The paper was presented at e Indira Gandhi Conference2010. There is a certain parallelism between the concept of social democracy and that of sustainable development. Justice is at the core of both concepts with the first focussing on justice here and now and the second on inter-generational equity. Thepaper explores the conceptual links, and the political and programmatic implications of his connection.
What is the principal challenge facing humanity in the twenty-first century? Is it the challenge of lifting billions out of poverty into a life of dignity? Or is it one of ensuring that we do not transgress the boundaries beyond which the risks of cata- strophic environmental change are unacceptably large? In my view the word ‘or’ in the previous question is misleading. The two challenges are now so connected that coping with one requires that we cope also with the other. That is what sustainable development is all about – how poverty eradication and environmental protection can be mutually supportive.
Nationalism, democracy and the market economy are the three ideas that have dominated the political and economic history of our times. They form the basis for a social philosophy that holds the nation-state to be the most appropriate expression of political sovereignty. They require this sovereignty to be exercised through representative democracy, the rule of law, free speech, the protection of individual rights and perhaps, secularism in mundane matters. This school of thought argues for a market economy, with modest public interventions, as the most workable form of economic organisation. It is a philosophy which has been challenged at many times in the past, most notably by imperialism with respect to the first element, by fascism with respect to democracy and by communism with respect to the market economy. Imperialism and fascism were no longer influential as ideologies after the Second World War and, after the collapse of communism in Europe in the late eighties, there was a sense that we had come to a defining moment-the phrase used was "the end of history" 2. From this point on, it was argued, the world could be put on auto-pilot, ideological differences were at an end, and it was just a question of the gradual extension of market economy and liberal democracy to the rest of the world. Since then there has been a reaction to this ideology, a growing recognition that it has not delivered even in terms of its own objectives and that it has not given people the freedom or the equality that it promises. We see the persistence of poverty, homelessness and marginalization; the phenomenon of growing unemployment, the spread of deviant criminal behaviour including drug abuse and trafficking; the horrors of ethnic violence and the obscenity of ethnic cleansing. These factors have shown the limitations of an ideology which many thought was going to lead to a convergence of the world system to some Kantian ideal.