- Globalization and Inequality:A Plea for Cosmopolitan Justice
In a year that has been officially designated (by the United Nations) as the year of "Dialogue among Civilizations," it appears urgent to reflect on the meaning and requisites of dialogue, especially a dialogue carried on in a global context. Dialogue here does not just mean a random exchange of information or commodities—which may leave participants neutral or disengaged. If civilization is a frame of significance allowing members to articulate their self-understanding, then civilizational dialogue must be properly "civilized" by considering participants in their intrinsic worth. Consideration of worth, however, involves a measure of equality—not perhaps a quantitative or numerical equality, but a kind of qualitative equality that might be described as an equality of respect or of care (which is not incompatible with respect for differences). As might be expected, this invocation of equality is likely to be challenged from numerous quarters. Self-styled political "realists" are prone to denounce the invocation—and the entire idea of a dialogue among equal partners (or civilizations)—as an empty chimera or pipe dream disconfirmed by the stark "reality" of power differentials both in domestic and in international politics. Curiously, this denunciation is sometimes seconded by left-leaning (especially postmodern) intellectuals who talk at length about radical asymmetry or a stark incommensurability of language games and cultures.1
Consciously or not, appeals to equality pay tribute to older civilizational legacies, which, in turn, are inspired mainly by religious and political-philosophical teachings. In the context of the so-called Abrahamic religions, a prominent and even central theological doctrine is that of the equality of all humans in the eyes of the one transcendent God, that is, their equal status as children of the same deity. A similar conception can be found outside the Abrahamic sphere—for example, in the case of Buddhism, in which all living beings are said to share in the same "Buddha-nature" (and thus to be equal in terms of "emptiness," or sunyata). A problem with this religious tradition is that equality here often tends to be spiritualized or transcendentalized, sometimes to such an extent as to leave even egregiously oppressive inequalities in society unaffected or undisturbed.2 This deficiency is remedied in good measure by the tradition of political philosophy with its emphasis on a "public sphere" equally accessible to all participants. At least since the time of Aristotle, it has been a maxim of (at least Western) political thought that citizenship requires a common denominator: [End Page 63] namely, the denominator of equal status and respect accorded to all citizens in public matters (including elections, eligibility for public office, and judicial proceedings). While circumscribed severely in ancient times during the period of the polis, this maxim has been embraced and steadily deepened and expanded by modern democratic theory, especially the theory of constitutional democracy with its stress on a common "rule of law" binding together all members of society in their capacity as citizens.3
In our age of rapid globalization, traditional religious and political-philosophical teachings face the test of entirely new and formidable challenges: the challenges posed by the emerging cosmopolis or global community. How can a measure of equality be preserved in that community given the immense diversity of cultural traditions, political practices, and levels of social-economic "development"? Or to put matters differently: how is it possible to resist or counteract oppressive inequalities in the global arena—without promoting a bland homogeneity? In the following, the accent will be placed mainly on the problem of prevailing global inequalities—but in such a way as not to lose sight of the need for diversity and human autonomy. In order to sharpen the notion of inequalities, the presentation adopts a differentiation introduced by Chandra Muzaffer to highlight the collusion and mutually reinforcing effect of numerous disparities: what he calls the "trinity of power, wealth, and knowledge."4 Accordingly, I shall deal in sequence with the domains of political power, economic (mal)distribution, and knowledge expertise (enlarging the last notion to include the field of cultural self-understanding). In each of these domains, the presentation follows a prominent mentor (or set...