A Global Covenant

“Our global situation today is not unlike the condition of European nations during the great wars of religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the wake of the Reformation. Then, as now, there were many societies riven by conflict. The question arose: how can people of violently conflicting beliefs live peaceably together? Out of that crisis came the idea – variously framed by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau – of a social contract by which individuals agree to cede certain private powers to a central authority charged with the maintenance of order and pursuit of the common good.”

“We are not in sight of a global contract whereby nation states agree to sacrifice part of their sovereignty to create a form of world governance. There is, however, an alternative, namely a global covenant. Covenants are more foundational than contracts. Social covenants create societies; social contracts create states. Ancient Israel initiated its social contract when, at the request of the people, Samuel anointed Saul as king, giving rise to Israel’s first national government. It received its social covenant several centuries earlier in the revelation at Mount Sinai. The relation between covenant and contract is akin to that between the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1789). The latter specifies the constitutional structure of the state, the former the moral principles of the society on which it is founded. Covenants are beginnings, acts of moral engagement. They are couched in broad terms whose precise meaning is the subject of ongoing debate but which stand as touchstones, ideals, reference points against which policies and practices are judged. What we need now is not a contract bringing into being a global political structure, but rather a covenant framing our shared vision for the future of humanity.”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 176