarily in terms of national self-interest. Full-scale co-operation among countries is still limited, and competitive rivalries rule the day. A new global economic system based on economic co-operation and international solidarity needs to emerge.
- The vitality of democratic societies over authoritarian or totalitarian regimes has been vividly demonstrated. Democratic institutions make possible higher standards of living and provide more opportunities for creativity and freedom than their alternatives. Genuine political democracy still eludes much of the world; unfortunately many countries are ruled by dictatorial or authoritarian elites that deny their citizens basic human rights. We need to firmly defend the ideals of political democracy on a world-wide basis, and to encourage the further extensions of democracy.
- Each of the regions of the world cherishes its own historical ethnic traditions and wishes to preserve its national identity. We should appreciate the richness and diversity of cultures, the values of pluralism and poly-ethnicity. Yet we urgently need to enlarge our common ground. We should encourage the intermingling of people in every way we can. Continuing scientific, artistic, and cultural exchanges are vital. The right to travel across national borders should be defended as a human right. Intermarriage can help unify the world more solidly than conventional politics and those who intermarry should not be considered as the pariahs of society but rather the harbingers of the new world of tomorrow.
- We all inhabit the same globe; we have a vital stake in helping to preserve its ecology. The contamination of the atmosphere, damage to the ozone layer, deforestation, the pollution of the oceans, the increase in acid rain, the greenhouse effect, and the destruction of other species on this planet adversely affect us all. We urge the establishment of an International Environmental Monitoring Agency and recommend the development of appropriate standards for the disposal of industrial waste and for the control of toxic emissions. The time has come to call the alarm before the global ecological systems deteriorates further. We have a clear duty to future generations to curtail excessive population growth, to maintain a healthy environment, and to preserve the earth’s precious resources.
The overriding need is to develop a new global ethic – one that seeks to preserve and enhance individual human freedom and emphasises our commitment to the world community. Although we must recognise our obligations and responsibilities to the local communities, states, and nations of which we are citizens, we also need to develop a new sense of identity with the planetary society of the future.
As we approach the twenty-first century, we need to ask: How can we work co-operatively to create a peaceful and prosperous world where combating national allegiances are transcended? How can we build a genuine world community?
We who endorse this Declaration dedicate ourselves to the realisation of its enduring ideals. Although we may not agree with every provision of this statement, we support its overall purpose and call upon other men and women of good will to join us in furthering its noble aims.
Board of Directors 1988
Suggested academic reference
'Declaration of Interdependence: a new Global Ethics', Humanists International, Board of Directors, 1988