A Spiritual Exigency Behind Global Governance and Deliberation in the 21st Century

Posted in 2010 Journal


Time and money is annually invested in organizing international forums and presidential summits. In an increasingly globalizing world, national delegates and representatives of multi-national corporations travel across the globe to attend international conferences. In an age where great effort is made to arrange global forums, greater energy must be placed on investigating under what conditions global governance and deliberation can thrive. Various scholars attest to the utility of intercultural dialogue, multi-stakeholder processes, and vertical networks; however, a case study of the Baha’i International Community’s United Nations Office (BIC-UNO) operations reveal a supplementary condition—spirituality. The case study of the BIC-UNO ultimately demonstrates how the incorporation of spirituality guarantees the higher level of consciousness necessary for effective deliberation and just governance to take place.

The principle of the oneness of humanity must be wholeheartedly embraced by those in whose hands the responsibility for decision-making rests.
—Lawrence Arturo, Representative to the BIC UNO

Envision entering a deliberative forum.  To the right sits a row of varying interest groups and non-governmental organizations (NGO).  To the left are national delegates. Seated up ahead are multi-national cooperation representatives and business executives.  Surrounding the grand hall are various individuals representing their own personal interests.  The forum epitomizes diversity. Regardless of what appears on the agenda for discussion, the overwhelming sense of divergent interests is foreshadowed by the color-coded placards signifying each group. Such a scenario manifests a vital question various scholars have wrestled with: in an increasingly globalizing world, what are the primary conditions under which actors can effectively engage in global governance and deliberation today?

Examining much of the scholarly literature written on global governance and deliberation, reveals a recurring theme: the call for a global ethic. Various scholars, such as Brian D. Lepard (2005), attest to the need for a universal ethic that underlies transnational dialogue and global governance in the 21st century (p.5).  Upon further research, one may discover the utility of intercultural dialogue, multi-stakeholder processes, and vertical networks that help formulate an overarching global ethic. However, a case study of the Baha’i International Community’s United Nations operations reveal a supplementary condition under which the global ethos can be legitimized among deliberators—spirituality.  As the Universal House of Justice (1985) has defined, spirituality refers to the “[heightened] consciousness of the oneness of mankind” (p. 10).  The case study of the BIC-UNO ultimately demonstrates how the incorporation of spirituality fosters the higher level of consciousness necessary for effective deliberation and just governance to take place.

Globalization and Global Governance

Many scholars have reported on the phenomenon of globalization and the corresponding need for a greater transnational organization to manage global operations. Before delving into the literature on global governance, it is incumbent to understand globalization and its implications on the structure of the world. Burtless, Lawrence, Litan & Shapiro (1998) defined globalization as “the increasing economic linkage between nations” (p. 4). Beyond its economic context, globalization also spurs changes within the social and political structure of a country. As Jonsson (2008) has elaborated, “Globalization refers to multifaceted processes of change, a core aspect of which is the reconfiguration of social and political space” [emphasis added] (p.29). Through increased movements across national borders and growing interdependence among states, the rigid perimeters that once divided countries are becoming translucent. Jonsson further explicated, “Globalization can be understood as deterritorialisation—a reconfiguration of geography, so that social space is no longer wholly mapped in terms of territorial places, territorial distances and territorial borders” (p.29). Similarly, Albert (1999) observed globalization is “laying the groundwork for a new form of governing by promoting a shift from the territorial to the de-bordered state” (p. 81). In this way, the phenomenon of globalization has lead to the subtle decomposition of national territorialism and has created a new prospect for a global community. As Murphy (2009) comparably observed, “Economic globalization has made the world one place” (p. 161). Globalization has fostered a new global social consciousness. With the new global outlook comes the need for a global-oriented institution. Correspondingly, Albert (1999) conceptualized globalization “as promoting a change in the form of governing from territoriality to global governance” (p. 79). The rise of the new global social consciousness and globalized economy hastens the need for a more inclusive global governance.

Prospects for Global Governance: Illusory Ideal or Plausible Promise?

Many social scientists recognize the need for global governance but often lack faith in its feasibility. For example, Murphy (2009) has acknowledged, “Governance is needed to establish and maintain the physical and technical infrastructure of the global economy” but raises concerns about the diverging interest and values that are bound to complicate the ideal behind global governance (p. 161). Similarly, Lepard (2005) pointed out the utility of global governance, which fashions a global ethic that informs our understanding of appropriate interaction with different cultures, but introduced the skepticism posed by cultural relativists (p. 5). Lepard (2005) explained how cultural relativists support the infeasible nature of “global ethical norms…[based on their belief that] ethics is inextricably tied to particular cultures and that cultures are necessarily diverse and irreconcilable (p. 5). In this way, cultural relativists deny the possibility for just global governance, claiming only a select few cultural values will be championed and others neglected by the new world order, ultimately leading to unjust governance. Albert (1999) reports global governance will lead to a “homogenization of lifestyles and values, and as such, constitute a kind of reterritorialisation (p. 91). In this way, Albert echoes the recurring critique brought up by various scholars who forewarn of the deceit behind the euphemism, “global culture”—which may in fact imply a wholesome “transnational cultural integration” (p. 90).

The Realist’s View: Global Governance as an Illusory Ideal

Realist scholars are comparably dubious regarding the efficacy of global governance. As Snyder (2004) has explained, “At realism’s core is the belief that international affairs is a struggle for power among self-interested states” (p. 55). There are two key points to draw out from this statement. First, that realism focuses on the inevitable power struggle that takes place in the international arena. Second, that realism is based on the belief that self-interest is at the core of human and state’s nature. Given this supposition, realists are bound to question the ability of nations to compromise, or even surrender, their national interests for the global good—a global ethic. Morganthau (2004), the classic advocate of realism, has stated, “International politics, li

ke all politics, is a struggle for power. W

hatever the ultimate aims of international politics, power is always the immediate aim” (p. 51). In this way, realism dismisses the possibility that nations may have genuine incentives to help other countries gain power. In fact, realists would argue that if engaging with other nations could potentially dwindle the power status of the benefactor nation, there is no impetus for the nation to aid other countries. Busby (2007) illustrated this cost-benefit analysis practiced by realists when describing the rationale that states “support debt relief and comply with their commitments when the benefits exceed the costs” [emphasis in original] (p. 259). In this way, the foci of realism, which hinges on the premise that self-interested nation-states strive for power, rejects the idealistic claim for global ethics. Along the same lines, the “sovereignty dilemma” posed by global governance falls under the concern of realists. As Lepard (2005) has expressed, “Some Americans are arguing against US participation in international organizations and human rights treaties based on a claimed infringement of US sovereignty” (p. 7). Proponents who advocate the need for global governance are often confronted with much skepticism by the realist school of thought.

Though realist scholars pose a legitimate counter-argument towards the rhetoric of global governance, it is important to take into consideration the current reconfiguration that has taken place in current international relations. Indeed, realism has been one of the most dominant schools of thought in international relations; however, the ‘deterritorialisation’ of nation-states spurred by globalization is beginning to blur the parameters of what once outlined the classic mold of national interests, deflating the realist rhetoric. As Albert (1999) has observed, “In an era of globalization, the state’s capacity to act in an international environment is affected by other factors than what the traditional realist and rationalist accounts of state behavior suggest” (p. 77). In this way, the current global trend toward deterritorialization is giving rise to an alternative outlook on trans-state relations.

Blurring Boundaries and An Emerging Global Ethic

There is a case is to be made for looking into the greater consequences of the decline of national territorialism. As Albert (1999) has observed, “Up to now, the analysis of these changes by an large has ignored their normative dimension… there are questions to be asked in relation to the normative dimension and the consequences of the territorial state’s fading splendor” [emphasis added] (p. 78). This is where the discussion of an emerging global ethic comes into play.

Various scholars have noted the emerging signs of global ethics. For example, Lepard (2005) recognizes the variety of “harmonizing forces…[and] trends toward greater unity and cooperation among the diverse peoples of the world” (p. 5). Regarding the presence of the United Nations, Lepard (2005) indicates the “nascent will on the part of many governments to work cooperatively to restore peace and achieve some minimal level of enjoyment of human rights” (p. 5). Many scholars expound on the common values that exist across countries and detect the potential for a global ethic to spring from such common denominators. Smith and Brassett (2008), for example, reference Allen Buchanan and Robert Keohane’s “standard of ‘minimal moral acceptability’ for global governance institutions,” elaborating on its prospects through a liberal perspective (p. 78). Furthermore, Tsutsumibayashi (2005), while cautious, also recognizes the trend toward global ethics as a participant in the International Con

ference on Global Ethos, which pur

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posed to bolster “global dialogues aimed at creating a global ethic” (p. 104).

To list some instances where such objectives have been met, Lepard (2005) referenced the World Conference on Religion and Peace held in Kyoto, Japan where participants agreed on a list of common moral teachings (p. 191). Furthermore, Schaefer (1994) pointed to the “Declaration toward a Global Ethic” that was drafted by the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, which outlined a “‘minimal ethic’ based on common values of the world religions,” further attesting to the plausibility of universal values being negotiated and applied on a global scale (p. 1).

Aside from the current global structure, which signifies the potential for a global ethic, there are also civil movements that signal the emergence of this ideal: the “global civil society.” Falk (2003) has defined global civil society as “the ensemble of transnational efforts to achieve human solidarity on behalf of a tormented and endangered planet—those movements, citizens’ associations, and informal networks that are virtually oblivious to the boundaries of sovereign states” (p. 4). Many scholars have agreed upon the transnational vigor of global civil society members, which complements the current trend towards a multinational spirit. As Falk (2003) noted, “The commitment of individuals to strengthen and construct global civil society is also recreating our understanding of citizenship, redirecting loyalties from the primacy of space (the idea of loyalty to our state and flag) to the primacy of time (loyalty to a future normative order)” (p. 4). Global civil society members are transcending the limits of state-centric objectives to embrace a global vision. Building off on this notion, the presence of a global civil society illustrates a crucial attribute that debunks the critique posed earlier by global ethic skeptics.

Proponents of global ethics strive to clarify that the prospective universal value is not of a domineering nature that aims to vanquish varying national values. The global civil society members portray their diversity within a united identity. For example, Albert (1999) delineated, “‘Global culture’ does not suggest that what is emerging is one transnational cultural community… but rather a multiplicity of ‘global cultures’ which constitute themselves in relation to global ‘cultural flows’ and are not really bound to any location” (p. 91). Corresponding to this point, the concept of global civil society suggests that citizens need not abandon their citizenship to partake in a global alliance. The global civil society is rather a natural response to the increased interdependence and coalitions among nations. As Falk (2003) has argued, “The thickening of transnationalism in many forms constitutes the empirical foundation of an emergent global civil society” (p. 10). Furthermore, global civil society responds to contemporary issues that affect the globe—issues which national governments are often reluctant to invest in.

The Call for Greater Interdependence

The current state of the world demands international cooperation to face global challenges. Falk (2003) has pointed to “environmental concerns, transnational crime, and the spread of AIDS” as the tip of the iceberg (p. 9). Lepard (2005) has further observed that “despite globalization and the enhancement of international trade, an unconscionable number of individuals in much of the developing world continue to suffer from debilitating poverty”—suggesting the need for global united action (p. 4). Ghai (2001) similarly confirmed the dire need for “human solidarity” on a global scale, in response to the increasing poverty gap (p. 237). In this way, the world is entrenched with various transnational issues that cannot be adequately solved by singular governments. As Tsutsumibayashi (2005) explained, “Human security issues that deal with problems ranging from human rights violations to terrorism to environmental degradation can hardly be solved by a government fiat” (p. 104). Furthermore, Tsutsumibayashi observed, “There seems to be a growing consensus even among conventional state actors that the existing states system is unsuited to dealing with many of the pressing global and regional problems” (p. 104). Many scholars have detected the potential in global civil society and international organizations.

Various social scientists have ascertained that if change were to occur, more power must be placed in the hands of global civil society and international organizations. Smith and Brassett (2008) have asserted, “Many of the more ambitious reformist approaches to global governance emplace global civil society as the ethical agent” [emphasis added] (p. 71). Ghai (2001) has similarly observed, “International Non-governmental Organization’s represent a new force on the world stage and have become an important player in the development process” (p. 239). Additionally, Ghai points to the moral attributes which distinguish these types of organizations: “Overarching their activities is the role of International Non-Governmental Organizations as moral entities” (p. 239). The current problems in the world, which are global in scope, call for such moral and international response teams. Falk (2003) too has reiterated the demand for institutions and agents that respond to international dilemmas, and responses that are “transnational in scope and global in significance” (p. 5). He emphasizes such bodies must possess an “identity bounded by solidarity with humanity as a whole, thereby transcending traditional fragmented identities based on nationality”—an attribute which international organizations and global civil societies embrace (p. 5). In this way, many scholars recognize the potential of international bodies to ameliorate contemporary global problems. Despite the universal nature and steadfast commitments on part of the INGOs, however, they still fail to rise to their potential, based on their limited influence. As Ghai has acknowledged, “No matter how idealistic or committed, INGOs simply cannot replace the work of governments and UN agencies in the business of poverty eradication” (p. 239). This is where the potency of global ethics comes into play, unifying the objectives of international non-governmental organizations with government organizations (GO).

The Potency Underlying Global Ethics

The moral ambition and objectives underlying international organizations can be transferred to national institutions through the establishment of an overarching global ethic. As Lepard (2005) has concluded,

“If the unifying forces [of NGOs] are ultimately to hold sway over the [GOs] and keep them in check, all parties must be motivated by more than a simple desire to correct social ills. They must be anchored in, and fortified by, a veritable global ethic. Only a global ethic—a relatively specific set of shared ethical principles—will ultimately be sufficient to support these more positive trends” (p. 6).

Though scholars have critiqued the irreconcilable nature of cultural ethics (Tsutsumibayashi, 2005), this critique is under the assumption that values are stagnant and cannot evolve through dialogue. Challenging this premise is the first step to exploring the potential of universal ethics. As Tsutsumibayashi (2005) has proposed, “Impending global and regional crises can be averted through a worldwide collaboration of state and nonstate actors…such a collaboration could only be the outcome of mutual trust and respect fostered through global dialogue” [emphasis added] (p. 103). In this way, the notion of deliberation—of intercultural dialogue—has been identified as a crucial element towards crafting an “operative ideal” (Tsutsumibayashi, p. 104), which applies universally. The constructivism school of thought, arguing for the transformative nature of values, bestows

faith in such propositions.

The Constructivist’s View: Global Ethics as a Plausible Prospect

Constructivist scholars highlight the role of identity and interests in international politics. As Alexander Wendt (1999), a leading constructivist scholar, elucidated, constructivism “endorses the liberal claim that international institutions can transform state identities and interests” (p. 434). While realists claim that the state of anarchy leads to unalterable social behaviors in each nation, constructivists emphasize how the process of interaction can in fact determine and change how people will behave in an anarchic setting (Wendt, p. 435). Furthermore, constructivism points out how interests can be transformed “by an evolution of cooperation and by intentional efforts to transform egoistic identities into collective identities” (Wendt, p. 436). In line with this premise, through intercultural deliberation and forums, scholars propose a global ethic is possible.

Through the constructivist approach, the vision of a global ethic becomes plausible. Tsutsumibayashi (2005) argues for the utility of intercultural dialogue by describing it as:

. “…a kind of intercivilizational dialogue that would lead to the fusion of horizons, a term that signifies a dialogic process by which the interlocutors gradually come to achieve mutual understanding through the transformation or extension of their value criteria.” (p. 105)

Marian Barnes (2008) refers to the intercultural forums, where such transformations take place, as valuable “emotional spaces” (p. 461). Barnes elaborates, they are “spaces in which identities are negotiated, constructed and possibly transformed” (p.461). In this way, the effective orchestration of intercultural deliberation in a valuable, emotional space is identified as part of a vital process that leads to the emergence of a global ethic. Though many scholars continue to be skeptical regarding the plausibility of such ideal and convenient transformations of values, there are success stories that add credibility to such seemingly quixotic scenarios.

World Commission on Dams

The case study of the World Commission on Dams is one example where consultation has genuinely resulted in value formation. Upon reflecting on the World Commission on Dams, Dubash (2009) illustrated how “global deliberative processes can be a strategy for global norm formation and legitimation” (p. 219). The commission consisted of what Hemmati (2002) refers to as the “multi-stakeholder process (MSP)” (p. 2). As Hemmati has identified, stakeholders are people who have a vested interest in certain decisions—individuals and organizations included (p. 2). Some of the stakeholders include NGO’s, construction companies, and water ministry representatives who discussed and reviewed implications of dam developments that affected workers and local communities (Dubash, p. 221). The World Commission on Dams was initiated based on “transnational advocacy networks” which sprung from local protests (Dubash, p. 220). This is a classic example that manifests the power of grassroots initiatives that can lead to productive large-scale deliberations and reevaluations of global projects. Dubash accredits the achievements made in the commission to its wide-scope, deliberative nature: “The commission reached its conclusions through a process of research and deliberation over two years consisting of public hearings, studies of dams and related themes, a sample survey of dams, and open submissions by the general public” (p. 221). In this way, the World Commission on Dams emerges as a prominent success story, which “illuminates a niche for global deliberation as a potent means for…articulating new forms and lending them prominence” (Dubash, p. 220). Upon establishing the vitality of intercultural dialogue and multi-stakeholder processes, the prospects for a global ethic begin to crystallize.

Another characteristic to draw from the World Commission on Dams is the collaborative process between national and international parties. As Dubash (2009) has highlighted, the commission incorporated a “non-hierarchal mode of steering” that combined state and nonstate actors” (p. 222). This observation allows for the reinforcement of the efficacy of international deliberation in dealing with transnational issues. Deliberation allows for a space where national and international actors, irrespective of their power status, can meet on common grounds to consult on collective, universal goals. Dubash has suggested, “Understood through a logic of argumentation, deliberation processes are one important way in which a norm—a ‘standard of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity—emerges and is legitimated at the global level” (p. 223). The deliberative forum provides a neutral ground for participants to engage and argue with one another. Such propositions of deliberation can be practiced in the global governance arena to further the agenda of global ethic building. Smith and Brassett (2008) have elaborated:

“The norm of deliberation could apply to institutions that are commonly identified as the principal global governance bodies, such as the United Nations, the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Health Organization. Alternatively, it could apply to less formal sites of communication, such as civil society associations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or transnational public spheres” (p. 73).

As previously mentioned, what many scholars detect is the need for increased collaboration among national and transnational networks. Murphy (2009) affirmed, “Power and responsibility for the global good do not stop at the boundary between formal and informal political actors” (p. 166). All parties must be invested for the collective good. Furthermore, Murphy declared, “Policymakers at all levels need to be cognizant of the impact of their actions for the human community and the planet” (p. 166). In this way, many scholars point to the dire need for a collective commitment. If a global ethic is to be realized, the attendance of national and supranational actors is vital for its formulation.

One way to respond to this increased need for systematic cooperation is through government networks. Slaughter (2004) identifies the potential in horizontal networks, which consists of national-to-national networks, and vertical networks, which consists of national-to-supranational networks (p. 132). By illuminating the multi-level nature of vertical networks, Slaughter highlights the promise behind such structures. As Slaughter has suggested, “Vertical government networks pierce the shell of state sovereignty by making individual government institutions—courts, regulatory agencies, or even legislators—responsible for the implementation of rules created by a supranational institution” (p. 133). Such networks will assist in making national institutions more accountable and global ethics more enactable. By calling for the “integration of existing networks,” (p.132) Slaughter also points to the virtue of collective decision-making, previously endorsed by Hemmati’s (2002) “multi-stakeholder process” (p .2). Hemmati (2002) points to the efficacy of participatory dialogues, which incorporates multiple players, towards building a foundational ethic applicable to all parties. As a proponent of intercultural dialogue, Tsutsumibayashi (2005) similarly acknowledged, “It is often more effective to rely on the voluntary collective wills and actions of actors at the civil society level than to resort to coercive measures from above” (p. 104). Intercultural dialogue (a type of deliberation), multi-stakeholder processes (a type of forum), and vertical networks (a type of structure) work together to build a global ethic which invigorates both transnational and national entities to work together through the politic of empathy, rather than coercion. This type of dialogue, forum, and structure intertwine to form an inspired global network that promulgates norms through effective deliberation, where interests are transformed to support the global good.

Case Study

Introduction to the BIC UNO

The Baha’i International Community of United Nations (BIC UNO) is a faith-based international non-governmental organization. According to the official BIC UNO website, issue areas in which the organization specializes are human rights, advancement of women, and social/sustainable development (Baha’i International Community United Nations Office [BIC UNO], 2009, p.1). BIC UNO’s involvement with the United Nations pre?dates 1945, through its prior engagement with the League of Nations under the organization name International Baha’i Bureau (BIC UNO, p.1). The BIC UNO is highly vested in enhancing deliberative processes and often called on to provide inputs from its principle-based consultation practices. The organization has “special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), as well as formal working relations with the World Health Organization (WHO)” (BIC UNO, 2006, p.1). Upon reflecting on the BIC UNO, its use of vertical networks, multi-stakeholder processes, and intercultural dialogue becomes apparent. However, its underlying success appears to hinge on a supplementary factor—spirituality.

Before delving into the discussion of the supplementary spiritual factor, it is crucial to verify how the other three channels are utilized in the organization. Through the comprehensive study of the interlocking agencies with the BIC UNO, how the organization efficiently utilizes horizontal and vertical networks through its interaction and cooperation with the UN and its specialized agencies becomes clear. As verified by BIC UNO (2006) , the association works “with governments, as well as with intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, seeking to promote and apply spiritual principles to the resolution of challenges facing humanity” (p.1). Furthermore, during the World Summit for Social Development, the BIC UNO, represented by Arturo (1995), publicly affirmed, “The development process must involve the generality of humankind, [including, but not limited to] members of governing institutions at all levels, persons serving in agencies of international coordination, scientists and social thinkers, all those endowed with artistic talents…and leaders of nongovernmental organizations” (p.2). The project Traditional Media as Change Agent, launched by the organization, is a notable case which demonstrates the BIC UNO’s use of all three channels: vertical networks, intercultural dialogue, and multi-stakeholder process.

As reported in the article, “The Greatness Which Might Be Theirs,” the Traditional Media as Change Agent was a joint project between the BIC UNO and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) launched in Cameroon, Bolivia, and Malaysia (BIC UNO, 1993, p.2). The program incorporated national governments, NGOs, and above all—local community members, to craft suitable projects which matched the specific needs of each culture. Furthermore, the project aimed to spur social and economic development by first uplifting the status of women through the use of traditional media (BIC UNO, p.1).

In Cameroon, for example, the locals chose to create simple plays that conveyed the importance of respecting women. The plays were culture-specific and crafted in seven different villages (BIC UNO, 1993, p.2). As explained by the BIC UNO report, one of the plays depicted a story of a peanut farmer who decided to hide his profits from his wife to splurge at a bar.. When their son fell ill, there was no money left for medicine. At the end of the play, the farmer resolved to consult with his wife before spending their profits (BIC UNO, p.1). In this way, the BIC UNO directly involved the local community to participate in the development projects geared towards them. By consulting with the Cameroonians, the BIC UNO allowed the stakeholders to decide on their prioritized medium (the skit format) and worked together to creatively draft a play, which corresponds with their culture. As reflected by UNIFEM and BIC UNO the “plays depicted situations that were familiar to the men and women there, striking a responsive chord (BIC UNO, p.1). At the end of the two-year mark from when the project was initiated, clear signs of success were documented. As the national coordinator of the project in Cameroon reported, a survey done before the project showed that among the 45 families in each of the 7 villages, “families indicated that men virtually made all of the financial decisions alone. A follow-up survey taken in the end illustrated more than 80 percent of the families now made such decisions in consultation between husband and wife” (BIC UNO, p.2). In this way, the report concludes “despite the simplicity of the theme, the unprofessional acting and the absence of costumes or sets, the play and others like it have nevertheless been big hits in the community” (BIC UNO, p.1).

The Traditional Media as Change Agent project illustrates how the multi-stakeholder process, intercultural dialogue, and vertical networks structure can subtly, yet effectively be incorporated in such grassroots development projects. As the BIC UNO (1993) recalled, the project sought to “involve the people directly in analyzing their own problems, by first training them in the use of modern analytic tools, like focus groups and community surveys, as well as in the principle-based consultation practices” (p.3). By providing the recipients of the aid projects with the skill sets to analyze their own problems and agency to propose ways to communicate the dilemma within their own group, the project served as a launching pad towards sustainable developments in respective cultures.

Although the implementation of intercultural dialogue, multi-stakeholder process, and vertical networks served as valuable tools toward formulating and disseminating a global ethic (such as equality of the sexes), a supplementary attribute stands out in the BIC UNO case—its spiritual dimension.

BIC-UNO: The ‘Spiritual Dimension

One of the distinguishing attributes of the BIC UNO is its spiritual approach to solving global issues. As the Universal House of Justice [UHJ] (1985), one of the main administrative bodies with which the BIC UNO coordinates, has posed,

“There are spiritual principles, or what some call human values, by which solutions can be found for every social problem…good intentions and practical knowledge are usually not enough. The essential merit of spiritual principle is that it not only presents a perspective which harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature, it also induces an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration.” (Universal House of Justice, p.8)

This transformation of attitude is a crucial condition the BIC UNO emphasizes.

The BIC UNO identifies an enlightened will that preceeds effective global engagement. Thus, prior to entering a deliberative forum to engage in intercultural dialogue, constructing vertical networks, or convening a multi-stakeholder process— BIC UNO advocates the virtue of a spiritually motivated will. In regards to the spiritual will/principle, the Universal House of Justice (1985) has clarified this to be the “unshakeable consciousness of the oneness of mankind” (p. 10). Through the acceptance of this spiritual principle, proposes the BIC UNO, the prospects of a universal ethic can flourish.

Acknowledgments and Counter-Arguments to Skepticism: A UNO BIC Perspective

As referenced in the earlier sections, much of the critique on global ethics originated from the convictions of cultural relativists and realist scholars. In response to such outlooks, the Baha’i International Community responds in a letter through the Universal House of Justice,

“Uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious.” (UHJ, 1985, p.2)

By redirecting the responsibility from human nature to the individual’s “paralysis of will” (UHJ, p.2), the BIC UNO instills more agency in individual participants to work towards a global ethic. Such a responsibility involves a spiritual rejuvenation, a transformation of attitude. Furthermore, the UHJ has observed,

All too many of these ideologies, alas, instead of embracing the concepts of the oneness of mankind and promoting the increase of concord among different peoples, have tended to deify the state, to subordinate the rest of mankind to one nation, race, or class, to attempt to suppress all discussion and interchange of ideas” (p. 2).

Without the enlightened will, there is no incentive for nations to genuinely engage in a deliberative forum to formulate collective values. As the UHJ further reiterated, “The paralysis of will…is rooted in a deep-seated conviction of the inevitable quarrelsomeness of mankind, which has led to reluctance to entertain the possibility of subordinating national self-interest to the requirements of world order” (p. 6). In this way, by countering the premise of irreconcilable cultural values and de-emphasizing the primacy of state interests, the BIC UNO adds vigor to the potentiality of a global ethic. Under the spiritual premise, the incentive to delve into a deliberative forum is heightened. Through the enlightened will, the focus for deliberation is no longer to push national/personal agendas, but to rather mutually benefit from the new, interactive dynamic.

Proponents of a New Outlook

This spiritual outlook, which recognizes mutual benefit, is foundational to solving global ills and social injustice that plagues the current world. For example, as Lila Watson, an Australian aboriginal activist once said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together.” This saying sharply portrays the demand for a transformation of attitudes, a call that resonates in the 21st century. As the BIC UNO expounds, the actualization of the spiritual principle—oneness of mankind—reorganizes conceptions of foreign aid and development initiatives in international relations. As Arturo (1995), shared during the World Summit for Social Development, “Development policy and programs must be based on an unconditioned recognition of the oneness of humankind” (p. 1). The UHJ (1985) proposes that through this new spiritual outlook, stakeholders and individuals recognize that “the advantage of the part in a world society is best served by promoting the advantage of the whole” (p. 7).

In this way, the BIC UNO case study shows a supplementary prerequisite for effective global governance and deliberation. Through its spiritually based outlook on world affairs, the BIC UNO strives to engage in issues such as development through an enlightened will to mutually benefit from international cooperation.


In the present analysis, the recurring theme reveals a need for a global ethic, and the conditions under which a universal value could be formulated. Intercultural dialogue, multi-stakeholder processes, and vertical networks are conditions that are fundamental to building a global ethic that invigorates both transnational and national entities to work together through the politic of empathy, rather than coercion.

Through the case study of the BIC UNO however, the supplementary factor of spirituality plays a crucial role. Through the recognition of a spiritual principle, “oneness of mankind,” the organization proposes how the enlightened will is formed and the politics of empathy are triggered. Such empathy is identified as the primary fuel which elicits a willingness in all parties—whether recipient or benefactor, national or supranational—to engage in acts of deliberation and partake in the forum of global governance.

Overall, to revisit the question—What are the primary conditions under which actors can effectively engage in global governance and deliberation? —the answer lies in the spiritual will of each individual. Indeed, intercultural dialogue, multi-stakeholder processes, and vertical networks help make the forums more practical; however, such conditions do not complete the solution. The efficacy of global governance and deliberation hinges on the ethos of the participants. The ethos may be suitably guided by a spiritual enlightenment, that complements the conditions for a global ethic.


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