New Humanism and Sustainable Development

5. New Humanism as the Central Component of the New Sustainable Development Agenda
In the light of the above, the past 70 years of global development theory and policy have begun to be reviewed and rethought. Establishing political and normative frameworks towards an authentic sustainable development, which roots in peace, democracy and the genuine rapprochement of cultures, is intrinsically linked to human development, education and poverty alleviation. Sustainable development with its three pillars—economic, social, and environmental—as highlighted by the Rio+20 UN Conference in June 2012 and by the Sustainable Development Goals designed to become an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda,§ now represents the central plank in the ongoing negotiations among governments to yield the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Arguably, at the political and normative heart of all these efforts lies the notion of a new humanism.

The notion of new humanism entails a holistic approach to human progress focusing on both the search for the full realization and emancipation of the individual as well as of his or her feeling of belonging to a single human community, superseding differences of origin, ethnicity, culture, religion or gender. A concrete implementation of such ideals can only be achieved through a strong and sincere commitment to international cooperation and multilateralism, which cannot be attained without reintroducing humanism as an inclusive feature. Therefore, new humanism’s societal vision is essentially based on the promotion of education for all, of a democratic participation of all and an economic development including and benefitting all. In order to achieve a more just, equal and prosperous society, interna­tional politics has to concentrate on widening and deepening collective efforts in the fields of education, science, culture and access to information.

5.1. First Pillar – Social Development
First, it is a significant achievement that the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or Education For All (EFA)** initiatives have been translated into real and concrete measures and progress. Today, more people are educated than ever before in the history of human civilization and millions of people have as a result been enabled to lift themselves out of poverty, pursuing a life in greater freedom and self-determination. Moreover, a growing number of countries are now consciously and firmly fighting against discrimination in education, be it against women or ethnic and cultural minorities. The international community must hence ensure that every human being has access to quality education, to the benefits of science and to the capacity of participating in the sociocultural life of his or her community, at both the local and global scales. Gender equality constitutes a crucial component of new humanism and of sustainable development. Within the context of globalization, new technological innovations have established a global public sphere previously unknown. Thereby, they offer new forms and tools for creating participatory knowledge societies. Vast online libraries like the World Library of Science,†† Open Data access‡‡ and online learning opportunities like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)§§ reshape prevalent systems of education and, by even reaching marginalized and excluded populations, establish new forward-looking prospects of what education for all can mean.

The international flow of knowledge, creativity and experiences feeds itself back into defining and upholding new humanism as a synergy of peoples’ minds, aspirations and ideas. New actors stemming from civil society, especially in the form of social youth movements, invent and represent new concepts of solidarity, cultural resistance and social action. In the new digital age, today’s youth can as never before build on an almost unlimited fundus of human thought, raising hopes of a new humanism to be adjusted to the challenges of our times. Thus, new humanism signifies not only a goal of human cooperation, but also marks a strategy, seeking to enable people to create their own future. In this connection, education serves as a multiplier as it empowers people in all spheres of life, thereby enabling them to partake in the creation of knowledge, community development and cultural life. Education evokes intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding and enrichment and thus serves as a basis for establishing a global culture of humanism. Today, no single country has the solutions to all global challenges. No culture holds a universal monopoly. New humanism is therefore specifically not a mere culture for the social and intellectual elites, but it is inherently par­ticipatory and inclusive, reflecting a universal resource for all individuals and communities to follow their own approach to progress and development. Hence, education as one of the three pillars of sustainable development is highly interconnected with the idea and the realization of a new humanist approach.

5.2. Second Pillar – Environmental Development
New humanism is also linked to the second pillar of sustainable development, the environmental dimension. By promoting quality education for all, new humanism lays the basis for technological innovation, creativity and knowledge creation that is equipped to tackle today’s daunting environmental challenges. Therefore, the normative principles underpinning the post-2015 sustainable development agenda need to be “crisis-sensitive and actively contribute to the global public good”.¶¶ Support to future-oriented learning and research helps to deepen the cooperation between science and political decision-makers in finding sustainable solutions to environmental deterioration. However, reducing the pollution of the oceans, stopping climate change and protecting global biodiversity require more than firm global education efforts and a substantial promotion of science and research. Along with an increase in access to education, there needs to be a change of mentality, which overcomes selfish, egoistic and indeed unsustainable approaches of consumption and instead focuses on the preservation of our planet and the well-being of the overarching global society. Following a sustainable lifestyle is of elementary importance for overcoming poverty and protecting the world’s natural resources as a basis for all forms of life. The increasingly dramatic extent of today’s environmental challenges puts to test human society and requires a strong revival of the humanist ideals. New humanism thus reflects a strategy of sustainable development, shaping new ways of thinking and acting and striving towards the building of societies, which are able to adapt to change and challenges.

5.3. Third Pillar – Economic Sustainability
“A humanist antic- ipation of a better world implies a more equal, more just and more socially-oriented distribution of growth and wealth.”

In the hierarchy of human necessities, material and economic needs are fundamental. However, an individual’s longing for equality, human dignity, education and knowledge, identity, participation, and access to cultural and religious life cannot simply be obtained through economic development alone. Social inequalities in non-economic areas risk to aggravate and deepen inequalities in the economic field as well. Nonetheless, a sustainable and equitable economic development remains crucial for establishing a prosperous, peaceful and just society. We cannot rely on the self-managing qualities of an unleashed and purely growth-oriented liberal market approach, but have to recognize today’s new socio-economic discrepancies. These new realities urgently call for revisiting socio-economic policies and for extended global collaboration in the social, environmental and economic realms. New humanism reflects such a call for action and helps shape today’s economic reality into a more responsible direction. With respect to the field of economics, a humanist anticipation of a better world implies a more equal, more just and more socially-oriented distribution of growth and wealth. Today, we not only face increasing economic gaps between different countries and regions of the world, but we also have to deal with deep domestic ruptures of socio-economic inequality.

An important tool for an adaptation of economic policies is the concept of Social Protection Floors. Social Protection Floors aim at assisting an economic development which is more equitable in its distribution and more comprehensive in its reach. A Social Protection Floor puts forward a firm and resilient basis for economic growth and promotes a comprehensive societal insurance against exclusion, poverty and the repercussions of economic and financial crises. The implementation of Social Protection Floors is crucial to ensure that the benefits of growth accrue to all. They encourage countries to define a universal set of standards of social service coverage. The concept of a Social Protection Floor is flexible and can be adjusted to specific country contexts. It encourages a more coordinated and comprehensive formulation and an implementation of labor and social policies. The overarching goal of such floors is to induce governments to tackle extreme socio-economic inequalities and to provide for measurements like the promotion of women’s rights and women’s economic equality, apply fair and equal tax burdens, equitable access to healthcare.*** A global coalition of UN specialized agencies, international NGOs, development banks, public-private partnerships and civil society organizations has been formed to assist countries in the creation and expansion of national Social Protection Floors.

It is precisely the collaborative and participatory nature of the Social Protection Floor concept that reflects the fundamental values and implications of a new humanism. First, in recognizing economic development not as a stand-alone goal, but as an objective that needs to be embedded in a strong and solid social framework, the conceptualization of Social Protection Floors represents a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to sustainable development. Second, the particular rights and measurements comprised by the establishment of Social Protection Floors are specifically aimed at mitigating socio-economic discrepancies and articulate an inclusive and participatory approach to economic and political decision-making. Economic marginalization is highly interlinked with corresponding cultural, symbolical and socio-political forms of exclusion. Seen through the lens of a new humanist vision, it is therefore exactly the cooperative approach of the Social Protection Floors, which makes them a sustainable instrument for pursuing a more inclusive, democratic and diversified development.

6. Conclusion: New Humanism − The Way Forward
The call for a new humanism in the 21st century roots in the conviction that the moral, intellectual and political foundations of globalization and international cooperation have to be rethought. Whilst the historic humanism was set out to resolve tensions between tradition and modernity and to reconcile individual rights with newly emerging duties of citizenship, the new humanism approach goes beyond the level of the nation state in seeking to unite the process of globalization with its complex and sometimes contradictory manifestations. As Irina Bokova postulated in her installation speech as UNESCO Director-General (November 2009), the new humanism constitutes “a universal vision, open to the entire human community and embracing each and every continent […] it is to give fresh impetus to solidarity, to bring people together and awaken their conscience”. The new humanism approach therefore advocates the social inclusion of every human being at all levels of society and underlines the transformative power of education, sciences, culture and communications. Therefore, human­ism today needs to be perceived as a collective effort that holds governments, civil society, the private sector and human individuals equally responsible to realize its values and to design creatively and implement a humanist approach to a sustainable society, based on economic, social and environmental development. This “conscience of humanity”, to put it in the visionary words of Jawaharlal Nehru, reflects UNESCO’s normative principles and political mandate and indicates the way forward to multilateral strategies for sustainable development, “releasing a political energy that can deliver us right to the heart of contemporary thinking about cosmopolitan democracy”.3 In fact, new humanism describes the only way forward, if we want to live in a world that accounts for the diversity of identities and the heterogeneity of interests and which is based on inclusive, democratic, and, indeed, humanist values.

3 P. Gilroy, Against Race – Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), 243.
‡ See
§ See
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** See
†† See wsis/WSIS_Forum_2012/
‡‡ See
§§ See
¶¶ See files/UNESCOPrinciplesonEducationforDevelopmentBeyond2015.pdf
*** See–en/index.htm

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