Letters: Transforming the Legal Arena

Restoring Mutual Recognition to the Legal System

I was pleased to see two discussions of restorative justice in the Summer 2015 issue of Tikkun, in Peter Gabel’s visionary essay, “The Spiritual Dimension of Social Justice:  Transforming the Legal Arena,” and in Al Hunter’s reviews of two new books on prison abolition. Restorative justice has played a major role in transforming the criminal justice system in countries such as New Zealand, and it is making an impact in jurisdictions throughout the United States, but it is more than just an alternative approach to crime and punishment. Restorative Justice is an international movement for social transformation.

Restorative practices (a more inclusive term preferred by some practitioners) call on us to, as Gabel writes, “link our collective moral impulses with a collective coming-into-connection that holds the promise of making those high moral impulses a living social reality.” And when we fail to act on our highest moral impulses, as we all do at times, restorative practices provide a framework for repairing the harm. Sitting in a peacemaking circle, or another restorative process guided by a skilled facilitator, participants experience the fulfillment of the “desire for mutual recognition” that Gabel describes.

At their core, restorative practices are relational and their widespread adoption within existing institutions such as courts and schools, will require nothing short of a paradigm shift. Embracing this paradigm shift is particularly important in America’s urban centers where the widespread disenfranchisement and despair wrought by mass-incarceration and the school-to-prison-pipeline are most keenly felt.

There are networks and coalitions of restorative practitioners and supporters working tirelessly in states and cities across the country to build broad-based support for restorative practices. The Restorative Justice Initiative in New York City, for which I am the Lead Organizer, is among them. By linking the restorative justice movement to more visible movements for educational and criminal justice reform, we will begin to see substantive change.  All successful social movements embrace a variety of tactics and strategies, but there is no substitute for the mutual recognition, empathy, and healing that can result from face-to-face dialogue. This is the unique contribution of restorative justice.


Mika Dashman
Lead Organizer
Restorative Justice Initiative
Brooklyn, NY

Against Individualism

I would like to respond to the wonderful article by Peter Gabel called “The Spiritual Dimension of Social Justice: Transforming the Legal Arena” in your summer 2015 issue.  For many years I have been working with the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) to promote the study, dissemination, and ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth, and am currently president of WCPA. Just last week I presented a paper at the Integrating Spirituality in Organizational Leadership Conference in Chicago that argued for a need for a redeeming spirituality in harmony with the movement for enforceable world law for our planet.

Peter Gabel’s analysis for the framework of our legal institutions in this country, I believe, is very much on the mark.  The historically “liberal” assumptions that inform the U.S. Constitution and our legal system derive from some 17th and 18th century social contract thinkers like John Locke who assumed that we are isolated individuals following our self-interest with individual a priori rights vis-à-vis one another and the government that we create to protect those rights.

As Gabel points out, the consequences of these assumptions influenced criminal law, tort law, contract law, and property law to the point where the law itself militates against establishing loving and harmonious communities in which people who break the law are not alienated and ostracized but brought back into the community through compassionate mediation, loving restitution, and the embrace of a larger social justice framework.  The social contracts in which we participate, and through which we place people in power to promote social justice and the common good, should not be contracts of isolated individuals defending a priori rights competitively and antagonistically but rather social communities in which people need to cooperate economically, politically, legally, and culturally to live together in harmony and freedom.

These individualistic and competitive 18th century assumptions behind the law conflict with the much more holistic understandings of human beings, human civilization, and our social and dialogical human condition that developed in powerful forms during the 20th century.   My book One World Renaissance (2015-16) goes into this new holistic paradigm at some length.  Contemporary science has not only discovered the social and dialogical matrix of human beings, as for example through the work of Jürgen Habermas, but it is also uncovering the holism of our cosmos, its divine source, the pervasive role of mind in the universe, and the delicate holistic balances of our planetary ecology.

The reason why I believe we must promote holistic and spiritually informed world law under the Earth Constitution is because the institutional structure of our planet (in the form of some 193 sovereign, mostly militarized, nation-states competing within a global capitalist economic framework) itself militates against loving, compassionate and humane relationships both between nations and within nations.  On the most basic level, it is not that nations need to be more tolerant and understanding of one another.  For “sovereignty” in today’s world ultimately means that nations recognize no binding laws above themselves.  All international law, as well as the U.N. system itself, involves voluntary treaties on the part of these sovereign entities.  The world system economically and politically reflects basically the same 18th century assumptions that Peter Gabel is attributing to the system within the United States, one of atomism and fragmentation.

Social thinker Benjamin R. Barber asserts that our international system reflects “Hobbes Contradiction” [1].    Thomas Hobbes famously declared that the war of all against all within society had to be ended through a social contract in which governmental authority kept the peace through enforceable laws.  But Hobbes himself (and many others such as Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel) recognized that by establishing law within nations we were simply transferring the “war of all against all” to the relations between nations.  Nations since that time have competed within a framework of individualistic, competitive, and warlike assumptions, denying the need for enforceable law above themselves, and leading to the militarized nightmare that characterizes today’s world disorder.

Here is where I think we need to supplement Peter Gabel’s analysis of our situation within the U.S.  For the threats of war, terrorism, and breaches of our “national security” reflect back on the laws we make and our relations with one another within this country.  Instead of harmonious and trusting relationships with our neighbors, we are told we must spy on one another and “report any suspicious activity to the authorities.” We militarize our police forces into a model of fighting an enemy rather than one of protect and serve. Instead of recognizing that children need special love and protection as they act-out and grow toward adulthood, we repress, punish, and criminalize them in our schools and communities.   Everywhere we are counseled to be alert for “security” concerns in ways that ultimately break our social bond and make us enemies of one another.  At the university where I teach, “security experts” have counseled professors to be suspicious of any water bottles left by students after they leave our classrooms.

We are not going to create Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love” unless we extend this wisdom to our entire planet.  We desperately need a social contract such as the Earth Constitution that recognizes all people everywhere as having dignity and participating in the unity and diversity of the human species—participating as world citizens equally under the rule of humane, enforceable laws. We need not only to reform the laws within nations on the new (and at the same time biblical) paradigm of human sociality, humanity, and compassion, we need to establish the rule of humane law for our entire planet.  The lawlessness of so-called sovereign nations defeats the meaning and purpose of justice and law within every nation on Earth.  We need a global social contract, based on our common need for loving and humane relationships.

The prophets declared that we are commanded to establish God’s reign upon the Earth.  We need the vision of a “practical utopia” as a guide toward that divinely inspired end.  The Constitution for the Federation of Earth envisions a planetary justice-as-love correcting that which revolts against love. Let us affirm the “spiritual dimension of social justice” for our entire planet.   The success of “transforming the legal arena” within is fundamentally linked with our capacity to transform the legal arena for the Earth.  It will be “one world or none” as philosopher Errol E. Harris declared [2]. If we do not create “one world,” it is likely that we will have none.

—Glen T. Martin
President, World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA)
Professor of Philosophy, Radford University


[1]  In Gehring, Verna V. (2003). War after September 11. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, p. 86.

[2]  Harris, Errol E. (1993). One World or None: Prescription for Survival. New Jersey: Humanities Press.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *