by Paul Kurtz
The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume
This magazine often turns its critical eye to issues of public concern
neglected by the mass media. I should point out, however, that the heart of our
editorial mission is to highlight affirmative alternatives. We are not
simply debunkers of the religious-moral mythologies of the day; instead we wish
to suggest positive policies that we hope can enhance the public good. Some
readers may disagree with our recommendations and find them provocative; we
offer them as a contribution to constructive ethical dialogue.
I wish to revisit one area that we have discussed in Free Inquiry in
the past, but that needs—in our judgment—to be restated; that is, the
intrinsic relevance of ethical principles and values to Planetary Humanism. By
this I mean that as humanists we are keenly aware of the interdependence of all
regions of the world. We recognize that all humans share a common planetary
habitat and that our moral obligations do not end at the boundaries of our own
nation-states, but encompass the entire globe and every person on it.
Much of this was spelled out in Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New
Planetary Humanism, which was published in these pages in the fall of 1999.1
This Manifesto was endorsed by many distinguished humanists, and has been
translated into eighteen languages (including Spanish, German, Russian, Serbian,
Polish, Arabic, and Hindi). Alas, Manifesto 2000 has been largely ignored
in the United States itself, especially by political leaders.
I traveled to Europe twice in the summer and fall of 2003. Visiting France,
England, Poland, and Serbia, I was overwhelmed by the extent of opposition to
American foreign policies, which were considered outrageously chauvinistic.
America's unilateral use of military power and its bypassing of the United
Nations were especially viewed with alarm. In view of this, I think that secular
humanists need to redouble our efforts in the United States on behalf of the
This is all spelled out in Humanist Manifesto 2000. The underlying
ethical principle of Planetary Humanism "is the need to respect the
dignity and worth of all persons in the world community."2
This means that we ought to be concerned with the well-being of every person on
the planet, as far as we can, and in protecting and enhancing his or her rights
To realize this objective, Humanist Manifesto 2000 presented a
"planetary bill of rights and responsibilities." It also offered a
"new global agenda." Concretely, it maintained that the world needs to
develop new planetary institutions: "We need now more than ever a world
body that represents the people of the world rather than nation states."3
Thus we urged that at some point in the future we need "to establish an
effective World Parliament" that is elected by the people of the world and
is more effective that the General Assembly, which is made up of the independent
nation-states of the United Nations—in effect an international bicameral
legislature. This would include two bodies: a new Parliament (following the
European model) and a General Assembly.
The Manifesto crucially points out that "the world needs a
workable security system to resolve military conflicts that threaten the
peace." Regrettably, the United States has assumed the role of policeman,
reserving unto itself the right to launch pre-emptive wars as it did in Iraq. Humanist
Manifesto 2000 recommended that we employ the United Nations to maintain
collective security, and that "the veto in the Security Council by the Big
Five needs to be repealed."4 This provision, written into the
charter of the UN fifty-eight years ago, granted disproportionate power to the
victors of World War II. To be effective in the contemporary world, the Security
Council needs to be updated, expanded, and strengthened.
The Manifesto also urged that "we develop an effective world
court and international judiciary with sufficient power to enforce its
rulings." Powerful conservative forces in the United States—such as
Senator Helms during the Clinton presidency and the Bush administration
today—have flaunted efforts to uphold the institutions of international law.
The United States still does not recognize the legality of the World Court.
The Manifesto observed that "the world needs a planetary
environmental monitoring agency on the transnational level" with teeth in
order to maintain the integrity of our planetary habitat. To leave this to
voluntary compliance is surely insufficient. The violations of the Kyoto Treaty
by the United States, Russia, and other counties, and America's refusal to
ratify it, are unfortunate.
In its most far-reaching proposal, Humanist Manifesto 2000 boldly
recommends the enactment of "an international system of taxation in order
to assist the underdeveloped sectors of the human family and to fulfill social
needs not fulfilled by market forces." This suggested a tax levied "on
the GNP of all nations" (.007 percent at first), the proceeds of which
would be used to mitigate the vast disparities between the poor and affluent
societies of the globe. This would accelerate economic and social development,
the maintenance of health and sanitation, and the eradication of diseases such
as AIDS and malaria, so urgently needed.
The Manifesto further recommends "some regulation of
multinational corporations and state monopolies." The rationale for state
monopolies has been replaced by market economies, which are far more productive.
On the other hand, global conglomerates have themselves become so powerful and
extensive as to undermine competition and elude meaningful regulation by
national governments. Hence there is some need for the enforcement of
transnational laws, especially where the vital welfare of the world community is
Finally, the Manifesto declares that there is a pressing need to
"keep alive a free market of ideas," respecting diversity of opinion
and cherishing the right of dissent. Fortunately, dictatorial state monopolies
throughout the world are being eroded and democratic governments are emerging
everywhere. For this process to continue, countries such as China and those in
the Islamic world need to democratize their political institutions. But similar
considerations apply to the established democracies. We need to appreciate the
importance of open societies in the free planetary community.
Unfortunately, as we have observed in the pages of Free Inquiry, more
needs to be done in democratic free market societies because of the increasing
concentration of ownership of the media of communication so that fewer and fewer
voices are heard. Witness NBC's recent acquisition of Vivendi Universal. But
this process is happening everywhere. Italy's president and private media mogul
Silvio Berlusconi virtually dominates Italian commercial television. Similarly,
there is increased conglomerate control of media in Germany, France, the United
Kingdom, and the United States. Free Inquiry has long opposed this, and
it has especially deplored the fact that the scientific, rationalistic,
humanistic viewpoint is so often ignored or under-represented in the mass media.
We are encouraged that, at long last, the American public seems to be
recognizing this vexing problem. There has been broad opposition to new rules
proposed by Michael Powell and the Federal Communications Commission that would
further loosen regulation and contribute to even greater concentration in media
ownership and control. Whether the U.S. Congress and/or the courts will limit
this process is still uncertain. The same battle needs to be waged in all of the
democracies. We hope this battle can be won.
In spite of these shortcomings on the global scene, economic, political,
cultural, and social progress can continue to provide a healthier, happier, and
fuller life for more and more citizens of the world. Humanist Manifesto 2000
closes with an optimistic declaration, which provides an alternative to the
pessimistic and nihilistic voices of gloom and doom:
Although many problems may seem intractable, we have good reasons to
believe that we can marshal our best talents to solve them, and that by
goodwill and dedication a better life is attainable by more and more members
of the human community. Planetary Humanism holds forth great promise for
The future can be wholesome and bountiful, and it can open up new, daring,
and exciting vistas. Planetary Humanism can contribute significantly to the
development of the positive attitude so necessary if we are to realize the
unparalleled opportunities that await humankind in the third millennium and
It ends with this clarion call to all sectors of the world community:
We invite other men and women to join with us in working for a better world
in the planetary society that is now emerging.
1. Humanist Manifesto 2000: A
Call for a New Planetary Humanism was published in a paperback edition in
2000 by Prometheus Books,
Amherst, New York.
2. Humanist Manifesto 2000,
3. Ibid., p. 56.
4. Ibid., p. 58.
Paul Kurtz is editor-in-chief of
Free Inquiry, professor emeritus of
philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and chair of the
Center for Inquiry.