Calm, com­pas­sion and com­mon sense

The great­est threats to lib­eral democ­racy, writes Wil­liam A. Mac­don­ald, come from a fail­ure to em­brace the qual­i­ties that unite us

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS -

The whole world, not just the West, has been in­creas­ingly driven by two pow­er­ful forces, lib­erty and sci­ence. The ei­ther/or forces have steadily over­bal­anced the both/and ca­pac­i­ties for com­pas­sion and mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion. They come from within the West and have moved be­yond to the rest of the world. This lack of bal­ance has be­come the cen­tral chal­lenge of the 21st cen­tury.

In The Clash of Civ­i­liza­tions, pub­lished in 1996, Sa­muel P. Hunt­ing­ton ar­gued that the West faced a con­flict be­tween West­ern and other cul­tural and re­li­gious iden­ti­ties. In­stead, the greater threat to the West is from within. If West­ern val­ues and civ­i­liza­tion are to en­dure, the West must first di­ag­nose the na­ture of that threat. The West still has huge strengths, but if so-called pop­ulism fur­ther weak­ens them, the fight to pre­serve our free­doms will be lost. What re­places them will not be bet­ter.

The U.S. elec­tion and the Bri­tish de­ci­sion to leave the Euro­pean Union are the symp­toms of a much big­ger mo­ment in world his­tory. Both rep­re­sent and pro­pel the ris­ing cen­trifu­gal forces in the world. They re­mind us of two grave past events: the U.S. Civil War (1861-65) and the fate­ful Mu­nich ap­pease­ment – “peace in our time” – of Ger­many’s strong­man, Adolf Hitler, in 1938. To­gether, the U.S. elec­tion and Brexit threaten the West with re­newed po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

A new mo­ment in his­tory

I have found the idea of a new mo­ment in his­tory quite use­ful. Eras come to an end when the strong di­rec­tion and mo­men­tum that have over­rid­den ev­ery­thing in their wake weaken while the coun­ter­forces they pro­voked strengthen. When the tu­mul­tuous Napoleonic era ended in 1815 Europe, it was fol­lowed by a long pe­riod of mostly ris­ing peace and pros­per­ity. It ended when an emerg­ing and ag­gres­sive Ger­many could not be ac­com­mo­dated in a wider global or­der – some­thing that hardly ex­isted at the time.

The fol­low­ing pe­riod of 1914-45 was marked by the hor­ror story of two world wars, a global de­pres­sion, the Holo­caust and the near sui­cide of Europe. A rel­a­tively golden pe­riod of in­creas­ing peace and pros­per­ity fol­lowed un­til the turn of the cen­tury. Then two calami­tous events broke the magic: The Sept. 11, 2001, at­tack on the World Trade Cen­ter in New York and the 2008 col­lapse of Lehman Broth­ers. These ma­jor chal­lenges are now play­ing out in in­ten­si­fy­ing cen­trifu­gal forces within the West and the re­turn of ex­pan­sion­ist forces in Rus­sia, Iran and China (per­haps some­what less so in China, which bet­ter un­der­stands its eco­nomic de­pen­dence on the rest of the world).

The cen­trifu­gal forces of pop­ulism

There is a back­lash against too much, too fast in­te­gra­tion. So­called elites, who be­lieved in and prof­ited from the broad val­ues of in­clu­sive­ness, failed to ac­count for their im­pact on those who could not keep up with the pace of change. Brexit and Don­ald Trump cap­i­tal­ized on the fall­out. Most of the sug­gested so­lu­tions so far stand to make things worse, not bet­ter.

The elites un­der­stood that the world is com­plex but failed to see that in­te­gra­tion would only in­crease com­plex­ity and make out­comes even less man­age­able for more peo­ple. Nor did they see its un­fair­ness. The Brex­iters and Mr. Trump cor­rectly saw the need for a very big shakeup. The Euro­pean Union and Washington/ Wall Street es­tab­lish­ment need re­shap­ing, not de­struc­tion. Will the ar­son­ists who are try­ing to burn them down be able to do the re­shap­ing? Not much they have said so far sug­gests they can – or even that they com­pre­hend the com­plex­ity of our world.

Things could get a lot worse be­fore they get bet­ter – and that might not be dur­ing our chil­dren’s or even our grand­chil­dren’s lives. It de­pends on what we start to do now. We have the strengths. Do we have the will?

The chal­lenge for the West

Two de­vel­op­ments would change prospects for the bet­ter: strong, vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship and a re­shaped, in­clu­sive global or­der. First, able lead­ers and a suf­fi­cient num­ber of fol­low­ers are needed to con­tain and then re­shape the dan­ger­ous cen­trifu­gal forces within Europe and the United States. Se­cond, a change of heart to­ward an in­clu­sive global or­der is needed from Rus­sia and China.

The West will be­come more vul­ner­a­ble to hos­tile out­side forces un­less the cen­trifu­gal forces within can be con­tained. The only cur­rent leader who might take on her share of the task is An­gela Merkel, who in­tends to stand in the next Ger­man elec­tion later this year. But she is threat­ened on mul­ti­ple fronts – pri­mar­ily from the refugee chal­lenge in Europe, re­in­forced by the con­ti­nent’s per­va­sive eco­nomic in­se­cu­rity, for which Ger­many bears a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity. The U.S. econ­omy has more favourable prospects. But how long will they last? The coun­try is un­der­go­ing its worst po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in 150 years.

On the world stage, Rus­sia and Iran stand against most ac­tions to strengthen the post­war in­clu­sive global or­der or to work for its con­struc­tive re­shap­ing. It is dif­fi­cult to see needed change from ei­ther, but that could end. Al­though pro-democ­racy forces in Europe have been weak­ened, they do not yet face au­thor­i­tar­ian takeovers in ei­ther France or Ger­many. The sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent to­day than in 1938. The West is much stronger; au­thor­i­tar­ian pow­ers are weaker than Ger­many and Ja­pan were at that time; but the United States is no longer the pow­er­ful “good guy” avail­able to help; rather, it’s a grow­ing part of the prob­lem.

The path to a bet­ter bal­ance

Two quite dif­fer­ent but re­lated ideas help clar­ify the ur­gent need for bet­ter fun­da­men­tal bal­ance. First, the great philoso­pher A.N. White­head sug­gested two seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory ideas: nar­row­ness is the ba­sis of all achieve­ment, and the uni­verse is vast. The chal­lenge of all life is to mu­tu­ally ac­com­mo­date the nar­row­ness needed for achieve­ments and the vi­sion to un­der­stand the vast­ness and com­plex­ity of our world. Un­for­tu­nately, the West has too of­ten con­cen­trated on the nar­row­ness at the ex­pense of the vast­ness.

The se­cond idea came from a CEO friend. He said that all good lead­ers re­quire four strong char­ac­ter­is­tics (pro­ducer, ad­min­is­tra­tor, in­te­gra­tor and en­tre­pre­neur), but no one has more than two. When you choose an ex­ec­u­tive with a par­tic­u­lar two, you must make sure that the No. 2 ex­ec­u­tive has the other two – yet an­other ex­am­ple of how per­va­sive the need for mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion is.

Four ways of do­ings things in a bet­ter fash­ion

The four broad ways hu­mans have found to go about things in a bet­ter way are free­dom, sci­ence, mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion and com­pas­sion. The West’s prob­lem is that its driv­ing force since the Re­nais­sance in the early 1400s has been lib­erty and sci­ence. The power of that nar­row­ness and what it has achieved is enor­mous.

Now, the rise in cen­trifu­gal forces needs to be bal­anced by a greater ca­pac­ity for mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion and com­pas­sion. Coun­tries are like lead­ers. If they tend to be strong in two ar­eas, they may not be able to find ways within them­selves to achieve a bet­ter bal­ance, and will need other coun­tries.

Coun­tries strong in the ca­pac­ity for mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion are scarce. Canada is one of them. This gives it a po­ten­tially im­por­tant role to play in global af­fairs.

What we can learn from Ja­pan and the New Tes­ta­ment

On my first visit to Ja­pan, in 1975, I bought the only se­ri­ous book about the na­ture of Ja­pan I have ever seen writ­ten by a Ja­panese au­thor, Ja­panese So­ci­ety, by Chie Nakane. It gave me a new way of com­par­ing so­ci­eties and coun­tries. Nakane ar­gues that so­ci­eties are shaped by the rel­a­tive dom­i­nance of ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal forces and in­sti­tu­tions. She sees Ja­pan as deeply ver­ti­cal.

Adopt­ing her per­spec­tive, I rate the United States as deeply hor­i­zon­tal. This means that strong hor­i­zon­tal forces, such as free­dom and mar­kets, are less in­flu­en­tial in Ja­pan; while strong ver­ti­cal forces based on re­la­tion­ships, mu­tual obli­ga­tions and con­sen­sus are much stronger in that coun­try. It comes down to a pref­er­ence for rights and free­dom (in the United States) over re­la­tion­ships and con­sen­sus (in Ja­pan). Ar­guably, re­la­tion­ships in the United States are too weak, while rights in Ja­pan could be stronger.

Some years ago I used this com­par­i­son, along with two quotes from the New Tes­ta­ment, to ex­plain to a group of CEOs that peo­ple want to be treated both as equals and as spe­cial. In the Bi­ble, Je­sus is quoted as say­ing that the rain (na­ture) falls on the just and the un­just alike (equal treat­ment), while at the same time the very hairs of your head are num­bered (each per­son is spe­cial).

To my sur­prise, all seven ex­ec­u­tives agreed. In their ex­pe­ri­ence, ev­ery­one in their com­pa­nies wanted to be both equal and spe­cial. The threat to West­ern in­sti­tu­tions and val­ues to­day is that their driv­ing forces have been too hor­i­zon­tal and im­per­sonal. They have not been suf­fi­ciently bal­anced by the ver­ti­cal and the per­sonal. One re­sult is the pop­ulism and grow­ing un­man­age­abil­ity we now face.

A need for mag­i­cal think­ing

The best ap­proach to a postBrexit, post-Trump world is to be calm and cre­ative. We need calm to face the com­bined in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal chal­lenges that could bring the end of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion – los­ing its val­ues while gain­ing noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble to re­place them.

We also need to be cre­ative to over­come the lim­its of the postBrexit, post-Trump world. Four years ago, the great Las Ve­gas ma­gi­cian Jeff McBride said yes to my as­ser­tion that “magic would not be magic if it re­ally was magic.” He added that lim­its can only be over­come by cre­ativ­ity – which is where magic comes from. Calm and com­mon sense seem the best ways for­ward most of the time. Big, deep, broad crises also call for cre­ativ­ity. If you get the di­ag­no­sis right, you greatly im­prove the chances of get­ting the cure right.

The West’s cri­sis comes from the deep sources of its in­creas­ingly un­man­age­able im­bal­ances over six cen­turies. The world’s chal­lenge now – not just the West’s – is to main­tain and im­prove the strength of free­dom and sci­ence, and to use cre­ativ­ity to match them with the needed lim­its that flow from mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion and com­pas­sion. That is the only way for West­ern val­ues to sur­vive. And there are no other com­pet­i­tive val­ues on of­fer.

If you doubt that sci­ence, free­dom and com­pas­sion can come to­gether, look at what Médecins Sans Fron­tières has ac­com­plished. Con­sider how much more this hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion could do if there was more mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion. Free­dom, sci­ence, com­pas­sion and mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion are all ben­e­fi­cial in their own ways. To­gether, they pro­vide the cu­mu­la­tive strengths the whole world needs.

I have been a mod­est and pas­sion­ate Methodist all my life. I am deeply grate­ful that Pope Fran­cis, the only re­li­gious leader (in­deed, the only leader of any kind) able to speak to the whole world, is not a man of rules, doc­trines or hi­er­ar­chy but of com­pas­sion.

The Pope’s com­pas­sion and Canada’s mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion are what the world most ur­gently needs. To­gether, they are the an­ti­dote to a pol­i­tics that rec­og­nizes the needs of some of the left out or marginal­ized, but also ex­ploits and ag­gra­vates, rather than over­comes, them. Twenty years ago, Fran­cis Fukuyama could de­clare the end of his­tory an­nounc­ing the tri­umph of lib­eral democ­racy and the ar­rival of a postide­o­log­i­cal world!

The year-end Globe and Mail editorial was about the re­turn of a his­tory that puts lib­eral democ­racy in peril. The rule of law and pol­i­tics that make gov­ern­ing pos­si­ble are key to the fu­ture of Canada and the West.

What we came to take for granted af­ter 1945 is now un­der threat – this time from within. As Pogo fa­mously said, “We have met the en­emy and he is us.”

Things could get a lot worse be­fore they get bet­ter – and that might not be dur­ing our chil­dren’s or even our grand­chil­dren’s lives.

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