Judyta Papp talks with a judge in the Court of Justice of the European Union Marek Safjan
Judyta Papp: What influence can the normative values of law and justice have on effective world development in terms of regulating the relationships between the states and between individuals, and also in terms of preventing crises and conflicts?
Marek Safjan: There are various answers to your question. One of them is nihilistic – denying the possibility of any positive influence of values on the flow of events. The other, constructive and optimistic – with a substantial influence of values; however, we are not able to observe and evaluate it precisely.
I will explain briefly why the nihilistic answer, though I do not believe it to be true, cannot be rejected a priori. It is based on historical experience and observations of the world in which evil is ubiquitous, bears poisoned fruits and seems to dominate as a motive of behavior of both individuals and larger groups. If in the middle of the 20th century, so after a few thousand years of the development of our civilization, there occurred a climax of aggression, hatred and crime, then putting forward such a hypothesis can at least be regarded as possible. I do not, however, agree with such a view, since it would consequently require one to assume that a world without values would be the same, even though there is no proof for that. Only a well-defined and unambiguous proof would convince me to adopt the 'nihilistic’ variant. The awareness of the size of crime and cruelty of the world we live in is not such a proof. If moral imperatives, the Ten Commandments, or the axiology of human rights were not an immanent part of our thinking and ordering of reality, then the size and extent of crime, aggression and evil in human relations (including relations between societies) would not only be greater, but they would probably even still be growing. We do know that it could have been worse, which does not imply that we can feel consoled and persist in self-complacency. The fact that there is less evil out there than there could be is not a good justification for such a state of affairs.
This does not fully explain why I am drawn towards the second answer, which expresses the optimistic thesis: that values do have a positive effect on the flow of affairs. Firstly, modern societies widely declare their reverence for values, basic rights and elementary justice in relations between states and between individuals. What happened to Europe after World War II, including the overthrowing of Communism and the integration of Europe, would not be possible without reaching out to the values that constitute a vision of another, more just world. Secondly, even if the overview of the world of politics (and more generally, the public space) through the scope of values seems to be pure naiveté and illusion, I have no doubt that we need these illusions and idealistic projections just as we need a sober outlook on reality. Progress and improvement of human relations have always occurred thanks to incorrigible dreamers and idealists. Evil, not limited even by remorse and self-awareness of evil of those who create it, would become uncontrollable and lead to total destruction.
Is pumping money into indebted economies a fair practice towards the citizens of these countries and to the providers of the capital, most of whom are, indirectly, the taxpayers? Such economies as Greece will not pay their debts, and at a certain point the cost of debt servicing is going to be so high, that they will have no other choice than to declare insolvency, as it was the case with Argentina in late 2001.
’Pumping’ and only 'pumping’ money into indebted economies, without any positive strategy to go along with it, obviously makes no sense. It needs to be combined with a concept for helping these societies in the future, by creating a constructive vision of growth. 'Payer country’ societies do bear the burden of help, but if we treat the idea of solidarity and common European responsibility seriously, this aid becomes indispensable. The richer are also to blame for what is happening and are, at the same time, the main beneficiaries of the processes that have lead to the present crisis. We cannot simply wash our hands of this anymore and declare that this does not concern us. The consequences of indifference and lack of solid support would be far more dramatic for all.
Who, in your opinion, is going to benefit from the crisis? The USA, as due to inflation the Americans are going to get rid of some of their debt; the EU, as Euro will survive and leave the crisis stronger; or China, as Yuan will become a reserve currency? Or will all economies of importance suffer due to the crisis?
Nobody is going to benefit from the crisis, apart from those who speculate on stock exchange drops and shifting financial markets (however, these benefits are not measurable on the scale of objective financial benefit). We can and should learn our lesson from the crisis and create effective preventive instruments, which may ensure faster and more balanced growth in the future. This lesson will be particularly vital for Europe and may result in stronger EU integration and extended space for common political action.
Can the USA still defend their position as the economic leader in competition with China? What would Americans need to do to meet the challenges they are facing, namely: liquidation of excessive debt, collapse of the financial market and reduced competitiveness of the country’s economy?
I do not have a defined position on this matter. One thing seems to be sure, though: creation of a common Atlantic-European economic space would provide a chance for increasing the role of the West in the modern world on many levels – political, economic, and cultural. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the so-called Eastern Bloc, the borders of capitalism disappeared as well, and the economic and cultural exchange became free.
Don’t you think that the new order of the global world market and globalization of production processes has failed? That the gap between the poor and the rich is widening as the capitalist system of production and distribution of goods is becoming more and more independent from political and social control?
There is no alternative to globalization today, though we could and should attempt to adjust the political instruments to the new scope and face of capitalism. We already know that the 'social welfare’ is not determined by pure economic outcome, but by thousands of other factors that ensure balanced social growth, increase the quality of education, healthcare and social participation in making crucial decisions. Aggressive markets and international corporations must therefore find a counterbalance in strong and transnational political institutions, since only such a scale of political power can prove effective in controlling predatory capitalism.
Does the world order, based on free market philosophy and regulatory function of currency, lead to the dehumanization of human relations on the global scale? The nature of money is to create profit and not to meet needs, the free market stimulates ruthless competition – does not encourage partnership in solving social problems.
Free market philosophy has never been the sole answer to all social needs, nor has it been the sole instrument securing 'social welfare’. Free market mechanisms cannot be eliminated, though, and replaced by a new 'economic philosophy’, since, as we know from history (the very recent one, present in the memories of people of our generation), this would bring incomparably worse consequences. What we can, or rather must propose, is the promotion of a free market which could amicably co-exist with the social state, and also tolerate the existence of areas excluded from the influence of market forces (science and education, culture, support of the so-called vulnerable social groups). The 'non-discriminating predator’ philosophy must be replaced by the 'tamed animal’ philosophy, which will respond to external impulses and respect the existence of others around. Such an idea surely requires changes in the form of impact on the economy and ensuring appropriate political control. If this model is to be successful, it must have as wide a consensus as possible, reached not only on the level of a national economy, but also on the level of incomparably greater political organisms.
Usually, wars boost the economy. What impact do modern military conflicts have on the world’s economic development?
Perhaps that used to be the case, but it is not a justification to cause them. Today, in the face of unpredictable risk, war is losing even this doubtful 'legitimization’. The only justification of it that I can see is the taming of crime and other drastic threats to the basic rights of whole social groups.
Don’t you think that the primary, causative force of globalization is the qualitative progress of technology and not the abolishment of limits in escalating objectives, measures and mechanisms of the Capitalist world government system? The systems of intelligent technology enforce the the leveling of civilizational levels on a global scale, the historic necessity of civilizational unification of the world. They in fact counteract the 'egotistical interests’ of Capitalism.
The consequences of the development of modern technologies are difficult to foresee: they create greater possibilities for both the forces of good and evil to operate. The increased development of predatory Capitalism follows and terrorists are getting access to powerful weapons, but also provide us with the possibility to feed 7 billion people on our planet, treat disease more effectively and increase the expected lifetime. Technology is not going to replace morality or moral politics.
Do you notice any dangerous imbalance between the enormous qualitative progress of civilization and the growth of spiritual culture dominated by consumerism?
The landscape we live in has surely changed dramatically. I would be, however, quite careful in making general conclusions and statements. It is easiest to say that we are dealing with dehumanization of human relations. People are caught up in the pursuit of goods and pleasures. They have become self-centered and egotistical. This would be too easy, though. The shift in sensitivity, the character of human bonds, the way reality is seen and processed, and the hierarchy of the importance of issues is particularly visible to my generation, but I do not dare say that there is a regress of the spiritual culture, or more generally: a degradation of the spiritual aspect of a culture. However, I am increasingly convinced that change – even such dramatic change – of the 'setting’ in which we operate does not change in any way the meaning and direction of questions European culture has been asking for over 2,000 years. Paradoxically, modern methods of communication and information technology increase immeasurably the number of people who experience the existential fear in solitude. Concern for the search of meaning is becoming more widespread than ever before and the calling out to find a new spiritual dimension is becoming increasingly more heard. Perhaps this is why this popularity of calling out for 'meaning’ makes it seem that the situation is worse than it used to be. Perhaps this is why we talk about post-industrial and post-consumer societies and why post-modernism is triumphing in culture.
Are the consequences of uncontrolled needs the reason for the global crisis? On the one hand, there is a massive drive towards improving your lifestyle above your means, and on the other – the errant pursuit of financial institutions toward the maximization of their profits.
I do not blindly condemn either the common trend to improve one’s living conditions, or the urge to maximize profit, since both are imprinted in human culture and are a natural drive for development. What is more, this trend is not going to stop, so if we condemn it, it will change nothing in human nature and it will not make the world any better. The problem is rather where to place the balancing point, and how to preserve it, so that further fundamental questions may be asked: is immediate improvement of living conditions worth paying any price, e.g. without consideration of future generations or without consideration of those who are currently living in squalor and hopelessness, without consideration of self-development and the degrading of other spheres of our life, etc.? How do we define the quality of life that we would like to improve? Regardless of these questions, it is certain that speculation, deceit, and abusing the ignorance of millions, which we recently witnessed (and are witnessing) on the part of many international financial institutions, are actions that infringe upon this mythical balance point. It must also be noted that at the same time it would be deceptive to describe these actions in terms of the normal (and accepted) drive towards maximizing economic profit, which also increases, per wage, the level of wealth of the whole society. There has been no such profit in this case.
Does the systematic printing of money, instead of fighting the causes of the sudden lack of money in the market, not lead to the rich becoming absurdly richer and the expansion of poverty-stricken areas?
Of course, printing money has never been and is not, in itself, a way to erase poverty and inequality. But as an immediate and temporary measure, it can be used effectively and it can prevent absolute collapse. The most indebted world economy (the US economy) is operating quite smoothly (and defending itself from what we are observing in the eurozone), just because it has its own 'money tap’. This state cannot last forever, as the absence of wise reforms that would cure the economy and restore social integrity will always, sooner or later, result in failure, and even the most efficient 'money tap’ will be of no use.
Does the use of modern technology make people better?
Yes, but not necessarily. Pure technology, disassociated with ethical reflection is going to lead to catastrophes. Science as such is a mere instrument, and it should not decide autonomously on what to do with itself. For example, genetics is a marvelous field of knowledge, but without moral reflection it leads us to Huxley’s 'Brave New World’.
Isn’t the WTC tragedy a manifestation of the horrible dangers of modern barbarity?
The kind of barbarity displayed by certain human groups has not changed for centuries. It is not the nature of evil on display during the attack on WTC that is terrifying, but the modern means that were used to carry the attack out, since they make us aware of the size of the threat to modern civilization. I am not too much of an optimist in this matter, since our means to protect ourselves cannot be fully effective, unless the answer will be to create a consolidated, relentless, disciplined and fully controlled society. A society wherein the rule of effective 'self-defense’ against real or imagined evil will decidedly prevail over democratic principles. But if that comes to pass, will there be anything left that is worth defending?
Can ethics in business become profitable?
It may on one condition: that ethics as such has a place in the society, creates commonly internalized rules, and describes attitudes and choices made by most of the society. Bereft of the wider social context, business ethics is not going to be effective, and at the same time it will not be profitable.
You once told me that justice is often defective and that you are aware of this. It was at the beginning of your work as a judge in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. How does one pass a judgment in a court whose jurisdiction extends over dozens of countries, over 400 million people, if the cognitive instruments and criteria of judgment are imperfect?
I maintain my general view of 'court justice’ to the same extent as I relate it to other mechanisms: social, political and legal. Democracy is imperfect, but we do not have a better idea. The justice of our democratic courts, also European ones, is not free from imperfections either. It happens that we make mistakes, and it happens that we must drastically change our previous stance. And this cannot be helped: it is important, though, that awareness of one’s imperfections helps us to avoid the sin of pride and the feeling of omnipotence, at the same time increasing our efforts to the utmost, so that all that we do is done as well it can be. However, it will always be just a process of approaching the unreachable ideal. Since we do not have a better idea for human justice.
What kind of world would you like to live in?
Once, I wanted to live in the past and this is why I have always loved history. Today I usually focus on the present. I have rejected the dreams of a perfect world as well, since I am aware that such a world does not exist and it never will. However, we can become better than we are today. I would love to live in a world where I could meet more people with a high level of empathy, without aggression or hatred, where ruthless competition is changed into friendly cooperation. My dream would be that what is commonly regarded as the moral canon of the modern man, and therefore the protection of inalienable dignity of each individual, is reshaped from an empty, worn slogan, which it often is today, into an ethical imperative shared by the majority.
Marek Safjan is a judge in the Court of Justice of the European Union, the President of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (1998-2006), a Polish representative in the Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI) in the Council of Europe and a member of the Helsinki Committee. He participates in the work of the Ethics Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Author of many books and articles on civil law, constitutional law and law in medicine.