This past week in a conference on "the Human Being", the introductory talk pointed out the crisis in our postmodern world of finding a universal understanding of how law, power and ethics interface. The question is not merely an academic one, but one profoundly, practical in our dangerous and fragmented world.
I understand some are forging the discussion around "tradition", as tradition is the arena of culture. Is the Eastern and Western split ever to be resolved? And can it be resolved by reference to tradition, where it is just a matter of a "way of life", language, text and understanding? If so, then, it presupposes that tradition's "social structures" are the necessary task to address.
While most would agree that this aspect of universiality is important, is it the "most important" or is it "a priori "to the reason of the individual, like we would find in a democracy? Equal justice under the law is what our democracy is about. Isn't our democracy what human rights is about? And wouldn't human rights affirm the individual and the individual's desire for freedom and justice within their own personal value system, as long as the value system was "lawful"? Is affirming personal values too expensive for the "sake of the common good" and traditional values? I don't believe this has been the case in many of the issues facing "mankind". Americans have seen and experienced the "crisis" of slavery, and women's rights. All of these "changes" have been "progressive" in "traditional terms". So, is there no "progress", but only a circularity of the rise and fall of empires and cultures based on undermining tradition's values and tradition's "god"?
Tradition's values are important to understand, as far as a culture's values, but, is affirming "freedom and justice" for the individual or group too costly for a culture? Does it innately undermine culture's very foundations? If so, on what foundation can we argue that culture is based? Is culture based on "god" or reason? If on "god", whose god? The transcendence of God presupposes agnosticism, which is an untenuable way of struturing or forming government. If culture is based on reason, then it is inevitably going to be conflictual in nature, for different cultures have different values. And these values are represented by the laws that define that culture. Is it "God" or "man" that should be the ultimate and define the laws of a particular culture?
The question will be answered differently depending on how one approaches the problem and what presuppositions one has and how one resolves the dilemmas. If one approaches the problem with "Law", there will never be "unity", for one will have to define what basis the law is known or understood and then how the law will be implemented, which is the domain of nation states, values, and ethics. And Law and Power can never be the resolution of the problem in ethics for it demeans the very process, in circumventing justice (this is why our "balance of power" was a brillant idea).
While ethics cannot be resolved through absolutized power or law, neither will we find a universalized ethic when it comes to values, because there will always be "conflict and disagreement" about the goals and purposes of value. Is human life more valuable than "god"? Is it justified to "take a life" in the name of "god" and if so, on what basis? Is human dignity a universal value?
These questions are not about academic question of law, power and ethics, but is the very substance of "world politics", nation states, cultural identity, and human rights of the individual. and groups....And our very democracy! How we understand and address them will determine the future of our globalized world.