In the emergence of the Third World revolution during the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Third World movements of national liberation have repeatedly formulated the fundamental characteristics of the good society. One aspect of their political action has been to pressure the United Nations and other international organizations to adopt resolutions that affirm fundamental principles that ought to govern human conduct, both within and among nations. Because of the success of this political action, many international documents and declarations proclaim basic moral principles. These declarations are so extensive, and the principles that they express have been so frequently repeated by leaders of all regions of the world, that I like to call them “universal human values.”
What are the “universal human values” that have been affirmed repeatedly by humanity? They include the principles: that all persons ought to possess social and economic rights, including free education and health care and adequate nutrition, housing, clothing, and transportation; that the state ought to act definitively and decisively, to the extent that national resources permit, to protect the social and economic rights of its citizens; that special attention should be given to the needs of vulnerable populations and to sectors that historically have been victimized by discrimination, such as children, women, the elderly, indigenous populations, ethnic minorities, and migrants; that all persons have the right to meaningful political participation; that all persons have the right to cultural formation and to the development of political consciousness; that women have the right to full and equal participation in the society; that all peoples and nations have the right to self-determination; that all nations have the right to sovereignty and to autonomous national development; that all peoples have the right to the preservation of their cultures and their languages; that production should be directed toward the satisfaction of human needs, and it should not be driven by the market or by profits; that ecological forms of production should be rapidly developed; and that states should act definitively and decisively to protect the environment. The proclamation of these principles has often been accompanied by denunciations of the global powers for their repeated violation of them. Thus the peoples of the earth have denounced colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, interventions in the political affairs of nations, and the imposition of the neoliberal project.
Whereas the European-centered world-system formulated what Wallerstein (2006) calls a European universalism, the Third World national liberation movements during the past seventy years have formulated a universal universalism. The Third World formulation has drawn upon the popular movements of all regions of the world: the bourgeois democratic revolution, which affirmed the rights and the equality of all men; the socialist movements that sought to defend social and economic rights; the communist movements that developed workers’ and peasants’ councils and the principle of popular democracy; the Third World movements of national liberation, which proclaimed that not only individuals but also nations and peoples have rights, such as those of true sovereignty, self-determination, and cultural preservation; the women’s movement, which affirmed that democratic rights pertain fully and equally to women; and the ecology movement, which proclaimed the necessity of a harmonious relation with nature. In appropriating Western moral values, the Third World movement transformed their meaning, expressing them in a complementary form with one another and in a context that was defined by colonial and neocolonial domination.
Many of the universal human values, but not all, have been affirmed by governments and political leaders of the North. But often governments and political leaders of the North behave cynically. They often see universal human values as something that should be proclaimed but not implemented. They often view such proclamations as useful for pacifying the rebellious South or for satisfying demands of certain popular sectors in the North, but they avoid putting them into practice. But in the Third World, the affirmation of universal human values in the formal declarations of international agencies is taken seriously. It is seen as an important step in the construction of a more just and democratic world-system. Third World governments and movements repeatedly call upon governments of the North and international organizations to respect the principles to which they have given formal approval.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2006. European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power. New York: The New Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Wallerstein, universalism, universal human values