Ethics beyond borders

A travelling ideal

In recent decades, the growth of cross-border publics has led to a rising awareness of the factual growth of global civil society. 1 This awareness, like a shell covering a kernel, contains another insight: that the emerging civil society on a world scale is breathtakingly complex. That is perhaps an understatement, because in reality global civil society is so complex that it appears to our senses as an open-ended totality whose horizons are not fully knowable. Those who try to survey and summarise its contours have the feeling that they are blind geographers. The global circulation of books and magazines, Internet messages, and radio and television programmes combine to spread the sense that this civil society resembles a kaleidoscope of sometimes overlapping or harmonious, sometimes conflicting and colliding groups, movements and non-governmental institutions of many different, often changing colours. Perhaps it is better to speak of global civil society as a dynamic space of multiple differences, some of which are tensely related or even in open conflict. It resembles the inner structures and dynamics of global cities like New York, London, Berlin, Paris or Sydney: a complex and dynamic three-dimensional landscape of buildings of all shapes and sizes, sought-after and down-market areas, organisations of all descriptions, cheerfulness and cursing, public generosity and private thuggery, millions of people on the move, using many forms of transport, in many directions.

This being so, a vital philosophical question with practical implications arises. It is this: given that global civil society has its enemies, and that in any case it contains a plurality of actors living by different norms, is there an ethical language that is politically capable of normatively justifying this civil society? Can a straight answer with a straight face be given to the question, often asked by critics, 'What's so good about global civil society, anyway?' In short, is there an ethic that can do two things: reply

____________________
1
See my 'Global Civil Society?', in Helmut Anheier et al. (eds.), Global Civil Society 2001 (Oxford and New York, 2001), pp. 23—47.

-175-

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Global Civil Society?
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Global Civil Society? *
  • Global Civil Society? *
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Unfamiliar Words 1
  • Catalysts 40
  • Cosmocracy 92
  • Paradise on Earth? 129
  • Ethics Beyond Borders 175
  • Further Reading 210
  • Index 214
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