March 3, 2010

Moral Dilemmas of Globalization

by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Speech given at the Annual Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum in 1999.

We should first like to express our joy that this meeting of distinguished and dynamic economists, political figures, and other eminent dignitaries has included on the agenda of its discussions the human dimension of globalization of the economy, as well as non-economic values. There is no doubt that when ranking values the human person occupies a place higher than economic activity. Neither is there any doubt that economic progress, which is present when there is growth in economic activity, becomes useful when and only when it serves to enhance the non-economic values that make up human culture. This is the reason that justifies our Modesty’s presence among this luminous gathering of eminent economic activists although we bear no relation to matters of economy.

The advance of humanity towards globalisation is a fact arising primarily out of the private sector, in particular they are the desires of multinational economic giants. This fact finds support in the incredible development of communications. Already the role of states is being constantly downgraded, with few exceptions; whereas the role of the economically powerful is growing in magnitude, even among the larger states.

As the Primate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the first bishop of the Orthodox Church throughout the world, we assure you that the Orthodox Church has experienced and cultivated the idea of spiritual ecumenicity. This is a form of globalization that proclaims that bonds of love, brotherhood and cooperation should unite all human beings of every race and language and of all cultures. It is true that the Church invites all to one faith, but it does not make brotherhood, love, and its concern for people contingent upon their joining this faith. Because the Church loves everyone, it also experiences the unity of humankind to its fullest. From this point of view, Christian ecumenicity differs substantially from globalization. The former is based on love for one’s brother and sister and respects the human person whom it also seeks to serve. The latter is primarily motivated by the desire to enlarge the market and to merge different cultures into a new one, in accordance with the convictions of those who are in a position to influence the worldwide public.

Unfortunately, globalization tends to evolve from a means of bringing the peoples of the world together as brothers and sisters, to a means of expanding economic dominance of the financial giants even over peoples to whom access was denied because of national borders and cultural barriers.

It is not our intention or responsibility to suggest ways and means by which this danger can be contained or eliminated. We do, however, have a duty to point out and proclaim that the highest pursuit of humanity is not economic enrichment or economic expansion.

The Gospel saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Matt.4:4), should be more broadly understood. We cannot live by economic development alone, but we must seek the “word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:4), that is, the values and principles that transcend economic concerns. Once we accept these, the economy becomes a servant of humanity, not its master.

We believe that it can be understood by all, independently of religious conviction, that economic development in itself and the globalization that serves it lose their value when they cause privation among the many and an excessive concentration of wealth into the hands of the few. Moreover, evolution toward this direction is not without limitation, because beyond a certain limit the person dealing with financial matters receives a response well known since ancient times: “You can not take from one who has not”.

Solon the legislator declared that Athenian society was not functioning properly because of the excessive indebtedness of the majority of its citizens to the few and had instituted what was known as “seisachtheia”, that is, the writing-off of all debts. Although this seemed at first to be to the disadvantage of the rich, in the end it benefited the entire Athenian community because it allowed its members to act as free, creative and self-motivated citizens and not as each other’s slaves.

Also well-known is the decision of that pioneering American industrialist, the inventor of the assembly line, who raised the wages of his workers to make them capable of purchasing his products. (We are, of course, referring to the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, who based his ideas on Taylor’s views on the rationalisation of labour.) These examples and many others show that economic progress is morally justifiable and successful only when all the members of the global community participate in it.

This situation sets before us new dimensions of economic morality of a global magnitude. However, although we are speaking of new challenges, we are dealing essentially with an aggravated form of ancient problems. The ancient Athenians excelled “not by bestowing any advantage on the rich, but by the poor sharing equally with the rich” (Euripides, Suppliants 407). When Athens fell into an anarchic democracy controlled by demagogues, its former glory was eclipsed, just as it was and still is in those societies which Aristotle called “oligarchies,” the presupposition of which is the possession of wealth (Politics IV, 8, 1294a).

It is a fact that as soon as respect for the human person is abandoned as an inviolable presupposition of our ethos and the principle of economy, power, and the ability to influence the masses are made into idols and worshipped as such. There arises an insatiable cupidity that inevitably leads the “haves” to increase what they possess, whether it is wealth, or political or military power, or the power to shape ideas or generally the power to influence the whole world.

We ought, however, to preserve all the remaining cultural values that pertain to humanity without, of course, putting up unnecessary barriers to useful economic development. Nevertheless, we also ought to be aware that the globalisation of abilities is only morally justified when accompanied by the global distribution of the benefits that flow from it.

Globalization thus proves to be a new vision for some and a new threat for others; a vision which promises much to a few and very little to many; a vision impressive to some extent in its conception and in its realisation. At the same time, however, it is also frightening to the degree that the dynamic of globalization exceeds the limits acceptable to the moral conscience and accessible to our regulatory rules and mechanisms. What is impressive, for example, is the almost automatic globalization of information, yet, at the same time, the potentiality for intentional misinformation is alarming. What is impressive is the globalization of knowledge and the participation of many in the farthest reaches of the macrocosm and the innermost depths of the microcosm. However, what is also fearful is the threat posed by the possible misuse of this accumulated knowledge.

The visions, the dangers, the threats, the dilemmas rise before us. The achievements of international cooperation in the sectors of economy, commerce, telecommunications and trade in general, to which the phenomenon of globalization is primarily attributed, are wonderful.

What, however, is the true gain for humanity as a whole if the economy, in succumbing to the sickness of elephantiasis, devours the other sectors of culture; namely, thought, the artistic will, and the contemplative side of human life? What is the true gain for humanity if it causes its creative powers to whither and enfeebles the fundamental principles of coexistence and survival, such as justice, reciprocity, solidarity between individuals and peoples, respect for the human person, that truly unshakeable bedrock of our existence and coexistence?

As a representative of the Orthodox Church, we are not opposed to the economic progress that serves humanity, nor are we bigoted or timorous in the presence of other faiths and ideologies. Our desire, however, is to safeguard the possibility for the members of every religious or cultural minority to maintain their distinctiveness and the particularity of their culture. We are in absolute agreement and are prepared to move ahead when Globalization opens doors for the cooperation of peoples.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate and we personally have already frequently invited adherents of divided faiths and ideologies and interests to put aside their differences, and reconcile and work together on a practical level. Globalization, however, as a means of making humanity homogeneous, of influencing the masses and causing a single, unified and unique mode of thought to prevail, will find us opposed. We also regard the use of globalisation exclusively for the enrichment of the few to the detriment of the many as something impermissible and to be avoided. And we invite all, rich and poor, to cooperate for the improvement of the standard of living of all people, for this is also in the interest of the “haves”, more than the one-sided increase in their economic worth is.

May God enlighten us all to be able to understand this truth.

2 February 1999

BARTHOLOMEW of Constantinople

Your fervent supplicant before God