The Ethical Status of Globalized Institutions

The Ethical Status of Globalized Institutions

Robert A. Schultz (Woodbury University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-922-9.ch008
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The purpose of this chapter is to determine where ethically globalized institutions need ethical principles and what kind of ethical principles are needed. Two preliminary discussions are needed: First, global or transnational ethics clearly depends on the ethical status of nations. The transnational ethical theories we have just examined differ markedly on this issue, and we need to reach a conclusion about the ethical status of a country or nation. Second, I need to summarize what is right and what is deficient in the transnational ethical theories examined in the two previous chapters. After these rather extensive preliminary discussions, I will examine the ethical requirements of current ethically globalized institutions.
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The Ethical Status Of National Sovereignty

In this section, I want to determine the ethical significance of national sovereignty in a way that avoids the biases of the transnational ethical theories we have just examined--that is, without Walzer’s assumption that the internal ethics of a society mostly can’t be questioned, or without Rawls’ assumption that sovereignty is ethically justified only for just societies, or without the cosmopolitan assumption that national sovereignty has only derivative value and will soon disappear.

The cosmopolitan assumption would require a radical departure from the ways in which human beings have defined themselves since the founding of nations and states since about 4000 BC in the Fertile Crescent, China, and Mexico. Patriots have died for their countries in battle ever since. Were they all simply mistaken? There has also been self-sacrifice in battles between smaller groups not organized into states from the dawn of humanity up to now. Seeing the intensity of national groups at sports competitions such as the European Cup, World Cup, the Olympic Games or other international athletic competitions make it seem even less likely that a true cosmopolitan attitude of indifference toward group identity will take over anytime soon.

In fact, one of the complaints of social activists against transnational economic institutions such as the World Bank and World Trade Organization is that they don’t respect the sovereignty of developing nations. “What right,” observes William Tabb, “do rich Westerners have to impose their preferences on other countries?” (Tabb 2004, 335) Even within the US in the 1996 Presidential campaign, conservatives such as Buchanan and Dole denounced the WTO for nullifying American laws. (Tabb 2004, 315-316) So if sovereignty has no ethical status, a cosmopolitan must dismiss such complaints as ethically irrelevant. The problem, of course, is that economic activity is largely organized within states and the governments of those states are currently largely responsible for whether their economies are doing well or badly. Whether this ultimately should be changed cannot be decided on cosmopolitan grounds, because that would beg the question. It might be possible to make a case that a total global organization of economies would ultimately be better for satisfying a global difference principle. But there is no evidence for this now. Until the case is made and an integrated stateless economy is the world consensus goal, we need to deal with nations as sovereign.

Wars--organized violence--have been a way of resolving conflicts between national groups. One hopes, of course, that war is a last resort. That is, war is waged only as a defense against aggression by another state or to intervene in a state whose government is practicing genocide. But members of all states at war are willing to give their lives to promote their country’s survival. Even in totalitarian states like the former Soviet Union, soldiers were willing to defend their country when threatened from without. Is all this ethically indefensible? Were all those willing deaths in vain? Could it be that giving your life for your country was once ethically justified, but will not be necessary in the coming world community where states have no power?1

Rawls discussed international ethics in terms of peoples. Other terms covering similar ground are nation, state, government, and country. A nation is a self-defined cultural and social community with a common identity, and usually a common origin, in history or ancestry, usually with its own territory or homeland. A state is a political association with effective sovereignty over a geographic area, often a nation but sometimes part of a nation or many nations. Government is the institution or institutions that exercise sovereignty, both at the national level and at regional or local levels. A country is similar to nation. (Wikipedia 2008a) The martyred American Revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale might have said “I only regret that I have but one life to give my nation.” But he would not have said, “I only regret that I have but one life to give my state.” Or “I only regret that I have but one life to give my government.” “Country,” even more than “nation,” suggests a community one owes personal allegiance to. “My nation, ‘tis of thee,” just does not have the ring of “my country, ‘tis of thee.”

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