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Globalization, Justice, and Technology: Cosmopolitan Justice Reconsidered

Globalization, Justice, And Technology: Cosmopolitan Justice Reconsidered


The prospect of universal justice is alluring. Right-minded persons would agree that a world whose entire population were treated fairly and equitably would constitute a vast improvement over the current global situation, with its egregious injustices and disparities.1 And global justice just may be an idea whose time has come, given that technological innovations on numerous fronts have integrated the planet more than ever, and along the way both deepened and exposed inequalities as never before. Numerous scholars from varied disciplines have addressed the issue of cosmopolitan justice with the intent to have us seriously consider its possibility.

One such scholar is Fred Dallmayr, a political theorist who has written extensively on global themes and the need for dialogue among the world’s civilizations as a precondition for establishing cosmopolitan justice.2 His 2002 article, “Globalization and Inequality: A Plea for Cosmopolitan Justice,”3 offers a wide-ranging and cogent defense of cosmopolitan justice, and serves as a main reference point in an examination of global justice in the age of technology. My analysis of Dallmayr’s argument has a twofold purpose. The first is to show how it may be possible to argue for global justice in full awareness of the considerable obstacles in the path toward its realization. The second purpose is to illustrate where Dallmayr’s argument breaks down. It falters, I argue, because it glosses over the central role technology plays in the globalization process, an omission with repercussions for an understanding of global justice.

Global Justice and its Challenges

Dallmayr’s article offers his readers an “invocation of equality” as a precondition for meeting the challenges “posed by the emerging cosmopolis or global community.” The process of globalization, in his view, amounts to the Westernization of non-Western practices and indigenous ways of life, a process that tends to broaden and intensify inequality as freedom is restricted along the three-sided front of power, wealth, and knowledge, or within the political, economic, and technological realms, respectively. The concern is that the injustices aligned with a culture of Western origin are being universalized as its ideals are adopted as a planetary model of development. Dallmayr contends that nothing resembling a true global community can arise should the forces of globalization as presently configured remain unchecked. A cosmopolitan at heart, his qualm is not with the concept of globalism per se but with the kind of integrated planet that appears to be emerging. The prospect of a universal justice is indissolubly linked to the normative question that seeks to determine what kind of globalism is worth pursuing.

Dallmayr argues that a global community in any meaningful sense of the term can arise only when the participating civilizations engage in “civilized” dialogue, which he contends occurs only when some form of qualitative equality is established among the engaged parties. His suggestion that “equality of respect or of care” is a prerequisite for authentic dialogue and, ultimately, justice, is reminiscent of the Kantian moral imperative to respect others—in this case, other civilizations—as ends and not means. The challenge is how to secure such equality within a global context, given its “immense diversity of cultural traditions, political practices, and levels of social-economic ‘development.’”

Despite this claim, Dallmayr realizes it is not the sheer number, or even the depth, of differences among established traditions that makes it difficult to promote global justice. It is the inequalities aligned with these differences that make the establishment of cosmopolitan justice such a challenge. Yet even this clarification fails to reveal fully the gravity of the task at hand. For by characterizing as “oppressive” the inequalities that mark the differences among civilizations, Dallmayr acknowledges the overwhelming power wielded by the forces of globalization and the impact these forces have on setting social, political, and economic agendas. The oppressive quality of these inequalities is underscored by his “plea” for cosmopolitan justice. That the call for justice is framed in the urgent language of a plea bolsters the view that the forces at work in the promulgation of an errant form of global networking are overpowering.

Dallmayr’s vision of a global community recalls Aristotle’s description of the state as comprising a union not of mere persons but of different kinds of persons, in contradistinction to Plato’s hyper-unitary depiction of the state in the Republic.4 The equality of respect that grounds civilized dialogue and facilitates the emergence of cosmopolitan justice is one that not only concedes the participants’ “intrinsic worth,” but also the worthiness of the different kinds of practices exhibited by the dialoguing parties. It is the absence of such recognition, Dallmayr suggests, that deters meaningful dialogue and indirectly promotes the integration of the planet along Western lines. Dallmayr’s plea for cosmopolitan justice can be seen, in part, as a call for the West to reconsider that aspect of its civilizational inheritance which values as a core principle the mastery of human and non-human nature. This is obscured to a large degree because the disparities between the West and the non-West that hinder the development of cosmopolitan justice are critiqued within the analytical frameworks of power, wealth, and knowledge, an issue to which I will return.

For present purposes it suffices to note that Dallmayr cites the political domination of the non-Western world as legitimated in the “realist” rhetoric of Samuel Huntington, who endorses the view that power constitutes the essence of politics, a view that conveniently supports the already established political supremacy of the United States and its Western allies.5 Likewise, in the realm of economics, the market ideology that prevails in the West justifies the unfettered pursuit of profit world-wide by linking the “good” of economic wealth with that of human freedom. Any effort to secure greater social equity is seen from this perspective as an assault on the more foundational good of freedom.

Dallmayr sees the flourishing of science and technology in the West as undergirded by a similar hope that by extending the powers of control over nature the realm of human freedom and possibility can be expanded. He attacks the conceit that underlies each of these manifestations of Western imperialism. With respect to politics, Dallmayr points out that Western political thought since its inception has constituted itself largely in opposition to the realist position and that the eventual establishment of the rule of law in modern democracies belies the notion that power necessarily constitutes the essence of politics. In the realm of economics Dallmayr cites the pioneering work of Amartya Sen as indicating how advances in social equality actually contribute to freedom and the development of human capacities, in marked contrast with market ideology.6

Lastly, Dallmayr argues the master narrative that once legitimated modern science and technology—the narrative of human liberation from the ignominy of fate—has proved to be chimerical. Ironically, he notes, science and technology have unleashed systems of control that, far from emancipating humanity, have subjected humanity to “tightening social controls” under the authority of the rule of experts. While Dallmayr’s efforts to de-legitimate the West’s ‘right’ to rule the planet are well-taken, his compartmentalizing both the roadblocks to global justice and the ways these obstacles may be circumvented effectively diminishes the severity of the challenge. Even though, as observed, Dallmayr is amply aware of the imposing nature of the impediments to the realization of global justice, he nonetheless minimizes how tightly globalization is wedded to Westernization and how monolithic a force globalization is.

Global Justice: A Critique

Before addressing what I take to be the central philosophical oversight that hobbles Dallmayr’s analysis of cosmopolitan justice, it is important to examine some of the more particular oversights and inconsistencies that unsettle his critique of Western cultural domination. The first pertains to his claim that justice (rather than power) has preoccupied Western thinkers since the time of antiquity and that the parallel concerns regarding equality and political legitimacy are deeply rooted in the tradition, a claim which is offered as evidence against the facile equating of politics with power by modern-day realists. There is an expressed correlation here between “power politics” and unjust or illegitimate rule, defined as governance “exercised for selfish ends of the rulers” rather than for the good of the governed.

The problem with this analysis is that it too closely associates power with forms of political governance. Power and the injustices it breeds can infect democratic regimes no less than authoritarian ones and, as John Stuart Mill observed in a different context, can be more insidious than more brute forms of political oppression.7 Dallmayr himself appears aware of this limitation when later in the article he cites approvingly Sheldin Wolin’s assertion that democracy is “not just a regime of governance or power but a way of life” in which ordinary citizens are active political agents. But if democracy is what Wolin and Dallmayr insist it is, then democracy remains an unrealized ideal whose practice is constantly thwarted by established elites and the power they wield. One could be excused for being less than sanguine about the possibilities for global justice when the paradigm for cosmopolitan justice—i.e., democratic participation—remains unrealized even within the more restricted confines of the modern democratic state.

Assessing Dallmayr’s summation and defense of Sen’s “capability approach” to economics is beyond the scope of this analysis. What is important for our purposes is that Dallmayr finds insightful Sen’s argument that economic growth is driven foremost by factors beyond traditional market forces. Growth is said to be fueled not by enacting top-down “supply and demand” economic principles but by enlarging the capabilities of persons through social reform in realms such as education and public health. Because the economy, in this view, is seen as embedded within and inextricably linked to a larger social context, it cannot be treated in relative isolation from putatively non-market considerations, as market theorists are wont to do. Economic concerns, in short, cannot be divorced from social and political contingencies. It is the contours of societal development in general that shape the capabilities of persons and thus condition their prospects for economic development.

Dallmayr observes that power and wealth are but two elements of global inequality or asymmetry. What “compounds and further aggravates” these injustices are the asymmetries of knowledge found between the West and the rest of the world. The “knowledge” Dallmayr speaks of here is the kind of expertise associated with modern scientific understanding, whether applied to non-human nature or to social and political practices. That the knowledge gap between the so-called developed and developing worlds is said to compound or aggravate global imbalances in the domains of politics and economics suggests that expertise acts as an amplifier of pre-existing inequalities, and that even without this knowledge differential there would exist troublesome inequalities within the global arena. The expertise gap, in other words, does not appear in Dallmayr’s account to be intrinsic to the political and economic inequalities that besiege the planet. To be sure, Dallmayr sees the West’s knowledge advantage as contributing to its own cultural self-understanding, a self-understanding that breeds a form of civilizational self-confidence which when viewed from the outside is seen as cultural arrogance, or worse. This civilizational bravado doubtless has animated the West’s political and economic adventurism over the past several centuries. But Dallmayr’s tripartite account of global disparity still rests on the view that knowledge qua expertise is an element in a trinity of inequalities.8 Knowledge, he says, along with power and wealth, “coalesce today into a formidable pyramidal structure,” into an “unprecedented global hegemony.”

To assert that knowledge is not a contributing factor to global inequality on par with power and wealth, an assertion that penetrates to the core of what is problematic with Dallmayr’s plea for cosmopolitan justice, reasons must be given as to what makes knowledge of crucial significance to globalization. Chief among them is contained in the reading of technology (and its relation to globalism) presented by Martin Heidegger, to which Dallmayr refers briefly in his article. One of Heidegger’s “more disturbing insights,” he tells us, is his observation that global encounters now transpire almost entirely within the Western conceptual framework. Dialogues between East and West are thus marked by a profound cultural asymmetry.

However, what Dallmayr fails to mention in referencing Heidegger’s thoughts on the conceptual hegemony of the West is the nature of this domination. Dallmayr relies instead on Hans-Georg Gadamer as a mentor in his exploration of the conceptual paradigm that illuminates the West and accounts for its associating knowledge with scientific or technological expertise. It is understandable why Gadamer is chosen over Heidegger as a guide on these matters given Dallmayr’s interest in global justice. Consonant with Heidegger, Gadamer takes technology sufficiently seriously to identify modernity with the triumph of the ethos of technology. Gadamer accounts for this supremacy, which he identifies with the “civilizational pattern of modernity,” in terms of the ascendancy of application over praxis (practice).9

Here, the meaning of practice or acting is detached from its earlier associations with (in Dallmayr’s words) “the public exercise of human freedom” and reconceived as the implementation of scientifically generated models of reality. Modernity, accordingly, is founded on a denigration of praxis. Doing or acting, in the Aristotelian sense of the term from which Gadamer draws inspiration, is transformed in the modern world into a making or a technē. What Gadamer finds problematic about this transformation is that ‘acting’ in modernity is decontextualized or abstracted from its life-world context, from so-called “ordinary life experience,” as Dallmayr calls it. Rather than relying on the public for input into the kinds of actions to be taken, decision-making now is given over to cadres of “experts” who possess the technical know-how to both conceive and implement blueprints of change.10

Gadamer’s reading of modernity and its technological underpinnings could hardly be called naïve. Yet he does not despair over the future. Gadamer scholar Robert J. Dostal quotes Gadamer’s observation that “the important presuppositions for solving the modern world’s problems are none other than the ones formulated in the Greek experience of thought [as it relates to the notion of praxis].” Gadamer continues: “In any case the progress of science and its rational application to social life will not create so totally different a situation that “friendship” would not be required . . .”11 Dallmayr appears to share in the optimism expressed here regarding the continued need for dialogue and friendship, and for the same reasons that account for Gadamer’s sanguinity. He holds to the view that regardless of how radically technology transforms the global landscape and deepens inequalities, the need for civic friendship on a planetary scale will continue. In fact, Dallmayr seems to suggest that today such encounters and the amity they foster are more necessary than ever in the wake of the divisions created by the technological transformation of the globe.

By relying on Gadamer, Dallmayr is able to take technology and its impact seriously without succumbing to the fatalism that characterizes Heidegger’s analysis of modernity. The issue that needs addressing now is whether or not the question of science and technology can be entertained adequately by ignoring the central thrust of Heidegger’s thoughts on the same. If it can, then knowledge may indeed be conceived as an element in the trinity of forces contributing to Western cultural hegemony and increased global inequality. If it cannot, then globalism must be thought anew and the prospects for global justice reconsidered. Rather than attempting to refute directly Dallmayr’s analysis of global woes and their causes, I will offer an alternative analysis of the same condition as seen from a Heideggerian perspective and re-examine the prospects for global justice in light of the tension between both discourses.

Technology and its Practice

Heidegger understands the modern outlook that identifies knowledge as scientific expertise as a product of the history of Western nihilism, extending back to the ancient Greeks. Where Gadamer sees Greek thought (especially Aristotelian thought) as a possible solution to the problem of modernity, Heidegger regards what is problematic about modernity—its nihilistic core—as emerging from the ancients. The seeds of nihilism appear in Greek philosophy with the adoption of a theoretical or detached attitude toward reality. With Plato we see a rejection of traditional, more unreflective ways of understanding and a demand for explicit or “rational” definitions, ones that articulate the “essence” of things. This was an audacious move, in Heidegger’s estimation, for Plato consciously rejected the truth or reality of the sensually apprehended world (and, accordingly, the truth contained in mythos and cultural understanding) and posited instead that what is truly real and hence knowable—the essence of things—resides in the nonsensual realm of ideas.12 In doing so Plato identified knowledge with the principles of objectivity, explicitness, decontextualization, and systematization.13 Heidegger believed the nihilism in Plato’s understanding of knowledge to be implicit since Greek rationalism presumed the existence of a meaningful cosmos. It took over two millennia for the nihilism implied in the theoria of antiquity to become fully explicit in modern-day science and technology.

The theoretical attitude initiated by Plato in the guise of metaphysical or philosophical thought is recapitulated in modernity in the form of science and technology. When Heidegger says the essence of modern technology is not something technological,14 he is equating technology with the conditions of possibility for the machine-age. In response to the question: “What must pertain in order for the computer (as an example) to exist?,” Heidegger would say a certain preconception regarding reality and our access to it. This preconception takes reality to be an idea or picture of the world rather than world of everyday experience. Reality is perceived not as something we experience directly via the senses but as something we come to know by seeing through the realm of appearances. With classical philosophy the path through the sensory realm (via contemplation) led upward toward its suprasensible or metaphysical ground, whereas with modern science the experimental method leads beneath surface appearances to an exploration of the causal mechanisms that subtend appearances.

Modern technology is but an elaboration of the spirit of modern science in the sense that it too operates on the assumption that reality exists to be interrogated by the probing mind. Specifically, technology has the character of a “setting-upon” or a “challenging forth,” Heidegger says. To live in the age of technology is to see the world as a resource—a “standing-reserve”—that challenges humanity to harness, store, and make practical use of its energy.15 The presumption that reality (i.e., ideas, things, persons, civilizations) exists to be manipulated is the impetus behind the sciences of control. And, Heidegger argues, because this world view does not properly belong to us (i.e., Westerners), but is a “revealing” of Being given to us by Being itself, it cannot be repealed through a conscious or deliberate act of will.16 Nihilism, as a consequence, cannot be willed away. But neither need it be encouraged, and Heidegger in his own way sought to offset the nihilism of our age by calling for a resuscitation of non-objectifying practices, that is, practices informed less by formal knowledge and rules (or by “knowing-how”), and more by a form of coping with things (or by “knowing-that”) that he identified with the “saving power of little things.”17

Heidegger’s contention that science and technology are grounded in a worldview over which we humans have no conscious control accounts for his fatalism before the given, and the distance between his and Gadamer’s readings of modernity. This distance is secured with the realization that the theoretical attitude that underpins the modern worldview, by virtue of it being a general orientation toward being or the nature of things, affects every possible relation we have with the world and with each other. Technology thus understood infuses all modern practices, not merely ones linked to science and technology proper. Social relations, economic activity, and political engagements are equally colored by the spirit of technology and the understanding of knowledge that sustains this spirit. To the extent that knowledge, perceived as a response to the challenging-forth of technology, informs all we think and do, it cannot be distinguished as simply one within a confluence of forces besetting the world today. A Heideggerian reading of modernity, at least, precludes reaching such a conclusion.

It remains to be seen what shape this alternative reading might take in a “real world” context. What would be entailed in seeing power, wealth, and knowledge as manifestations or aspects of a singular orientation toward the nature of things? And, most importantly, what would such an understanding mean for the prospect of cosmopolitan justice? A first step is taken toward answering these questions with the underscoring of the linkage between liberal democratic governance—the suggested template for cosmopolitan justice—and technology. That liberal democracy is a quintessentially modern form of governance is no accident. As stated, the theoretical impulse that constitutes the essence of technology is made explicit in modernity. In politics, this impulse is revealed fully for the first time in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, especially his Leviathan. In this work Hobbes self-consciously thought anew politics as a kind of human machine capable of balancing freedoms (i.e., subjects’ rights) and constraints (i.e., natural laws, civil laws) so as to provide a stable framework within which persons could pursue “commodious” lives.18 The very deliberateness with which Hobbes set out to reconceive politics as a delivery system for social peace and order alone qualifies it as a typically modern or technological project. But its modern character is revealed more deeply in its conceiving politics along lines congruent with those of classical physics, where physical reality is perceived as matter in motion, replete with forces, interactions, and so forth.

To think about politics as a modern Westerner is to conceive politics as a complex of power vectors emanating from various points within a given social structure. To think about politics this way is to think technologically as well in that such thought aims ultimately to bring under control, or manage, this power field. Huntington’s analysis of global politics, to which Dallmayr strenuously objects, is thoroughly modern or technological in its focus on power and its concern over managing power differentials between and amongst civilizations. While Dallmayr is correct to argue that Huntington’s realist outlook represents just one isolated aspect of Western political thought, he neglects to observe that this strand is attuned to the technological spirit of modernity and that it finds support in realms beyond the political.

The intertwining of economic and technological development in modern economies is so conspicuous it hardly requires explication. One of the more essential ways the interpenetration of economics and technology manifests itself is in their co-adoption of a “resource” mentality and a concern for efficiency. To operate successfully, economic actors must strategize in a manner not appreciably different from engineers who design a public utility. They must construct a model or plan that methodically examines how to operationalize a goal-oriented enterprise within certain resource and fiscal parameters. Insofar as planning exemplifies the “ordering” and “regulating” mentality that Heidegger identifies with the essence of technology,19 modern economies are thoroughly technological in spirit. Less obvious is how Sen’s approach to the question of wealth is likewise technological in its orientation. As noted, his capability approach is touted by Dallmayr as a corrective to the deficiencies in both the neo-classical and critical schools of economic thought. This alternative approach, Dallmayr argues, steers a course between the “doctrinaire egalitarianism” of leftist-oriented critical economists and the “equality-bashing libertarianism” of right-leaning free-marketers. On the one hand, Sen’s alternative approach rejects the belief that the deficiencies of free-market capitalism can be corrected by having the state control the economy, a move that has been shown to curtail the economic freedom of the masses as it subjects them to the power of a centralized bureaucracy. On the other, Sen assails as simplistic the neo-classical understanding of liberty and its relation to equality.

For the purposes of thinking about development, at least, liberty and equality in Sen’s view cannot be properly assessed in abstracto, as they are within the more established schools of economic thought. Rather, these principles, such as they exist, must be seen as lived within the context of existing civil societies. They are real in the sense that freedom refers to an actual capability (or lack thereof) to pursue well-being, and equality to the relative access persons have to the means of such a pursuit. It is the “practical functionings” of these principles that need emphasizing, Dallmayr maintains in support of Sen, along with the constitutive role they play in the creation of well-being.

Sen’s bottom-up alternative to either socialist or free-market approaches to development is laudable on many levels. But the question must be asked: Is not the goal of Sen’s vision of development in keeping with the Western vision? Do his criticisms of socialist and free-market models of development pertain less to the ends of well-being than to the means of their attainment? Yes, socialist models tend to be disrespectful of liberty and capitalist alternatives dismissive of equality. And yes, both models are deficient to the extent they adhere to an overly theoretical (or ideological) orientation toward development. But real economies, even in the West, are hardly monolithic in ideological terms. All Western economies are of a mixed type, and many governments help create environments that allow persons to extend their own capabilities. Besides, is it not part of the vision of liberal democratic regimes in the West to help create societies of self-empowered individuals with sufficient civil freedom to pursue materially comfortable lives and broader life-plans that reflect their needs?20 Is it not in their long-term interest to do so, since maximizing the capabilities of each maximizes the capabilities of the whole? That such an end has not been realized makes it no less powerful a regulative ideal. And, most importantly, it is an ideal congruent with Sen’s. He wishes for the so-called “developing world” what is wished for in the West, a society that in practice balances liberty and equality so as to maximize its citizenry’s capacity to attain well-being. This vision is not an alternative to the modern vision: It is one and the same.

Sen’s gripe (and Dallmayr’s as well) with neo-classical economists is their insistence that the state represents a purely retrograde force in the attainment of well-being, which they too narrowly interpret along traditional economic lines. This understanding, backed by the West’s wealth, is said to facilitate the economic injustices and disparities that mark the global economy. Such may be true, but it deserves mentioning that Sen’s critique of the global economy does not include a disavowal of what Westerners have come to regard as “the good life.” His emphasis on its practical functioning aside, Sen has no quibble with the principle of equality, a principle that politically, at least, has been woven into the fabric of Western politics for several centuries. Freedom, too, is cherished as evidenced by Sen’s contention that freedom need not be compromised in the effort to open to all the means of attaining well-being. Sen’s pragmatic, many-sided approach to the development issue may be an advance over more doctrinaire approaches, but it in no way stands opposed to the ethos of technology. On the contrary, if the essence of technology is understood to be an orientation toward the world wherein the world reveals itself as a ‘thing’ to be ordered and controlled, then the self-empowerment ethic that undergirds the capability approach is thoroughly technological and thus wholly in keeping with the spirit of modernity. Indeed, should the entire globe ever be infused with the self-empowerment ethic Sen endorses, the fate of the West would will have become the fate of the planet and technology’s hold upon us would be total.

Global Justice and the Age of Technology

Dallmayr largely avoids direct reference to technology in his article. He mentions technology explicitly only in the context of his overview of Gadamer’s account of technology. This account is Heideggerian to the extent Gadamer aligns science and technology with, in Dallmayr’s words, “the prediction and control of events” and, therefore, also “the construction, application, and manipulation of consequences.” But Gadamer’s understanding deviates from Heidegger’s to the degree he situates the technological will within the cadre of experts who wield technoscientific power. By restricting the locus of technological power in this way, Gadamer (along with Dallmayr) is able to depict the forces responsible for the atrophying of human freedom as standing apart from and against the non-expert majority whose freedom is being curtailed.

Blaming the expertocracy in this way is rather convenient, since it contains the problematic aspect of modernity within a sector of society. Technocratic elites and, since the “infomatic revolution,” media elites in particular, bear the brunt of Gadamer’s attack. What this reading presupposes, and what makes it questionable, is the notion that one must possess expertise in order to be included among those who have imbibed the spirit of technology. To be sure, a technocracy of the sort Gadamer describes is dominated by elites with expertise who hold a preponderance of power in all sectors of societal development. But this need not mean that the ‘success’ elites have in restricting human freedom is properly understood as a mere imposing of social controls on the public. The public is just as likely to participate in its own conformism as a result of its belief in the value of knowledge. The essence of technology of which Heidegger speaks does not redound upon the “knowledgeable” alone, but as well upon those who partake in the largely unexamined view that conflates knowing with knowing-that, with the theoretical attitude that holds reality to be an object of scrutiny and, ultimately, of control.

Thus understood, the challenges associated with technology are ones all of us must face in concert, or at the very least all Westerners. As participants of varying capacities in the co-creation of a world imaged through the technological lens, everyone contributes to some degree to the inequalities that mark the dividing line separating the West from (most of) the rest of the world. What, then, are the implications for cosmopolitan justice of a view that takes technology to be a way of being in the world? What changes as a consequence of adopting the view that technology defines Western culture at its core, and accounts therefore for both its possibilities and limitations? Addressing this issue requires first a review of what Dallmayr takes to be the preconditions for the establishment of global justice.

The key to global justice for Dallmayr is open democratic participation. Wary of being vilified as a promoter of “democracy around the world,” he is quick to rid his pro-democratic stance of the taint of American triumphalism. Dallmayr’s interest in democratic participation and democratic principles is motivated not by political concerns but by a desire, he says, to examine “the relevance of these [democratic] principles for the global hegemonic structure.” His defense of democracy is critical to the extent he chastises existing democracies for permitting the power of “popular agency” to be usurped or domesticated by technocratic elites. Dallmayr counts Iris Marion Young as an ally in the push to widen democratic inclusion.21 He cites approvingly her telling of the conditions of injustice to which open democratic participation is a potential antidote. Injustice, Young avers, appears whenever the forces of self-development (affecting the well-being of the individual) are oppressed and whenever the forces of self-determination (affecting the well-being of the collective) are hindered. Justice, conversely, is congruent with two interrelated freedoms: The freedom of persons to fulfill their true needs and the freedom of communities to establish the conditions that champion the well-being of the whole. Dallmayr agrees with Young’s contention that the globalization phenomenon necessitates that concerns over social justice be expanded to include the entire planet. His call for global justice is a call for a “public ethics” grounded in “equitable global institutions.” Presumably, Dallmayr’s plea to the West and beyond to engage in civilized dialogue—a dialogue whose participants respect others as equals—would expand democratic participation sufficiently to help facilitate the establishment of global justice.

From the perspective that takes technology to be “the ontology of the age,”22 a chief weakness of Dallmayr’s vision of global social justice is its neglect of a fundamental tension between the desire for more open democratic participation and the efficiency principle that sustains technology. Democratization frustrates the technological demand for efficiency. The means-ends strategizing associated with reasoning technologically seeks to implement processes that not only accomplish prescribed ends but to do so effectively by maximizing outcomes relative to inputs. The economizing pressures that drive globalization along the economic front have produced a “network economy,”23 and the efficiencies gained here impact social justice issues most profoundly at the periphery of the networked world. Economic injustices related to wealth distribution across the globe, which Dallmayr impugns as an obstacle to global justice, are driven by a technological imperative he fails adequately to acknowledge. Recognizing this imperative involves conceding that the ‘good’ of technology exists in tension with human goods such as freedom, equality, and justice, and with the means to their attainment, namely, open democratic debate.

The tension between technology and justice has not escaped the purview of George Grant, who depicts this oppositional relationship as emanating from the West’s dual cultural epicenters, Athens and Jerusalem. Along with Heidegger, Grant sees technology as originating in ancient Athens, but unlike Heidegger, Grant focuses on the disjunction between the technological imperative and the demands of justice as revealed in Judeo-Christian faith. The fundamental incompatibility between the demands of justice and those of technology, Grant tells us, lay largely hidden until roughly a century or so ago when Friedrich Nietzsche announced the death of God and spoke of the birth of a new world. Grant, who accepts Heidegger’s account of the import of technology, speaks to this tension in the context of his concern over its slackening, occasioned by technology’s deepening hold over us.

Speaking of the human good, he says: “The originating Western conception of goodness is of that which meets us with the overriding claim of justice, and persuades us that in desiring obedience to that claim we will find what we are fitted for.” In making a claim on us, Grant explains, justice (as traditionally understood in the West) is a submitting to a revealed truth, as revealed by the deity. The notion that something can make a claim on us, can demand our obedience, is utterly at odds with modernity and the spirit of technology. The triumph of technology is revealed by the fact that the originating conception of goodness and justice has been marginalized (or historicized, which amounts to the same thing) and replaced by a conception that conforms to the contemporary ethos. The modern conception of what is just and good, Grant observes, “is of our free creating of richness and greatness of life and all that is advantageous thereto, which goes under the name of ‘quality of life.’”24

The modern conception of justice is nihilistic to the extent that its claim on us is provisional. Because justice in modernity is what we concede it to be—or, pace Dallmayr, what we wish to make it—our commitment to justice is contingent upon the collective will to sustain it, or the demand to have it prevail. That what we concede justice to be or wish to make it may incorporate remnants of religious or pre-modern teachings does not alter the fact that justice thus conceived is a product of our “free creating,” as Grant’s puts it. It is a conception of justice in keeping with the spirit of technology in that it jibes with the valorization of human empowerment.

Justice, in its modern dispensation, is a construct created for the purpose of realizing certain goods tied to human flourishing. In the context Dallmayr defends, justice is identified with the business of overcoming the obstacles to self-empowerment so that persons, both as individuals and as members of a community—extending all the way to the global community—are free to create for themselves a life that satisfies basic needs while respecting the similar needs of others. This justice is the justice of efficiency,25 the new rule or measure in the age of technology, in that it seeks to maximize or globalize a conception of the good within our powers to create.


The plea for cosmopolitan justice is an exhortation to engage in cross-civilizational dialogue with the hope that such encounters may spur the actualization of a vision of justice that speaks to the needs of the entire human family. It would be uncharitable to assail the sentiment that inspires Dallmayr’s plea. Encouraging the world’s civilizations to engage in open dialogue would expand the horizons of each and likely lead to a more forgiving global environment. Yet there remains something ominous about the vision of cosmopolitan justice. As I have attempted to illustrate in addressing the question of technology, both the obstacles to the attainment of global justice cited by Dallmayr and his proposal for their remedy originate from the same source.

Technology is both the sinner and the saint in the psychodrama that takes Western cultural imperialism to be the bugaboo of cosmopolitan justice. It is the consolidation of the spirit of technology in modernity that supplied the West with a political, economic, and cultural dynamism that now is poised to engulf the planet. It is a dynamism informed by an objectifying orientation toward the world that presupposes a theoretical or detached attitude. To think technologically about global justice is to query about the ways and means of making real or concrete a particular conception of justice. Those who assume the power both to ask such questions and respond to them are “experts” in their own right, albeit not of the strictly scientific kind. Still, as arbiters of what constitutes global justice and who or what ought implement this justice, they enjoy a status reserved for the privileged, as do their counterparts across the arts/sciences divide. Similar to their more overtly technocratic counterparts, they converse amongst themselves, compare ideas, and seek ultimately to have their views inform some aspect of worldly activity.

The important point to consider here is that, regardless of the content of the vision for global justice forwarded by its proponents, the intention (however understated) to have it serve as a template for restructuring reality makes the vision as thoroughly technological as any plan devised by an engineer for the purposes of construction. The actual content of Dallmayr’s vision of global justice reflects the spirit of technology as well. As stated, the summons to widen democratic inclusion so as to have decisions regarding life-choices more clearly reflect the needs of all is, at bottom, a call to self-empowerment. The “take charge of one’s fate” challenge embedded in this plea is a response to technology’s demand to be not a “victim” of circumstances but their master. That justice requires the satisfaction of needs be tempered by the recognition that all persons are worthy and desiring of such satisfaction does not alter the basic equation that identifies justice with self-determination. Justice, so conceived, merely qualifies the ethic of self-empowerment in such a way as to ensure all can partake of it—to ensure its efficient deployment.

To plea for cosmopolitan justice along these lines—and for more widely democratic organizations of global governance—will only hasten the planetary rule of a way of life grounded in the ontology of technology. If Heidegger is right, then nothing can be done to avert the fate that sees to it that the world and our placement within it appears as contingent. We Westerners are not fated to live our lives within a context of an order to which we must conform. To what extent the entire globe will be subjected to the same fate is uncertain. We know Heidegger remained apprehensive about the possibility. Still, if technology is the one thing that cannot be controlled or willed away, nothing dictates its active promotion. Yet that is precisely what we do when a conception of justice that places at its center an ethic of self-empowerment is touted as a remedy for the world’s injustices.

It was argued earlier that Dallmayr’s plea for cosmopolitan justice would be examined critically in relation to a reading of globalization that situates technology at its center. It is a reading curiously absent from Dallmayr’s proposal for a universal justice, an omission that may reflect his dissatisfaction with the sociopolitical implications of Heidegger’s understanding of technology. Dallmayr is not alone in arguing that the solution to the “problem of technology” requires revivifying public debate within the world of everyday experience (the life-world) so that technology and its development can reflect truly human needs. This proposed solution presupposes a categorical distinction between the technical arts and art of politics, a distinction said to have been obscured in the modern era as the worldview associated with “making” overstepped its bounds and usurped other orientations. Because injustices are seen as resulting from an out-of-control impulse to control, justice is sought by tipping the scales toward a competing impulse that values openness to the other and the ethic of care.

From a Heideggerian perspective, the problem with this solution to the “problem of technology” lies with its underlying assumption that “making” and “acting” constitute two distinct value-spheres. They may have been distinct for the ancient Greeks, but theirs was not a technological society. Aristotle’s tripartite categorization of the sciences—of which “productive science” was one—reflected a specific cultural predisposition that valued contemplation and action above making. The science of making things, and the kind of knowledge it required, was considered of a lower order than that pertaining to human action and matters eternal. The relative devaluation of technē as a separable function in antiquity has to be seen in this unique cultural context. Attempting to resolve problems associated with the rise of science and technology in modernity by regenerating an understanding of praxis rooted in antiquity is dubious at best.

It is problematic because its underlying hope is vain. This hope holds on to the belief that one can make the best of modernity by utilizing various technological capacities while simultaneously avoiding modernity’s shortcomings by ensuring one’s engagement with technological practices is guided by a pre-modern ethic, an ethic untainted by modern technology. But one cannot have the best of both worlds if technology is taken seriously. Heidegger has shown that taking technology seriously means realizing that no aspect of modern life is untouched by a perception of reality that takes reality to be an object of mastery. There is no hiding from technology, no refuge from which to mount a counterattack. Dallmayr’s vision of cosmopolitan justice assumes such a refuge in the ethic of care he champions. Yet even in harnessing this ethic to the cause of cosmopolitan justice, his vision of a just globe remains imbued with the spirit of technology.

So what of global justice in the age of technology? The notion should be abandoned, I argue. Any project to “build” justice world-wide by calling on civilizations (Western and non-Western) to engage in dialogue for the purposes of universalizing the capacity for self-determination only serves to advance the Westernization of the planet, and the totalization of technology. The disavowal of global justice is not itself unjust. It does not constitute a repudiation of the notion of a fair and equitable world, and justice of a sort may very well prevail over the planet one day. But global justice must not be thought in terms of a “project,” if we are concerned about the closing of horizons precipitated by the advance of technology. Promoting cross-civilizational dialogue is valuable and every effort should be made to encourage its continuation and expansion. But true openness to civilizational differences would, from a Western perspective informed by an understanding of technology as its fate, acknowledge and respect ways of being in the world other than the technological, and do whatever possible to avoid imposing on these cultures or civilizations a conception of the good life informed by Western sensibilities. It should go further, in fact, and make known the limitations of its own cultural predisposition.

The goal of such an exercise would not be to fetishize civilizational differences and to work assiduously to prevent the emergence of a global culture centered on technology. A self-conscious anti-technology campaign of this sort would still remain beholden to the power it resists. And it likely would feed the flames of global dissent and foment injustice no less than a program that resolutely sought to promote the technological (or Western) way of life. Rather, the purpose of bringing to the fore the question of technology in cross-civilizational dialogues would be to keep alive ways of conceiving issues such as justice with the hope that doing so may soften existing attachments to the technological project and its singular vision of the good. Perhaps new understandings of what constitutes justice may emerge from this sort of dialogue that might have profound effects on the future course of global development. While it is impossible to foretell, we know at least that the path opened up by a more open-ended and critical global dialogue would not be founded on presuppositions that determine in advance the outcome of the debate.



1. Measuring and quantifying terms like “wealth,” “poverty,” or more broadly, “human development,” is notoriously difficulty and open to debate. Measuring long-term trends in human development on a global basis is more challenging still. For the purposes of this essay I accept that globalization has not appreciably altered regional economic disparities, and that increasing larger percentages of wealth continue to be held by increasing fewer economic players. However, in the name of fairness, it must be stated that both World Bank and United Nations Development Program data reveal evidence of continually declining global poverty incidence and depth from the early 1980s up to 2005, the most recent date data has been compiled. Progress has been uneven across regions, however, with the greatest gains in East Asia (especially China) and the virtually no gains in sub-Saharan Africa. The sources referred to above are the UNDP’s Gapminder dataset, “Human Development Trends 2005,” and Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion’s 2008 policy research working paper, “The Developing World is Poorer than we Thought, but no less Successful in the Fight Against Poverty.”

2. Fred Dallmayr is Emeritus Packey J. Dee Professor in the departments of philosophy and political science at the University of Notre Dame, where he has taught since 1978. His research interests include modern and contemporary European thought, democratic theory, cross-cultural philosophy, and non-Western political thought. He is past president of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy (SACP), and also a member of the International Coordinating Committee of “World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations.” The list of journal articles Dallmayr has written on global issues is extensive. Some of his more recent major writings in the field include: Civilizational Dialogue and Political Thought: Tehran Papers, (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007); Small Wonder: Global Power and Its Discontents (New Critical Theory), (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); Peace Talks: Who Will Listen?, (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004); Dialogue Among Civilizations: Some Exemplary Voices, (New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003); Achieving Our World: Toward a Global and Plural Democracy, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); Border Crossings: Toward a Comparative Political Theory, (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 1999); Alternative Visions: Paths in the Global Village, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998); Between Tradition and Modernity: India’s Search for Identity, edited with G. N. Devy, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998); and Beyond Orientalism: Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter, (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1996).

3. “Globalization and Inequality: A Plea for Cosmopolitan Justice” first appeared in International Studies Review, vol. 4 (Summer 2002), pp. 137-156. All quotations of Dallmayr’s are taken from “Globalization and Equality.”

4. See Book 2, Chapter 2 of Aristotle’s Politics, especially 1261a1 10-25.

5. The relevant works of Samuel Huntington’s to which Dallmayr refers in his article are: “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Foreign Affairs 72, (1993); The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996); and “Culture, Power, and Democracy, “in Globalization, Power, and Democracy, (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000)

6. Major studies by Amartya Sen referenced by Dallmayr include: Inequality Reexamined, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); and Development as Freedom, (New York, NY: Random House/Anchor, 1999).

7. I am referring here to Mill’s discussion of social tyranny within democratic society, which he observes is “more formidable than many kinds of political oppression” because “it leaves fewer means of escape.” See Chapter One of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1978), 4.

8. The expression “trinity of inequalities” is my adaptation of Chandra Muzzafer’s “trinity of wealth, power, and knowledge,” which Dallmayr cites in his article and adopts as a heuristic device in his analysis of global inequality. An overview of Muzzafer’s thoughts on global justice is found in Helen Marie Casey’s “Chandra Muzzafer Reflects on a Just World,” Boston Research Center for the Twenty- First Century Newsletter, no. 16 (2001): 18.

9. A full account of the application-praxis distinction is found in “What is Practice? The Conditions of Social Reason,” in Gadamer’s Reason in the Age of Science, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986), 69-87.

10. I use the term “know-how” or “knowing-how” in the specific sense that Martin Heidegger uses it, namely, as a means of describing a non-objectifying way of knowing that privileges the body’s innate ability to how to cope with things in a pragmatic, non-programmatic manner. Knowing-how is contrasted with knowing-that, a more conceptual form of understanding that Heidegger believed to be derivative of knowing-how. For an excellent analysis of the knowing- how/knowing-that distinction and its implications in the modern world, see Hubert L. Dreyfus’s “Knowledge and Human Values: A Genealogy of Nihilism,” Teachers College Record, Vol. 82, no. 3, Spring 1981, 507-520.

11. The Gadamer quotation cited by Dostal is taken from Hans-Georg Gadamer on Education, Poetry, and History: Applied Hermeneutics, eds. Dieter Misgeld and Graeme Nicholson, (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1992), 216-219. Dostal references the quotation in “Gadamer: The Man and His Work,” in The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer, ed. Robert J. Dostal, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 30-31.

12. Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt, (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1977), 20.

13. These features of theoria are culled from Dreyfus’ “Knowledge and Human Values.”     See footnote #7 above.

14. As Heidegger says: “Technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology.” And again, in reverse: “… the essence of technology is by no means anything technological.” See “The Question Concerning Technology,” 4.

15. Technology is said to be a “revealing” of Being that in the modern era manifests itself as Enframing (Gestell). Enframing itself is nothing technological, but “the way in which the real reveals itself as standing-reserve.” It is a way of revealing where the world appears as an object, as an en-framed thing, there for our disposal and use. “The Question Concerning Technology” in its entirety is required for anyone who wishes to fully appreciate Heidegger’s nuanced understanding of standing-reserve. The quotation cited above appears on page 23 in “The Question Concerning Technology.”

16. As Heidegger says: “Since man drives technology forward, he takes part in ordering as a way of revealing. But the unconcealment itself, within which ordering unfolds, is never a human handiwork . . .” (18). And again: “Thus when man . . . ensnares nature as an area of his own conceiving, he has already been claimed by a way of revealing that challenges him to approach nature as an object of research, even until the object disappears into the objectlessness of standing-reserve.” (19) To the question regarding from where this claiming or way of revealing called technology arises, Heidegger responds from a “sending” or “destining” of Being itself. Importantly, he differentiates between technology as destiny and technology as fate. While the way of revealing called technology is beyond capacity to alter, we are not fated to obey blindly this revealing in that we retain the capacity to reflect upon this destining. Heidegger goes so far as to say we become “truly free” (25) only to the extent we belong to the realm of destining in a manner that “listens and hears” (25) this destining. Freedom in the age of technology therefore necessitates the developing of sensitivities to the revealing that is enframing. All the page citations above are taken from “The Question Concerning Technology.”

17. Heidegger is convinced that the essence of technology holds within itself a “saving power.” He means by this expression that the revealing of technology is never so complete that we cannot “watch over it,” cultivate an awareness of technology as a destining or way of revealing. In answer to the question how this saving power may manifest itself, Heidegger replies: “Here and now and in little things.” The saving power reveals itself, in other words, in simple acts of reflection where, against the “frenziedness of technology,” we bear witness to technology’s essence. See “The Question Concerning Technology,” especially, 28-33.

18. Hobbes means by “commodious” living what now might be called a “bourgeois” life, an ordered and peaceable life of creaturely comfort. The fear of death he counts as the premier passion conducive to commodious living.

19. See “The Question Concerning Technology,” 16-17.

20. Western democracies in the post-industrial era of advanced capitalism put a premium as never before on so-called “post-materialist” values or “quality of life” issues. Self-development and self-determination agendas in the West today are led increasingly by concerns that transcend the merely material (i.e., the environment).

21. The Iris Marion Young text Dallmayr references is Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

22. See George Grant’s “Thinking About Technology,” in Technology and Justice (Toronto: Anansi, 1986), p. 32

23. The expression “network economy” is taken from Darin Barney’s The Network Society (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2004). Barney devotes an entire chapter of his book to exploring the conceptual underpinnings of a network economy.

24. Grant, “Thinking About Technology,” p. 30.

25. Tom Darby speaks to the identification of justice with efficiency—the “new justice,” he calls it—and asks: “What kind of justice is Efficiency?” He comments in response to this query: “This [justice as efficiency], I think, constitutes the reason behind our present and future conflicts. These conflicts are about the relation of globalization, technology, and justice.” I think Darby’s analysis is astute, which is why I argue the need to situate technology at the center of debates on globalization and justice. See Darby’s “On Globalization, Technology, and the New Justice,” in Globalization, Technology, and Philosophy, edited by David Tabachnick and Toivo Koivukoski (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004), 70-71.

Gil GermainGil Germain

Gil Germain

Gil Germain is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Prince Edward Island. He is author of Spirits in the Material World: The Challenge of Technology (Lexington Books, 2009).

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