Globalization and Human Rights
By Franz J. Hinkelammert
[This article published in: Institut fur Theologie und Politik, Nr.12, 1999 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Franz Hinkelammert is a liberation theologian living in Costa Rica whose most recent book is "For a Culture of Hope".]
Human rights suffer in the present globalization process. Persons as creatures of nature or "speaking bodies" live under the logic dominating this process. Speaking about human rights means speaking about the system that violates and threatens human dignity while simultaneously developing according to its own laws and rolling over people with a great dynamic.
The radical consequences from the globalization strategy can be discerned in the so-called 3rd world. Nowhere are the victims as numerous. Still we should not deceive ourselves. The future of the 1st world lies in the 3rd world. It is not the other way around as our progress ideology claimed always in the name of human rights for over two hundred years.
The extreme reduction of human rights in the 20th century to pure property rights occurred very explicitly in the 60s and 70s. The theoreticians of propriety rights and of public choice carried this out with an incomparable oversimplification. In these theories which actually contradict our present reality, every space of the autonomy of the subject is repressed that cannot be controlled by some market calculation. Market rights and human rights are completely identified.
Market and Freedom
The human rights of the 18th century enlightenment did not identify market rights and human rights although the market was a space of natural freedom. Even the right to inviolability of the body is reduced to a property right that an owner has over his/her body. The torture chambers of the neoliberal and totalitarian regimes of national security were simple results of this property idea and of the abolition of the autonomous individual by identifying human rights and market rights. The right to violate the inviolability of the body in the name of national security becomes an act of expropriation of property like the expropriation of land in the name of public interest when a street is built there.
Globalization as a "Practical Necessity"
The question today must be: How can these practical necessities or constraints associated with the totalized market be overcome? Our dominant ideology emphasizes unconditional and unquestioning submission under these practical constraints as the only possibility or as realism or pragmatism. In reality this ideology of bureaucratic rule is the most disastrous form of idealistic thinking. After the defeat of the public bureaucracies, private bureaucracies assumed power in the name of human rights. They even claimed they weren't bureaucracies and offered themselves as guarantees against bureaucracy in the name of "private initiative". The public bureaucracy became the sponsor of these private bureaucracies... In this situation, the citizen disappears as an essential authority of political decisions. Only a public bureaucracy has citizens; private bureaucracies have customers. Customers can exist all over the world. However citizens of the world cannot exist without a constituted world state. Thus citizenship loses its earlier significance. In the past, emancipatory human rights were declared and carried out by citizens...
Max Weber saw this transformation of private enterprises into private bureaucracies. However his interpretation seems rather na´ve considering our present situation. Weber spoke of increasingly bureaucratic private capitalist organizations. Corresponding to his time, he saw danger in the totalization of public bureaucracy. Weber described those subjected to this bureaucracy as unfree since every power struggle against a state bureaucracy is hopeless. The power of the state bureaucracy can be invoked against the market economy. That would be the great difference. The state bureaucracy would prevail if only private capitalism were eliminated. "Those now working against one another hold in check private and public bureaucracies that could merge in a single hierarchy as in Egypt in antiquity, only in a far more rational and inescapable form" (Weber).
Weber's fear was understandable in his time. However he obviously erred. Citizens ended this rule where the public bureaucracy forced itself on private bureaucracies as in Soviet socialism. But what didn't occur to Weber as a possibility is happening today with us. Private bureaucracies force themselves on public bureaucracies and devour them. What Weber said about public bureaucracies can be said about private bureaucracies. Private bureaucracy evokes a situation "as in Egypt in antiquity, only in a far more rational and inescapable form". Establishing a power over the whole world was impossible for public bureaucracy but was possible for private bureaucracy.
Weber was convinced that competition could control private bureaucracy by its own logic while a danger threatened from the public bureaucracy. From this assumption , he identified human rights with property rights. Today unrestricted competition undoubtedly leads to the absolute rule of private bureaucracies over the whole world and the dismembering of the public bureaucracy.
Possibilities exist today that Weber did not anticipate. Human rights must be seen today as rights of a person as a being of nature.
Only in the name of such human rights can one oppose the obvious tendency to absolute rule of private bureaucracies - bureaucracies without citizens - over people, a tendency condemning us to a voyage of the Titanic.
Alternatives can only be developed by starting from this situation. How these alternatives will appear is hardly clear today.
We could say all alternative action is only possible as associative action. Only associative action can dissolve the practical constraints that resulted from the removal of all associative action. Associative action obviously includes solidarian action and must occur in global dimensions today to be effective.