One of the paradoxes of the twentieth centry is the gap between humankind's
amazing technological achievements and the often deplorable state of the human spirit and
human morality. We saw the collapse of the attempt that was made in Soviet Russia and
other countries to construct a "new system of values" and to impose on people
norms of behavior that were said to reflect their true interest. In reality, this attempt
"to make humankind happy" resulted in something totally unacceptable to the
civilized world: namely, humanity's alienation from property and power, making the
individual a "cog in the wheel" of a thoroughly ideologized machinery of the
On the other hand, it is increasingly evident that the values of the Western world are
becoming more and more anachronistic. Their Golden Age is in the past; they cannot assure
a dependable future for the human race.
We should take a sober and unprejudiced view of the strengths and weaknesses of
collectivism, which is fraught with dictatorship. But what about the individualism of
Western culture? At the very least, something will have to be done about its purely
consumerist orientation that emphasizes "having" rather than "being",
acquiring and possessing rather than revealing the real potential of humanity.
Today, humankind is facing a choice. It is time for every individual, nation and state
to rethink its place and role in world affairs. We need an intellectual breakthrough into
a new dimension. And that means that the state of the human spirit assumes paramount
importance. The roles of culture, religion, science, and education must grow enormously.
The responsibility of the centers of humanity's intellectual, scientific, and religious
development is immense and must be given preeminence.
The future of human society will not be defined in terms of capitalism versus
socialism. It was that dichotomy that caused the division of the world community into two
blocs and brought about so many catastrophic consequences. We need to find a paradigm that
will integrate all the achievements of the human mind and human action, irrespective of
which ideology or political movement can be credited with them. This paradigm can only be
based on the common values that humankind has developed over many centuries. The search
for a new paradigm should be a search for synthesis, for what is common to and unites
people, countries, and nations, rather than what divides them.
The search for such a synthesis can succeed if the following conditions are met.
- First of all, we must return to the well-known human values that were embodied in
the ideals of world religions and also in the socialist ideas that inherited much from
- Further, we need to search for a new paradigm of development, based on those values
and capable of leading us all toward a genuinely humanistic or, more precisely,
humanistic-ecological culture of living.
- Finally, we need to develop methods of social action and policy that will direct
society to a path consistent with the interests of both humanity and the rest of nature.
When I speak of a new synthesis, of the need for increasing unity and interdependence,
I am not calling for a kind of universal leveling, sameness or uniformity. I do not accept
a civilization that would be like a huge historic steamroller, flattening out everything.
Who would need such a new civilization, and why even call it new? By no means do I want
all countries and nations to become alike. I think that the civilization to which we all
belong is one of great multiplicity. And that is a souce of its strength, the basis for
the exchange of cultural values, for comparing methods of organization and ways of living.
The philosophy of the twenty-first century must be grounded in a philosophy of
diversity. If life as such is the highest value, then even more precious is the singular
identity of every nation and every race as a unique creation of nature and human history.
At the same time, we must begin to define certain moral maxims or ethical commandments
that constitute values common to all humankind. It is my view that the individual's
attitude toward nature must become one of the principal criteria for ensuring the
maintenance of morality. Today it is not enough to say "Thou shalt not kill".
Ecological education implies, above all, respect and love for every living being. It is
here that ecological culture interfaces with religion.
The beauty and uniqueness of life lies in the unity of diversity. Self-identification
- of every individual and of the many different nations, ethnic groups and nationalities -
is the crucial condition for preserving life on Earth. Struggles and conflicts burn out
the diversity of life, leaving a social wasteland in their wake.
Honoring diversity and honoring the Earth creates the basis for genuine unity,
Copyright © by HarperSanFrancisco.
An excerpt from Mikhail Gorbachev's new book "The Search for a New Beginning:
Developing a New Civilization", available from Noetic Sciences at: 1-800-383-1586.
For information on the State of the World Forum:
Gorbachev Foundation USA
The Presidio, PO Box 29434
San Francisco, CA 94129