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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 39, New Delhi, September 19, 2015

Valuable Contribution to a Multilateral World Order

Sunday 20 September 2015


by Vijay Kumar

Force or Dialogue : Conflicting Paradigms of World Order by Hans Kochler with a Foreword by Fred Dallmayr—Collected Papers edited by David Armstrong; 2015; Manak Publications, Delhi; pages 401, Price: Rs 2500.

The book under review represents an assiduous effort on the part of Professor Hans Kochler, one of the most distinguished scholars/ practitioners of international law and philo-sophy, to interrogate the growing contradictions between normative and ground reality in the unipolar and globalised world order.

The book comprises of twentyfour articles which, in turn, have been compartmentalised in three parts. Part one, consisting of twelve articles divided into three sections, deals with the contradictions in the contemporary constellation of the global power structure. Part two, divided into two sections, contains four articles, deliberates culture from the prism of philosophy, and lays emphasis on inter-cultural dialogue. The last part, encompassing four articles, touches topics as diverse as economy, media, particularly social media, education and the role of religion in interrogating the prevailing economic order.

The role of intellectuals/philosophers and contours of the book under review are delineated by the author in his language:

Realism in the robes of idealism has always been the global powers’ self-serving doctrine. Pholo-sophy, however, should be more honest, and contrast the real with the ideal. ‘Without fear of empire’ the philosopher should uphold the idealistic vision of an alternative world order that is rooted not in the supremacy of the ‘national interest’, but in the universality of human rights as the jus cogens of general international law.”

The broad theme of the book, particularly of part one, marks the continuity and consistency with the earlier collection of articles in the author’s last book, World Order : Vision and Reality (2009), reviewed by the present reviewer in Mainstream (Vol. XLVIII), No. 25, dated June 12, 2010).

Prof Kochler starts with the unipolar nature of the current constellation of power structure entrenched by the forces of neo-liberalism. The author feels that bipolarity only in military terms ended in the wake of the collapse of communism and consequential dismantling of the USSR, but the new kind of bipolarity in the form of what is characterised by Samuel Huntington as ‘clash of civilisations’ has emerged. The resultant ‘war on terror’, unleashed by the Western power bloc, is fuelling the clash of civilisations. The author notes with concern the Veto power in the Security Council that subordinates the normative to the factual resulting in ‘legal equality’ and ‘factual inequality’ among the members of the United Nations and characterises this by using the German political terminology ‘souveranitat-sanarchie’ (state of anarchy).

Professor Kochler, however, concludes his analysis of the unilateral hegemonic world order on a sanguine note by quoting and sharing the perception of the British historian, Paul Kennedy, that in all epochs the imperial hubris induces the imperial power to over-stretch itself, and this triggers its downfall. The Afghanistan war, two Iraq wars, Middle-East crisis coupled with the economic crisis of 2008-2009, from which the First World has not recovered yet, feels the author, have exacerbated the resources of the sole hege-monic power, and the resultant over-stretch may lead to the erosion of the unilateral world order and thus pave the way for multi-lateralism. The author argues for creation, in the interregnum, of regional bodies and in this context, refers to the development of the formation of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). To this list, the recently set up AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) in China could also be counted and the large numbers of states, including some of the allies of the ‘superpower of the moment’ subscribing to its membership, could result in neutralising the hegemony of the IMF and World Bank.

For structured evaluation of the book, the review of the last part, before undertaking the survey of the second part, would be in order. In the last part, the author has dealt with the impact of the newly emerged social media, and has rightly concluded that the said media has degenerated into a tool for propaganda. The social media, argues the author, has obliterated the vital distinction between the ‘method’ and ‘contents’, and has miserably failed to foster the philosophy of dialogue because dialogue presupposes personal interaction and delibe-ration. The element of dialogue is conspicuous by its absence in the social media and, on the contrary, there is a predominance of emotion. This has resulted in the social media degenerating into the ‘anarchy of self-expression’.

Prof Kochler has also discussed the neo-liberal economy, characterised by under-regulation, in the last part. The author argues that neo-liberalism excludes not only ‘geography’ but also ‘morality’, and has resulted in what he characterises as ‘casino capitalism’. The motto ‘no morality and contingent reality’ seems to have become the logic and para-logic of globalisation. In this context, the author refers to the ‘Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order’, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its sixth session on May 1, 1974. The said Declaration emphasised on sovereign equality of the member-states and laid down principles of a ‘just economic order’ by demanding “full and effective participation on the basis of equality of all countries in the solving of world economic problems in the common interests of all countries”. But the UN’s initiative for a new international economic order took an opposite trajectory after effective rejection of the same by the industrialised countries at the summit of twentytwo world leaders in Cancun, Mexico in October 1981 under the stewardship of the then US President, Ronald Reagan.

The author, in the second part, has emphasised on the paramount need for inter-cultural dialogue through what he terms as ‘dialectic of cultural dialogue’ by indulging in the exercise of ‘cultural self-comprehension’. The dialogue among the different cultures and civilisations, according to the author, is the only antidote to the pernicious doctrine of clash of civilisations sustained through the war on terror. The prescription of the philosophy of dialogue by the author is anchored in the twin foundations of ‘tolerance’ and ‘mutual respect’. The author looks upon civilisation in a universal world view and treats culture as a sub-category of civilisation. The politics of dialogue, according to the author, must rest on three fundamental maxims: (1) dialogue without addressing the issue of social justice is meaningless; (2) dialogue without a commitment to peace is a contradiction in itself; and (3) one cannot preach cultural dialogue internationally and reject the very notion of multiculturalism domestically. In fact, the ‘IPO’ (International Progress Organisation), set up by Prof Kochler way back in 1972 at Vienna, has pioneered the practice of inter-cultural dialogue and held consultations with academics, politicians, diplomats, community leaders, NGO representatives and journalists in 28 cities in 26 countries on all the five continents resulting in conferment of the consultative status on it by the Executive Board of the UNESCO.

Given the imperative of inter-cultural dialo-gues, the importance of humanities and religion cannot be ignored. Humanities, in contrast to technical and professional educations aimed solely to acquire skills, open the frontier of the other world. The author relies on the pres-cription of ‘lifelong integrated education’ advo-cated by the renowned Japanese educationist Yoschiko Nomura, in his My Vision for LifelongIntegrated Education. The author further shares the perception of the African scholar, Akpovire Oduaran, that ‘lifelong learning is one of the indispensable assets’. The role of humanities in fostering inter-civilisational dialogue, in the opinion of author, can further be complemented by the sublime aspect of religion. Both humani-ties and religion in its spiritual dimension strive to envision transcendental life and ethical considerations.

The real tour de force of the book, in my view, is the powerful defence of humanities in a globalised world in Chapter 20 by the author. He starts with the concept of a university which originally meant ‘the unity of knowledge’ (universitas litterarum). The author feels that skill is necessary for providing jobs, but mere acquisition of knowledge reflects only the instrumental role of human capital. The author also argues that humanities transcend a narrow pragmatic world view towards a comprehensive ‘hermeneutics of life’, and thus should not be abandoned under the ‘pressure of the moment’. Humanities enable to indulge in an exercise of introspection, and thus transcend the ‘awareness of the moment’. The weight of the argument of the author on the significance of humanities could graphically be captured in his own language:

“The humanities open up different horizons of world experience in distinct historical and social constellations, and enable each civilisation to build on those experiences in man’s quest for the universal ontological horizon (‘Being as such’) within which he can properly define, and understand, the condition humana. This is, in fact, the lasting contribution of the humanities to the spiritual development of mankind. They are more than just an ephemeral form of collective self-reflection.”

Humanities are value-loaded, whereas science and technical education are value-neutral. It is value-orientation that opens the possibility of multiple interpretations leading to plurality of truths in humanities and literatures. Here, the definition of education by Umberto Eco, one of the tallest litterateurs and linguistic theorists, becomes relevant. Eco quotes the Greek word ‘Paideia’  and argues that “education is not just the transmission of knowledge; it is ensemble of social technique through which young men are initiated into adult life after an ideal education”.

 Conceptual clarity and thematic integrity are the hallmark of Prof Kochler in all his works and the book under review is no exception. However, in respect of some of his prescriptions, a few caveats would be in order. The author advocates ‘weighted voting’ in the UN General Assembly on the basis of population rather than state. To my mind, this is impractical, and may end up by putting undeserved premium on demographic dividends of populous states like the South Asian countries and China. Here, the contradictions inherent in the suggestion of ‘weighted voting’ come to the fore, in the context of China, inasmuch as China is one of P-5 members of the Security Council, and her power would be further entrenched by more voting powers, even in the General Assembly, on the basis of population and this would be inequitous for small states with scarce population. In the Indian context, I have argued that each State should have equal numbers of representation in the Council of States (Upper House known as the Rajya Sabha) regardless of the population a la the US Senate. At any rate, ‘weighted formula’, based on the population, runs counter to the foundational principle of sovereign equality embodied in the UN Charter.

My second reservation on the prescription of Prof Kochler pertains to the role of religion in fostering inter-cultural dialogue and countering the logic and para-logic of neo-liberalism. I have written elsewhere, in the context of the Lokayukta (Ombudsman) debate in India, that legislation is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to curb corruption. Since materia-lism and consumerism, driven by the forces of globalisation, are at their peak, the menace of corruption cannot be fought by law alone. Notwithstanding this position taken by me, I feel that religion, at least in its existential state, cannot interrogate materialism, consumerism, and other ill-effects of neo-liberalism. Without denying the significance of the trans-cendental power of religion, I feel that religion, at least in its ritualistic sense, tends to de-radicalise the political discourse and, in this sense, there is a structural linkage between religion and forces of neo-liberalism.

The 24 articles, in the span of five years (2009-2014), speak volumes of the fecundity of Prof Kochler. He has been one of the most passionate advocacies for multilateralism. The editing of the articles has been done brilliantly by David Armstrong. The book under review is an extremely valuable contribution to a peace-ful, just and multilateral world order.

The reviewer is an Advocate of the Supreme Court.