Globalisation of Insecurity and the Dialogue of Civilisations

Joseph Camilleri
A paper by Joseph Camilleri, Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, Melbourne(Australia), presented at Fourth Rhodes Forum Session, September 2006

The global condition is one of heightened vulnerability. National boundaries are increasingly porous. States are finding it harder and harder to run their economies and defend their borders. As the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Bali, Madrid and London have demonstrated, wealth, power and nuclear arsenals offer little guarantee of protection.

The word global is now a cliché. So are such terms as global village, global economy and global culture. We are often told that we live in an era of globalisation. In the words of Roland Robertson, the world is fast becoming a single place (1992). Others speak of an emerging global consciousness. Globalisation has become a subject of discussion among corporate managers, scholars, policy-makers and citizens alike. Yet, there is no consensus on its meaning, its origins, or even its long-term implications.

Globalisation is in some ways as old as capitalism itself, yet it points to a new historical phase (Higgott and Payne, 2000). The contemporary world is one in which a number of seemingly distinct processes are occurring more or less simultaneously, and acquiring a global reach, often in highly interconnected fashion.

In a rapidly globalising world high consequence risks (Beck, 1992) have become integral to the functioning of society. The global condition is one of heightened vulnerability as much for states as for groups and individuals. One need only think of the effects of financial crises, nuclear accidents, oil spills, ozone depletion, global warming, or terrorist attacks. If there is one characteristic that distinguishes contemporary life it is the globalisation of insecurity.

If this reading of events is at all accurate, then a number of difficult questions suggest themselves: What challenges does the globalisation of insecurity pose for political theory and practice, for the way societies organize themselves, for the way people participate in society and in the decisions that vitally affect their future. What are appropriate ethical and institutional responses? And what of the role of the world’s great civilisations? Before turning to these questions, it may be useful to probe a little more deeply into the dynamic of globalisation.


Contemporary social change is global in character. The last three centuries are perhaps best described in terms of the closely interconnected transformations associated with secularisation, industrialisation, urbanisation, the geographical extension of market relations, and, paradoxically enough, nationalism and bureaucratisation. All these trends have now assumed global dimensions.

 In what sense is social change global? First and most obviously in the space it occupies. Boundaries, whether underpinned by law, culture, or physical force, have not withstood the tidal flow of change. National and other boundaries may persist, but territorially based authority has become increasingly problematic (Prakash and Hart 1999, p. 172). Indeed, globalisation is best understood as a codeword for the internationalisation or even transnationalisation of economic practice (technical innovation, production, trade, finance), security practice (understood in its hard or conventional sense as military or physical security), and cultural practice (understood primarily as transnational flows of people, ideas, images and messages).

Second, social change is global by virtue of the norms or principles (e.g. free trade, comparative advantage, modernization, economic growth, universal human rights, global commons, collective security, humanitarian intervention) that states and non-state actors invoke to explain or justify their conduct. Third, the function of social change has been to create a global architecture of power, in which production, distribution, and communication are increasingly structured by international networks and strategies. Fourth, many of the agents of social change, including transnational corporations, professional associations, and social movements have developed objectives, structures, policies, and patterns of socialisation that are international in scope and ethos. This is now true of terrorist networks as it is of environmental organisations.

Though diverse actors are now integral to a rapidly globalising world, the transnational corporation (TNC) continues to play the most conspicuous role. By 1998, close to 70 percent of global trade was controlled by just 500 TNCs, one-fifth of all foreign-owned assets in the world were in the hands of 100 TNCS, while a mere one percent of TNCs accounted for half of the total foreign direct investment (FDI) in the world. Of the 100 largest economic actors in the world, only half were states; the rest were TNCS. UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2000 estimated that the number of TNCs in 1999 had risen to 63,000 parent firms with approximately 690,000 foreign affiliates. Though the huge global conglomerates are comparable in scale to national economies, most TNCs are much smaller, concentrating on one or two production lines or a small cluster of related products.

Notwithstanding the diversity of transnational economic actors, two generalisations are possible. First, the transnationalisation of business is accompanied and sustained by the technological revolution, especially in transportation and communication. Freed by technology from territorial constraints, capital moves to those places wherever wage levels, rents, taxes, and government regulations and incentives offer the prospect of higher profits.

Secondly, within the global architecture of power and wealth the decisions of governments and inter-governmental organisations are increasingly reliant on the resources, expertise, ideas and strategic preferences of corporations, and on the think-tanks, forums and media outlets, which they control. A striking example of this trend is the rising influence of the World Economic Forum and its regional affiliates, which regularly bring together senior figures of the corporate world, political leaders and a sprinkling of international civil servants, economists and other experts.


States, even relatively powerful ones, seem less and less able to perform the various functions on which their legitimacy ultimately depends, namely physical security and economic well-being for their citizens. As a consequence, states have, since 1945 and particularly since the early 1970s, found it necessary to shed at least partial functions to a range of subnational, supranational, international, and transnational organisations. Nowhere is the contemporary predicament of the state more strikingly evident than in the areas of financial and environmental policy. The predicament becomes acute in circumstances where the state confronts ecological disorders that have their origins outside its domain (e.g. transboundary pollution); or where it is compelled to navigate powerful economic forces over which it has at best limited control (e.g. developing states beset by high and rising levels of foreign debt).

Environmental degradation in its various forms, the overt and covert proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of the materials used in their manufacture, the licit and illicit international arms trade, the increasingly dangerous spread of light weapons, drug trafficking, piracy, large and often unforeseen population movements, including refugees, internally displaced people, guest workers and legal and illegal immigrants, all these are an integral part of the emerging macropolitical agenda (Camilleri and Falk, 1992: 148-151). They have one common characteristic: they all in different ways and to different degrees exceed the institutional capacities and resources of states. They call into question the usefulness of traditional notions of national interest and national security when dealing with the globalisation of insecurity.

The picture painted here is well known and the subject of extensive documentation (Dent and Peters, 199; Bello, 1999, Chossudovsky, 1997, Oxfam, 1995). Economic insecurity is the condition of a very large fraction of humanity. Such insecurity, however, is not confined to the so-called least developed economies. As the financial crises that have afflicted Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand during the 1990s graphically illustrate, transitional, industrialising, and even industrialised economies can fall victim to the ravages of financial volatility. The high levels of capital flows to South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand during the first half of the 1990s (estimated at $93 billion in 1996) were reversed almost overnight: an inflow of $96 billion in 1996 was followed by an outflow of $12 billion in 1997. The reversal of short-term capital flows was followed by a succession of bankruptcies and business closures, widespread shedding of jobs, sharp falls in real wages, and drastic cuts in health and education budgets.

Economic insecurity is in most countries inseparable from social insecurity. Its most obvious manifestations include job and income insecurity, including the casualisation of labour, the dismantling or curtailing of welfare provisions, the failure of the health system to deliver essential medical services and supplies, the inability to adopt effective preventive strategies to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic (almost 6 million new infections in 1998). The cumulative effect of these pressures on everyday life is to reduce life prospects and opportunities not only in a material sense, but just as importantly to stunt the development of human energies, intellectual creativity, and emotional fulfilment. Before long the insecurity assumes a cultural dimension.

Indigenous cultures become stifled as they are increasingly deprived of the material and social conditions necessary for self-expression. All the more so as one of the dominant features of a rapidly globalising world has been the sustained one-way flow of images, symbols, and cultural practices from the hegemonic centre (the rich West, especially the United States) to the periphery (the vast majority of societies in Asia, Africa and Latin America). Global media networks and communications technologies have become the conduit for the transmission of imported tastes, fashions, and standards encompassing every facet of everyday life. The intrusiveness of Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonald’s and Hollywood is but the outward expression of a much deeper cultural malaise and insecurity that afflicts economically and technologically dependent societies.

There are, of course, other dimensions to insecurity. We need only think of the fears and anxieties that are the inevitable by-product of the illicit trade in drugs, women, weapons and laundered money. The deregulation of capital markets, advances in information and communications technology, and cheaper transport have to varying degrees stimulated or given added momentum to the traffic in women and girls for sexual exploitation, people smuggling in its various guises, and the trade in light weapons. Transnationally organised networks sustain rising levels of criminal and pathological behaviour which enmesh not only its primary victims but ever expanding layers of society, including highly placed elements in government, police and the judiciary.

Closely related to all these forms of insecurity are the tensions and rivalries, which set one community against another. Personal, social and economic insecurity sets the stage for political polarisation, based on race, ethnicity or religion. It is worth noting that of the 61 major armed conflicts between 1989 and 1998, 58 were intra-state conflicts. The phenomenon, sometimes inappropriately referred to as >failed= or >collapsed= states, points precisely to the generalised state of personal insecurity and the inability of fragile local and national institutions to cope with the ensuing pressures. The much greater frequency and scope of UN and other forms of multilateral intervention in intra-state conflicts are the inescapable consequence of this trend.

Insecurity in its various dimensions is not the preserve of the South. Industrial restructuring and financial deregulation have resulted in severe social and economic dislocation in many parts of the North. Responding to the pressures of global competition, governments and corporations have pressed for the deregulation of the system of industrial relations, including more flexible employment policies that have translated into less secure jobs, substantial retrenchments, and a relaxation of occupational health and safety standards.

Despite sustained attempts by European governments and the European Union to maintain acceptable levels of economic growth, unemployment in Europe stands at 35 million. It is hardly surprising that in times of social and economic anxiety, and in the face of rising numbers of guest workers, refugees and asylum seekers, racism and xenophobia should become increasingly visible in the streets and politics of many European countries. If to this we add the mounting fears of environmental degradation, terrorist attack, and the losing battle against rising levels of drug abuse, the heightened and seemingly pervasive experience of individual and collective anxiety becomes readily understandable.

We may safely conclude that human insecurity is deeply troubling, not in the sense that it is a novel phenomenon but that it poses a normative and institutional challenge of critical proportions. As a submission to the UN's Independent Commission On Human Security so aptly put it:

The insecurity generated by the globalisation of the political economy has two sides, it is increasing the demand for security and decreasing the availability of supply in the public goods indispensable for the satisfaction of human needs, indispensable for their basic security (Open Letter forwarded in September 2001 by Professor Kinhide Mushakoji on behalf of 40 leading international scholars).

The emphasis here on insecurity is deliberate, for it reminds us that security is primarily not a physical condition but a state of mind. That is precisely the nature of the terrorist threat. The terrorist has succeeded well before he strikes, if his past actions and utterances have managed to produce fear, panic, and a combination of counter-terrorist measures that are at best costly, and at worst likely to prolong the current state of uncertainty. What is critical to security is the maintenance of a social order, which is convivial and predictable enough to inspire confidence in the future.


Globalisation, as we have noted, is an elusive, confusing and contradictory phenomenon. With the collapse of communism no credible alternative to global capitalism is in sight. There is as of now no international agency or political movement that can exercise effective leadership in interpreting, much less guiding, economic and political change. There is no simple or single solution to this predicament.

In response to the uncertainties and complexities of the present conjuncture, numerous ideas and initiatives have been proposed since the end of the Cold War as an ethical and political compass for the journey ahead. Particularly useful in this regard are the concepts of human security and democratic governance. Human security rightly draws attention to the diverse sources of insecurity and to the need to devise responses that can help to construct and sustain a >legitimated world order=, one which sufficiently resonates with the deeper needs and aspirations of its members to inspire confidence in the future. This approach has enormous practical relevance as much for the international community as for local and national communities. At the same time, in a rapidly globalising world, it will be increasingly necessary but also feasible to democratise the institutions and mechanisms which will make vitally important decisions about the future. This is why the reform of institutions has become such a critical issue – institutions at all levels: local, provincial, national, regional and global. In this context, the rather limited achievements of the recent UN summit was bound to be a source of widespread disappointment.

But if we are to develop a much more encompassing and integrated approach to the multiple sources of human insecurity, and if we are to build institutions that citizens can trust and in which their voices can be heard, what intellectual and cultural resources can we call upon as we approach these daunting tasks? It is here that the dialogue of civilisations may have a great deal to offer. It may in fact hold an important key to the future.

Dialogue across cultural and religious boundaries is not, of course, a new idea. It is now well over a century since the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago, brought together representatives of eastern and western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the occasion that formally launched inter-religious dialogue in the modern period. The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR), which officially dates from 1988, was established as a centennial celebration of the 1893 Parliament. The 1993 Parliament adopted Towards a Global Ethic: an Initial Declaration, a powerful statement of the ethical common ground shared by the world’s religious and spiritual traditions.

The dialogical agenda has since gained considerable momentum with several national and international centres making civilisational dialogue a focal point of research, education and advocacy. These include the Institute for Interreligious, Intercultural Dialogue, the International Interfaith Centre (Oxford), the Global Dialogue Institute, the International Movement for a Just World (Kuala Lumpur), the International Centre for Dialogue among Civilisations (Tehran, the Centre for World Dialogue (Nicosia), and the Toda Institute for Global Policy and Peace Research (Honolulu and Tokyo). Other important institutional developments have included the establishment of the World Council of Religious Leaders and the World Conference of Religions for Peace. More recently, the UN General Assembly adopted in November 1998 a resolution proclaiming the year 2001 as the Year of dialogue among Civilizations. In November of that year, the General Assembly adopted the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilisations, which has in turn given rise to a great many governmental and non-governmental initiatives.

Most recently, the Spanish Prime Minister launched the idea of an ‘Alliance of Civilisations”. The proposal launched in partnership with the Turkish Government has now been endorsed by the UN. Any such initiative is to be welcomed, to the extent that it advances the idea of dialogue. However, several considerations, as we shall see, need to be kept in mind:

The impression, perhaps wrongly, has been created in some quarters that the ‘Alliance’ initiative is designed as a response to the problem of terrorism. There is much more to the dialogue of civilisations than the issue of terrorism. Important as terrorism may be, it is but one of the symptoms of the present crisis of insecurity – and the treatment of causes is at least as urgent as the treatment of symptoms.

Some actors, at least, may see in the ‘Alliance’ proposal an opportunity to promote their particular counter-terrorist strategies. It will be necessary for this worthy initiative not to be derailed in this way.

The word ‘Alliance’, sincerely intended though it is, may itself be an unfortunate choice. Alliance is a word that we normally associate with military threats, certainly with enemies. Alliances are formed to counter a common enemy. In these perilous times, it may have been more appropriate to speak the language of peace than the language of war.

However, the ‘Alliance’ project unfolds – it is pleasing to see that at least some of the most eloquent and active exponents of the dialogue of civilisations are among those invited to join the UN Secretary-General High-Level Group – it will be critically important that the philosophy and practice of dialogue be sustained and strengthened in the years ahead.

The Alliance initiative envisages in its terms of reference a number of useful areas of inquiry and advocacy, but is insufficiently directed to the comprehensiveness of the global crisis of insecurity.

Let me, then, develop in greater depth what I believe to be the holistic contribution of the dialogue of civilisations, and which I hope will be central to the WPF initiative. First what is envisaged is a prolonged and dynamic interaction between cultures, aimed at promoting an approach to world order which can grapple with the globalisation of insecurity and the divisions which it mirrors and reinforces.. In such interaction all traditions, not least the Islamic, Hindu and Confucian worlds, must be accorded full respect. They must be accepted as major poles of cultural and geopolitical dialogue. Such a project needs to appreciate the specificity of each culture, while contributing to an evolutionary process that builds on commonality but more importantly strives for synthesis.

For all their differences, these axial traditions share a sense of the dignity of human life, a commitment to human fulfilment, and a concern for standards of ‘rightness’ in human conduct (Muzaffar 1999, 25–31). Common to all of them is the notion of humane and legitimate governance, although the criteria used to measure of legitimacy may vary considerably from one tradition to another. There is, one may reasonably conclude, sufficient common ground between these religious and ethical world-views to make possible an on-going conversation about human ethics in general, and political ethics in particular (Friedman 1999, 32–55).

Needless to say, each of the civilisational currents and cultural formations has its own unique features, but such differences need not be inimical to normative discourse either within or between the major civilisational traditions. All of the world’s major religious and ethical traditions (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Confucianism and secular humanism) have in any case experienced over time a multiplicity of influences, both indigenous an external. In many societies they have furiously interacted with each other and have in the process contributed to the slow but steady transformation of norms and expectations. The emerging inter-civilisational dialogue may benefit as much from difference as from commonality.

The contribution, then, of civilisational dialogue to the contemporary crisis must by definition be multi-faceted. Six dimensions merit special attention.

Dialogue can provide a richer and more varied conception of political community and humane governance by establishing a closer connection between human rights and the range of human needs, not least those of the disadvantaged (hence the emphasis on social and economic justice).

It can offer a more holistic understanding of the human condition by establishing a closer connection between rights and responsibilities and between the individual and the community.

It can help to situate human rights within a larger social context so that their application is not confined to individuals as disaggregated atoms but as members of larger collectivities, and of the international community as a whole, hence the emphasis on the rights of peoples B not only the right to self-determination but the right to a healthy environment, the right to peace, the right to food security, the right to share in the common heritage of humanity.

The fourth dimensions flows from the preceding three but has an importance of its own. Dialogue cannot be based on domination or notions of superiority. We in the West cannot approach the task of dialogue with the presumption that the West enjoys a monopoly on the definition of human needs and good governance. The Western liberal model B and the particular view of progress on which it rests B cannot apply universally across time and space. Human rights and governance standards may be universal in scope at any one time, but how these standards are defined and applied is likely to change over time.

In dialogue the emphasis must be on respectful communication and interaction. The development of a world society must proceed by way of negotiation and involve all of the parties concerned.

In many ways our challenge is to practise a dialogue that appreciates and celebrates the diversity of our civilisational inheritance. Indeed, one of the valuable spin-offs of such a dialogue is that it forces the participants to hold their respective traditions up to critical examination, to rediscover the fundamental ethical impulse which sustains that tradition and to consider ways of adapting it to the new circumstances of our epoch. Civilisational dialogue works best when it fosters a profound soul-searching within as much as between civilisations.

To put it simply, inter-religious and intercultural dialogue can help articulate a new internationalism that goes beyond mere economic or technological interdependence, and subjects economic and political orthodoxy to ethical scrutiny.


But how are we to approach the dialogue of civilisations? How are we to apply dialogical principles in the present geopolitical and geocultural context? Here, it may be helpful to draw attention to two influential voices which have in different but converging ways helped to place the dialogue of civilisations on the intellectual and political map. They have much to tell us about the way forward.

The first is Mohammad Khatami, the fifth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a religious scholar steeped in the study of philosophy.

For Khatami, dialogue is the common search for truth. Dialogue cannot therefore obscure or evade the differences that separate its participants, which is why for him the act is one in which listening is at least as important as speaking. Dialogue is the encounter across cultural, religious, philosophical, ethical, civilisational boundaries, in which each participant listens to the other, becomes open, even vulnerable to the other. In this sense, dialogue engages the participant in a journey of self discovery:

It is only through immersion in another existential dimension that we could attain mediated and acquired knowledge of ourselves in addition to the immediate and direct knowledge of ourselves that we commonly possess. Through seeing others we attain a hitherto impossible knowledge of ourselves. Dialogue among cultures and civilisations, rests upon rational and ethically normative commitment of parties to the dialogue. [It] is a bi-lateral or even multi-lateral process in which the end result is not manifest from the beginning (Khatami 2000).

What, then, are dialogue’s normative foundations? The recurring themes in Khatami’s numerous speeches on the subject suggest the following key elements: a) the dignity of human being – made possible only through will to empathy and compassion – as the measure of world order; b) the refusal of politics without morality; c) the notion that ideas and values, embedded in cultures and civilisations, are an important determinant of political behaviour; d) the sense that intellectuals, poets, artists, scientists and mystics, precisely because they have the capacity and authority to articulate the large questions of human existence, have a unique role in civilisation dialogue. Many questions remain unanswered: Who participates in this dialogue? What are the modalities of dialogue? What is to be the role of states and governments in the dialogical process?

There is nevertheless one idea, central to Khatami’s conception of dialogue, which merits attention. In his celebrated 1999 speech at the University of Florence, he offered the following juxtaposition of East and West:

Orient, which even in an etymological sense signifies the process of imparting direction and order to things, can beckon Europe and America to equilibrium, serenity and reflection in the context of an historical dialogue. If deeply understood in their Eastern connotations, equilibrium and serenity lie beyond both the Dionysian and Apollonian extremes of western culture. The age of reason is an Apollonian age while romanticism is the opposite pull on the swing of the same pendulum (Kahatami 1999).

Khatami’s exposition takes us back to the question of what is to be the discursive framework that guides the post-Cold War era. For Khatami dialogue among civilisations is designed specifically to address the fault line that separates Orient and Occident, a fault line that has a long history, of which the present difficulties between Islam and the West are but the most recent, perhaps geopolitically most troublesome manifestation.

Another influential voice that merits attention is that of Tu Weiming, perhaps the foremost Confucian thinker of our time. Born in February 1940 in Kunming, China, he grew up and was educated in Taiwan (PRC) and is now Professor of Chinese History and Philosophy and of Confucian Studies at Harvard University (Tu Weiming 1985a, 1985b, 1999, 1996).

A recurring theme of Tu Weiming’s intellectual contribution is the modern transformation of Confucian humanism. Confucian values, he argues, remain highly relevant to modernity and are evident in contemporary social practices, at least as principles of societal organisation. These include: a) the role of the state in the management of the market; b) social civility as the key to civilised mode of conduct (law is useful but not enough); c) the family as the foundation stone of social civility; d) civil society as the indispensable nexus between family and state; e) education as the key to civil society; f) self-cultivation understood as both goal and process.

Confucian societies retain many of these values even as they embrace the fierce competitiveness of the West. The reason is not hard to fathom: modernisation and modernity are shaped by cultural forms rooted in tradition:

Traditions in Modernity are not merely historical sedimentation passively deposited in modern consciousness.   Nor are they simply inhibiting features to be undermined by the unilinear trajectory of development – on the contrary they are both constraining and enabling forces capable of shaping the particular contour of modernity in any given society (Tu Weiming 1999).

For Tu Weiming, these traditions constitute the critical elements of sustainable dialogue.

What can Confucianism bring to such a dialogue? Here is where Tu Weiming is at his most illuminating. He draws attention to what he calls the ‘ecological turn’ of neo-Confucian thought, and in particular to the contribution of three modern Confucian thinkers. Qian Mu (1895-1990), Tang Junyi (1909-1978) and Feng Youlan (1895-1990) based in Hong Kong, Taiwan (PRC) and China respectively. In their critique of the enlightenment and the discourse of modernity, they take us, he contends, beyond aggressive anthropocentrism and instrumental rationality, and pave the way for an inclusive cosmological and humanist vision that transcends the either/or mode of thinking in favour of a non-dualistic understanding of the continuity of heaven, earth and humanity.

The theme is a highly instructive one, for it offers another path to East-West dialogue. Placed in this context, it is not hard to see why Tu Weiming sees the long-term stability of the Sino-American relationship as likely to depend on China widening the frame of reference offered by its own civilisation. For its part, the United States which has hitherto functioned principally as a teaching civilisation may have to acquire more of the qualities of a learning culture. Put simply, Tu Weiming suggests that we may be entering a ‘second axial period’ in which all the major religious and ethical traditions that arose during the ‘first axial period’ are undergoing their own distinctive transformations in response to the multiple challenges of modernity. It is possible that such reassessment will make possible, through a process of mutual learning an ‘anthropocosmic’ worldview where the human is embedded in the cosmic order. This period of transition is the ‘dialogical moment’, the beginning of a new history that is simultaneously global and plural. Such a moment, Tu Weiming tells us, can flourish when ‘the politics of domination is being replaced by the politics of communication, networking, negotiation, interaction, interfacing and collaboration’ (Tu Weiming 2001).

Despite the vastly different cultural and ideological backgrounds from which they spring, influential voices have emerged calling for a distinctive approach to world order, sharply at variance with western triumphalism or imperial discourse. This approach lends itself to the following propositions:

  • Dialogue, that is encounter with the other, is the path to self-discovery and is therefore a profoundly transformative process;
  • Dialogue can proceed only with the renewal of tradition against the backdrop of modernity;
  • The dialogue of civilisations proposes first and foremost the dialogical encounter between East and West;
  • Such encounter will involve a new synthesis constituted of both differences and commonalities;
  • The dialogue of civilisations offers a particularly promising cultural underpinning for a new conception of global citizenship and governance;
  • The encounter of civilisational insights should inform and even guide the political processes of states, but also the international rule of law and the constantly expanding network of regional and global institutions.

One other observation is highly relevant. Dialogue is no simple or easy remedy for the world’s current ills. If the philosophy and method of dialogue are to be applied to the theory and practice of citizenship and the wider normative framework governing state conduct, this will inevitably involve a good deal of pain. For citizens and the various communities to which they belong (as well as states themselves) must come to terms with the difficult task of reconciliation. Many communities have suffered from past violence, some continue to suffer today. Yet, we also know that many of these same communities have been the perpetrators of violence. Reconciliation will require citizens and authorities of different communities to share their stories, to listen to one another’s experience of pain, to confess past wrongs, to acknowledge collective responsibility for righting the wrongs of the past. Civilisational dialogue can become a force for healing to the extent that it nurtures a radical ethic in the evolving organisation of human affairs. The strong have to cultivate the vitute of humility.

In this unfolding transitional moment, the initiative is likely to lie as much with civil society as with the state – though there is a great deal that states can and must do. If we as members of civil society (locally, nationally and transnationally), are to address the immense challenges of the next several decades, we will need to participate in a dialogue of global proportions – global not simply in geographic terms, but global in the sense that it cultivates a ‘global spirituality’. This will be a dialogue tailored to a new conception of citizenship that puts an entirely different complexion on unity and difference, and allows them to coexist, illuminate and reinforce each other.

The obstacles to such a project are obvious and daunting. Yet the opportunities for moving forward may be greater than is often assumed. We are in fact witnessing the emergence of a new kind of universalism, and the slow, at times erratic but unmistakable diffusion of power. Despite periodic setbacks, we are seeing the increasing universality of the UN system, as measured not only or even primarily by the number of member states, but by the increasing participation of a wide range of non-state actors, the widening scope of consultation, and the UN's steadily expanding agenda and forms and techniques of involvement. Increasingly, the world's global and regional institutions are in practice, if not in theory, rethinking the centrality of the principle of sovereignty. Mirroring and reinforcing that tendency is the embryonic development of a global civil society, which is giving rise to new processes of global communication and co-operation

A new universalism, nurtured by the dialogue of civilisations, may also facilitate the growth of a multipolar system in the United States is joined by Western Europe, Russia, China, Japan, India and possibly an Islamic coalition in defining the priorities of the international agenda. A dialogical universalism, attuned to the cultural, religious and philosophical plurality of the world, may be better able to handle the North-South divide, whether on issues of trade, debt or environment. It may in time give rise to a global reform coalition that includes a number of states and their agencies, international organisations, knowledge communities, and the rapidly expanding groups, movements and networks that comprise civil society. Participants in the dialogue of civilisations must stand ready to reimagine the future and so transform the present.

Joseph A. Camilleri is Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, Melbourne. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, Council Member of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research (Honolulu, Tokyo), member of the Advisory Board of the International Movement for a Just World (Kuala Lumpur). He has written a number of important books on civilisation and international order, security studies, international political economy, the foreign policies of the great powers, and the Asia-Pacific region. He has been actively involved in Australia and internationally on issues of human rights, peace, the environment and inter-cultural dialogue.


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Tu Weiming, Confucian Thought: Selfhood as Creative Transformation, Albany, NY, State University of New York Press, 1985.

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