Governance in a Disenchanted World

Governance in a Disenchanted World

The End of Moral Society

Helmut Willke

This book expounds the idea of a disenchanted world composed of nation states and global functional systems. The nation state is losing some of its regulatory prerogatives and, at the same time, extending its legitimacy base in ‘chains of legitimacy’ to transnational institutions. There is neither a global democracy nor a global government. Therefore, establishing alternative forms of legitimacy, accountability and participation in a secular world seem mandatory. Helmut Willke examines the resurgence of moral reasoning in global affairs, pushed by various fundamentalisms, that indicates a real danger of a regression of democracy. The separation of private morals and public policies, the book argues, remains the basis of global aspirations of democracy.

Chapter 4: The Normative Paradox of Secular Policies

Helmut Willke

Subjects: business and management, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, organisation studies, public management, economics and finance, corporate governance, politics and public policy, public administration and management, public policy


4. The normative paradox of secular politics Globalization has provoked a surprising renaissance of morality. It has intensified the search for basic human rights, social rights and obligations, and other fundamental norms which will not be refuted by any ‘reasonable’ person. This is a vain search since it is based on a circular argument, shifting the burden of proof to deciding who is a reasonable person and who is not. For example, no ‘reasonable’ person will refute sustainability or corporate social responsibility as such. But as soon as specific rights and duties are deduced from those lofty principles, it is easy to denounce any person who does not agree as ‘unreasonable’. Philosophical and juridical considerations have run into this dilemma time and again without ever preventing a next round of circular arguments. To be sure this is not at all an argument against human rights or social responsibilities. Rather it is an argument against an external or transcendental source providing legitimacy to specific definitions of absolute rights and fundamental norms. The normative paradox of secular politics derives from an irreconcilable tension between community and society (Tönnies), between traditional and formal legitimacy (Weber) or, in a moral formula, between family morality and moral hazard. Whereas mythology and religion are ancient or pre-modern modes of ordering social systems, and secular law is a paradigmatic modern mode of ordering complex societies, morality appears as a vague and intermediate mode of governance. Historically, morality indeed emerges in the wake of the religious wars...

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