Nietzsche Wept: Stiftung Weltethos (The Global Ethic Foundation) of Tübingen

It was with great pleasure that we found ourselves spending the week on the top floor of a beautiful old sixteenth-century house in the heart of Tübingen. Situated in the footsteps of Hohentubingen Castle (Schloss), our apartment looked out over the old school house of Hegel and Joseph Schelling. Known as the Tübinger Stift, the building is now owned and supported by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Württemberg. Originally founded as an Augustinian monastery in the Middle Ages, it was described by that most radical of ethicists Friedrich Nietzsche as a symbol of the Teutonic philosophical tradition itself: ‘One need only utter the words ‘Tubingen School’ to get an understanding of what German philosophy is at bottom–a very artful form of theology’ (The Antichrist, 1895). After our visit to the Stiftung Weltethos, such artfulness it seems may still be found in Tübingen, if only one has the money to pay for it.

For more than two decades the Stiftung Weltethos (Global Ethic Foundation) has claimed to have ‘focused its energies on helping people reason through the ethics of daily living by providing tools and frameworks to help analyse the world around them’. It had been suggested that as a visiting Scottish Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies teacher such ‘tools and frameworks’ may be of interest in the context of my ongoing pedagogical development. Indeed, ‘the ethics of daily living’ is the bread and butter of the Scottish system, and I was keen to engage in the Foundation’s research.

Finding myself in the boutique back streets of the city, the Global Ethic Foundation is a beautiful modern building. Light and airy, and resembling more an art gallery than a research institute, the centre provides training and consultation packages that teachers such as myself might employ to ‘awaken the global citizen within’ my students. Ensuring the moral rectitude of our young people might be better protected from the evils of ‘radicalism and extremism’, the centre provides the means by which to instil in them such universal virtues as Ethical Fitness®, Ethical Literacy® and Moral Courage™.

Focused on the cultivation of a ‘Cosmopolitan disposition within’, I personally found the Global Ethic Foundation owes more to the philosophy of Gene Roddenberry than either Hegel or Nietzsche. While once admirable in its intentions, the Foundation now presents little more than a mere bourgeoisie critique. The theoretical framework that the Foundation is literally selling is one centred on ‘rekindling the cosmopolitan project within the heart of all decent people’ – in other words it specialises in exporting middle class (Capitalist) Western/German (Christian) values on those less fortunate than to have received the gift of modern suburban morality. Informed by the logic of the market, the Foundation work a system of ethical Marxism wrapped in the language of corporate industry that they hope will awaken the consumer-based dasein within – something clearly of immense appeal to Corporate and Government stakeholders, and no doubt attractive to specific educational boards. An artful form of theology, indeed. Intellectually, however, this theoretical framework as it is practised by the Global Ethic Foundation is philosophically disingenuous.

A shared Global ethic is undoubtedly something that requires a reappraisal of one’s own values, including those of the Global Ethic Foundation; one wonders what ethics have they abandoned or adopted from the ‘Other’? In it’s fundamentally essentialist and reductive view of Religion and Ethics, anything that doesn’t conform to the Global Ethic Foundation’s own Western values is simply deemed as extremist or not really religious or ethical at all. There are, for example, ‘normal’ or ‘decent’ Muslims that conform to the value system as sold by the Global Ethic Foundation, and then there are the ‘Terrorists’, ‘Extremists’ or, in other words, the ‘Other’. The Global Ethic Foundation clearly work on the view that any distinct group of people must have a set of attributes that are necessary to its identity and function; that these identities have an ‘essence’ of something that is fixed or is a static thing. It is an ‘essence’ that is far more confessional that the Global Ethic Foundation would have you believe – capitalist confessionalism; a sacred fire within whose warmth all ‘decent’ people must want to share – materialism and money.

In our globalised world, there is a general trend towards the emergence of dynamic and multifaceted identities and values. In a multicultural context, some people will choose to adopt a particular form of identity, others to live in a dual-mode, and still, others to create for themselves hybrid identities. While The Global Ethic Foundation’s concept of the ‘Cosmopolitan disposition’ seems superficial to want to embrace diversity, it’s essentialism is fundamentally at odds with the dialectics of identity we find in the real world. Presumably then, if we wish to understand the religious/ethical ‘Other’ we need to approach it from the Religious Studies angle to show how any essentialist claim enviatbley stands at odds with those in other parts of their tradition, not by appealing to mere economics. This is the role of good RE and underpins the requirement of good subject knowledge. As a reflective RE teacher, this visit was a ‘critical incident’, and it highlighted the importance of my own fluency in the ‘dialogue of identity’ – a pedagogical fluency in the dialogue of identity.

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