Conviction, Conflict, Community
by George Rupp
Columbia University Press, 114 pages
How can the convergence of the varying interests, beliefs, morals, and customs of different peoples possibly come together to create a well functioning world community? Former Columbia University President George Rupp tackles this very question in his book Globalization Challenged: Conviction, Conflict, Community. Mr. Rupp writes in the introduction, "This book is a study of traffic patterns at the busy intersection of conviction, conflict, and community. The traffic moves in all directions, and perhaps its most frequent pattern is that of collision." Rupp does study these patterns. However, at times, he mischaracterizes the "traffic patterns" and often fails to offer any practical new ways of directing the traffic so that it runs smoothly and efficiently enough to minimize collisions.
To understand Rupp's arguments for globalization that will affect the entire world positively, we must first clarify what is entailed in the process of "globalizing" the world. Though globalization has its share of both proponents and detractors, there is broad consensus that the force of globalization is only amassing strength. The advocates of globalization, broadly defined, argue that the economic, social, technological, and political changes that aim to bring the world closer together constitute a movement that will better the lives of individuals and alleviate the suffering of countries. Others disagree, seeing globalization as a force that will only help those who have the means to benefit from it. In other words, a free market world economy will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
George Rupp neither argues for nor against globalization—he sees it essentially as an inevitable consequence of today's advanced technology and the world's changed economic structure. His goal is to prescribe a method by which to "fix" the problems of globalization and to use the method to decrease the traffic collisions of the world. Rupp identifies as the source of these collisions the general lack of understanding in the world (although he focuses mostly on the United States) of the proper interpretations of conviction, conflict, and community. To this end, Rupp spends the bulk of his essay responding to the following questions: how can globalization possibly reconcile the contradictory convictions of so many different peoples? How can we minimize the seemingly inevitable conflict of so many contrasting beliefs? With so many varying convictions creating so many conflicts, how can there be any kind of greater world community? In seeking to answer all of these questions, Rupp also spends time discussing the role that religion should play in the private and public spheres. Often, he invokes his experience as president of the International Rescue Committee to show how this role has shaped his opinion on all of these matters.
Rupp's basic argument for minimization of conflict can be found in his discussion of personal conviction. He chastises ultra secular liberals who call for an end to all external religious and cultural displays of personal identification, while also rebuking those who express their convictions in the form of fundamentalism and violence. In order for globalization to maximize the well being of the world, he argues, we must find a middle ground between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). We must reconcile the individual convictions of our insular communities with those of the greater world. In Rupp's view, we must carve a delicate middle path, finding a way to use each entity to strengthen the other so that we can live in a world that is peaceful for the masses, without standing in front of the individual search for meaning. Rupp eloquently describes this foundation for the future in his declaration that,
The challenge for the twenty-first century is to develop a version of Gesellschaft that allows for a flourishing Gemeinschaft; a pluralistic society that incorporates individual and cultural diversity in a shared polity and, at the same time, encourages the vitality of communities to particular beliefs and practices. Such a social order is inclusive and tolerant. It resists every form of absolutism without subscribing to a relativism that views all positions as of equal validity.
This argument is cemented by his declaration that "conviction matters." To deny religion access to the public sphere is to ignore a significant part of human nature, which will only lead to more conflict. While Rupp's idea of this balance is certainly inspiring, his argument is damaged by his failure to explain any semblance of the plan or how it can be practically implemented. A pluralistic middle ground sounds excellent, but without first hand examples of how it can be employed, Rupp's argument rings hollow. Rupp need not lay out a blueprint for solving all the world's problems, yet to write, essentially, that "everyone just needs to compromise" is both trite and naïve.
Instead of suggesting a practical grounding for his idealism, Rupp resorts to blaming the United States for the problems of the world. He states that America's "individual first" attitude is a hindrance to the progressive development of a world which is working toward becoming a "community." He writes, "To construe the self as an individual entity is to fail to apprehend the codependence of all of reality. It is to be captive to an illusion and therefore to live delusionally." Rupp makes a strong statement about the nature of humanity, but he does not elaborate at all on how to deeply "apprehend" this "fact." Furthermore, he attempts to reinforce his argument by stating that, "for Confucians, Jews, and Muslims, the community has logical, temporal, and normative priority over the individual." This assertion simplifies a key aspect of all three of these religions to an irresponsible extent. In Judaism, for instance, the relationship between the individual and the community is an evolving one that ebbs and flows with seesaw-like tendencies, and to say that community comes before the individual is like saying that the body of a car is more important than its engine. An engine may not have a real purpose without the car, but the car is just a hunk of metal without the engine. Additionally, by suggesting that the community comes before the individual, Rupp ends up undermining the possibility of some middle ground, an ideal which was so prominent in the interaction between community and society.
In order to appreciate the proposed strategies for making globalization work, one must understand the particular problems for which these arguments seek to find solutions. Coming from his unique perspective as president of the International Rescue Committee, Rupp draws on his experiences to describe specific conflicts and explain what a fully functioning global community can do to curtail the frequency with which these conflicts occur. This may be the most effective part of his book. Rupp's keen analysis of the crises facing global refugees from Sudan and Afghanistan and his deep understanding of the need for stable government in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo engage in specific argumentation and problem-solving that the earlier argument lacked. Rupp discusses primarily the difficulties facing refugees in the world and what his organization does to help them. He points out astutely that "catastrophe prevention is preferable to emergency intervention." In other words, the effect of the collision of convictions causes real suffering. If globalization is going to be the stabilizing force its proponents claim it is, then it must alleviate the suffering of people now and prevent future suffering. Rupp calls convincingly for global solutions to suffering; however, it is precisely because of the compelling nature of this section that the reader will lament Rupp's lack of viable remedies.
The book also contains responses from three leading thinkers in the field of globalization: Jagdish Bhagwati, Jeremy Waldron, and Wayne Proudfoot. Bhagwati, a Columbia professor famous for promoting free markets as the best solution for the problems of globalization, takes issue with Rupp's argument that a free market economy puts the individual before the community. He argues that an integrated world economy is one part of the solution to the problems Rupp describes most compellingly. On a slightly different chord, Jeremy Waldron, Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University's School of Law, discusses the roles religion, community, and individualism should play in the assistance of those people who are suffering. He argues that often an individual is more likely than a community to help a fellow human being because that community can, in essence, lock its gates to those who need its help the most, like the homeless. Proudfoot, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Columbia's Religion department, responds to Rupp's argument that people's convictions play an important role in public discourse. He backs up many of Rupp's arguments and expands them, generating an excellent complement to Rupp's initial essay.
Also included is Rupp's uneven rebuttal of these critical responses in which he addresses most of the issues raised. He succeeds in his defense of the issues he knows best, namely those most related to the International Rescue Committee: the global migration of refugees and their effect on the economy and world community. However, he still fails to respond adequately to Bagwhati's argument regarding the positives of a global free market economy.
Globalization Challenged is a worthwhile read, most of all because of Rupp's convincing arguments in favor of personal conviction, or faith, playing a greater role in the public discourse and the need for real resolutions to the hardships facing global refugees. Take his idealism to heart, but don't confuse it for a practical solution to the world's problems. Rather than a policy proposal, this book should be used as a jumping-off point for critical thinking about those traffic patterns of the world and what we can do to decrease the accidents as we strive to move toward a world of economic comfort, peace, and security.