Education for Globalization

Speaking to the higher education community at Santa Clara University in October 2000, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., the superior general of the Jesuits, could have been anticipating the tectonic shift that the events of Sept. 11 would cause when he gave a new challenge to all Jesuit colleges and universities. We are now to raise our Jesuit educational standard to educate the whole person of solidarity for the real world. This important new perspective, integral to our faith commitment, expands the traditional moral question of humanistic education from How should I live in this world? to How should all of us live together in this time and place?

For the world of the new century, it is no longer enough to make education a personal, individual quest. We have to understand how our lives are vitally linked to Earth and all who live on it. Since our decisions resonate throughout this single moral ecology, we must understand ourselves as citizens of a global community whose decisions shape the world for better or for worse.


This calls for a commitment to solidarity within new emerging global realities. Solidarity is the virtue, the habit of the heart, that binds us emotionally and practically to the world. Solidarity combines a sense of justice with active compassion. It makes us aware that the quality of our lives is intrinsically linked with the quality of the lives of others, especially those who are most threatened or left out. Solidarity does not mean bleeding-heart sentimentalism; it combines rigorous intellectual inquiry with personal contact and commitment. This means that educating the whole person necessarily includes educating for social justice, because none of us can truly flourish while others are being shattered or excluded. This is the ethical bottom line: I cannot be whole if most of the world is broken.

The Jesuit superior general’s new standard of well-educated solidarity raises some questions about the driving factors of globalization that are transforming our world.

The first question is whether free markets are also fair markets. All agree that we are becoming one world, and we often use terms like global village or globalization to describe this process. Many factors are pulling the world into greater interdependence: reconfigured international relations, new sources of information and technology, the Internet, new cultural forms, international environmental and health initiatives, and new market structures that transcend political borders. To most, a new global capitalismeconomic development through a market systemis creating one world founded on democracy and free societies.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the argument goes like this: the rules of globalization are set more by the market than by relationships among sovereign political units with equal voices. Markets should dominate the relationships within nations and among all peoples; markets encourage a free exchange of information and cooperation that will break open closed societies and lead to democratic structures; markets provide the appropriate mechanism for resolving problems of injustice; in the long run, people in the developing nations should look to markets as the real source of growth and social benefit. The belief in a free market was confirmed by Robert Bartley, editor of The Wall Street Journal. When he was asked where were the gatekeepers, like accountants and lawyers, in the Enron case, Bartley responded, The market is the watchdog.

These market assumptions tend to be reductionistic insofar as they rest on the assumption that all human behavior is motivated by economic enlightened self-interest. Yet the excessive ballooning of the dot-com stocks in the late 1990’s and the volatility of the global market systems following Sept. 11 underscore the fact that self-interest, fear and greed do far more to motivate people than rational choices.

In a free market system the person can become merely a consuming and producing entity, not a full human being. Society can become only the market writ large, where there is no common good beyond the value of property and the right to enter freely into contracts for personal gain. We draw much of our self-worth from what we hold in common, and we react defensively when it is threatened.

As educators in the Jesuit tradition, we must address the complexities of human motivation and the ambiguities of markets. We must ask how it is possible to advance the benefits of globalization while eradicating the deep contradictions in the distribution of resources, wealth and power. Consider that the three richest people in the world own assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the world’s 48 poorest countries. Consider that 60 percent of the world’s population (3.6 billion people) live on less than $2 per day. Consider that 1.2 billion people earn less than $1 per day.

Without question, the flow of capital and technology and information into the poorest countries would create economic value for the people and improve their absolute standard of living. But it is not enough to raise the tide of the whole globe without addressing the disparity by raising even higher each individual and nation on the bottom. If wealth and power flow only or primarily to the elites, the result will be neither justice nor democracy. Without just political and economic systems, it is unlikely that the quality of life of ordinary people in these poorest countries will improve.

The second question the standard of well-educated solidarity raises is how markets relate to the common good. In the process of globalization, we are gaining new understanding of our world. People are not motivated by economic enlightened self-interest alone. Love of family and tradition, the appeal of a common cause, generosity and benevolence, responsibility for future generations, religious faith and nationalism are also important, as well as fear of uncertainty, ethnic and racial defensiveness, ancient grievances, prejudice and yearning for a simpler, premodern world. Anyone who thinks that the rich panoply of human motivation can be traced merely to enlightened self-interest is bound to misunderstand the way the world operates.

Moreover, a completely free market is never found, because every market operates within some framework of political authority. To deliver economic prosperity and human rights, governments are accountable for ensuring the common good. Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, articulated this well: If globalization is to succeed, it must succeed for poor and rich alike. It must deliver rights no less than riches. It must provide social justice and equity no less than economic prosperity and enhanced communication.

Standards of living and quality of life will not improve unless corruption and cronyism are eliminated, the rule of law is established, public agencies from courts to school systems actually function as they should, and citizens are empowered to elect their leaders and to exercise the basic liberties of speech, assembly, property and religion. What we have learned is that even global markets cannot accomplish all this without a sound public authority responsible for the common good.

Similarly, we know that markets are not morally neutraland never have been. Markets are complex human creations, accountable to human values and moral principles. The problem with a global economy is that there is no political or moral authority that operates on the transnational level in the way that national economies do. To strive for and achieve the global common good, we need to work within a complex web of international trade regimes, regional cooperative frameworks, treaties that recognize human rights, nongovernmental organizations and alliances.

The best things in life happen only when we share them in common: conversation, family, friendship, art, education, celebration and ritual. The purpose of global politics is to expand our moral sympathies so that we experience solidarity with people of other cultures, so that their flourishing is seen as an integral part of our own. The tradition of Catholic social teaching insists that all those who are excluded from participation in society due to poverty, illness, hunger and homelessness make an urgent claim on us.

Well-educated solidarity raises numerous questions for Jesuit universities; but they are in the best position to raise those questions, which many politicians, executives, economists and writers choose to ignore. They need to be a place for critical, open debate that I hope would lead to better policies. Here are only a few areas of debate.

Begin with a historical question. Could the expansion of first world capitalism into these poorest countries be merely a new form of colonialism? Old-style colonialism relied on the physical occupation of overseas territories and the forcible undermining of indigenous cultures and political structures. Is the 21st century witnessing a more subtle form of colonialism, one that avoids military occupation but undermines the cultural integrity of peoples by pervasive marketing, capital concentration and international debt?

Turn to some contemporary questions. There are legitimate concerns over the concentration of economic power, the fouling of the environment and the growing inequalities between rich and poor. And should not opportunities for self-determination expand for the poor, both individuals and nations, and for their representation through some forms of democratic mechanism, like those of free democracies?

Access to technology and knowledge are critical factors for participation in economic prosperity and in the global village. Can markets be free and fair when less than 1 percent of the people of Africa have access to technology? How do globalized markets benefit them and improve their quality of life? If fewer than 40 percent of the people of Latin America are literate, how can they benefit from globalization?

Are other cultures unique sources of wisdom and meaning, or are they anachronisms to be displaced by Western commercial culture? I suspect that one test of our estimate of other peoples is whether we consider the sufferings of the present generation seriously and do not dismiss that suffering as a stage of historical progress, as Marxists did in sacrificing present generations for the sake of a future workers’ paradise. If the economy exists for people and not people for the economy, no generation can be sacrificed, especially when that sacrifice brings enormous profits to an elite. In light of this, can we continue to act as if markets are morally and ethically neutral? Universities alone cannot expect to erect structures of worldwide morality, but they can do serious research and promote dialogue among policy makers regarding the global realities we face. They can expose the myths that comfort many elites and oppress the poor and disenfranchised. Research and policy analysis can provide the foundation for developing a political economy that allows the poor to share in economic development. Social research can help preserve indigenous cultures from the detrimental effect of Americanization and help them develop economically while preserving the ecological balance. Geopolitical research can help discover the causes for divisions throughout the world.

In short, our colleges and universities can and should address issues of global justice and injustice through both research and teaching, educating our students as whole persons by providing them with the knowledge and skills to effect a difference, the moral and ethical courage to make difficult decisions and the faith commitment to fashion a more humane global society.

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