Governance in a Disenchanted World
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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.
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Chapter 3: The Moral Ambiguity of Modern Politics

Helmut Willke


The current resurgence of claims for moral politics and social responsibilities of organizations shows traits of a backlash against the loss of morality in the historic process of modernization. One of the defining components of modernity is the privatization of morals, relegating morality to a status of private concern and replacing public morality with the ingenious idea of democratic legislative procedures. The dire aridity of secularization and rationalization, including the general disenchantment of the traditional world, has left many people without the consolation of eternal truths and unquestioned common convictions. The same people then perceive, or rather abhor, a world without public morals as a world of unbridled egotism and boundless corruption engendering a decay of community and solidarity. Globalization and its institutional suprastructure (for example WTO, World Bank or G-20 meetings) have given the quest for moral politics a resounding amplification, resulting in an almost religious fervor against the perceived evils of ‘neoliberalism’, capitalism, neo-colonialism, ‘Western’ life styles and all that, assumed to lead to an abysmal deterioration of living conditions, labor conditions, social security or environmental standards. There are many causes for the emergence of this complex constellation of contested issues. One rather important cause seems to be a basic conflict about the role of moral reasoning in the public sphere. Many proponents of the debate demand nothing less but global morals and a global ethic to combat the perceived evils they ascribe to amoral liberalism and capitalism, whereas the opposite view holds that modern secular societies depend...

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