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A Human Rights System for the Earth Establishing a Foundation for the Beloved Community


A Human Rights System For The Earth Establishing A Foundation For The Beloved Community

Glen T. Martin

Human Rights and Law Forum

New Delhi, India

16 December 2019

In this paper I argue that the realization of human rights for the people of Earth can only happen if we change the horrific organizational systems that now dominate the Earth—the system of militarized sovereign nation-states and the globalize capitalist economic system. We need democratic world government, specifically under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. I argue that democratic world government arises from human dignity with its attendant human rights regime which is the basis for all legitimate law. Democratic world law, in turn, lays the foundation for the spiritual self-realization of humanity, the result of which will be a planetary beloved community. I will sketch out several philosophical arguments behind these contentions and briefly attempt to show how the Earth Constitution establishes a true “human rights system” for our planet and for future generations, thereby laying the only practical and feasible foundation for universal spiritual self-realization.

Philosophical Foundations

Human rights derive from the a priori dignity of human beings, that is, from the fact that the universe has evolved a human creature that is self-aware, free, and rational. If there were some non-human creature, like an alien, who was self-aware, free, and rational, then this creature would also have dignity and therefore rights. Nevertheless, integral to our dignity as moral creatures is our capacity for evil, for violating the dignity and the rights of others. Our first question asks what is the role of government in the actualization and protection of human dignity, and why does it need to be world government?

I will sketch a background for this paper by reviewing the thought of the great 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant. To my knowledge Kant was the first thinker in western thought to put his finger clearly on the scope and role of government in relation to human dignity and rights.

Kant expressed what is perhaps the most fundamental moral principle that embraces the very essence of morality. That is the principle of universality in relation to the concept of human dignity. Kant saw that human reason is capable of legislating moral principles for itself. He saw that a free, rational being is intrinsically a responsible being. Every free, rational being is a “legislator” of the moral law. Morality has to do with laws and lawmaking.

He articulated the fundamental moral imperative as “always do what is right regardless of your inclinations.” It is not feelings, emotions, or desires that define or inspire what is right but rather our capacity to legislate universal moral principles applicable to our present situation, whatever that situation might be. In any particular situation we must ask ourselves “can I make it a universal law that everybody act the way I am about to act in these circumstance?” When I act I am always implicitly making laws that everyone would have the moral right to act as I am acting in this situation.

The very universality of the moral principles articulated by our reason and applicable to the present circumstances means that each person has equal dignity—each is embraced by the universality of the moral principle— that each person is an end in his or herself. I must always do what any free, rational being should do in these circumstances. I should always treat every person as an end in themselves never merely as a means, for only free, rational beings have this intrinsic dignity of moral beings. (Today we understand that the natural world also has intrinsic value, as many environmentalists and deep ecologists have argued, but we also understand that only rational beings have the unique value that we associate with human dignity).

What are the social implications of this “categorical imperative,” this universal “legislated” moral principle without exceptions? First, Kant argued that the imperative included the moral ideal of a universal “kingdom of ends.” As philosopher Leonard Nelson points out, following Kant, every “right” that a person legitimately claims presupposes duties on the part of others. If you have the right to life, I have the duty to respect your life and the life of everyone else. If you have a right not to be tortured, I have the moral duty not to torture you or anyone else.

At the heart of human freedom and rational responsibility is the ideal of a moral world order in which every person treats every other person morally, that is as an end in his or herself, and never merely as a means. To treat someone merely as a means is to use someone for one’s own selfish ends: to cheat or exploit or dominate or demean someone. Any immoral use of another person violates their human dignity, if effect, dehumanizing them. By contrast, in a world envisioned as a kingdom of ends, human rights would always be respected. This ideal world is implicit in our rational freedom, Kant argued, and provides a goal for human historical development.

How do complex societies embody the categorical imperative? The first principle of legitimate government is to provide a framework for human moral development. This means a legal framework for freedom and equality. The universality of the categorical imperative implies universal human equality. We are all the same morally speaking and this is precisely why morality can be governed by universal laws that each of us makes regarding our behavior. Legitimate government actualizes the social categorical imperative by providing a legal framework that makes each person morally equal to everyone else and equally free to take moral responsibility for his or herself.

The role of government is to protect our freedom and equality through enforceable laws impartially applied to all citizens. In terms of the way that we organize complex human societies, we must live under the authority of what Kant called a “republican constitution.” A republican constitution embodies the categorical imperative of universal legislation impartially applied to citizens who are free and equal before the law. A republican constitution, Kant argues, declares that the constitutional law of the land guarantee the freedom and equality of each citizen. If there is no constitutional law over citizens, then Kant declares that we are in an immoral condition of defacto war with one another, since there is nothing to prevent the stronger from violating the weaker.

The size, or strength, or cleverness of different citizens is irrelevant only under a republican constitution, because under the rule of constitutional law we have moved from a condition in which power or strength is always there to override the universality of morality and impose the will of one or a few over the dignity and rights of others. Kant understood that the rule of enforceable law under a republican constitution provides the moral framework that makes moral relationships among citizens possible and feasible. To live without such enforceable constitutional law guaranteeing our freedom and equality before the law is therefore immoral. The universality of morality in the social context requires enforceable law under a republican constitution.

In several of his late essays of the 1790s Kant examines the system of sovereign nation-states that had become the dominant form of international organization since the mid-17th century. He points out the obvious—that the relationships between these sovereign entities recognize no enforceable laws above themselves. To be a sovereign nation, in terms of these mutually accepted international arrangements, means to have exclusive determination over internal affairs and independence in external affairs. This “independence” in external affairs is, in effect, the claim to recognize no binding laws above the level of the nation state. Sovereignty cannot be bound by any law higher than itself since sovereignty is, by definition, the ultimate power and authority that determines the law.

Kant correctly states that this makes the world system immoral and places upon all of us the moral obligation to transform this world system from one in which power defines the relations between nations to one in which a republican world constitution guarantees the freedom and equality of all persons on the planet. It is impossible to treat every person (on the planet) as an end in his or herself when those who are not citizens of one’s own country are not constitutionally free and equal with ourselves through universal, equally applied, constitutionally sanctioned laws.

The moral imperative to live under a republican constitution guaranteeing the freedom and equality of each before the law is therefore universal, and the law guaranteeing this must be universal and the same for all. That means that only a world republican constitution can satisfy the categorical imperative and that the system of so-called sovereign nation-states is inherently immoral. You cannot morally or logically divide the world into a collection of territorially bound, militarized entities, each recognizing no enforceable laws above itself, and somehow at the same time that all are free and equal under the law. Each of us who accepts this system and fails to work to change it is morally culpable. The moral imperative demands republican world government in which the nations become administrative units within an Earth Federation guaranteeing the freedom and equality of each before democratically legislated world law.

With respect to this principle, therefore, republican and democratic constitutions should be identical. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau pointed out, in accord with Kant, the law must form the “general will” of the people, which is not the same as the will of the majority. The general will is the universal moral reality created by the constitution guaranteeing the freedom and equality of each citizen before the law. The general will means that each citizen is an end in his or herself and that each is morally bound to the others and to the constitutional whole.

“Eachness” is important to note here. World law must be over each individual human being, not over abstract entities called nation-states. To try to somehow “govern” abstract entities called nations rather than holding individuals accountable to the law, is to perpetuate the war-system. You cannot arrest and put a nation on trial. You can only go to war against it. The moral imperative that we treat each person on Earth as an end in him or herself, never merely as a means, requires that each person on Earth live in equality and freedom, constitutionally guaranteed, with every other person on Earth. Kant’s moral ideal of the Kingdom of Ends in which all persons treat all other persons morally logically requires (presupposes) a republican or democratic world government guaranteeing the freedom and equality of each.

The Necessity of a World Human Rights System

Kant lived in a time when armies were fighting with swords and riding on horseback. The greatness of his vision nevertheless understood the logical and moral difficulties of a world divided into autonomous, militarized nation-states recognizing no governing authority above themselves. Since that time, we have seen two world wars fought by mechanized armies with industrial scale capacity for destroying human beings and their life support systems, as well as the development of horrendous weapons of mass destruction that have the potential to go beyond even industrial scale destruction to destroying the entire planetary ecosystem that makes human life possible on Earth.

Yet today we find ourselves in the 21st century attempting to defend human rights in the face of a world system whose very existence violates human rights. In his well-known book on Human Rights, scholar Jack Donnelly points out the paradox of the UN system of sovereign nation-states. He says that under the UN system each government is responsible for protecting the human rights of its citizens and yet, at the same time, it is governments that are by far the most significant violators of human rights. If human rights are truly universal, then what are we doing placing their protection in the hands of territorially bound, militarized power-centers that themselves refuse to submit to the rule of law? The system outlined by the UN Charter is immoral and unworkable. The vast and valuable infrastructure of the UN must be integrated into the system of democratic world law under the Earth Constitution.

In his books on human rights, philosopher of law Alan Gewirth derives human dignity and rights from the existential structure of human life in which people freely pursue goals they consider to be good. Similarly, in my book Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence (2018), I show how this teleological structure provided by human temporality results in the entire panoply of human rights and in the concept of an intrinsic as well as an evolving human dignity.

Governments in today’s world live a planetary matrix of power relationships. Professor Hans Morgenthau in his classic 1948 book Politics Among Nations argues that the relations between nations must necessarily be those of self-interest projected through power, and that morality should not be allowed to get in the way of this struggle. However, I want to emphasize that this condition of living in a world of power relations (rather than moral-based dignity relations) is intrinsic to the system of sovereign states. Entities who insist on lawlessness, that is, entities who refuse to recognize the rule of constitutionally grounded enforceable law over themselves are already power-based and therefore immoral. The world system is intrinsically a war system and therefore a system destructive of human rights and dignity.

Governments cannot be expected to honor human rights, whether of their own citizens or those of other governments, since they are attempting to operate within this gigantic self-contradiction. Externally they are lawless and immoral and need to operate in terms of power and national self-interest. Internally, they are supposed to be moral and respect the rights of their citizens. In such a schizophrenic situation, almost inevitably human rights are sacrificed to “national security” issues, or “economic issues” catering to multinational corporations and global economic pressures.

The power relations of the external world-anarchy serve to foster nihilism and skepticism regarding moral values. The heads of nations pay lip service to moral values, but in reality they operate under capitalist economic imperatives and/or so-called “national security” imperatives. Politicians everywhere are said to be corrupt, but their corruption is in significant measure a result of the system within which they are expected to perform.

Similarly, the attempts at democratic or republican constitutional systems within nations become corrupted because they attempt to operate within an immoral global economic and political framework that necessarily impacts internal decision-making and law-making. The capitalist economic system of greed and self-interest penetrates every nation, corrupting many bureaucrats and politicians. Moral cynicism and nihilism flow directly from capitalism as they also do from the system of power relations called sovereign nation-states.

In a world of ungoverned multinational corporations and lawless militarized nation states, there can be no real protection of human rights. The system itself defeats respect for moral principles and human rights. If we want human rights respected and protected, we must establish a human rights system for the world. It cannot be successful in a fragmented world of sovereign nation-states or ruthless capitalist competition. We need to base our global institutions on who we really are: ethical creatures capable of living under universal moral principles as free and equal citizens, creatures who have intrinsic dignity, and, we shall see below, creatures who are also capable of love, compassion, kindness and care, that is, capable of living within beloved human communities worldwide.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth creates a human rights system for the Earth by establishing a democratic Earth Federation that represents the sovereign of the people of Earth. Ultimate authority, sovereignty, derives from the collective dignity of humanity as a whole. It places the representatives of that sovereignty, the Earth Federation government, above the nation-states, removing their absolute sovereignty and making them administrative units within the Earth Federation, responsible for governing their internal affairs as long as this is consistent with the human rights system of the Earth Federation government.

Sovereignty, therefore, becomes delegated and descends in levels from humanity as a whole all the way to the relative self-determination of local communities. The Constitution also places the Earth Federation government above the multi-national corporations requiring that they operate for the common good of humanity and not for the enrichment of a tiny group of wealthy investors. The rule of legitimate law predicated on the freedom and equality of each human being, at last becomes a reality for our planet.

Article 28 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” After 73 years of endless wars, economic exploitation, power politics, and moral corruption of politicians, it should be clear that the UN system does not give us an “international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in that Declaration can be fully realized.” We have seen that this is because the world system of sovereign nation-states and multinational corporations is an anti-human rights system. It is intrinsically a war system, a greed system, and a domination system.

A human rights system for the Earth requires all the dimensions of good government: a democratic legislature truly representing the people of Earth, a world judicial system with highly qualified impartial judges, an effective, professional world Executive system to carry out the laws enacted by the World Parliament, and a world enforcement system of Attorney Generals and civilian World Police dedicated to enforcing the law equally over all individuals. In other words, a human rights system requires real, effective government predicated on the equal dignity, freedom, and integrity of all persons.

Persons staffing the bureaucratic and governmental positions with such an Earth Federation government would be much less likely to descend into moral cynicism and nihilism because the system itself is predicated on human rights and dignity, not on power and economic greed. Our central problem is not some inherently “corrupt” human nature. Our central problem is that we live under global institutions that lead to corruption, cynicism, and nihilism. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is about bringing equality and freedom before the law to all the citizens of Earth by recognizing our universal human dignity and founding the world system on that dignity and its consequent rights. Legitimate, planetary institutions correctly based on human dignity will result in much greater integrity and authentic moral insight among government officials within all agencies of the Earth Federation government.

The Earth Constitution both presupposes and articulates the so-called “third generation” rights of the right to peace and the right to a healthy environment. It institutionalizes these rights along with all first and second generation economic and political rights as articulated in Articles 12 and 13. It sets up a world system designed to protect and actualize these rights. It institutionally eliminates power and exploitation relations from human affairs as much as reasonably possible and focuses on moral relations as embodied in the concepts of the common good of humanity and the human rights of all citizens.

The human rights system under the Earth Constitution has unique features that should be emphasized here. The World Parliament has 3 houses: the House of Peoples with 1000 representatives from around the planet, the House of Nations with 1, 2, or 3 representatives from each nation, depending on population, and the House of Counselors, with some 200 counselors elected from around the world. The World Supreme Court system includes 8 benches, including a bench for human rights cases.

The World Executive has no military or police power and no authority to suspend the Constitution in a state of emergency. The World Police and Attorney Generals form a separate agency from the Executive branch and are directly responsible to the World Parliament. In addition, there is a special agency called the World Ombudsmus, with offices worldwide. The World Ombudsmus, with its planetary system of World Advocates, is dedicated to the protection of the human rights of all the world’s citizens and serves as a watchdog on the government to ensure that human rights are not being violated by the World Police or any other governmental authorities.

This is what a human rights system looks like. It must be focused on the real common good of humanity for ending war, protecting human rights everywhere on Earth, eliminating poverty as well as exploitation, and protecting the environmental integrity of our planet. (These are the “broad functions” of the Earth Constitution outlined in its very first article.) Logically, a human rights system can only be global in scope, and it must be a system designed to realize these ends. The nation-state system and the corporate-driven economic system, by contrast, are not designed for moral ends nor for human rights, and that is why we cannot achieve the goal of protecting human rights under the present world anarchy.

Our job, our mission, must be to promote the Constitution for the Federation of Earth in every venue and every way possible until it becomes everywhere a household word. In this way, the people of Earth, who want nothing more than peace, a decent standard of living, and respect for their human rights, will at last know that they have a way out—that we human beings can at last create a world system in which moral relationships and human rights become primary. Then only will the people of Earth be able to choose a decent future for themselves and all future generations. Building on this human rights foundation, human beings will then be able to move to a yet higher level of moral and spiritual growth.

A Spiritually Realized, Loving Planetary Community

As I reviewed in my 2018 book Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence, a broad consensus exists concerning the fundamental stages of human cognitive, moral, and spiritual growth. This consensus includes such well-known thinkers as Ken Wilber, Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, and Jürgen Habermas. The most fundamental stages commonly recognized move from the egocentric stage of children (or immature adults) to the ethnocentric stage of recognition of others within one’s own community. This second (ethnocentric) stage assumes that the values and beliefs of one’s own community are somehow more correct, rational, or moral than those of others around the world.

Moral, cognitive, and spiritual maturity begin at the third stage, which Kohlberg calls the stage of “Autonomy” and Wilber calls the “Worldcentric” stage. At this level persons begin to understand that the world includes many different ways of culturally organizing thought and experience and one’s perspective becomes progressively evermore universal and affirmative of humanity and civilization as a whole. Kohlberg emphasizes the “autonomy” of this stage and links this explicitly with the ethical thought of Kant. One’s moral principles are now arrived at through independent crucial rational thought and are formulated on the grounds of logical universality, consistency and coherence.

This is the level at which universal human dignity is fully recognized and universal human rights are affirmed. This is the level of maturity at which the vision of democratic or republican world government arises. One understands that all human beings must be protected as free and equal under the authority of universally legislated, enforceable world laws. The moral ideal of a universal kingdom of ends for the Earth begins to become clear and compelling.

But all these thinkers recognize a fourth level of cognitive, ethical, and spiritual maturity, which may be called, with Ken Wilber, the “Kosmocentric” stage of realization. Like the other stages, this stage itself may have many sublevels and complexities. Human beings do not normally move through such clearly defined stages but often have progressions and regressions, often living simultaneously from mixed stages of moral development, etc. In Kosmocentric stages one begins to realize something that lives at the very foundation of human life as we have evolved from the cosmos that gave us birth. This is the One at the heart of all things, characterized by the great world religions as love.

At the kosmocentric stage of cognitive, moral, and spiritual realization one begins to go beyond morality as defined by Kant—the making of universal laws that govern one’s actions regardless of one’s inclinations—to a freedom from such moral rules (in the sense that one’s inclinations begin to come in harmony with one’s duty) because one begins to love one’s own deepest selfhood and the selfhood of all others without discrimination, judgement, or recrimination. Here dignity is not only recognized but loved. As Saint Augustine famously said, “Love, and do what you will.” There develops what philosopher Jacob Needleman called “a sense of the cosmos,” a cosmos whose foundation is love. There develops a love such as contemporary Christian thinker Ilia Delio describes in her book under the title: The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love.

The sense of the whole, not as an object to a subject in which I cognitively recognize the universe as a whole, but as an inner realization of the One that is at the core of my being and at the core of every other being. “The unbearable wholeness of Being” is the intensity of love that wells up within the process of spiritual self-realization. Scientist and Catholic Christian thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin writes that “only love can bring individual beings to their perfect completion, as individuals, by uniting them with one another, because only love takes possession of them and unites them by what lies deepest within them” (1969, 145). Philosopher Errol E. Harris also recognizes love as superseding and encompassing the duty ethics of Kant.

Protestant thinker Paul Tillich speaks of love not as an emotion but as an “ontological principle,” permeating the cosmos that we are capable of actualizing in our own lives because it is already within us as well as everywhere at the heart of the cosmos. Jewish thinker Marc Gafni declares that humans begin with egocentric love, then move to ethnocentric love, then to worldcentric love, and finally to kosmocentric love. Kosmocentric love realizes that the cosmos is the original source of the love at all levels (2014, 69). We must begin within a moral framework in which we recognize one another’s dignity and legally constitution a world society of free and equal persons. This lays the groundwork for the next level of self-realization—the spiritual development of universal love.

It is through the Kosmocentric level that the beloved community becomes possible for humanity. It is here that the true Islamic Sharia of obedience to God can be found. It is here that the Kingdom of God can be brought to Earth, which is the basic message of Jesus Christ. It is at this level that we can realize tikkun olam, which the Jewish Kabbalah calls the “healing of the world,” the wholeness of things holding a reservoir of love that can transform human existence and raise us to our true destiny.

The Kosmocentric level of moral-spiritual development goes beyond the legislating of moral laws but presupposes and builds upon the earlier level. It involves what spiritual thinker Raimon Panikkar calls “the anthropocosmic intuition” (2013, 55). We intuit both the heart of our humanity and of the cosmos, which is love. Indian spiritual thinker Rabindranath Tagore links this realization with the nirvana of the Buddha: “we know for certain that nirvana is the highest culmination of love. For love is an end in itself” (2011, 161-2).

With this realization the possibility of a beloved human community has become tenable in the minds of the many people throughout history who have experienced this self-realization at the kosmocentric level. Throughout history, they have been spokespersons for such a redeemed and actualized human community. My argument in this paper is that, as a civilization, we have not yet moved beyond the ethnocentric level of nation-state sovereignty and selfish economic relationships to the worldcentric level founded on universal human dignity protected by morally grounded laws under a world constitution.

Moving to the worldcentric level of moral maturity is, at the general level of human civilization, a prerequisite for the further development of cosmocentric awareness and spiritual realization among humanity in general. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth lays the necessary foundation upon which to build the beloved human community. Our present world-anarchy of military and economic madness must be transcended by the rule of democratically legislated laws for planet Earth.

The Earth Constitution establishes, for the first time in history, a moral world system. It makes possible on a planetary scale not only true dialogue, but respect for human rights, nonviolence, and planetary justice. It also makes possible peace and the demilitarizing of nations as well as environmental sustainability. Once we have established the Earth Federation government envisioned by the Constitution, then, and only then, will we be ready and available, as a species, to realize our true human destiny—the creation of a beloved human community in which love, and justice, and ecological sustainability become as routine and self-evident as this beautiful and miraculous human body from which we live every day of our lives.

Brief Bibliography

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—. 1996. The Community of Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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Kant, Immanuel. 1965. The Metaphysical Elements of Justice. Trans. John Ladd. New York: Library of the Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Company.

Kant, Immanuel. 1974. On the Old Saw: That May Be Right in Theory but It Won’t Work in Practice. Trans. E. B. Aston. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. 1984. The Psychology of Moral Development: Volume Two, The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Martin, Glen T., ed. 2010). Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. 2018. Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. Cambridge Scholars Publishers.

Morganthau, Hans. 2006. Politics among Nations. Seventh Edition. New York: McGraw Higher Education. (Orig. Pub. 1948.)

Needleman, Jacob. 1975. A Sense of the Cosmos: The Encounter of Modern Science and Ancient Truth. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company.

Nelson, Leonard. 1956. System of Ethics. Trans. Norbert Guterman. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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—. 1993. The Cosmotheandric Experience. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

—. 2013. They Rhythm of Being: The Unbroken Trinity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. Wilber, Ken. 2007. Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston: Integral Books.