Curiously, more than a few people view the present crisis, beyond its various manifestations (energy, food, climate, economic-financial), as a crisis of ethics. Credit comes from the Latin credere, that means to have faith and trust. That is an ethical attitude. Nobody trusts in the banks anymore, or in the stock exchange, or in conventional measures. The economy needs credit to function, that is, the institutions and people need means in which they can trust, without becoming be victims of the Madoffs of the world, who sin against trust.

Even though the crisis demands a new paradigm in order to be sustainable in the long range, it is urgent to find immediate measures so that the whole system does not founder, dragging everything down with it. It would be irresponsible not to take measures still within the system, even though they may not be definitive solutions.

I see two fundamental ethical values that must be present for the solution to find an acceptable equilibrium. Two German philosophers can illuminate us: Immanuel Kant (+1804) and Martin Buber (+1965). The first deals with unconditional good-intentions, and the second, with the importance of cooperation.

In his, Groundwork of The Metaphysics of Morals, (1785), Kant says: «There is nothing, anywhere in or outside the world that can, without reservation, be considered good, except for good will.» What does he mean by that? That good will is the only attitude that is inherently good, and on which there is no need to put qualifications. Either good will is good or it is not good will. It is the first presumption of ethics. If we distrust everything, if everything is in doubt, if we no longer trust in anyone, there is no way to establish a common basis for good fellowship among humans.

One point is worth noting: when the G-7 and the G-20, the European Community, Mercosur, BRIC and the political, trade unions, social gatherings (such as the MST, the Via Campesina, and others) get together to seek ways out of the crisis, we must assume good will in all. Those who go to the gathering only to guarantee their own well-being, without thinking of all, will end up not even being able to guarantee their own, given the entanglement that now exists among all. I repeat an old metaphor: this time there will not be a Noah’s Ark to save a few, either we save all, or we all will perish.

Good will, then, as a universal value, must be reclaimed by all. Otherwise, there is no way to safeguard the ecological conditions for the reproduction of life, and to ensure reasons to live together. In fact, we live in a state of permanent civil war throughout the world. With the good will of all we can reach a possible peace.

No less significant is the contribution of the Jewish-German philosopher Martin Buber. In his book, I and Thou(1923) he shows the dialogical structure of all human existence, personal and social. It is starting with thou that the I is formed. The «we» arises from the interaction between the I and the thou, to the degree in which they strengthen the dialogue among themselves and open up to all others, up to the total Other.

His affirmation is paradigmatic: if we live one next to the other (nebeneinander) and not one together with the other (miteinander), we will end up being one against the other (gegeneinander).

This can be applied to the present situation. No country can take political-economic measures alongside of the others, without being together with the others. We will end up being one against the others. Either we all cooperate in an inclusive solution, or there will be no solution for anyone. The crisis will deepen and will culminate in collective tragedy. Protectionism is the greatest danger because it causes conflict and, in the end, war. There cannot be a world war because that would be the end of the human species; it would be regional, but devastating. The crisis of 1929, not well understood, caused Nazi-Fascism and planted the seeds of the Second World War. We cannot repeat such a tragedy.

Leonardo Boff


Earthcharter Commission