What if the little prince was to return?

Article published on Sept. 2, 2002
community published
Article published on Sept. 2, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

If trying to make the globe a better place is a concrete aim, the challenge of ethics in international relations would become political realism and the attempt to give globalisation a human face a matter of political will.

If today the little prince of the novel of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was to undertake once again his fantastic voyage in search of a friend, I believe that he would run away from earth long before missing the rose that he loves. He would feel horrified in front of the dramas of Srebenica, Rwanda, Somalia, and Afghanistan. He would cry on the ruins of the twin towers, reflecting on the future of those that earn one dollar a day even if they fatigue for sixteen hours a day living an existence without a future in which they will never feel the strongest emotions that life can offer, they won’t be able to dream, love, know, play and they wont’ even have a few second to laugh happily or contemplate the sun as it rises. Their destinies are suffocated in a cradle just because their first breathe is shed in the arms of a woman whose only fault is to be born in a less lucky angle of the planet. The little prince would escape frightened, if he was to know that a million people die each week, that many don’t have the right to express an opinion, to have a doubt, to pray a God because there is somebody that wants to be Sovran even in the intimacy of a conscience, and about all this the little prince wouldn’t be able to talk to everybody if lucks poses him in front of one of the two million illiterates that walk, unaware, on earth without being able to communicate life. After having sipped all this for a few seconds, with a sorrow on his face, the little prince would close his eyes and return home.

Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but like John Lennon, whistling “Imagine”, I hope that I’m not the only one. I believe that something can be changed and – even if my bullets are empty – I’d like to throw a pebble in the swallow of ideas, and sow pangs in the mind of each of us by proposing a methodological approach based on the convincement that ethical principles can’t be retained simple ideals but on the other hand they determine practical action.

It’s necessary to introduce ethics in the system of international relations, both at a global level and at a local level; In the words that follow, I’ll try to demonstrate how this is possible and how it can be in some way realism and therefore political interest.

The promoters of a cultural relativism don’t comprehend that their idea is not opposed to a universalism of rights. We must think of universal values as a superstructure that allows different cultural models to cohabit together. Otherwise the relativism becomes a pretension of the truth and a justification for horrors; this means that one shall elevate himself on a higher level of that of the other becoming therefore a universal claim. The key word that the relativism champions ignore is “reciprocity”. The idea that a superior opinion, a better God or a healthier atmosphere of values don’t exist and they aren’t the property of a culture but of mankind and the sky above each cultural pattern allowing these to have a reciprocal acceptance. These are, if we reflect for a while, all universal values and only these can allow a linkage between different visions of the world and give oxygen to an intercultural system. A minimum universalism of elementary principles would also become in this optic political realism, as it would be a glue for all those infinitive cultural shadings that colour our planet.

If we go down the ladder that from the superstructure leads to the sub-systemic structure of each particular culture we need to analyse what we can call intra-cultural relativism. The right to express an opinion, to sin, to life, to speak one’s proper language and doubt are all universal values that should be patrimony of each human being because everybody should be the Sovran of one’s own vessel and no culture, religion, class or ethnos elevated to a symbolic fetish can steal this privilege from a man. Reciprocity is even in this case the key to understanding. To make possible a cohabitation between different ethnical groups and religions and to defend minorities, we need to introduce this inner relativism.

Avoiding an ethnical wipe out is political realism as it’s to be intended as conflict prevention; as avoiding international destabilization is in the interest of all.

Many may answer that nobody has the right to oblige external values, pasting them in the way of being of a population.

I retain that these people are missing a point: it wouldn’t be an introduction of factious values but that of the only principles able to allow a cohabitation among the factiousness that each culture has the right to have – only if in the name of this, barbaric actions against the other’s sectarianism aren’t committed.

I believe that there are some things in life that are wrong without “but”s: I can’t accept that the simple possibility of looking at the sky is stolen from an Iranian woman because she dared to blind a man who tried to rape her; that stones are thrown against a child, who is not yet aware of how dirty an existence can be, in Northern Ireland just because he’s catholic; or that a multinational company exploits poverty to enrich because it has to dress with its logos a society hungry for superficiality. I feel rage in hearing vulgar and hypocrite explanations, that try to explicate and therefore justify these cruel acts instead of condemning them in the name of a minimum universalism, shouting their disdain in front of what is unjust, and reason on how to make reason. If it’s true that each human being has his own idea of good it’s also true that there is a universal acceptance around what makes one suffer. The “kamikaze” of Hamas knows that his act, even if he believes it just from his prospective, inflicts pain and fear to the other. It’s in the name of this common idea of sufferance and in an opposition to this that a minimum universalism is legitimate.

Posed this “ideal” preamble we must comprehend on how to precede reasoning on the approach to undertake to be able to realize this “introduction”. I think that there are four levels on which it’s possible to intervene: cultural, social, economical and diplomatic-institutional – all regulated by a juridical net.

On a cultural level, international non-governmental organisations must operate, each specialized in a specific area. For example through the launch of student exchange programmes, the start up of projects that place themselves on the base of a society, of which one of the pillars is education: literacy and knowledge are optimum “weapons” against injustices and a necessary step towards individual emancipation. The role of institutions at this level is to favour the flourishing of these initiatives.

On the second, social, level, once again the role of “specialized” organisations (for example those operating in bridging the digital divide) is necessary and needs to be combined with parallel synergy procedures of international institutions with the aim of sustaing a social growth. These initiatives are to be seen in a long-term optic differently to those actions focused on squeezing a state’s resources in a short-term period.

There are parts of the globe where expressing an opinion, voting and choosing the clothes that one wears each morning seems to be, today, taken for granted, but even in these areas it hasn’t always been like this. The times in which a woman was sent to the stake, a child died in a mine, or human beings were murdered in concentration camps aren’t that far away. The reformist push in these countries was born inside its boundaries and some of its inhabitants conquered democracy even at the cost of a war and the shedding of blood.

In other angles of the planet this inner struggle seems improbable and even the slightest wind of change is blown away under a tank in a square or flayed by a ferocious and blind popular anger.

For this reason it’s necessary to introduce “the doubt” from outside through cultural and social interventions that move the pillars of those countries where today the only doubt is how to find the next decent meal.

On an economical and diplomatic level the role of international institutions and therefore of the states is central. To close the tap of international funds to a barbaric regime, propose a minimum set of requisitions to have a seat round a negotiation or to participate to an international convention, ratify an agreement for an international court (instead of refusing it because it may be an obstacle to state murders) and making international labour rights respected (at least when western companies operate!) depend all on the political will of international actors. The paradox, is in my opinion, that these ethical actions would be acts of political realism as many others in the past could have been so too. If it’s true that the second chapter of the United Nations charter states that a nation cannot intervene in the internal affairs of a state due to national sovereignty it’s also true that an intervention is legal when international security is menaced: A “different” intervention in Somalia may have avoided the country becoming a base for Al-Quaida terrorists.

For these same reasons I am strongly convinced that a multinational company can apply moral principles to its “production chain”. I don’t believe that many would touch the abyss of bankrupt if they were to lower their crazy marketing costs to improve their social policies and life conditions of third world workers introducing a living wage. Even in this case it would be political realism, as it would avoid all those chaos-making movements against the global market. The role of national governments in this game would be to protect labour rights empowering international trade unions, environmental control and avoid agreements with corrupt governments that furthermore need western company capitals to be “imported” in their systems: once again it’s a matter of the political will of these subjects that to often endorse voluntary the clothing of a powerless spectator.

The stage on which this curtain should rise is the global market.

Differently from how many may believe globalisation isn’t the cause of the entire negative ness that afflicts our society and obliges many to live on the windowsill of the other world. The digital divide, for example, was present even before the boom of a global market; this may have made the gap larger and more visible the issue, but in my opinion even allows us to have a possible instrument able to bridge it. What is comprehensible is though the drama that hides in the way that the global market has developed and in the cracks in which it has grown. Globalisation is the natural development of the free market, its next step further, and the free market is the twin brother of democracy: you can’t have the second without the first as the market is not just a “place” where goods are exchanged but at the base of it’s possibility of being there are fundamental ethical principles. As Winston Churchill affirmed: “Among all non perfect systems, democracy is the less non perfect”.

Established this, those democratic values with which I began my voyage along this excursus should be “exported”. Instead of doing this through the construction of the global village we have assisted to the exploitation of poverty and desperate situations to allow a limited number of the earth’s population to become richer transforming the suburbs of the planet into a branch to squeeze for proper interests. This exploitation has been possible one side due to a democratic lack and on the other because of a lack of rules. The market to become really global should permit those liberal values, that have given it the oxygen to live, to flow in the boxes that transport shoes “Made in Pakistan”. The introduction rules is a job that on one hand must be done by international authorities and on the other by multinational companies that must also then “even” respect these laws. Only in this way we could assist a global growth and have a globalisation with a human face. Once again, I retain, that one can talk about political will (for example by not building tariff walls, not allowing a company to decorate a city with its logos or to deposit toxic waste into an ocean): the actual will of a global market, instead of waving its flag just in rhetoric’s and sow ad hoc a dress for the few that are invited to the festival of sumptuousness while the others remain naked and are obliged to be the waiters at someone else’s exclusive party.

Borrowing the words of Carlo Rosselli we may ask ourselves what can a man do with the freedom of publishing if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a newspaper?

Naturally transforming all these issues on which I attempted to reason on in practical actions isn’t easy, but I don’t believe that this is a plausible excuse to do nothing at all. Many of the dramas and the bruises that cover our planet and have shed a black sky in the future of the millions of little princes that populate earth were announced tragedies and to little was done to avoid them. I hope that the little pebble that I’ve thrown into the swallow shall be dragged into a river of change and won’t lose its way in the muddy waters of a labyrinth.

Fundamental shall be, above all, the will to change something, but if the aim is to donate a smile to the little princes that will walk upon the roads of the globe tomorrow then applying ethics and universal values to the system of international relations and to the global village is political realism. If the goal is another, and these principles just part of the reign of rhetoric’s, turn your head to the other side.

Believe me though, even you, imaginary sick of blindness, shall hear the sobbing of the little prince.