The Globalization of Ethics

Many Europeans doubt that Asia can catch up with Europe in terms of regional integration. But Asia not only has the type of stable common ethical foundations that were so important to European integration; it also has a well developed set of moral principles, some of which were an established part of Asian culture long before similar principles were adopted in Europe. Indeed, these Asian principles can serve as a part of an emerging common global ethic.

Of course, Asia does not yet have a cohesive core culture comparable to that of Europe, which is founded on the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Enlightenment. But Europeans ought not to be too arrogant, because, in recent years, that common European culture has itself proven to be fragile, particularly in light of the Bush administration’s divide-and-rule strategy pitting “Old Europe” against “New Europe.” And, just as the inhuman terror attacks of September 11, 2001 severely damaged Islam’s credibility in many people’s eyes, the invasion of Iraq, which was based on lies, has damaged both Christianity and the Western community of values.

Although Asia seems to lack Europe’s cultural core, there are core ethical constants that have long governed Asian societies and indicate common ethical foundations. Indeed, in some respect, Asia has more experience with intercultural relations than Europe. As early as the third century B.C., Buddhism spread peacefully from India to Sri Lanka and to large parts of Southeast Asia. In the first century C.E., it continued its advance, spreading along the Silk Road to Central Asia and China, and finally made its way to Korea and Japan centuries later.

Ethnically homogeneous Japan is an example of how three different religions – Shinto, Confucianism, and Buddhism – can coexist peacefully and, in many cases, intermingle. Even Islam – which mostly spread in the wake of military conquests in the Middle East, India, and North Africa – expanded rather peacefully into Southeast Asia in the footsteps of merchants, scholars and mystics.