As the processes of globalization increase the velocity of global technological, economic, political and cultural exchanges, there is an ever-increasing interaction between members of all societies. This creates a phenomenon wherein two people from opposite sides of the globe can not only enjoy instant communication, but also be influenced by the same cultural trends. In a world where global forces are working to undermine the primacy of territorial sovereignty and the nation-state system, there are many debates surfacing on how this new global environment will function. Should global capitalism accelerate at break-neck speed to extend the prevalence of the free-market economy? How should the problematic growing division between developed and less developed countries be addressed? Do universal human rights exist, and if so, how can these rights be realized throughout the world? What role do culture, values and norms play in globalization? These are some of the questions that are becoming more and more important and demand answers.
A current debate that deals with many of these issues involves the conflicting political perspectives of liberalism and communitarianism. The central contention between liberalism and communitarianism concerns the characteristics of human nature and how government systems can best support their citizens. Communitarians, in contrast to liberals, emphasize that people are relational by nature and rely on the social context they live in to thrive. This aspect of humanity, communitarians argue, has been overlooked in the liberal view, which focuses overwhelmingly on the individual as an autonomous being who should be provided with all the rights needed to live the life he or she chooses.
Communitarians accuse this liberal view in both the political right and the political left. They argue that the liberal perspective that is dominant in western nations has indirectly caused the breakdown of families, the growth of greed and materialism, the transfer of power away form local communities and into centralized governments, and an imbalance between rights and responsibilities. Communitarians attempt to move away from the liberal standpoint of the individual as a solitary independent agent and instead emphasize the social nature of the human person, who cannot be understood outside of a relational setting.
In looking for answers to all the problems that globalization causes us to address, it is necessary to find solutions that recognize the human person both as an individual possessing intrinsic dignity, and as a relational being with responsibility to the family and community that surround him or her.
By Marie Murray, Director of Operations for WYA North America