Hegel famously coined the phrase ‘the ruse of reason’ to describe the power of causes unknown to mankind on its onward march towards the historical revelation of Spirit or ultimate Wisdom. Could it be that globalization is nothing but the very manifestation of ‘the ruse of reason’, leading a reluctant human race to more solidarity and cooperation, not to mention self-understanding? Kant, before Hegel, conceived History as a long process of self-realization towards a state of universal Enlightenment. The philosopher of Konisberg already had in mind the model of a ‘world citizen’, not only motivated by the ‘categorical imperative’ of practical reason but also prepared to take the defence of universal justice wherever his fellow-man was being oppressed. A similar attitude can be found today in Peter Singer’s plea for a word citizenry, as the Australian ethicist urges us to consider the plight of distant African children with the same urgency as we would feel compelled to save a child from drowning. Marx was not concerned with such ethical issues but with the alienating effects of a fast-growing capitalist globalization. He rightly predicted the overall, but always precarious, success of the capitalist system of production combined with a political ideology serving the interests of the ruling class. However, his prediction that capitalism was doomed and would eventually give way to communism still rested on the assumption that communism could naturally adapt to a pre-existing capitalist world order.
Post 1945 philosophers approached the question of global politics with more suspicion. In the middle of the Cold War, Hannah Arendt asked herself whether the creation of a sovereign world state would actually bring ‘the climax of world politics’ and therefore ‘the end of History’ as the history of conflicts between rival ideologies. Arendt saw the origin of global consciousness, not in the eighteenth-century ideals of freedom and sovereignty but in the common fear of a world destroyed by technology through the use of atomic weapons. A twenty-first commentator could easily compare Arendt’s anguish at the prospect of a final nuclear holocaust with our contemporary fear of some environmental Armageddon. Yet, Arendt remained optimistic as to the resourcefulness of mankind to work together, but more importantly, to respect and learn from each other’s culture. Her friend and mentor, Karl Jaspers, identified a common moment of cultural gestation where, in the fifth century B.C, the founders of the Chinese, Buddhist, Hebrew and Greek civilizations reflected, in unison, on the human experience and what being human entailed, in moral and spiritual terms. For Jaspers, these separate enlightenments defined a radical shift in world history as it brought forward a philosophical dimension of humanity, untapped until then. To assume that man is never master of his destiny is denying the human race the potential to improve morally and politically. Globalization is the result of slow, sometimes unpredictable, economic, political and cultural processes. Yet it may, man willing, eventually outwit the invisible hand of History and pave the way to a more united and more tolerant humanity.