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Nicanor Perlas (3) is a leading social activist originally based at the Centre for Alternative Development Initiatives in the Philippines, who has recently published, and has since 2011 been promoting (4) Mission Impossible: Sow Courage, Harvest a New World. As such he has taken the principles of the "Threefold Commonwealth", originally proposed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, and adapted them for our contemporary times. In the process he has established a Global Network for Social Threefolding.

Civil society for him then, understands that society as a whole has three realms: the economic, the political and the cultural. It realizes that it dwells in the cultural realm, the public sector occupies the political realm, and the private sector the economic one. It sees that it can wield cultural power to achieve its ends just as effectively as governments wield political and businesses yield economic power to achieve their ends. The emergence of global civil society, for Perlas, changes the world from a uni-polar or bi-polar to a tri-polar one.

From 1945 to 1989 humanity lived in a bi-polar world, created by the Cold War between the economic forces of capitalism and the political power of communism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the bi-polar world started to ebb away. The subsequent "Battle of Seattle", with the World Trade Organization some 10 years later, had then been preceded by years of work by global civil society. Such a society has broken down the monopoly of the neo-liberal, capitalist centred discourse on globalization. Civil society, in an act of cultural rebellion, re-framed the whole globalization debate in terms of values and meaning, thereby birthing a new history.

Through its emergence, civil society also gives birth, consciously or not, to cultural life as an autonomous realm within the larger society. Recognizing the existence of three institutional powers – and the de facto emergence of an autonomous cultural realm through the presence of civil society – is the first key, for Perlas, to understanding what threefolding is. For the second key we need to turn to social science. There we learn that there are three realms in social life or three subsystems in society – cultural, political and economic. We live in a healthy society, then, if the three realms mutually recognize and support each other. We live in an unhealthy society if one realm dominates and tries to subjugate the others. Because the processes and concerns of the economy are quite different from those of the polity and culture, threefolding recognizes that business, government and civil society will naturally emphasize different aspects of society as a whole.

Threefolding then is a balanced way to bring about social healing and social wholeness. It brings an integral and holistic approach to the process and substance of development. As a social process, threefolding can either increase or harmonize the conflict between the three global forces that inhabit the tri-polar world. The quality of the social interaction between the three forces – the three key institutions of social life – will determine, for Perlas, the direction of globalization. He then turns specifically to the Philippines.

Threefold Image of Society

Figure 9.2 Threefold Image of Society



The origins of Philippine Agenda 21 can be traced back to 1992, when newly elected Philippine President Fidel Ramos invited 18 civil society leaders for a dialogue on sustainable development. These 18 had just returned from the UN Conference on Environment and Development, popularly known as the Earth Summit, held in Brazil. In that dialogue the President agreed to take up the creation of the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development. Finally, in September 1996, the President launched Philippine Agenda 21 (PA21) as its highest development policy. In PA21 the Philippines articulated an image of society that is threefold: culture, polity and economy, building on nature (see Figure 9.2). With its reputation as a global leader in sustainable development policy and processes secured, the Philippines then become the facilitator of the National Councils for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.

Such developments have been mirrored within the United Nations as a whole. More recently Perlas, some two decades later, in 2011, has developed seven distinctly Philippine dimensions of Integral Sustainable Development (ISD): •

• Spiritual Development. Modern science, especially astrophysics, is providing evidence that we exist in a profoundly interconnected, living and intelligent universe; that the human species is not a mere product of blind chance and therefore has deep purpose; that our brain structure and other aspects of our biology are geared towards freedom; and that Divine Intelligence permeates the continuous creation and evolution of worlds. As part and parcel of this universal creation, we affirm the divine nature of the human being. A sense of the sacred is deeply Filipino and underlies all aspects and dimensions of a truly integral sustainability.

• Human Development. We will guarantee the right of every Filipino to the development of his or her full human potential always mindful and within the context of contributing to the welfare of society and the planet. We also affirm human dignity and the rights and responsibilities of every human being as self-directed, spiritual individuals with unique hopes and aspirations for themselves and for the common good.

• Societal Development. We will encourage governance processes that seek to eradicate poverty and advance the quality of life for all. We will mainstream moral and effective governance that will remove corruption, improve the nation's education and health, end conflict, secure peace, provide adequate housing, strengthen family and community life, and achieve sustainable population levels, among others.

• Cultural Development. Culture has the power to transform and civil society has a key role to play in this process. We will institute a cultural revolution, a peaceful cultural revolution that will inspire and propel reforms in culture itself, especially education. These reforms would then have the power to re-invent government and business and lead to a Philippine renaissance. Culture, especially the creative arts, is going to become essential in the renewal of our society. This is an exciting dimension of excellence that has yet to be fully mobilized in our quest for a sustainable society.

• Political Development. We will redesign the political system so that it is open to the participation not only of people in government, but also those in civil society, and business. In this way, we encourage an approach that involves and evolves society as a whole. We will ensure that justice and equality, transparency and accountability become the hallmarks of a more moral and effective governance.

• Economic Development. We will broaden the foundations of the economy and make its benefits more inclusive. We will align and harness investment, trade, financial, monetary, and fiscal, especially taxation policies towards genuine integral sustainable development that eradicates poverty and improves the quality of life for all.

• Ecological Development. We will reframe development policy to recognize and respect the environment as among the most important sources of life of a nation. Ecological balance and harmony must thus underpin and inform national development. To achieve this end, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE will encourage educational efforts to understand the full implication of Nature as a Divine creation and, which, therefore, has its own value and integrity beyond narrow human intentions.


For optimist Perlas, ultimately then, the challenges of globalization will be answered creatively and its opportunities harnessed to serve the ends of the human spirit. The achievements of civil society, especially those at the local level, will become the multicultural fabric that will be woven at the world level, the fabric of a new moral and spiritual world order. Global civil society, as such, will continue to act as a countervailing force against the totalitarian tendencies in states and markets that continue to resist the rising star of global society.

This strategic global role is enhanced as civil society begins to understand its own context, to get a deeper knowledge of its own identity. Comprehensive approaches to sustainable development will start to flourish in many parts of the world. Global civil society will become increasingly mindful about securing and defending the cultural spaces of the world. When these cultural spaces are secured, global civil society will introduce conscious threefolding substance and processes at the country and global levels.

In the annals of the New History, then, we shall look back in time to the juncture, to the crossroads of two millennia in the year 2000. The writers of the new history will recount how, in that year, and in the few years that followed, unexpectedly and unpredictably, millions of human beings decided it was time to start the world anew. These were the years when millions began abandoning the false premises of elite globalization. Renewing their hearts and minds, they established thousands of creative alternatives. It was at that time that history truly ended and the New History began.

For such a new history, effectively, we turn from the Philippines to nearby Sri Lanka, building on prior ground established by Gandhi in India.

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