Ten Social Justice Trends Changing the World


Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

41st St Gallen-Switzerland Symposium, May 11-13, 2012

Just Power

The word “justice” has four very different meanings: under judiciary justice, there is punitive justice but also restorative justice; and under social justice, there is distributive justice but also equitative justice.  In the latter interaction for mutual and equal cost and benefit is automatic, built into the structure.

The word “power” also seems to have four different meanings: economic and military power based on carrots and sticks, and cultural and political power based on values and decisions.

Sixteen types of just power.  Right wing speakers often focus on punitive-military power; on force with built-in punishment of the guilty, like a war where the evil Other loses.  Left wing speakers focus more on equitative-economic power, on classless societies after a revolution, or on interaction parity, like in marriage after patriarchy.  And middle wing social democrats on distributing economic, cultural and political power.  Better focus on all.

The following are some brief comments on trends unfolding right now, before our eyes.  Five of them are in global space, between regions and states; five of them in social space, between groups:

Global Trends:

[1]  The Decline and Fall of the US Empire

[2]  The Decline of the West

[3]  The Decline of States and Rise of Regions

[4]  The Rise of the Rest

[5]  The Rise of China

Social Trends:

[6]  The Rise of Nations

[7]  The Rise of Civil Society

[8]  The Rise of Youth

[9]  The Rise of Women

[10] The Rise of Inequality and Revolts

The sum is of the same magnitude as the transformations from Greco-Roman Antiquity to the Middle Ages to Early Modern to Modern (1789) in the West.  They unfolded under globalizing christianities; the present ones under globalizing capitalism and global warming.

The five global trends may look like a validation of a theory of communicating vessels: when one goes down, the other goes up; West down and the Rest up, USA down and China up.  There may be limited space on the top.  However, these trends can also be seen, and perhaps better so, as five unrelated phenomena within their own social logic.  Thus, trend [1] is about an empire, not about the USA–that part is covered by trend [2] with the USA as part of a West that cannot afford sustainable development.  An underdeveloping country; turning the American dream into the American nightmare.

However, the decline and ultimate fall of an empire is a different process, related to a seemingly inescapable birth-growth-maturation-aging-death logic of empires as organisms.  If well constructed, with ample rewards to cooperating Periphery elites, the Center can extract much economic dependency, fear of force, identity with the Center, and obedience.  Yet, only up to a certain point: the empire becomes victim of its own success, overextends and-or underestimates the countervailing power.  Expansion comes to an end and a (long) period of status quo, maintaining the highly unjust use in all four senses of injustice of all four forms of power.

An empire is an archetype of unjust power, extracting dependency, fear, false identity and obedience by implanting cooperating elites. Occasionally the Periphery fuses with the Center, a process referred to as nation-building when geographically contiguous, like in Spain, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China.

When no longer working, as recently happened to the English, French, other West European, and the Soviet empires, the USA has to produce and not live on unequal trade and printed “world currency”– the demise of the dollar in favor of a mix is imminent–contract to homeland defense from bases and wars all over, enter into dialogues with other cultures, and negotiate political deals, not dictate.

However, even with wars increasingly lost, other cultures (Islam, Japanese, Chinese) being equally inspiring, obedience increasingly rare, economic exploitation may continue for some time, being built into inequitable trade structures making resources and labor dirt cheap within and between countries.  There will be some distributive justice as development assistance concealing transfers in the opposite direction due to exploitation, flight of capital, corruption.  Moreover, economism conceals the much more important sociological effect of Western development assistance based on stipends to promising individuals who then constitute a post-colonial elite, and other transfers are predestined to benefit them. Kwame Nkrumah aptly referred to this pattern as neo-colonialism.

An unstable equilibrium, tenable only if the West has monopoly on high levels of processing.  Japan was the first non-European challenger, followed by four small “dragons,” followed by five giant BRICS countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa], breaking down the old equilibrium, as one key factor in the decline of the West.   The rest of the Rest will all follow, producing at least for their own elites if not for export.

However, there could also be increasing global demand meeting this increasing global supply had it not been for the increasing inequality in the West, leaving the bottom 30-50-70% with too low acquisitive power to buy products with high value-added.  Add to that the anomaly that the liquidity transported upward by inequity also leaves those higher up with little choice but speculation.  A host of new financial products, derivatives, basically a way of betting, are waiting for them, for high speed buying and selling.  Result: Boiling Finance Economy + Frozen Real Economy = Crash; facilitated by economists unable or unwilling to foresee and tell.  If the Rest, and China, fall into these traps, like India, their rise will come to an end, like it did for Japan.

The remedy for the West is as obvious as it is unfeasible: do not bail out banks too incompetent to survive, regulate the finance economy, and then stimulus for people, starting with those most in need, encouraging mini-companies for agricultural cooperatives, polyclinics with generic medicines for the common diseases of common people, schools for both genders and all age groups. Nevertheless, in the West the classes in power will protect bankers rather than common people.  The Chinese “capi-communist” formula, raise the level of those at the bottom to alleviate their suffering and to participate in the real economy could do miracles in the West.  But it would stumble on steep class gradients, and not only in the USA.  However: [10].

If a basic key to progress is increased acquisitive power at the bottom, then ever more countries, including India, will imitate China.  This will also have a grave impact on Western self-esteem and lead to increases in mental disorders in the West, not unlike the suicide epidemic when the Hapsburg Empire started declining.

The reason for trend [3]–the decline of the state and rise of the region–is as simple as it is irreversible.  Marx wrote about means of production, but not about means of communication and transportation.  With co-existence around the world in real time, like SMS [Short Message Service], and transportation reduced to hours, most states become very small.  Only the biggest ones–BRICS, USA and some others–will survive, the rest will increasingly be absorbed into regions defined by geographical vicinity and cultural affinity.  That gives us a christian-secular European Union, a mixed African Union, a hindu-muslim SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation], a mixed ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], a catholic-secular Latin America, a muslim OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] from Morocco to the Philippines, a confucian-buddhist East Asia, and an orthodox-secular Russian Union with as much autonomy for Chechnya as for the Netherlands in the European Union.

And United Regions, UR; as likely successor to United Nations, UN.

Time for the social trends.  A state is a piece of territory with power concentrated in an organization with the same name, the “state.”  However, nations are cultural groups with four characteristics: (by and large) shared idiom; religion-ideology; time–meaning shared (myths of) history, past, present, future; and space–attachment to some piece of territory, geography.  With about 200 states, 20 of them nation-states with basically only one nation, and 2000 nations, only four of about 180 multi-national states are pari-national, in the sense that no nation is dominant.  They are, in Europe Switzerland–the mother of pari-nationality–Belgium with problems, and in Asia the linguistic federal India, and Malaysia.  For the rest the safe prediction is struggle, often violent, for nations in the shadows to get into the sunlight, be that as independent states, as autonomous parts of a federation, or other types of sovereignty.

The nation has been on the rise for a long time, and the French trick of defining nations as citizens–of the same state–convince only the few.  The fault-line mobilizing readiness to kill and be killed is today less state-state and more nation-nation, religion, language, territory.  The nature of war is changing, but the formula “from inter-state to intra-state” is sloppy; many nations can be as multi-state as states can be multi-national.  Very many, and very different, (con-)federations will come out of this.  Nevertheless, regions may serve as accommodating umbrella organizations as more free flow of people across state and nation borders blunts the contradiction.

The states are eroded by strong forces from above–regionalism and the globalizing capitalism of TNCs [Trans National Corporations] and banks–and from below, nationalism and non-State/non-Capital civil society that inspires identity and solidarity: extended families, clans, tribes, trade unions, villages, towns, cities, religious groups, guerrillas.  The states are squeezed, but will still be with us for some time.

There is simply so much more in the world than states, making our maps with borders and (4) different colors for states a very poor guide to reality.  Yet the USA is mesmerized by that guide and clings irrationally to a reality vanishing before their eyes.

And there is more, much more.  Maybe the proletariat in the marxist analysis has run out of steam with social democracy and the collapse of Soviet-Eastern European style socialism; but society has other fault-lines than buyers vs sellers of labor.  Age, gender, race, and nation in its broad cultural sense encompassing language and religion.  A focus on age brings in four categories: childhood, adolescence-education, adulthood-work, retirement– CEWR.  The student-youth revolt that started in Latin America in 1963, came to Europe in 1968, has now come to MENA–Middle East-North Africa–, to Spain as the M15 movement, to the US with the Occupy Movement, and will move on to any continent and country in the world, driven by unemployment, high education in a context of unwise decisions, autocracy and cleptocracy (including, indeed, corruption).

With an aging (and hence less fertile) population seen as a problem rather than as an asset of experience, even wisdom, we are heading not only for more youth revolts, but also for the revolt of the retired.  Some will claim pension funds lost in speculation; others will claim the right to be socially useful through work, not submitting to the dictatorship of the middle-aged saying “get out!”

Like persons, like countries; they also undergo CEWR.  The 1960s gave birth to a number of childhood countries searching for identity; surrounded by adolescent countries whose identity is negative, protesting-contesting.  And then there are adult countries beaming with projects–BRICS being good examples–and retired countries whose major project is status quo, staying alive.  China is a former retired country, now making it through C and E to W.

Add to this the rise of women, a revolutionary, epic trend; a USA-based revolution from the 1970-80s, with its backlash.  The power resource for women is cultural, education, easily outdoing lazy males in diligence.  The revolt spreads to all countries, smashing the patriarchic family (only 1/5 of US households are married couples with children), claiming 50% of all positions.

And that brings us to the last trend, [10].  Inequities produce inequalities that give rise to revolts–whether they succeed as revolutions, turning societies upside-down, is another matter.  The enormous inequalities–like 1% in the USA controlling 40% of the wealth and low inter-generational mobility–are felt within and between countries.  Some years ago, the Gross Global Product growth was around 2.8%, and the inequality–the ratio in acquisitive power between the top and bottom 20%–growth was about 3.2%.  Growth did not compensate for the fate of the bottom quintile, and the bottom of that bottom now dies to the tune of, say, 125,000 a day; 25,000 from hunger and 100,000 from diseases that are preventable-curable if the money is available.  An evil world, as seen by billions.

Are there similar gaps for military, cultural and political power?  How about force inequality, isn’t there a single superpower, billed as the most powerful country over all the powerless?  Well, why then does the USA fail to win one war after the other; Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and right now Somalia, Yemen, Libya?  Because of different but countervailing force, like guerrilla, terrorism and nonviolence.  To attack a global imperial power like the USA, or a regional imperial power like Israel with its own weapons–Saddam Hussein tanks 1990-91 against the USA and Hamas rockets against Israel–is stupid tactics; hence the others.  It seems easier to establish a balance of force than a balance of wealth. South-East Asia showed the way for the latter, but balance of force is quicker.

How about cultural inequality?  The chasm between radiating light unto the nations, and being dark holes in the universe with no radiation, only, at most, absorption?  The answer is that the light of those stars seems to be fading, as when four–USA, UK, Italy and Japan–of the G8 countries that preach their cultural gospels to the world are in processes of dedevelopment.  Moreover, those dark holes may have inner lives drawn from their rich cultural resources, including their knowledge of the West, for good and for bad.  In fact, they may have emanated light for millennia, but on wavelengths not observable by Western eyes.  Till suddenly a Japanese development model explodes in the face of the West early last century–to be destroyed and Japan contributed to that destruction–followed by a Chinese model similar to the Japanese by a country too big to beat.  And equally capable of capturing the minds of others.

How about political inequality?  Enters democracy, pitting popular majorities against elite minorities, unless they manage to change the game, for instance from one person-one vote to one (thousand) dollar-one vote.  They–the Anglo-Saxons and other NATO powers particularly–hang on to power in the UN by resisting such democratic UN institutions as Uniting for Peace–like for the recognition of Palestine, something that should have happened long time ago anyhow.  For the UN the options are now democracy or die.

When democracy is sabotaged, people or states find a way out, through people-people, South-South etc, cooperation.  They will reduce the economic dependency, build their own alliances like the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization], inspire each other–not rejecting the best ideas from the West–and make their own decisions.  In other words, a self-reliance based on decoupling from anti-democratic people or countries–many of them in the retirement stage–the Gandhi way, through self-sufficiency, fearlessness, identity, and swaraj, self-rule.

Let us now try to summarize with some reflections on the obvious question: where does all this lead us in the years to come?

We do not assume any primacy to the global, nor to the social, trends.  They play into each other.  Thus, the MENA “Arab Spring” is obviously a revolt against gross political and economic inequality, carried basically by the rise of youth and women, itself adding to their rise as major social forces.  But the revolt is also against that imperial couple, USA-Israel–seeing themselves as God-chosen–building elites all over, ruling their empires through corrupt dictators.  The Arab spring weakens those elites and empires already eroded by long time processes, making them apply disproportionate violence, in turn causing proportionate revolts.

The US and Israeli empires will probably collapse before 2020, but the USA and Israel will not collapse if they have the wisdom to contract.  An Israel close to 1967 borders could find a home in a Middle East Community with its five Arab neighbors, as Germany did within the Treaty of Rome from 1958.  Moreover, a USA cutting out wars, interventions, bases, and dictates, could find a home in a North American Community of Mexico-USA-Canada.  A MEC, a MEXUSCAN.  The present presidents will add to infamy by using much force and little wisdom, clinging to dying empires; so may the successors (Lieberman? Palin?).  But the successors of their successors may be realistic.

With the two Achilles heals of the Western construction healed the West might actually start recovering economically and socially, no longer tied to hopeless, futureless foreign policies.  By that time, however, the rise of the Rest and China may have come too far to offer them anything like the world space they are accustomed to.  The colossal land of (a) Russia(n Union) will be blooming, probably helped by a Russian Spring not unlike the Arab one.  Youth and women will play major roles, may even invent a better communism.  In 2017?

Something similar may happen to China; but much has already happened, inside the party.  And the dynamism seems sustainable, both for growth–26% annually for 30 years in the economic zone where Deng started in 1980, giving rise to the immense inequalities in wealth, power and relative to nature–and for “opening up”, with 30 million going abroad and returning annually to ever more freedom.

More problematic is India with the huge burden of caste in the countryside, still the home of half of the people.  The Naxalites are probably only a premonition of the guerrilla, terrorism and nonviolence to come.  Maybe one day China, with its nation problem, could learn linguistic federalism from India, and India, with its caste-class problem, could learn capi-communism from China?  The two most populous countries in the world liberating each other?

Africa, the home of more than one billion, is probably in for giant revolts against the elites grown by the West.  Libya is resting on a sea of fresh water that could irrigate much of Sahara, and Africa south of Sahara has enough riches including fertile lands to feed itself handsomely, with women in charge of the distribution.  Latin America is experimenting with basic needs oriented economies, like exchanging meat for energy for health services.  Interesting.

These revolts will also come to the West, M15 in Spain, and Occupy in the US, being interesting, if they can avoid the mistake of demanding change from ruling classes defending status quo.  They could build grassroots companies like indicated above, with cooperative savings banks investing in the real economy rather than speculating in the finance economy, given the high education and health levels.  And given the abundance of retired people who could contribute with experience and wisdom through the coming revolt of the retired.  By 2015?

There is much just power promise in these trends.  And much unjust force hiding in the shadows.  May the former prevail.


Prof. Johan Galtung is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU and wrote The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?, TRANSCEND University Press-TUP, 2009.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Jan 2012.

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One Response to “Ten Social Justice Trends Changing the World”

  1. David says:

    Wonderful social analysis – I remember your speech in Toronto some years ago when you described the six holes in the brain of homo economicus. One important factor left out though – the multiple environmental crises – loss of arable land (30% in 40 years); ocean acidification leading to de oxygenation of the deeper waters, disruption of reproductive capacity,etc; deforestation with concomitant rise in CO2; mass species extinction; fossil fuel depletion, and so on. These realities are also propelling global revolt and attempts at denial by the elites, but may be the main economic leveler in the long run.