Since the Cold War ended in 1991, our global values centered around democracy and human rights – at least this is what the US-led international community would preach and in theory what we were all supposed to strive for. But today we find ourselves in a post-hegemonic world. Everything has shifted amid a global crisis of legitimacy. What are our shared global values now? This is a critical time in our human development to redefine the ideas that can shape us today and in the future.
First, what were our global values previously and have they now changed? Democracy was the global value after the US won the Cold War against the former USSR. This gave the US government sufficient global legitimacy in the 1990s to 2010s to promote democracy over all other ideologies, along with human rights. But wait a minute, promoting democracy and human rights does not appear to be a priority of the new US administration. President Donald Trump has said how our major global struggle is a clash of civilizations between extremism and Western civilization and that we must defend “common values” like democracy; then again, this so-called policy view could change in the next few months (or perhaps even in the next few minutes with a single tweet…) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the president “speaks for himself” on American values – in this case on the recent racial violence in Charlottesville – and that the US is still committed to human rights with “equal treatment of people the world over”. Either way, the message is mixed, at best. Democracy and human rights aren't necessarily the most prominent global values – at least the US government is not the major promoter anymore.
So, who is deciding our global values now? This is tricky. There are so many influencers shaping our international system, from the non-US superpower to the aggressive smaller state, the tech-savvy citizen and certain public figures – and they still all believe in promoting democracy or human rights in some way. For instance, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps now the de-facto leader of the free world, is taking a larger role in democracy promotion abroad. Smaller states like Canada, the Netherlands and Norway are rising to the occasion to defend certain issues in global human rights. The tech-savvy citizen protester is more united globally on issues like women’s rights, immigration and climate change. And individuals with a public profile are also offering their two cents on global values, whether it’s actress America Ferrera promoting activism through her advocacy organization Harness or activist billionaires like George Soros emphasizing democracy and human rights through his Open Society Foundation. Global values like democracy and human rights are still being spread widely, so be it by a different set of actors. But there may be other values uniting us globally, beyond democracy and human rights.
What are our new shared global values in today’s post-hegemonic world? Well, the quickest way to answer this question is to simply consider what citizens are fighting for around the world. Beyond democracy and human rights, what do people care about? A growing citizen movement against political corruption in many countries – including South Korea, Brazil, Slovakia and even Russia – would suggest anti-corruption is an important shared global value. In parts of the EU, including the UK, Spain and Greece, but also in countries in other regions, like Egypt, Sudan and even Iraq, it is clear that citizens’ major concerns are economic. They require a certain level of subsistence and austerity policies are pushing them below this basic minimum. Mere economic survival is in this sense a global value, as is internet freedom, with citizens protesting in places like Russia, the US, Venezuela and Ethiopia. Anti-extremism protests have also recurred in countries across Europe and South Asia. So anti-corruption, anti-austerity, pro-internet freedom and anti-extremism are four new global values that have emerged. What else do we care about and who will decide it?
We are undoubtedly at a crossroads in our human development. And today’s global crisis of legitimacy is an opportunity to decide which values are important to us. There is a larger role for certain state actors and the non-state actor, the citizen in particular, in resolving this crisis. Technology can also be leveraged to understand what our new shared global values might be – let’s ask the “global community” that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently said he wants to use to tackle global challenges. Perhaps his technology can be used to determine what our new shared global values are in today’s post-hegemonic world?
With NYU MA International Relations students Elisabeth Dotter, Madison McCormick, Mahak Morsawala and Scott Vlachos