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Koers (Online) vol.76 n.2 Pretoria  2011




The principle of sphere-sovereignty in a time of globalisation


Die beginsel van soewereiniteit in eie kring in 'n tyd van globalisering



B. Goudzwaard

Emeritus Professor, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. E-mail:




This article investigates the phenomenon of present-day globalisation from a Christian perspective to determine whether the principle of sphere-sovereignty can provide an antidote to globalisation's harmful consequences. Firstly, it is explained how the principle of sphere-sovereignty is founded on the biblical message, and that it includes two interrelated dimensions, viz. that of life-orientation and of responsible differentiation. Secondly, the following fourcharacteristics of contemporary globalisation are reviewed: it is (1) of a more or less autonomous nature, (2) a seemingly unavoidable project, (3) a process of a dynamic nature, and (4) a product of Western modernisation. In the third place the implications of the acceptance of the principle of sphere-sovereignty for globalisation are investigated. It seems that globalisation, in many areas of life, is detrimental to healthy forms of differentiation - the first dimension of sphere-sovereignty. From the perspective of orientation (the second dimension of sphere-sovereignty), it becomes evident that the present project of globalisation has in some respects already deteriorated into a kind of blinding, oppressive ideology. This type of globalisation "ad malam partem" is finally contrasted with a better road of globalisation "ad bonam partem". This last type of globalisation - not driven by selfish greed, desire and power, but by love for our Lord Jesus Christ, and for one's neighbours - may help to prevent the ominous crisis of our time.

Key concepts: differentiation, disclosure (unfolding), globalisation, modernisation, sphere-sovereignty


Hierdie artikel ondersoek die hedendaagse verskynsel van globalisering vanuit 'n Christelike perspektief om vas te stel of die beginsel van soewereiniteit in eie kring 'n teengif kan bied vir die skadelike gevolge van globalisering. In die eerste plek word verduidelik dat die beginsel van soewereiniteit in eie kring op die Bybel gegrond is en uit verbandhoudende dimensies bestaan, naamlik lewensoriëntering en verantwoordelike diffe-rensiasie. Tweedens word aandag gegee aan die volgende vier kenmerke van kontemporêre globlisering, naamlik (1) die be-treklik outonome aard daarvan, (2) dat dit is 'n skynbaar onver-mydelike projek is, (3) die dinamiese aard van die proses, en (4) dat dit 'n produk van Westerse modernisering is. Derdens word die implikasies van aanvaarding van die beginsel van soewereiniteit in eie kring ten opsigte van globalisering onder-soek. Dit blyk dat globalisering in baie areas van die lewe ge-sonde differensiasie (die eerste dimensie van soewereiniteit in eie kring) teenwerk en selfs vernietig. Vanuit die perspektief van oriëntering (die tweede dimensie) word dit duidelik dat globa-lisering reeds ten opsigte van 'n aantal aspekte ontaard het in 'n verblindende, onderdrukkende ideologie. Hierdie tipe globali-sering "ad malam partem", word ten slotte gekontrasteer met 'n beter proses van globalisering, naamlik "ad bonum partem". Laasgenoemde tipe globalisering - nie langer gemotiveer deur selfsugtige hebsug, begeerte en mag nie, maar deur liefde vir die Here Jesus Christus en 'n mens se naaste - mag 'n bydrae lewer om die dreigende krisis van ons tyd te help voorkom.

Kernbegrippe: differensiasie, globalisering, modernisering, ontsluiting, soewereiniteit in eie kring



Full text available only in PDF format.



1 Speech delivered on 9 March 2011 at the annual Stoker Lectures of the School of Philosophy, Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University.
2 See for instance: Ohmae, Kenichi. 1996. The end of the nation state, the rise of regional economies. Harper Collins; and The Group of Lisbon. 1995. Limits to competition. MIT Press.
3 Kuyper, Abraham. 1956. Soevereiniteit in eigen kring. (In De Gaay Fortman, W.F., ed. Architectonische critiek: fragmenten uit de sociaal-politieke geschriften van Dr A Kuyper. Amsterdam: Paris. p. 41.)
4 That the principle of sphere-sovereignty has indeed nothing to do with any type of glorification of the own power of "leaders" of churches, families, peoples, governments or enterprises, is made very clear in the following statement by Prof Gerbrandy (the Prime Minister of the Netherlands during the Second World War): The principle of sovereingy in own sphere, pre-eminently christian, pre-eminently reformed, is being violated in the life and thoughts of people to a kind of sovereignty of the patron, which excludes all rights of say of others; while the most characteristic of this idea is the sovereignty of divine ordinances in each sphere of life, for whom master and servant, government and people have obediently to bow together. (Gerbrandy, P.S. 1927. De strijd om nieuwe maatschap-pijvormen. p. 107.)
5 Kuyper, Abraham. 1956. Soevereiniteit in eigen kring. (In De Gaay Fortman, W.F., ed. Architectonische critiek: fragmenten uit de sociaal-politieke geschriften van Dr A Kuyper. Amsterdam: Paris. p. 44.)
6 Kuyper, Abraham. 1956. Soevereiniteit in eigen kring. (In De Gaay Fortman, W.F., ed. Architectonische critiek: fragmenten uit de sociaal-politieke geschriften van Dr A Kuyper. Amsterdam: Paris. p. 55.)
7 Groen van Prinsterer, the leader of the Dutch Reveil spoke in a similar way: The Gospel teaches us, that every (human) authority ... has direct and immediate its source, its standard, its guarantee, and its restrictions in the Will of God ... in the realm of its own rights (in den kring zijner rechten). (Groen van Prinsterer, G. Grondwetsherziening en Eens-gezindheid. p. 334.)
8 The word oikonomion or Gods design was also chosen by the first meeting of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 as a starting-point to confront existing economic systems after the World War (Man's disorder and Gods design).
9 Kuyper, Abraham. 1991. The problem of poverty. Edited by James Skillen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. p. 67.
10 Van der Kooy, T.P. 1954. Over economie en humaniteit. Wageningen; and Van der Kooy, T.P. 1953. Op het grensgebied van economie en religie. Wageningen.
11 In the later part of his life Kuyper defended a somewhat different position, namely in his Lecture for the Anti-Revolutionary Party meeting in Amsterdam. In this lecture he attacked the dogma of free trade "in which the nation has to make place for general humanity". (Kuyper, Abraham. Heilige orde (holy order), lecture of 13 May 1913.)
12 Stiglitz, Joseph. 2010. Free fall: America, free markets, and the sinking of the world economy. Norton & Cy.
13 See Insights with Rene Girard, video-interview of 9 December 2009,, uploaded by the Hoover Institute.
14 Letter of the Asian churches to the churches of the North, Bangkok 1999. See the Website of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, WARC. The (more) complete text runs as follows: Next to the pain and suffering in the South, there are the threats in the North. We heard about poverty, coming back in even your richest societies; we received reports about environmental destruction also in your midst, and about alienation, loneliness and the abuse of women and children. And all that, while most of your churches are losing members. And we asked ourselves: Is most of that not also related to being rich and desiring to become richer than most of you already are? Is there not in the Western view of human beings and society a delusion, which always looks to the future and wants to improve it, even when it implies an increase of suffering in your own societies and in the South? Have you not forgotten the richness which is related to sufficiency? If, according to Ephesians 1, God is preparing in human history to bring everyone and everything under the lordship of Jesus Christ, his shepherd-king - God's own globalization! - shouldn't caring for and sharing with each other be the main characteristic of our lifestyle, instead of giving fully in to the secular trend of a growing consumerism? We call for concrete acts of solidarity to alleviate the massive suffering in our nations in the North and in the South.
15 See the report of economic experts written for the WARC-Council held in Accra 2008, WARC-website.

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