Text of presentation by Amitai Etzioni at September 7th conference
at the Hague titled, "Europe, A Beautiful Idea"
His Excellency Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen - I am deeply honored and privileged to participate in this important occasion. I will be speaking here not as a representative of any nation, but as a person who was born in Europe, educated in Asia by a peace loving philosopher, by the name of Martin Buber, and as a person who served as a senior advisor to the White House-- but that of Jimmy Carter. I am especially moved to be here because my family is deeply indebted to the Dutch people for saving their lives during the Holocaust years.
Perhaps it takes someone who comes from some distance to remind one and all of several developments that Europeans seem to take for granted-but that all are of enormous global, human, significance. There never was in the history of the world another group of nations that have come together first and foremost to swear off war, to create the conditions under which nations that devastated each other for generations-- will become members of one community. True, many city-states, ethnic groups, and tribes fought each other long and hard before they formed solid, national communities in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and many other nations. However, once nation states were formed, which are marked by a special strong involvement of the citizens in their state, such nations never before formed a peace guarantying community, which the European Union clearly is.
1945 marks the watershed, the period after which a truly new Europe was formed, that took a sharp departure from its own history. It is not composed of a few select countries that supported Secretary Rumsfeld's view of the world--but one that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to Ukraine, from the North Pole to the Mediterranean-a Europe that took a radical departure from its own long history, from the old Europe, the only continent that caused two world wars.
Europe is also unique among all continents, through all of history-being the only one that inflicted on the world two totalitarian movements-- but now is the continent most deeply committed to human rights and a democratic form of government. For now there is no group of nations more committed to peace and human rights than the new, post-1945 Europe.
Moreover, the new Europe, in sharp departure from the old one, sets a model to the world by spending little on armament and much on social services to its people, and, by opposing armed interventions in the lives of others, urging peaceful solutions in other parts of the world. As a child refugee of the old, war-riddled, Nazi-dominated Europe-and as a teenager who was involved in hand to hand combat, who knows from first hand the horrors of war and the true value of peace and freedom--I salute the new Europe as a model to the world from the bottom of my heart.
The world needs a new global architecture, additional layers of governance, to deal with issues that neither nations nor traditional forms of intergovernmental organizations can cope with. We live in an age in which mistakes made by medical authorities in China-- cause people to die from SARS in Toronto; in which a meltdown of a nuclear reactor in one state - rains radioactive waste on other nations; in which HIV knows no borders, nor does terrorism. The world is crying out for more governing capacity-not to replace nation states nor intergovernmental organizations but to greatly add to what can be done on a transnational level. Nowhere is the experiment to build such a new layer of governance more advanced than in the European Union. The eyes of the whole world are on you to see whether your drive to build a transnational community succeeds. Perhaps one day, following in the European Union's footsteps, China and Japan will form one community, or maybe the two Koreas. Perhaps one day Israel and Iran will come together, along with Syria and Palestine, to fashion a greater Middle Eastern community that knows war no more and is firmly democratic to boot. But if you fail, all these and many others will be discouraged.
It is a common mistake to view communities-whether local, national or transnational-- as merely places in which people share bonds of affection and affinity, in which they merely care for one another. Communities are also social entities that share a moral culture, a shared set of core values, a social space in which people have not only rights which must be respected but also responsibilities to one another and to the common good.
The mere mention of values raises a number of objections that must be addressed. Let me start by observing that the commitment to values, to normative principles that we are morally compelled to follow --is an essential human quality. With the rare exceptions of psychopaths, human beings have a strong sense of what is right versus wrong. Even small children have a sense of what they consider to be fair. And the single most important determinant in whether people pay taxes due -studies show- is not the level of punishment they will face if found cheating-- but whether or not they believe that the government is using the funds legitimately, that is in a moral way. The single most important determinant whether or not people conserve energy voluntarily- is whether they believe that it is their civic duty to do so, that is-- another value. Parents are proud to send their children to die for their country-if they judge the war to be a just one. To view people as homo economicus is not only to be uninformed about a huge body of social science data, but to diminish their humanity, their essence, to make them beast-like.
To wonder "do values have a place in politics?" is a naive question. Values are unavoidable in politics. Most issues of public policy have a moral, prescriptive content. Obvious examples are the extent to which we are willing to go to avoid war, even when we witness ethnic cleansing. Similarly, our commitment to promote human rights, and the debate whether or not they encompass socio-economic rights, reflect the high regard in which we hold the values expressed in this particular legal and normative language. The same holds for our commitment to the environment as a core value, on whose scope we differ but not on whether we have a moral obligation toward Mother Earth.
Numerous other public policies that at first may seem to merely reflect utilitarian considerations-are deeply influenced by value considerations. Thus, the penal code reflects relative values we attach to life-over limb-and to limb-as compared to property, by punishing murder more than loss of an arm or leg, and these more than the lost of car or even building. The same is true of the special consideration we hold that we ought to extend to children, to those who are ill, and to the deserving poor. Similarly, the tax code reflects our values: should we tax gains from capital less than those of labor (as the United States does)? Not tax riches left by parents for their children? Whether we are dealing with asylum, the death penalty, euthanasia, or policies dealing with drug addicts--these are all matters that have profound value implications.
The outcry "but whose values ought to guide our public policies" is viewed by many as some kind of trump card, as a conversation stopper. The implication is that there are no shared values and hence we best leave these matters to the private sphere, in which different people, from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, can each follow their own values. The fact that our societies have grown diverse leads extreme multiculturalists to argue that out of respect for other cultures-we better accept that ours is merely one of a whole selection of moral alternatives, making all ethical claims conditional, situational, and relativistic. The most we can hope to share-- we are told-- are some shared norms of civility and mutual tolerance that should allow us to live together despite our profound value and moral differences.
However, as feminists were among the first to point out, the old division between the private sphere, in which values are to be allowed, and the public sphere in which they are to be avoided--is much too simplistic. We, as the public, care profoundly about what happens in private homes, for instance when there is spousal or child abuse, and command public policies to remedy such bad conduct. The same holds-- or at least should hold-- for all racial and ethnic communities, whether they are white, brown, or green: Nobody is exempt from public accountability on those select issues--that are morally compelling.
In the same vein, all human beings are entitled to human rights. I find it odd that often the same people who insist that people in such faraway countries as China and Libya and Cuba ought to respect human rights-- but are reluctant to insist that the same values be observed in parts of their own cities. The same holds for our duty to respect the rule of law as formulated by democratic institutions (even as we seek to change some of these laws), and not to ferment hatred toward other minorities.
Still other values may not be universal but limited to our society; still those who wish to become members ought to be expected to embrace them. Thus, all citizens share an obligation to cherish and nurture the cultural heritage of their nation, even as they seek to add and to enrich it.
This recognition-that there is a limited but important set of core values all the members of a community ought to live by-leaves ample room for respecting differences in other matters such as-which God different people pray to, which country of origin they hold in high regard, and which second languages they feel obligated to learn and teach their children.
I refer to this position, which views some values as universal, and some as particularistic, special to one group or another-- as "diversity within unity." This position avoids both extreme multiculturalism and that of unfettered assimilation. The image of a mosaic comes to mind. The divergent pieces that compose it -- differ in color and shape adding to its beauty, but it also has a shared framework. This framework may be recast over time, but at any point in history, it holds together various pieces. We learned that the image of a melting pot, in which all differences are melted down into one stew, is much too homogenizing. We can afford to respect differences-as long as the different pieces are well bonded together.
To hold that there are a limited set of core values all members of the community are expected to live by-is not to approve of moral squads patrolling the streets to ensure that women will not show skin or hair, nor to condone honor killing in which a father or brother kills their daughter or sister because she had a premarital sexual encounter. Indeed a society whose morality relies largely on coercion of any kind-is in moral default. In a "good" society, most people do what is expected of them, most of the time, voluntarily. The law enters only when all else fails, for instance when moral tenets against drunk driving (and strongly in favor of designated drivers) do not suffice, one must take off the road those who drive drunk.
It is hence utterly false to ask whether we are to respect or reject "Islam" (or any other religion, moral code or culture). Islam, like all religious and secular belief systems, is subject to profoundly different interpretations. Some are totalitarian and violent, and we ought to reject them out of hand, without apologies or regrets. Others are highly compatible with a democratic and peaceful society, and we should welcome them. The notion that there are some belief systems that are inherently objectionable and cannot be accommodated may hold for racism and fascism but surely not for any of the grand religions or secular humanism.
We best consider these matters within history. In the 1950s our societies had a strong, often religious, set of traditional values. These treated women as second class citizens-at best; were discriminatory against minorities, and often quite authoritarian. Various liberation movements destroyed this old regime. These movements included the civil rights and women's right movements, those of sexual liberation, and the counter cultural ones of the hippies (or Provos) that challenged the values of hard work and of saving, and all authority figures. The problem is not that these movements destroyed the old regime, but that no new shared moral understanding has been formulated.
The resulting moral vacuum led to the celebration of selfish, individualistic behavior, further promoted -during the 1980s-by Thatcherism and Reaganism; to the notion that if everyone just watched out for themselves, not only the economy but also society would thrive, an absurd and anti-social notion.
The same vacuum now threatens the social order and invites religious fundamentalism, as more and more people feel threatened by the lack of moral values, to guide their lives, to define their commitments to their children and-- of children to their elders, of people-- to their neighbors and to the community at large.
The time has come to overcome the dogma angst, the fear that trying to formulate a new shared moral understanding will lead to either a return to the traditional, authoritarian values of the 1950s or worse-to some kind of pre-1945 totalitarian ideology. The danger now is not of moralistic excesses but of moral anarchy. The time is ripe for defining the responsibilities we have toward one another, not only the rights we command; the recognition that strong rights presume strong responsibilities.
Elected officials not only have a right-- but a duty-- to initiate moral dialogues that can lead to the formation of new shared moral understandings. As already indicated, it is impossible to seriously consider any matters of public policy or law without examining their moral implications. And if shared moral foundations for such policies and laws are missing, either these will be based on the values of a governing minority or will have no moral justification at all. Hence the best way to initiate significant changes in policy and law-- is to start by initiating moral dialogues on the issues involved, and nurturing these dialogues until they mature, until they lead to new, shared moral understandings. Thus, if a government contemplates greatly cutting back the welfare state, reducing unemployment benefits, and the scope of health care insurance, or opening the doors to many more immigrants from different parts of the world, or legalizing hereto controlled substances (or "drugs")-that government best first initiate moral dialogues within the public at large whether such changes are morally legitimate. And if such legitimacy cannot be established-- the government best reconsider its course.
Finally, elected officials serve as moral role models. When a divorced head of state, who is estranged from his children-- extols family values, he is not very compelling. And when one who rarely has seen the inside of a place of worship, or observes the tenets of his faith, goes on and on about the role of religion in his life, he is not much of a model. All public leaders better do-- what they say we ought to do.
At the same time we should not expect perfection from our public leaders, from our institutions, or for that matter from--anybody else. It is part of human nature that even if people come from whatever are considered "good" families, are well educated, and live in communities that foster moral conduct-that they still will stray. We should expect them to admit to their failings--and that of their policies--rather than add insult to injury by covering up wrongdoings. We should ask of them, and of ourselves, to labor to come closer to our shared moral ideals we lose our footing and come back to climb to a higher level of adherence to our values.
Some may feel that these are sentiments long expressed by preachers of various religions; this is indeed true but this fact does not render these observations less valid, even if examined by the standards of modern social science. The fact that we are each other's keeper, that we have the potential to encourage one another to be better than we would be otherwise, does not make us less so because it is so written in the bible, even if some prefer to take such truths from great social scientists such as Emil Durkheim or Ferdinand Tönnies. Either way, there is no denying that we have the potential to live a morally good life, but that we are not going to realize this potential unless we are prodded to aspire to live by higher moral standards by our leaders, and above all, by one another.
Let me close with a story from the Jewish scriptures, which ties together all these themes of value and community, of rights and responsibilities, of diversity within unity, a narrative adapted a bit to our times.