The Ethics of Globalization and the Globalization of Ethics

Jun 27, 2013

In this rousing and eloquent speech in Rio, given during the biggest protests there in 25 years, Michael Ignatieff salutes the protesters' "patriotic anger" and discusses how to combat corruption, a 2,000-year-old problem common to societies worldwide.

Carnegie Council Centennial Chair Michael Ignatieff gave this public speech at Universidade Estácio, Rio de Janeiro,as part of the Council's first Global Ethical Dialogues.

It's a great pleasure to be here. I want to thank Professor Rafael, I want to thank Judge Fernanda. I want to thank all our Brazilian colleagues for their warmth and their welcome.

We are in the middle of a two-year project in which Carnegie Council goes around the world looking at ethical problems and understanding what we have in common; the problems we have in common and the language we have in common to solve them. And we started our journey two weeks ago in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, then we went to Montevideo, but we saved the best for last. We came to Rio.

When we planned to come to Rio, we had the following idea: we would study a problem that every society has, which is the problem of corruption and public trust. It is a problem in every society. I'm from Canada, I'm a Canadian, a proud Canadian. But on Monday of this week, the mayor of Montreal, one of our biggest cities, was arrested for corruption. So you have a problem, I have a problem, we all have a problem.

How do we solve it? That's what we're trying to understand in the Carnegie project. When we came to Rio, we had no idea that in starting a dialogue about corruption and public trust, it would coincide with the biggest demonstrations in 25 years. We had no idea that these demonstrations would make corruption the center of the demonstration. And so this Canadian and that American [Devin Stewart, Carnegie Council] have witnessed the awakening of Brazil. The coming awake of the whole society to the true nature of the political world you live in.

I see three crises here, one overlapping the other.

I see a crisis of development. You're awakening to the gap between your enormous economic developments, 40 million new members of the middle class, abolition of absolute poverty, so they say. You're now the 10th largest economy of the world, and you have huge multi-nationalism. Vale Inco, a Brazilian company, runs my little town of Sudbury in northern Ontario. So you have a crisis of development. A gap has opened up between your economic progress and your political progress. And the gap is expressed in the fact that you believe your political class has the wrong priorities. You've invested in the Olympics. You've invested in the World Cup. You haven't invested in hospitals. You haven't invested in education.

The second crisis is during the middle of a crisis in public goods, the middle class of this country is tired of paying twice. First you pay high taxes. Then you have to pay private to compensate for the failures in public provision, and you're fed up with it.

Then you have the biggest crisis of all, which is the crisis of representation. You've lost confidence in the politicians you choose to represent you. You feel they do not represent you at all. You're not alone in this. There is a crisis of representation around the Western world. I ought to know, I used to be in politics. I know something about this. But it's especially acute here. It's been especially triggered by the Mensalão trial and the recent discovery of corruption in your political class.

So you have a crisis in development, a crisis in public goods, and a crisis of representation. But you have a fourth crisis that is even more important. You've taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers, and I was in those demonstrations the whole week walking in the streets, talking to students, talking to librarians, talking to lawyers, talking to journalists, talking to the citizens of Rio. You don't trust the politicians, but you also aren't certain whether you trust each other. Last night, there was a feeling of empowerment in the streets, and then a majority wanted those demonstrations to be peaceful, but a tiny minority of you did not. And now you don't know who to trust. Can you trust the people to go out to those streets again, or will it end in violence? So there's this fourth crisis of trust, which is in some sense the most difficult problem of all.

The violence has opened up a gap of trust within the people. You don't trust the politicians. You're not sure whether you trust each other and restoring trust will require leadership. A movement in the streets can't stay without leadership forever. The only way you can get trust is to have leaders you trust in the street, and that hasn't happened. Trust is a two-way street. You have a two-way challenge. The politicians have got to listen to the street. The streets have to talk to the politicians. The politicians have to listen. The street has to present coherent demands. Otherwise, this goes in a bad place.

If the solutions aren't political; if the people can't find politicians to represent them and present their demands; if the people cease to trust each other, you know who solves this? The police solve this. The police have a solution. And it will be a bloody solution. And so, as someone who has been so impressed, so moved, by what I saw in the streets, I hope this ends in politics; in good politics; in trust renewed with a political class; in trust renewed in the people themselves.

But let me stand back a little because I want to connect what happened in the streets this week to the deeper ethical issues, the moral issues connected with the issue of corruption.

Before this speech this afternoon, I was talking to some of you, and you all know what's at stake. I've learned so much from you this week. And I'm not telling you something you don't know. I'm telling you what you told me. And what you're telling me is this is a test of what it is to be a free people. It's a test of who you are as citizens. When you think about what it means to be a citizen, all of us, whether you're born in Canada, or born in Rio de Janeiro, whether we're born in America, or born in London, or Paris, or Germany, or Buenos Aires, we are all the children of the oldest globalization, moral globalization, that there is. We are all the child of the republic idea. We are all the children of Cicero, and Justinian, and the Roman lawyers. I was in your courthouse this week. You have Cicero and Justinian on the walls in Brazil, here, in Rio.

What is Brazil? It is a republic. What is a republic? It's people running the public life. And public life is not the state. The public life is the life you have in common as citizens. And in this system in thinking about what it is to be a citizen, what it means to be in a republic, ethics is not personal, or individual, it's how you run your common life together. The object of ethics is the public good, the res publica.

And what is the res publica? It's the ordered freedom of public life. And politics is the struggle to preserve the res publica. To preserve it from private greed and the lust for power. And that's where corruption comes in. The idea of a republic is paired historically with the idea of corruption from the beginning, from 2,000 years ago. Read your Cicero. Read where your constitution comes from, the Brazilian constitution. It comes from people who understood what it means to live in a republic. And the chief danger to a republic, that is, to a democracy, is corruption.

Now this Roman ideal, this old ideal of the republic that you see in Cicero, excluded most of the people in this room. It excluded women. It excluded black people and slaves, and it excluded the poor. The modern republic, of which you are a part, is a republic of full inclusion. Everybody's included. That's the starting condition, or should be the starting condition, for Brazilian life, for Canadian life, for German life, for French life, for any life. That's what the human rights revolution isguaranteed that the republic is a republic for all. Period. For all.

And so when we speak of a global ethic, when we speak of what we have in commonwhat Canadians have in common with Brazilians, with the Germans, with the French, with South Africanswe don't forget the poverty. We don't forget the inequality. We don't forget the fact that I'm speaking to you in English and your first language is Portuguese. We don't forget the fact that you can all dance the samba, and I can't dance it at all. We don't forget the differences, but we do remember that we hold in common the idea of a democratic republic for all. It's a value that we all share. And therefore, if we share it, the threat to us all is the threat of corruption. And corruption is not just the bribery of this individual; the brutality of that policeman; the favoritism, nepotism, patronage of one individual. The classical tradition of the republic understood corruption in much bigger termsas a moral problem that threatened republican life itself.

And that's what I want to put an emphasis upon. When you were saying to me this week, this is a test of our democracy, you weren't just saying this is a test of our institutions, our judges, our Supreme Court. It's a test of us. It's a test of our deepest values. So democracy is not just elections every four years. It's not just majority rule. It's not just the rule of all. It's a way of lifea moral way of life. And it implies the ideal of equalityequality of voice, equality of respect. It includes the ideal of law. No one is above the law, not even the president. It includes the ideal of reason. Democratic life is the life of persuasion, not the life of manipulation; argument, not indoctrination; discussion, not ideology. And it's also the idea of nonviolence. Everywhere yesterday, as I walked through the streets, people said, "Não-violência." That is what it is to be a democrat. That is what it is to have a democratic life. Violence is excluded.

And the idea that violence is excluded includes another idea, which is there are no enemies among citizens. There are opponents. There are adversaries. We disagree. But there are no enemies. At one point during the week, the press reported that a man was attacking a policeman. And another demonstrator came in and said, "He's a Brazilian," of the policeman. That's the idea. There are no enemies among citizens. There are people you oppose, there are people you disagree with, there are people you're angry with. But there are no enemies to be driven out of society, to be denied their rights.

So you have the idea of equality, the idea of law, the idea of nonviolence, and the idea of responsibility. The idea of the republic is the idea that it's our republic. We are the people. Brazil doesn't belong to the state. Brazil doesn't belong to the president. Brazil belongs to the people, and the people have a responsibility for Brazil, for Canada, for Germany.

And finally the ideal of the public goodputting the public good first and private interest second. And the ethics of democracy goes beyond that. Because the ethics of democracy implies the control of money. In a democracy, there are some things that money cannot buy, is not allowed to buy: justice. You can't buy justice. You can't buy votes. And you can't buy public offices. And there are some things you can't sell in democratic life. Some things money can't buy, and some things money can't sell.

Public reserves held in common cannot be reserved for the private use of politicians or the rich and the powerful. And this requires a discipline that is very difficult for all of us because it requires this democratic value. It requires us to act against some of our most praiseworthy instincts. It's good to love your family. It's good to do favors to your friends. It's good to be loyal. But in democratic politics, loyalty, love of family, and friendship are dangers. There are the sources of corruption. You do a favor to your friend. You promote your son, or grandson. You're loyal to your neighbors, so as a judge, you do a favor to a neighbor.

What's interesting about corruption is that often corruption is justified by some of the best principles we have. Loyalty to family. Loyalty to friends. Loyalty to neighbors. A democratic life requires us to struggle with some of the best things inside us. And you know all this. I was talking to a judge this week who said, "It's interesting being a judge. A doctor should do a favor to a neighbor. But a judge does a favor to a neighbor, he's done something wrong."

Every profession has to decide what its ethics are. And sometimes its ethics require struggle against some of the best natural instincts we all have. So when you think about corruption in this way, when you think about democratic life in this way, you begin to see that corruption is not just a matter of, as we say in English, "a few bad apples." It's a moral threat and a political threat to democratic life itself. Corruption is more than favoritism, it's more than patronage, it's more than bribes. It's a threat to the virtue of the people. And it's a threat to the freedom of the state. And so, democratic life is a struggle against the constant temptation of corruption, a struggle to preserve the res publica from private greed, from a lust for power.

And the key point about democratic life as a moral system is it's an ethical system without alibis. It's a democratic system without excuses. It's not someone else's responsibility. It's our responsibility as citizens. And shouldering that responsibility for the corruption at the heart of the civic life for any country is the most difficult problem for citizens. Because corruption is not just a problem for citizens. It's a moral disease that infects people themselves and it creates a culture of excuses, a culture of justification, and a culture of fatalism that infects institutions. And in the classical tradition, going right back to Rome, the fear was that corruption would lead to the degeneration of public virtue. The erosion of public institutions, the detachment of the people from politics. And it would end in tyranny. It would end in authoritarianism. If the people can't rule themselves, they will look for someone to rule them in their place.

So the end conclusion of corruption is authoritarian rule. And Latin American countries have a particularly sharp experience with tyranny and authoritarian rule. Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Columbia know how real the threat of tyranny is. Tyranny and authoritarianism are the end state of a corrupted democracy. Some populist savor arises who says, "Fini com os candidatosfinished with parties, finished with corruption. I will come clean up the house." And this has been a risk and a danger to democracy and republics since the Romans, since Romans lost their liberty. So we all have been here before. And Latin America has been here quite recently. So in some sense, this is still as stake here in Latin America.

As Lenin saidand I am no friend of Mr. Lenin, but he did ask the right question of politicshe asked, "What is to be done?" Everybody knows what is to be done. I have nothing to tell you that you don't already know. Judges, prosecutors, journalists, professors know what has to be done. And they are doing it. The standard answers, the old answers, are the right answers. If there is a risk that power will be corrupted, separate power. Break it up. Destroy concentrations of power. Use power to check power. If you don't have an independent judiciary, if you don't have an independent media, if you don't have institutions to stand up and hold the power to account, you haven't got any solution to the problem of corruption.

And everyone in Brazil knows that, knows it has to happen. Everybody in Brazil knows you have to end impunity. If you don't end impunity, you can't stop corruption. If judgments are made against corrupt politiciansand we are awaiting the judgments of the Supreme Court of a famous trialbut if those people who have been convicted by due process of law do not serve jail time, the people of Brazil will know that impunity has not stopped.

I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but that has to happen. You also knowand you have legislation on the books about thisthat politicians convicted of crimes should be barred from public office. By due process of law, you should not hold public office again. The term is called lustration. It's a technical term, but you have to have lustration and you have to have an end to impunity. And you have to have an independent institution so that when you ask what is it that has to be done, the key development in every societyin my society, in your society, in Argentina and Uruguay, and France and Germanyis the development of free institutions.

Corruption is not a problem that will be solved by legislation in Brasilia. Corruption is a problem that has to be solved by the development of free institutions that are tough enough to hold power to account. And that means professionals that have their own professional standards and enforce themdoctors, lawyers, engineers, who enforce codes of conduct and who punish professionals who engage in corruption. You want to have independent NGOs, civil society organizations who are not funded by the government, that derive the funding from the people, who can hold government to account. You need a free media. A free media that promotes free information against manipulation and propaganda and the social media revolution gives the people unbelievable power to put new information into the public arena. You need, finally, representatives who serve the people and not their parties, and you need public servants. A public bureaucracy who uses security of tenure, not to enhance their privileges, but to serve the people.

But the point about democracy, finally, is that democracy is self-government. Government for the people, by the people, of the people. So the responsibility for preserving the freedom of a republic is a responsibility that falls not on the president, not on the politicians, it falls finally on the people, in the classical tradition that I am talking. The battle against corruption is a battle by citizens against abusive power. It's a battle to defend public virtue against private abuse. It's a battle inside yourself against a culture of excuses and justification and fatalism. It's a battle for political involvement instead of political passivity. And if the political parties won't listen, they will have to make way.

I'm not giving you a civics lesson. I'm not giving you a moral lesson that you don't know. I'm trying to surface and put into words what's in our hearts already. What we know already. And what we sometimes forgetwhat I forgot often when I was in politics and what a week of demonstrations in Brazil has made me remember. Democracy is a struggle without end, and each country's struggle is specific to its own history, which is why I can't tell you what to do. This is your struggle, not mine.

The norms, the global norms against corruption, have been globalizedTransparency International, Global Equity, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. If you want to see how the world sees Brazil, just go online. That's what globalization means. If you want to learn, go onto the Internet, and it's all there. And the standards are the same everywhere. People maintaining free government. And in this battle, these are not alien norms imposed on you by the outside. This is in your own tradition. This is what it is to be a republic. This is where a republican tradition needs to be strong in your country because it's based on the idea that self-government requires us to keep what is public free from the corruption of private interests. And I don't think, when we think of the globalization of norms, that there's even a disagreement about the norms, or that there's even a disagreement about the traditions that we share.

The challenge for all of us, for me as well as for you, is to live up to the values that we set ourselves. I refuse to make excuses. To refuse to shift the blame to others. To take the issue of corruption as a personal responsibility. To defend free and independent institutions in our daily life. To live democracy as our daily life. The way we treat our neighbors, the way we treat our friends, the way we treat minorities, the way we treat people different than ourselves. To treat democracy not as a set of institutions, but as a way of life that belongs to us the people. The preservation of institutions that keep us free. Understanding that corruption threatens not just a few but threatens us all.

There was anger in the streets of Brazil this week. A particular kind of anger, which I think is a noble angerpatriotic anger. The anger of people who say, "Don't treat us like fools. We're not fools. We're adults, we're citizens, we're equals." That patriotic anger is an anger based on an instinctive understanding of what democracy as a way of life really is. And I want to just end by saluting that patriotic anger. I want to salute the pride that is connected to the anger. I want to signal the pride that heralds a research and devotion to the republic, to democracy, to democracy as a way of life, that we defend together. We defend it here, we defend it in Canada, we defend it wherever we find it. Because if we don't defend it, needless to say, nobody will.

Thank you so much for listening.

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