Don't be Afraid of Ethics! Why we Need to Talk of Responsibilities as well as Rights

By Hans Küng

"Is he afraid of ethics?" Not very long ago my dear friend Alfred Grosser, the political theorist from Paris, whispered this question in my ear. The occasion was a televised dispute in Baden Baden, in which the presenter was once again gallantly dismissing the question of ethics with a reference to more immediate issues. This question came home to me again on reading the first contributions to the discussion on the proposal for a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities.1 As one of the three "academic advisors" to the InterAction Council, which is made up of former heads of state and governments, I was responsible not only for the first draft of this declaration but also for incorporating the numerous corrections suggested by the statesmen and the many experts from different continents, religions and disciplines. I therefore identify completely with this declaration. However, had I not been occupied for years with the problems, and had I not finally written A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Global Economics, published in 1997, which provides a broad treatment of all the problems which arise here, I would not have dared to formulate a first draft at all ? in close conjunction with the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and the 1993 Declaration on a Global Ethic endorsed by the Parliament of the World's Religions, which required a secular political continuation. I say this simply to those who presuppose great naivety behind such declarations. That is certainly not the case!

I. Globalization calls for a global ethic

1.The declaration by the InterAction Council (IAC) is not an isolated document. It fulfils the urgent call by important international bodies for global ethical standards at present made in chapters of the reports both of the UN Commission on Global Governance (1995) and the World Commission on Culture and Development (1995). The same topic has also been discussed for a long time at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and similarly in the new UNESCO Universal Ethics Project. Increasing attention is also being paid to it in Asia.2

2. The contemporary background to the questions raised in these international and interreligious bodies is the fact that the globalization of the economy, technology and the media has also brought a globalization of their problems (from the financial and labour markets to ecology and organized crime). If there are to be global solutions to them, they therefore also call for a globalization of ethics: no uniform ethical system, but a necessary minimum of shared ethical values, basic attitudes and criteria to which all regions, nations and interest groups can commit themselves. In another words there is a need for a common basic human ethic. There can be no new world order without a world ethic.

3. All this is not based on an "alarmist" analysis but on a realistic analysis of society. Critics have selected a few isolated quotations in particular from Helmut Schmidt's introductory article on the Declaration of Human Responsibilities in Die Zeit, printed here, and constructed a twofold charge from it:

a. the analysis of society underlying the Declaration is purely negative, gloomy, and oriented on decline;

b. such ''gloomy pictures of society'' would be used in ''potentially successful'' campaigns to ''supplement individual freedoms by reinforcing communal obligations'', a suspicion which culminates in the charge that all would be ''to limit the consequences of these individual freedoms.'' Over against this, emphatic reference is made to empirical investigations which are said to have discovered that there has been no ''repudiation of and decline in'' morality. As if Helmut Schmidt had asserted any of this. As if he had engaged in sheer ''alarmism'', demonized individualism, lamented a decline in values... Instead of this, Schmidt has indicated in a sober and realistic way some elements of danger in the process of globalization which have been seen and complained about for a long time all over the world. And Schmidt's plea for a Declaration of Human Responsibilities in particular presupposes that there are sufficient people also in the younger generation who at least in principle affirm ''responsibility'', ''morality'', and ''orientation on the common good.'' However, hardly anyone can seriously dispute that after the increase in and reinforcement of the rights of the individual over the past three decades, we need a stocktaking of education, journalism and politics. For:

4. A. sober diagnosis of the present notes that the radicalized individualization, accelerated secularization and ideological pluralization of present society is not just a negative development (thus the hierarchy of the Roman church), nor is it just a positive development (thus the belated representatives of the modern Enlightenment), but a highly ambivalent structural change. It brings opportunities and advantages, but also enormous risks and dangers, and in the midst of a revolutionary change raises new questions about criteria for values and points of orientation. This does not mean ''turning back the clock'', but recognizing the ''signs of the times''. As Marion Countess Dönhoff has remarked: ''Of course pluralistic democracy is unthinkable without the autonomous individual. So there can be no question of turning our backs on emancipation and secularization ? moreover that would be impossible. What we have to do is to educate citizens to greater responsibility and again give them a sense of solidarity. In our present world with its manifold temptations and attractions, the desire for a basic moral orientation, for norms and a binding system of values, is very great. Unless we take account of that, this society will not hold together." 3 Ralf Dahrendorf makes the following observation on the ''question of law and order'', which for him is one of the ''great questions of our time'', which for him is one of the ''great questions of our time'', along with unemployment and the welfare state. ''Lawlessness is the scourge of modernity. The sense of belonging disappears, and with is lost the support which a strong civil society gives to individuals and which they can take for granted. There is little to indicate why existing regulations and laws should be observed. Police control can replace social control only at the price of becoming authoritarian or, even worse, totalitarian. What holds modern society together?" 4

5. The question of what holds society together has in fact become more acute in postmodernity, which is a new epoch-making paradigm and does not just amount to a "second modernity". For:

  • On the one hand a classic statement which the constitutional lawyer E.W. Böckenförde made at a very early stage is still true: ''The free secular state lives on the basis of presuppositions which it cannot guarantee without putting its freedom in question," 5 Modern society therefore needs a leading social and political ideas which emerged from common convictions, attitudes and traditions which would predate this freedom. These resources are not naturally there, but need to be looked after, aroused and handed down by education (''Responsibilities are not there ''just like that'').
  • But on the other hand, what the sociologist H. Dubiel, among others, has emphasized is also true. The modern liberal social order has for a long time relied on ''habits of the heart'', on a thick cushion or pre-modern systems of meaning and obligation, though today - as is also confirmed by many teachers of religion and ethics - these are now ''worn out". 6

6. So what will hold post-modern society together? Certainly not religious fundamentalism of a biblicistic Protestant or a Roman Catholic kind. In the Declaration of Human Responsibilities there is deliberately not a single word about questions like birth control, abortion or euthanasia, on which there cannot be a consensus between and within the churches and religions. Nor however, will society be held together by the random pluralism which wants to sell us indifferentism, consumerism and hedonism as a "post-modern" vision of the future. But in the end the only thing that will hold society together is a new basic social consensus on shared values and criteria, which combines autonomous self-realization with responsibility in solidarity, rights with obligations. So we should not be afraid of an ethic which can be supported by quite different social groups. What we need is a fundamental yes to morality as a moral attitude, combined with a decisive no to moralism, which one-sidedly insists firmly on particular moral positions (e.g. on sexuality).

II. Human responsibility reinforce human rights

1. Individual human rights activists who have evidently been surprised by the new problems and the topicality of human responsibilities initially reacted with perplexity to the proposal for a Declaration of Responsibilities. Here I am not speaking of those one-issue people who wit Jeremiads and scenarios of destruction force all the problems of the world under a single perspective (say the intrinsically justified perspective of ecology, or any other perspective that they regard as the sum and solution of all problems of the world), and who want to force their one-dimensional, often monocausal view, of the world (Carl Amery's ''biospheric perspective'') upon everyone, instead of taking seriously the many levels and the many dimensions of human life and social reality, as the Declaration of Human Responsibilities does. I am speaking, rather, of those who use sophisticated arguments, like the German General Secretary of Amnesty International, Volkmar Deile. 7 In principle he affirms ''a necessary minimum of shared ethical values, basic attitudes and criteria to which all religions, nations, and interest groups can commit themselves'', but he has suspicions about a separate Declaration of Human Responsibilities. These suspicions seem to me to be worth considering, even if in the end I cannot share them. The main reason is that a Declaration of Human Responsibilities does not do the slightest damage to the Declaration of Human Rights. At any rate the UN Commissions and other international bodies cited here 8 are of the same opinion. Reflection on human responsibilities does not damage the realization of human rights. On the contrary, it furthers it. But let us look more closely.

2. A Declaration of Human Responsibilities supports and reinforces the Declaration of Human Rights from an ethical perspective, as is already stated programmatically in the preamble: ''We thus... renew and reinforce commitments already proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: namely, the full acceptance of the dignity of all people; their inalienable freedom and equality, and their solidarity with one another.'' If human rights are not realized in many places where they could be implemented, this is for the most part for want of lack of political and ethical will. There is no disputing the fact that ''the rule of law and the promotion of human rights depend on the readiness of men and women to act justly''. Nor will any of those who fight for human rights dispute this.

3. Of course it would be wrong to think that the legal validity of human rights depends on the actual realization of responsibilities. ''Human rights - a reward for good human behaviour''. Who would assert such nonsense? This would in fact mean that only those who had shown themselves worthy of rights by doing their duty towards society would have any. That would clearly offend against the unconditional dignity of the human person, which is itself a presupposition of both rights and responsibilities. No one has claimed that certain human responsibilities must be fulfilled first, by individuals or a community, before one can claim human rights. These are given with the human person, but this person is always at the same time one who has rights and responsibilities: ''All human rights are by definition directly bound up with the responsibility to observe them'' (V. Deile). Rights and responsibilities can certainly be distinguished neatly, but they cannot be separated from each other. Their relationship needs to be described in a differentiated way. They are not quantities which are to be added or subtracted externally, but two related dimensions of being human in the individual and the social sphere.

4. No rights without responsibilities: as such, this concern is by no means new, but goes back to the ''founding period'' of human rights. The demand was already made in the debate over human rights in the French Revolutionary Parliament of 1789 that if one proclaims a Declaration of Human Rights one must combine it with a Declaration of Human Responsibilities. Otherwise, in the end everyone would have only rights, which they would play off against one another, and no one would any longer know the responsibilities without which these rights cannot function. And what about us, 200 years after the Great Revolution? We in fact live largely in a society in which individual groups all too often insist on rights against others without recognizing any responsibilities that they themselves have. This is certainly not because of codified human rights as such, but because of certain false developments closely connected with them. In the consciousness of many people these have led to a preponderance of rights over responsibilities. Instead of the culture of human rights which is striven for, there is often an unculture of exaggerated claims to rights which ignores the intentions of human rights. The ''equilibrium of freedom, equality and participation'' is not simply ''present'', but time and again has to be realized afresh. After all, we indisputably live in a ''society of claims'', which often presents itself as a ''society of legal claims'', indeed as a ''society of legal disputes''. This makes the state a ''judiciary state'' (a term applied to the Federal Republic of Germany by the legal historian S.Simon). 9 Does this not suggest the need for a new concentration on responsibilities, particularly in our over-developed constitutional states with all their justified insistence on rights?

5. What Deile calls ''the reality of severe violations of human rights which spans the world'' should make it clear, particularly to professional champions of human rights who want to defend human rights ''unconditionally'', how much a declaration and explanation of human rights comes up against a void where people, particularly those in power, ignore (''What concern is that of mine?), neglect (''I have to represent only the interests of my firm''), fail to perceive (''That's what churches and charities are for''), or simply pretend falsely to be fulfilling (''We, the government, the board of directors, are doing all what we can), their humane responsibilities. The ''weakness of human rights'' is not in fact grounded in the concept itself ''but in the lack of any political (and ? I would add ? moral) will on the part of those responsible for implementing them'' (V.Deile). To put it plainly: an ethical impulse and the motivation of norms is needed for an effective realization of human rights. Many human rights champions active on the fronts of this world who confess their ''Yes to a Global Ethic'' 10 have already explicitly endorsed that. Therefore those who want to work effectively for human rights should welcome a new moral impulse and framework of ethical orientation and not reject it, to their own disadvantage.

6. The framework of ethical orientation in the Declaration of Human Responsibilities in some respects extends beyond human rights, which now ''clearly say what is commanded and forbidden only for quite specific spheres (V. Deile). Nor does the Declaration of Human Rights expressly raise such a comprehensive moral claim. A Declaration of Human Responsibilities must extend much further and begin at a much deeper level. And indeed the two basic principles of the Declaration of Human Responsibilities already offer an ethical orientation of everyday life which is as comprehensive as it is fundamental: the basic demand, ''Every human being must be treated humanely'' and the Golden Rule, ''What you do no wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others''. Not to mention the concrete requirements of the Declaration of Human Responsibilities for truthfulness, non-violence, fairness, solidarity, partnership, etc. Where the Declaration of Human Rights has to leave open what is morally permissible and what is not, the Declaration of Human Responsibilities states this ? not as a law but as a moral imperative. Therefore the Declaration of Human Responsibilities ''opens up the possibility of agreement ? democratic agreement ? about what is right and what is wrong. The responsibility of being interested in these important questions returns the manifesto to the individual? Thus it is not paternalistic but political. What else could it be?'' 11

7. If the Declaration of Human Responsibilities is mostly formulated ''anonymously'', since it is focussed less on the individual (to be protected) than on the state (the power of which has to be limited), while the Declaration of Human Responsibilities is also addressed to state and institutions, it is primarily and very directly addressed to responsible persons. Time and again it says, ''all people'' or ''every person''; indeed specific professional groups which have a particular responsibility in our society (politicians, officials, business leaders, writers, artists, doctors, lawyers, journalists, religious leaders) are explicitly addressed, but no one is singled out. It is beyond dispute that such a Declaration of Responsibilities represents a challenge in the age of random pluralism, at least for the ''winners'' in the process of individualism at the expense of others, and for all those who recognize only ''provided it's fun'' or ''it contributes to my personal advancement'' as the sole moral norm. But the declaration is not concerned with a new ''community ideology'', which is the criticism made of the communitarians around Amitai Etzioni. At least these people do not want to set up a ''tyranny of the common mind'' and to relieve people even of individual responsibility. That is what is done, rather, by their superficiality moral opposite numbers, who, fatally mistaking the crisis of the present, think that they have to propagate a ''confession of the selfish society'' or the ''virtue of having no orientation or ties'' as a way into the future.

8. Thus like the Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Human Responsibilities is primarily a moral appeal. As such it does not have the direct binding character of international law, but it proclaims to the world public some basic norms for collective and individual behaviour which apply to everyone. This appeal is, of course, also meant to have an effect on legal and political practice. However, it does not aim at any legalistic morality. The Declaration of Responsibilities is not a ''blueprint for a legally binding canon of responsibilities with a world-wide application'', as has been insinuated. No such spectres should be conjured up at a time when even the pope and the curial apparatus can no longer implement their legalistic authoritarian moral views in their very own sphere (far less in the outside world). A key feature of the Declaration of Human Responsibilities is that it specifically does not aim at legal codification, which in any case is impossible in the case of moral attitudes like truthfulness and fairness. It aims at voluntarily taking responsibility. Such a declaration can of course lead to legal regulations in individual cases, or if it is applied to institutions. However, a Declaration of Human Responsibilities should be morally rather than legally binding.

III. ''Responsibilities'' can be misused - but so too can ''rights''

1. Particularly those who reject any revision of the Declaration of Human Rights (and this is certainly also rejected by the IAC) should argue for a Declaration of Human Responsibilities. To discredit the plea of many Asians for a recognition of responsibilities - traditional in Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam - a priori as authoritarian and paternalistic is to be blind to reality and arrogant in a Eurocentric way. It is obvious that here the attack on the idea of responsibilities is often governed by political interests. But that (makes) does not deprive the demand for responsibilities generally of its credibility, any more than the call for freedom is discredited because it is misused by robber baron capitalists or sensational journalists. To think that authoritarian systems would wait specifically for a Declaration of Responsibilities and in the future woo would be dependent on a Declaration of Responsibilities to uphold their authoritarian system is ridiculous. Rather, in the future it will be possible to address authoritarian systems more critically than before over their responsibility to show truthfulness and tolerance - which is not contained in any human rights. And this can have an effect. Authoritarian systems like those of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, the Philippines or South Africa were overthrown without bloodshed, not least by moral arguments and demonstrations, with demands for ''truth'', ''freedom'', ''justice'', ''solidarity'', ''humanity'' slogans which often went beyond human rights. So human rights and human responsibilities should be seen together. A Declaration of Human Responsibilities can serve many people as a reference document in the same way as the Declaration of Human Rights - and this can be significant not least for education and schools.

2. Germans in particular have an additional problem here. Unfortunately they do not have the good fortune of the Anglo-Americans, who have three related terms with different emphases, ''duties'', ''obligations'' and ''responsibilities'' where they have to made do with one, ''Pflicht.'' It was exciting to see how among the professionals both in Paris (UNESCO) and Vienna (InterAction Council) and in Davos (World Economic Forum) each time quickly agreed on the term ''responsibilities'' to translate Pflicht. Why? Because this term more than the other words emphasizes inner responsibility rather than the external law, and inner responsibility must be the ultimate aim of a Declaration of Responsibilities, which can in no way enforce an ethic. If ''Verantwortlichkeit'' were accepted terminology, that would have been preferable, but it seemed possible to use this only on isolated occasions.

3. Europeans, and especially Germans, need to be reminded that this term Pflicht in the sense of ''duty'' has been shamefully misused in their more recent history. ''Duty'' (towards superiors, the Fuhrer, the Volk, the party, even the pope) has been hammered home by totalitarian, authoritarian and hierarchical ideologies of all kinds. So one can understand the anxious projections (''authoritarian state'', ''paternalism''... ), which have led to the word being made morally and ultimately even linguistically taboo. But should abusers prevent us from taking up positively a concept which has had a long history since Cicero and Ambrose, which was made a key concept of modern times and which even today seems irreplaceable? So we should not be afraid of ethics: responsibility exerts a moral pressure but it does not compel. It follows primarily not from purely technical or economic reason but from ethical reason, which encourages and urges human beings, whose nature is to be able to decide freedom, to act morally. And here it should be remembered that:

4. Not only obligations but also rights can be misused: particularly when, first, they are constantly used exclusively for one's own advantage and, secondly, when they are constantly exploited to the maximum, to their limit of their own extreme possibilities. Those who neglect their responsibilities finally also undermine rights. Even the state would be endangered if its citizens made no meaningful use of rights and employed them purely to their own advantage. Indeed, not even Amnesty International could survive if it was governed and supported by such egoistic ''being in the right'' instead of by ethically motivated activists. So we should be aware of false alternatives:

5. Liberating rights (in the West) versus enslaving responsibilities (in the East): this is a construction against which resolute opposition must be declared. The Declaration of Responsibilities which reinforces the Declaration of Rights could perceive a function of supplementing and mediating here ? without threatening the universal validity, the indivisibility and the cohesion of human rights. It could be a help towards avoiding a ''clash of civilizations'' which only the innocent can suppose to be ''long refuted'', as soon as on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.

6. I share the love of freedom, and Isaiah Berlin was certainly right in saying that freedom is essentially about the absence of compulsion with the ''negative'' aim of avoiding interference: i.e. freedom from. But as a former Isaiah Berlin lecturer in Cambridge, perhaps I may modestly remark that a pure ''freedom from'' can be destructive and sometimes dangerous without a ''freedom for''; here the British sociologist Anthony Giddens confirms a piece of old theological wisdom. This should certainly not be a call for the exercise of freedom ''as service to the community'', which can easily lead to servitude, but is rather that freedom in responsibility without which liberty becomes libertinism, which in the end leaves people who live only for their egos inwardly burnt out. However, such libertinism becomes a social problem the moment there is a dramatic increase in the number of people who selfishly cultivate their own interests and the private aesthetic development of their everyday lives, and are ready for commitment only in so far as this serves their needs and sense of pleasure. Even the political weeklies and journals are slowly beginning to note this: recently major critical articles have appeared on ''The Shameless Society'' or ''The New Shamelessness''.

7. We need not worry: morality and community cannot be ''prescribed'' as obligations. And the best guarantee of peace is in fact a functioning state which guarantees its citizens the security of the law. Here human rights are the ''guiding star'' (not the ''explosive device'') of such a society. But precisely because community and morality cannot be prescribed, the personal responsibility of its citizens is indispensable. As we saw, the democratic state is dependent on a consensus of values, norms and responsibilities, precisely because it cannot and should not either create this consensus or prescribe it.

8. Those concerned with human rights in particular must know that the Declaration of Human Rights itself, in Article 29, contains a definition of the ''duties of everyone towards the community''. From this it follows with compelling logic that a Declaration of Human Responsibilities cannot in any way stand in contradiction to the Declaration of Human Rights. And if concrete forms of political, social and cultural articles on human rights were possible and necessary through international agreements in the 1960s, why should a development of Article 29 by an extended formulation of these responsibilities in the 1990s be illegitimate? On the contrary, precisely in the light of this it becomes clear that human rights and human responsibilities do not mutually restrict each other for society but supplement each other a fruitful way ? and all champions of human rights should recognize this as a reinforcement of their position. It is not by chance that this Article 29 speaks of the ''just requirements of morality, public order and general welfare in a democratic society''. But the asymmetrical structure in the determination of the relationship of rights and responsibilities must be noted.

IV. Not all responsibilities follow from rights

1. The decisive question, whether expressed or not, is whether alongside a claim to rights there is also a need for reflection on responsibilities. The answer to that is: All rights imply responsibilities, but not all responsibilities follow from rights. Here are three examples:

(a) The freedom of the press or of a journalist is guaranteed and protected by the modern constitutional state: the journalist, the newspaper, has the right to report freely. The state must protect this right actively, and if need be to enforce it. Therefore the state and the citizen have the responsibility of respecting the right of this newspaper of this journalist to free reporting. However, this right does not yet in any way touch on the responsibility of the journalist or the media themselves (which has been widely discussed since the death of Princess Diana) to inform the public truthfully and avoid sensational reporting which demeans the dignity of the human person (cf. Article 14 of the Declaration of Responsibilities). But that the freedom of opinion which critics claim entails a responsibility ''not to insult others'' is a claim to which no lawyer would subscribe. 12

(b) The right each individual to property is also guaranteed by the modern constitutional state. It contains the legal responsibility of others (the state of the individual citizen) to respect this property and not to misappropriate it. However, this right does not in any way affect the responsibility of property-owners themselves not to use the property in an anti-social way but to use it socially (this is laid down as a duty in the German Basic Law), to bridle the manifestly unquenchable human greed for money, power, prestige and consumption, and to use economic power in the service of social justice and social order (cf. Article 11).

(c)The freedom of conscience of individuals to decide in accordance with their own consciences contains the legal responsibility of themselves and others (individuals and the state) to respect any free decision of the conscience: the individual conscience is guaranteed protection by the constitution in democracies. However, this right by no means entails the ethical responsibility of individuals to follow their own conscience in every case, even, indeed precisely when this is unacceptable or abhorrent to them.

2. It follows from this that rights also entail certain responsibilities, and these are legal responsibilities. But by no means all responsibilities follow from rights. There are also independent ethical responsibilities which are directly grounded in the dignity of the human person. At a very early stage in the theoretical debate on this, two types of responsibility were distinguished: obligations in the narrower sense, ''complete'', legal obligations; and responsibilities in the wider sense, ''incomplete'', ethical responsibilities like those prompted by conscience, love and humanity. These are based on the insight of the individual and cannot be compelled by the state through law.

3. Thus ethics is not exhausted in law. The levels of law and ethics belong together, but a fundamental distinction is to be made between them, and this is particularly significant for human rights.

  • Human beings have fundamental rights which are formulated in the Declarations of Human Rights. To these correspond the legal responsibilities of both state and individual citizens to respect and protect these rights. Here we are at the level of law, regulations, the judiciary, the police. External behaviour in conformity to the law can be examined; in principle the law can be appealed to and if need be enforced (''in the name of the law'').
  • But at the same time human beings have original responsibilities which are already given with their personhood and are not grounded in any rights: these are ethical responsibilities which cannot be fixed by law. Here we are at the level of ethics, customs, the conscience, the "heart''... The inward, morally good disposition, or even truthfulness, cannot be tested directly; therefore it cannot be brought under the law, let alone be compelled (''thoughts are free''). The ''sanctions'' of the conscience are not of a legal kind but often of a moral kind - and can even be felt in dreams and sleeplessness. The fact that immorality rarely pays in the long run, even in politics and business, and often leads to conflicts with the criminal law, does not follow directly from the ethical imperative.

4. Where a gap yawns between law and ethics, the law does not function either. Whether human rights will be realized in concrete terms depends not only generally on the ethical will of those responsible, but often on the moral energy of an individual or a few people. Even the realization of the fundamental principle of international law, ''pacta sunt servanda'', ''treaties are to be kept'', depends quite decisively on the ethical will of the partner to the treaty, as the example of former Yugoslavia has again demonstrated. And must not truthfulness, which cannot be tested by law, be presupposed in the conclusion of any treaty, even if it cannot be compelled legally? ''Morality is good, rights are better'' (as Norbert Greinacher remarked) is a simple statement. For what use are any rights and laws if there are no morals, no moral disposition, no obligation of conscience behind them? In other words, the law needs a moral foundation! So the Declaration of Responsibilities says that a better world order cannot be created with laws, conventions and ordinances alone. Indeed, without an ethic, in the end the law will not stand. So it is meaningful and requisite to set a Declaration of Human Responsibilities alongside the Declaration of Human Rights. As I have remarked, the two do not restrict each other but support each other.

5. One last thing: the nineteen articles of the Declaration of Human Responsibilities are anything but a random cocktail. As any expert will easily recognize, they are a reshaping of the four elementary imperatives of humanity (not to kill, steal, lie, commit sexual immorality) translated for our time. Despite all differences between the faiths, these can already be found in Patanjali, the founder of Yoga, the Bhagavadgita and the Buddhist canon, and of course also in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Qur’an, and indeed in all the great religious and ethical traditions of humankind. No ''cultural relativism'' is being encouraged here; rather, this is overcome by the integration of culture-specific values into an ethical framework with an universal orientation. As we saw, like human rights, these fundamental human responsibilities have their point of reference, their centre and the nucleus in the acknowledgement of human dignity, which stands at the centre of the very first sentence of the Declaration of Human Responsibilities, as it does in the Declaration of Human Rights. From it follows the fundamental ethical imperative to treat every human being humanely, made concrete by the Golden Rule, which also does not express a right but a responsibility. Thus the Declaration of Responsibilities is an appeal to the institutions, but also to the moral consciousness of individuals, explicitly to note the ethical dimension in all action.

6. My final wish for the wider debate is for there to be no false fronts, no artificial oppositions between rights and responsibilities, between an ethic of freedom and an ethic of responsibility, but rather a grasping of the opportunities which there could be in such a perhaps epoch-making declaration, were it promulgated. After all, it is not every day that statesmen from all the continents agree on such a text and propagate such a cause. And above all let us not be afraid of ethics: rightly understood, ethics does not enslave but frees. It helps us to be truly human and to remain so.


1. Cf. the series on rights and responsibilities in Die Zeit, nos 41-48, 1997. Contributors included Helmut Schmidt, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Susanne Gaschke, Hans Küng, Norbert Greinacher, Carl Amery, and Marion Gräfin Donhoff. Where names appear in this article without further details they usually refer to this series.

2. Cf. the contribution by J. Frühbauer in this volume.

3. M. Gräfin Dönhoff, ''Verantwörtung für das Ganze'', in E. Teufel (ed.), Was hält die moderne Gesellschaft zusammen?, Frankfurt 1996, 44. Or Thomas Assheuer, addressing the naively optimistic propagandists of a ''second modernity'' (Ulrich Beck); ''To speak of a social and moral crisis is no longer the privilege of conservatives''. T. Assheuer, ''Im Prinzip ohne Hoffnung. Die ''zweite Moderne'' als Formel: Wie Soziologen alte Fragen neue drapieren'', Die Zeit, 18 July 1997.

4. R. Dahrendorf, ''Liberale ohne Heimat'', Die Ziet, 8 January 1998.

5. Thus the federal judge E. W.Bockenforde, ''Fundamente der Freiheit'', in ibid, 89.

Böckenförde formulated the thesis quoted above thirty years ago, in the meantime it may be taken to have been fully accepted.

6. H. Dubiel, ''Von welchen Ressourcen leben wir? Erfolge und Grenzen der Aufklärung'', in F. Teufel (ed.), Was halt die moderne Gesellschaft zusammen (n.3), 81.

7. Cf. V. Deile, ''Rechte bedingungslos verteidigen'', Die Zeit, 21 November 1997.

8. There are more details in J. Fruhbauer.

9. Cf. the radio broadcast by the Director of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt am Main, D. Simon, ''Der Richter als Ersatzkaiser'' (manuscript).

10. Cf. H. Küng (ed.) Yes to a Global Ethic, London and New York 1996.

12. S Gaschke, ''Die Ego-Polizei", Die Zeit, 24 October 1997.

13. For this complex of problems see the correspondence between the World Press Freedom Committee and the InterAction Council.