Charles W. Kegley, Jr. Lecture Series: A Place for Ethics in World Politics

Feb 15, 2024

In the inaugural Charles W. Kegley, Jr. Lecture, which took place at Carnegie Council on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, former Carnegie Council chair Stephen Hibbard discussed "A Place for Ethics in World Politics."

Stephen Hibbard, Charles W. Kegley, Jr., Joel Rosenthal. CREDIT: Bryan Goldberg Photography.

L to R: Stephen Hibbard, Charles W. Kegley, Jr., Joel Rosenthal. CREDIT: Bryan Goldberg Photography.

This talk is in honor of Charles W. Kegley, Jr., a former Carnegie Council trustee, author of World Politics: Trend and Transformation, and Distinguished Pearce Professor of International Relations Emeritus at the University of South Carolina.

The Kegley Lecture has been established to continue the inquiry into the connection between moral concerns and the pressures and realities of world politics.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good evening. Welcome. It is a very special evening and I am delighted that you are all here to share it with us.

As you know from the invitation, this is the first Charles W. Kegley, Jr. Lecture, and we are reopening our offices after a long and challenging renovation project. As Eddie reminded me on the way in, we are all a work in progress, so thank you all for joining us at this moment.

For us this is a housewarming—and a homecoming for many of you—and it is a perfect moment for us to reflect on our past but also think about taking a first step to an exciting future.

I want to thank the current and former trustees who are here. We actually have three of our past chairs present—Alex Platt, Robert Shaw, and Steve with his wife Mary—as well as our current chairman Anthony Faillace and our vice-chair Kathleen Cheek-Milby and her husband Jim. Thank you for being here. I also want to thank my wife Patty for being here.

I have to also mention our intrepid and resourceful chief of staff Melissa Semeniuk. I think many of you know there was an absolutely heroic effort in getting this office ready for us this evening, and maybe we can talk about it during the reception. Thank you, Melissa. I have to thank you publicly.

Tonight it all begins with Kegley and his wonderful wife Debbie, who are here. For those of you who do not already know, Chuck is important to us for many reasons. For more than 20 years Chuck was a Carnegie Council trustee, serving for many years on the Executive Committee as vice-chair.

As the author of the best-selling international relations textbook, World Politics: Trend and Transformation, Chuck’s scholarship influenced an entire generation—or maybe generations—of college and university students with tens of thousands of copies in print and more than a dozen editions in circulation. World Politics is quite literally the heir to Hans Morgenthau’s textbook Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, which is a genuine classic.

Chuck’s work helped legitimize the work of our Council in the field of international relations by always including ethics, the normative dimension of international relations, in addition to the empirical, and coming from Chuck and in the context of his textbook, this was a real difference maker for us.

As president of the International Studies Association (ISA), in 1993 Chuck used the vast powers of his office to help us create the International Ethics section of ISA. Now this may seem like a small thing to those of you outside of academia, but trust me when I tell you it was a Herculean effort.

Chuck, your life and career embody what our Council is all about: the values we stand for, the work we do, and the impact we seek to have on the world. Scholar, teacher, and voice for ethics, you have been a role model and inspiration for more than 30 years now, so with this lecture now established, we expect at least another hundred.

Chuck, among your many accomplishments is the impact you have had as a teacher and a mentor, and as such your students stand as an important part of your legacy. One such student shines especially brightly, and that student happens to be here this evening to deliver the first lecture in your name—and I will say at your request—no pressure, Steve. You can count on me for that.

Steve Hibbard came to the Council’s life as a direct result of his work with Chuck many years ago in a far away place called Columbia, South Carolina. As a graduate of the Honors College at the University of South Carolina and Yale Law School, Steve stands highest among the many research assistants Chuck has had over the years, but I am going to let Steve tell that story.

But first, by way of introduction from me, Steve Hibbard has been a most devoted trustee of the Council for many years now. Some of you will remember that Steve was the master of ceremonies at our hundredth-anniversary dinner at the Yale Club in 2014, and he then became the Council chair, seeing us through a period of extraordinary evolution and growth, and you can literally see this growth and ambition in the renovation project we are now undertaking.

I have had the opportunity to learn so much from Steve and with Steve over these past few years as we have planned the Council’s work together, and I am excited that you will have the opportunity to hear from him this evening. Steve’s title is “A Place for Ethics in World Politics,” perfect for our work-in-progress renovation and also so suggestive of our mission and our aspiration.

With that, Steve, thank you for taking up the challenge, and over to you.

STEPHEN HIBBARD: Thank you, Joel. Good evening, all.

They say in education that you need to say something once, then you need to repeat it, and it needs to be said a third time. You will find that I will be saying some of the things that Joel just said in a somewhat different way, but perhaps you will not have to suffer them all a third time.

First of all, I would like to thank you all for coming here tonight—current trustees, officers, staff, former trustees, our Carnegie New Leaders, and friends of Carnegie Council. I would also like to acknowledge and recognize some special guests: first Dr. Charles W. Kegley, who we are here tonight to honor, and his wife Debbie, Joel Rosenthal’s wife Patty, and my wife Mary.

It is a joy to celebrate this double inauguration evening with you. Three-and-a-half years ago, as a frightening and unknown virus, COVID-19, rapidly spread around the world, this building, like so much of the world and our lives at the time, shut down. Tonight’s lecture marks the reopening and the return of public events to Merrill House for the first time since that closure in March 2020. How truly wonderful that all of us are present to bear witness to this return to public events.

During the long hiatus, the Council has been engaged in the building’s largest refurbishment in decades. The building’s infrastructure has been renewed for the next generation. There is reconfigured space, a newly expanded terrace, which we will be able to enjoy later tonight, a new fire-alarm system, a new heating and cooling system, new windows and doors, new lighting, fresh paint, and a new carpet with more new carpet to follow shortly.

As any of you who have endured construction will recognize, the process is never easy and almost nothing goes to plan. Even for construction projects this was a markedly tortuous slog, but the trustees and staff, particularly Melissa Semeniuk, have fulfilled their duty to ensure the building is safe, functional, and fit for the future.

There is more to be done. Already our intrepid president Joel Rosenthal has launched a strategic vision process to imagine how Merrill House might be transformed into a collaborative working space, a meeting center, and a broadcast facility, a robust, multifunctional physical convening location, a true global hub for ethics for the next hundred years.

We also mark tonight the launch of a Council program, the Charles W. Kegley Lecture on Ethics and International Relations. Like his father before him, Professor Kegley is a renowned scholar. There is a wonderful synchronicity connecting his father’s scholarship, his own, and the work and traditions of the Council itself.

Dr. Kegley’s father was a scholar of religion and ethics whose writings about Reinhold Niebuhr were widely praised. Reinhold Niebuhr, of course, was a towering intellectual presence in the mid-20th century. An ordained minister and professor at Union Theological Seminary for more than 30 years, his writings and sermons found a wide audience in civil society and shaped thinking about a range of public issues of his day. In Moral Man and Immoral Society and also in The Irony of American History, Niebuhr addressed questions of power and justice and how America should engage with the world. Among many topics, he wrote about the challenge of confronting communism, containing the Soviet Union, and the realities and moralities of a world possessing nuclear weapons, weapons that for the first time in history threatened all of human existence. In his writings about politics and international relations he developed the philosophical perspective of Christian realism.

It is not at all surprising that Carnegie Council and Niebuhr intersected in different ways. In the earliest days of the Council, in 1916, Niebuhr won first prize for seminary students in an essay contest the Council organized. Later in his career, Worldview, a Council publication, published a number of his essays. In these and other ways threads of Niebuhr’s ideas have been woven through the Council’s work over the decades, just as those threads are apparent in some of Professor Kegley’s own ethically centered writings.

Professor Kegley has authored or co-authored more than 50 books on U.S. foreign policy or world politics and another hundred or so articles. He is a past president, as Joel mentioned, of the International Studies Association, and the Distinguished Pearce Professor of International Relations Emeritus at the University of South Carolina, where he taught for 30 years.

I don’t know how many father-son combinations have served as trustees of Carnegie Council, but count Professor Kegley and his father as one such pair. Professor Kegley served as a trustee of the Council for nearly two decades, including as a member of the Executive Committee and vice-chairman. Among Professor Kegley’s many contributions, he was the first to champion Joel Rosenthal’s appointment as president. The wisdom and foresight of that one decision has been repaid many times over as the Council’s work has never been more vital or far-reaching.

It is often said that we never know the impact we have on others or on the world itself. We can nonetheless measure, at least in part, the difference that Professor Kegley has made. He has lectured here at Carnegie Council on multiple occasions, at dozens of U.S. universities, and around the world, including Amsterdam, Beijing, Belgrade, Brussels, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Canterbury, Copenhagen, Heidelberg, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Krakow, Mexico City, Montreal, Paris, Perth, Rome, São Paolo, Seoul, Stockholm, Taipei, The Hague, and Toronto, among others. The list is so long that you can imagine the names of cities string-cited on the back of a T-shirt like his travels were a Rolling Stones world tour.

His books on world politics and American foreign policy, adopted at one time by roughly 60 percent of the colleges and universities in the United States, not to mention at numerous overseas institutions, have educated thousands. They have helped shape and expand the worldview of generations of students. With his gift of endowing this lecture series as an example and challenge to others to provide meaningful financial support for the Council, in future years I believe the Kegley Lecture will become recognized as a singular moment for world leaders or leading foreign policy thinkers to express their thoughts on pressing ethical challenges in world politics. This lecture series will itself extend his legacy for generations.

As I am not a world leader, a foreign policy specialist, or a leading academic, it is humbling that in establishing this program Professor Kegley stipulated that I offer the first lecture. When he called me to tell me this condition I thought it was just another instance of his well-known sense of humor. I think he followed up by channelling Abraham Lincoln and saying, “But don’t worry, they will little note and not remember what you say,” and then he laughed. As those who know him well can confirm, Professor Kegley laughs a lot. In any event, his stipulation certainly reflects his extraordinary generosity of spirit and is another instance of his many gifts to me.

I was a freshman in my second semester of college when I took his honors college seminar on American foreign policy. Toward the end of the term, Professor Kegley asked me if I had any summer plans. Mowing lawns came to mind. “Would I be interested in being his research assistant?” he asked. Was I ever.

As those in academia will appreciate freshman simply are not lead research assistants for celebrated professors, let alone for the newly installed chairman of the department. No matter the consternation of the graduate students, Professor Kegley decided it would be so. He initially had me assist with the first edition of his classic textbook, World Politics: Trend and Transformation, and I went on to assist with another 11 of his books while an undergraduate.

A further comment about World Politics is in order. This textbook is now in its 17th edition with the 18th edition soon to be issued in the spring. One marvelous update over the years is that the text highlights links to Carnegie Council insights on emerging ethical issues in international relations for students to acquire a deeper understanding.

Returning to the beginning, the final chapter of the first edition of World Politics—I brought my copy all the way from San Francisco to show you—concludes with “Ten Questions for a Tense Era.”

It was a tense time: The long American humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis was a recent memory, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, Soviet-American relations had become more confrontational as President Reagan dramatically increased military spending and bellicose rhetoric, American fears about the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries’ power over the economy were palpable, and interest rates reached their highest point in modern history with an annual average of 16.63 percent in 1981, as the Federal Reserve engaged in a long inflation battle.

As tense or as unsettling as those times were, I hazard that our times are as tense if not more so, but it is remarkable how prescient Professor Kegley’s questions were back then and how they remain relevant even today.

Among the ten questions asked in that final chapter were: Are nation-states obsolete? Is complex interdependence—what we might call “globalization” now—a blessing or a curse? What is the “national interest?” What price preeminence? An end to ideology? It is no surprise that these same questions are echoed today, and similar questions are posed in the last chapter of the current edition of World Politics.

As Joel mentioned, it was Professor Kegley who introduced me to Carnegie Council. For the past 16 years, I’ve served as a trustee or Executive Committee member, and I was privileged to serve as chairman for six years through last December. I am grateful to Professor Kegley for the privilege of speaking tonight and for our lifelong friendship.

Now, as Fareed Zakaria says, “Let’s get started.” The title for tonight is a declarative statement: “A Place for Ethics in World Politics.” Some may wonder whether the title should be punctuated with a question mark, and some may think that the hard, practical realities of the world necessarily cast doubt on the proposition itself. I hope, however, that you will entertain the promise embedded in the declaration and note that its phrasing assumes that there is such a place and teases that some insight might follow on what that place is. As you may have guessed, the title is also a nod to Professor Kegley’s World Politics textbook, even as world politics is the broader subject itself.

The political landscape of the world can look dark and bleak. For nearly 15 years, beginning with the 2008 financial crisis, it has been widely questioned whether the liberal international order that the United States helped forge after World War II through new multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union among others, is badly fraying or already frayed.

Henry Kissinger once described the U.S.-led international order as, “an inexorably expanding, cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, foreswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of government.”

“Inexorably expanding?”

Not so much in today’s world. For years now our national commitment to uphold this order has eroded as has support among other nations. Can you put yourselves back in time to the early 1990s and remember the United States’ national sense of optimism encapsulated by what Francis Fukuyama called “the end of history,” a time when the United States stood as the world’s only true superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union?

That optimism decayed as the United States fought long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for confused reasons, without clear strategic ends, and—at least in Afghanistan’s case—with a humbling departure. That optimism decayed because of the financial crisis and the global COVID-19 pandemic. That optimism has been shaken as we have witnessed China’s economic and military power grow exponentially, as China took the benefits of World Trade Organization membership without reciprocity, as China has boldly abrogated individual rights guaranteed to Hong Kong; imprisoned more than 1 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province; extended its influence in denying Vietnam’s, the Philippines’, and other nation’s rights to the South China Sea, including by ignoring the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 decision under the Law of the Sea that clearly said that China had no rights there; in disputing Japan’s rights to the Senkaku Islands; in creating dependencies through its Belt and Road Initiative; and in bellicosely threatening war to force the Taiwan question.

That optimism has been challenged by a militarily emboldened Russia under Putin’s oligarchic kleptocracy, which has ruthlessly and illegally invaded Ukraine, committing countless war crimes against a civilian population, all after having experimented with the forced annexation of the Donbas and Crimea and having flexed its military power in Syria and in a number of African nations while drawing itself closer to Iran and North Korea. So, after nearly 80 years without great-power war, has the “jungle grown back,” to borrow Robert Kagan’s phrase? Perhaps.

But just as this 80-year period has seen many regional wars, civil wars, and revolutions, we must ask whether war is a feature and not a bug of the international system. For hundreds of years in the West periods of widespread and devastating war have raged again and again until something gave and a balance of power emerged that largely avoided widespread great-power war again. The Thirty Years’ War, which caused the deaths of 15 to 30 percent of Europe—equivalent to as many as 110 million American deaths today—ended with the Peace of Westphalia. The wars unleashed by the French Revolution and Napoleon resulted in the Concert of Europe. The years of limited war that followed ended with World War I, which sadly was not “the war to end all wars.” That war’s end, with the failed effort to create a League of Nations and the harsh peace imposed on the defeated, ultimately fueled World War II itself, unleashing the Holocaust, death in all its forms, the routine bombing of civilians, and the use of nuclear weapons.

Did thousands of years ago Thucydides capture human nature when he described the Athenian response to people of Melos’s plea for mercy: “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must?” Is war, including eventual great-power war, inevitably and inescapably the norm? Can it be eliminated or constrained? That is the question. And does ethics have anything to say in the face of this?

I want to switch gears for a moment and bring Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Council into the conversation. Andrew Carnegie believed that war was, “the foulest blot that had ever disgraced the earth.” In the early 1900s Carnegie was the world’s richest man and also its greatest philanthropist. In Professor Kegley’s words, Carnegie “made an ethical commitment in his work to eliminate the curse of barbarous war.”

Side note: Carnegie announced while living that he would give away his wealth, saying, “The man who thus dies rich dies disgraced.” When today’s billionaires tout their giving pledge, they are merely following the example of Andrew Carnegie, who gave away 95 percent of his wealth.

Wanting to end this “barbarous curse,” Andrew Carnegie chose to use his wealth and his political influence to create structures to resolve disputes and maintain peace. He was a passionate advocate for international arbitration and believed peace could be preserved through bilateral and multilateral agreements to disarm or to arbitrate disputes before an international court.

In 1903 he donated $1.5 million for the construction of the Peace Palace at The Hague to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The Permanent Court of Arbitration was the first global mechanism for the settlement of disputes between states, and its work remains vital today.

Next, in 1910, Carnegie founded the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to advance his belief that if the great Western powers signed arbitration treaties to resolve disputes other nations would follow, and wars could be avoided. At Carnegie’s urging, President Taft signed arbitration treaties with France and Britain, but Elihu Root, the president of the Carnegie Endowment, chose not to have the Endowment campaign for the treaties because he feared that the Endowment would become too identified with one faction in a polarizing partisan dispute, and those treaties were defeated in the Senate.

That experience taught Carnegie that another type of organization was needed, one that could build broad public support for the kind of legislation that he imagined would be necessary to create a new international order, so he tried yet another approach, founding the Church Peace Union, our predecessor, nearly 110 years ago, a remarkable ecumenical effort for that age. He gathered 29 religious leaders—Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—and challenged them to organize a movement of religious leaders who, from their pulpits, could persuade congregants to oppose war and thus prevent it. This was the idea behind the Church Peace Union, which he launched with a grant of $2 million.

He was so confident that the Church Peace Union would succeed in abolishing war by facilitating agreements to arbitrate international disputes, thus completing its mission, that, in the deed of trust creating the Church Peace Union, he instructed the trustees to distribute its no-longer-needed-and-unused-funds to the poor. It was February 1914.

For an organization founded for the express purpose of making war obsolete, enough years have passed that I think we can admit that its track record of success on that count is lacking, but the Church Peace Union continues work 110 years on in the form now of the Carnegie Council, as so many of you know.

Andrew Carnegie was certainly idealistic in thinking war could be abolished through rational discourse among men of goodwill who, with the help of treaties and robust international institutions and frameworks, would choose to resolve their differences peacefully. In this sense, Andrew Carnegie belongs to the deep tradition of idealists over time who have believed in one way or another that the selfishness of individuals or nations could be overcome by rational political reform and by conforming to universal moral principles.

In American history we see this strain of idealistic moralism in President Woodrow Wilson and his failed effort to establish the League of Nations. In addressing the Senate President Wilson made his case: “No peace can last or ought to last which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all just powers from the consent of the governed and that no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from potentate to potentate as if they were property. When all nations are united under their own governments and all governments are subject to democratic control, war will have lost its rational justification, reason will reign, and make wars impossible.”

When “ethics” enters the conversation one might expect ethics to be inextricably linked with a set of universal moral principles that dictate judgments, if not demand actions, and that following these moral principles would supply the antidote for a world where history and lived experience reflect that the strong do as they will. But it is more nuanced. Those who are certain of the rightness of their moral viewpoint are too often tempted to impose it on others, to demand others conform and adhere to their right way of thinking, often at the point of a gun.

I suspect that true believers, zealots, and extremists are responsible for more war, death, and destruction than wars fought for land or riches. Wars of religion, wars to spread fascism or communism, and even, in some instances, wars to impose a version of democracy are all instances where, as Hans Morgenthau observed, “Idealism itself imposes the threat of total war resulting in universal destruction.”

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Hans Morgenthau’s masterwork, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Peace and Power. Morgenthau was a great political realist and a longtime serving trustee of Carnegie Council.

Side note: I appreciate that talking about Morgenthau to this audience may be presumptuous. Morgenthau, together with Reinhold Niebuhr and others, was the subject of Joel Rosenthal’s first book Righteous Realists: Political Realism, Responsible Power, and American Culture in the Nuclear Age, and Professor Kegley has also written extensively about Morgenthau and Niebuhr.

Morgenthau wrote Politics Among Nations in part as a reaction to the idealism that led to the horrors of World War II as he thought deeply about the possibility that future wars in a nuclear age could end humanity. In his words: “The citizen of a modern warring nation . . . ‘crusades’ for an ‘ideal,’ a set of ‘principles,’ a ‘way of life,’ for which he claims a monopoly of truth and virtue. In consequence, he fights to the death or to “unconditional surrender” all those who adhere to another, a false and evil, ‘ideal’ and ‘way of life.’”

In Morgenthau’s view the world is the result of forces inherent in human nature. We all are motivated to pursue our self-interest, as are nations. The path to peace then, where there is no theoretically all-powerful world government to impose order, lies in embracing this nature, recognizing it is natural that all nations strive for power, and ultimately that balancing power and understanding interests is the sure path to containing war.

The moral relativism of this may be disconcerting to some, but paradoxically a moral relativism that fosters tolerance ends up being more ethical than a moral absolutism that breeds intolerance, brutality of the other, chaos, and war. Yet in balancing power to achieve a nation’s strategic national interests there may be any number of discordant situations where one may necessarily side with an actor whose behaviors are repugnant; whose religious, cultural, or tribal norms are not shared; and whose conduct in other areas may violate norms of international law or human rights that we cherish.

One need only think of Saudi Arabia: the revulsion so many felt to Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, and all that represents, comes face to face with other Middle East imperatives for which Saudi Arabia is essential.

As Armen Sarkissian, the former president of Armenia noted: “Power is a theatre of messy tradeoffs. It constrains more than it liberates. To achieve one goal, the wielder of power must often sacrifice another.”

Or, as Hans Morgenthau observed about exercising power, “the very act of acting destroys our moral integrity. Whoever wants to retain his moral innocence must forsake action altogether.” In politics and life itself, we are not free to choose the world as we would like it to be, but rather must choose from the available set of bad choices the one choice that we hope will prove least bad.

But realism as conceived by Morgenthau and others is not entirely morally relativistic either. In balancing states, there is a fundamental difference between totalitarian governments and liberal democracies. Morgenthau spoke of the “saving grace of democracy” here, at a Carnegie Council lecture. He acknowledged that democratic rule could be outrageously deficient but argued that the difference between a “bad totalitarian rule and a bad democratic rule is the possibility within the mechanics of democracy itself of the self-corrective.”

In a functioning democracy as opposed to a nominal democracy—as in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea—as Morgenthau asserted, you can “throw the scoundrels out. You can replace a deficient, incompetent government with a decent one without interrupting the constitutional continuity within the dynamics and mechanics of the democratic process itself.”

This is true as well for democracies where the rule of law is not so damaged or flawed that the judiciary has the power to hold officials to account for violations of constitutional principles. We will see if Israel remains such a democracy or whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s efforts to weaken the judiciary will take.

Assuming for argument’s sake that democracies are higher in the moral hierarchy of governments than other systems, what are the attributes of a well-functioning democracy? As described by Freedom House, its governing system is based on the will and consent of the governed. Its institutions are accountable to all citizens. It adheres to the rule of law. It respects human rights. It has a network of mutually reinforcing structures in which those exercising power are subject to checks both within the state and without—for example, from independent courts, an independent press, and civil society—and it requires an openness to changes in power through free and fair elections in which all citizens may vote.

For me, ethics and world politics consist primarily in two parts: First, in recognizing that none of us are so right that we should be entrusted with all power, and that, as a consequence, in recognizing with humility the limits of our own understanding and being wary of other’s hubris, we are called to practice tolerance and embrace pluralism.

It is our duty to struggle to respect and to at least attempt to understand the diverse points of view and lived experiences of people from other nations and cultures, but this does not require one to surrender one’s own views and beliefs or to agree to adopt another’s worldview, nor does this mean that all points of view are equal and fully valid any more than that we would be required to agree that democracies and autocracies are equally moral. Indeed we should be on guard against unreflectingly considering that differences are equivalent. Yet, embracing pluralism necessarily mandates some degree of tolerance. Not finding a space for tolerance would lead to condemning or demonizing those who are different. As history has shown, intolerance has produced many of the greatest outbreaks of violence and persecution known to mankind.

Second, there is the practical practice of ethics. These are actions that support healthy democratic institutions that build and maintain norms and behaviors that embrace democracy and human rights. The author of a leading text on international law describes law’s aim as “an attempt to create a framework, no matter how rudimentary, which can act as a kind of shock absorber clarifying and moderating claims and endeavoring to balance interests.” That is in large measure the role I see for ethics and in particular for institutions like Carnegie Council that are leading in efforts to develop frameworks and norms of behavior for an interdependent and fractious world.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. The Declaration passed by a vote of 48 of the then-existing 58 Member States. No Member State voted against it. For those of you not familiar with the Universal Declaration, it is a milestone document in the history of international relations in the world. Its 30 short Articles prescribe limits on the power of the state by defining rights to which every person is entitled simply because they are human.

When Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the Working Committee, presented the Declaration to the United Nations General Assembly, she said it was “with hope that it would become the Magna Carta for all of humanity.” Today the great majority of nations have ratified treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that codify the Declaration’s key promises.

While by no means perfect, the Declaration establishes a fundamental set of norms against which nations can be judged for how they treat their citizens. It is a document of great moral power, but it would not have come into existence without the advocacy of Judge Joseph Proskauer, on behalf of the American Jewish Congress, and the support he received from James Shotwell of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and from Carnegie Council’s leader, Henry Atkinson.

In 1945 leaders gathered in San Francisco for the creation of the United Nations. Proskauer, Shotwell, and Atkinson were among those who believed that the Charter had to contain provisions to protect human rights or otherwise the horrors visited on minorities, ethnic, and religious groups during World War II would inevitably be repeated.

On May 2, 1945, a State Department representative shared that human rights would not be specifically contained in the Charter because of British and Russian opposition. Judge Proskauer and his team stayed up all night drafting a memorandum explaining why human rights were essential to long-term international peace. The next day he shared his memorandum and obtained signatures for support from a group of civic organizations, including the Carnegie Endowment and Carnegie Council.

Now pause here and think about this. There are 3,500 representatives gathered in San Francisco for this. There is no email, there are no faxes, there are hardly any phones. How on Earth do you track down these people and find them and tell them what you are doing and get their signature of support as well? It was a Herculean task.

But they did that. They took that memo and got a meeting with Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, and Judge Proskauer argued the case. Those who were present said they had never heard such a persuasive argument in their lives. The secretary was persuaded to reverse course and try again, even after the decision not to proceed had already been taken with the president’s agreement. Within a day, all the Big Four powers had agreed. Encouraging respect for human rights became one of the four purposes of the United Nations as set forth in the Charter, and the Commission on human Rights went on to craft the Declaration that was authorized. This is a shining example of one person’s resolve not to accept “no” making a profound difference.

As an institution, Carnegie Council has been on a journey to help develop and establish norms that will support democracy and create shock absorbers that can help nations peacefully balance interests. We see this in the Council’s work tackling some of the world’s major challenges, including the Carnegie Climate Governance initiative (C2G), its Model International Mobility Convention (MIMC), and its Artificial Intelligence & Equality initiative (AIEI). Each of these initiatives addresses critical global challenges from an ethical perspective of pluralism and tolerance. Just as the creation of nuclear weapons created a sense of urgency at the end of World War II that a great-power war would never again erupt because it held the potential for the destruction of all life on Earth, urgency must be summoned to face these additional dangers to life on Earth.

The accelerating trauma of climate change may prove impossible to reverse and may bring death and suffering to hundreds of millions, if not billions. As oceans, rivers, and lakes invariably flood or dry and as temperatures become more extreme, people will drown, die from heat exhaustion, starve, or be forced off traditional lands creating waves of migration that will inevitably be resisted by nations less impacted by climate change.

The United Nations has recently put out a report that notes there are 106 million displaced people on Earth right now of whom roughly 40 million are migrants. We have begun seeing the challenges of mass migration when we look back at 2016 and the waves of Syrian migrants fleeing civil war, from African migration to Europe from North Africa, and from waves of migrants streaming to the United States from Venezuela and Central America.

And this year we have heard from many technology leaders, including leading inventors of the technology itself, that rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) may threaten life on Earth. Few of us have had time to consider why this is so, let alone even to think about what effective saving guardrails might be needed or how to act to ensure that guardrails are universally adopted. In a fragmented world, it is hard to imagine nations coming together rapidly to conclude such agreements, and certainly not as rapidly as the pace of the technology itself changes and develops.

There is yet another threatening challenge, the global rise of authoritarian regimes, some of which pretend to be democracies. In every region of the world countries have been taken over by authoritarian rulers in recent years. These rulers have eroded or circumvented norms built up over the past 80 years, if not centuries. According to Freedom House, the world has suffered 17 years of consecutive decline in global freedom. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population live today in countries defined as “not free” and only 20 percent of the world’s population live in “free” countries. If you accept the premise that democracies are morally preferred, this is a looming crisis.

Sadly, we see this trend in the United States, which has suffered one of the largest declines in the attributes of democracy over the past 10 years. In the mid-1930s, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here, a dystopian novel about a U.S. politician who, in an allusion to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, quickly rises to power in the United States and becomes an American dictator.

To those who say “it can’t happen here” I ask: “Why not?” What entitles us to believe, because this Republic has endured 236 years, that it will continue to endure? History is pressed for an example of any democracy enduring as such over the passage of centuries.

There is something seriously amiss and dangerous when the overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination for president is a congenital liar, a con man, an adjudged fraudster, someone who was impeached twice for conduct in office, and who currently faces 91 counts of criminal conduct in multiple state and federal courts for conduct ranging from lying about and illegally retaining highly sensitive national security documents to conspiring to overturn the results of a free election.

When surveys state that 47 percent of Republicans thought in 2017 that the former president had won the popular vote in 2016, when poll after poll shows that 70 percent of Republicans do not believe Joe Biden was legitimately elected in 2020, and when 52 percent of voters in a recent poll favor the former president for president in 2024, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

The causes and reasons are too many and complex to address here tonight, but it can be said that, in a time of increasing anxiety and discontent, nonstop propaganda pushed by social media channels to people who choose their media to match their predispositions has taken a profound toll and made appeals by demagogues attractive.

In some respects this is familiar ground. Richard Hofstadter described this years ago in his book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. It is an old idea: choose your ethnic group, choose your religious group, blame them for everything you fear is not going right and making your life worse.

For people who are struggling to survive economically, if you think about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the primary needs of food, water, shelter, and security come long before the higher order need of the self-actualization for thinking about government and good government and what that means for you. So it is no surprise that it is easier to accept, rather than face, real issues that need to be addressed.

Again, this is not new. Hollywood captured this beautifully in 1995 in The American President. Michael Douglas, playing the embattled president, takes on his Republican opponent and says: “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad because it’s going to put up a fight.” He then says his opponent “is not interested in issues but only in two things: making you afraid of something and telling you who is to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections: You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time and you talk to them about family and American value and character, and then you attack your opponent.”

We have seen that now for years play out, but what is different this time is the impact of social media. What is different this time is the impact of adversaries who engage in disinformation and put the information out there on our networks for our people to read and to be confused by.

What is different this time is that the former president traffics endlessly in lies and does not believe in democracy except on his own Orwellian terms. In a recent interview he said: “But it has to be a democracy that’s fair. This democracy is—I don’t consider us to have much of a democracy right now.” That is the leading candidate, the presumed candidate, for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

But this goes far beyond the ex-president to include the countless federal and state officials who have enabled, out of fear or favor, the Big Lie. They have much for which to account.

And it includes, I am very sorry to say, a significant number of lawyers who, based on the public reporting, seem to have betrayed their professional responsibilities to the rule of law and to act as gatekeepers. Now, you all have heard—it is one of the more famous quotations from Shakespeare—“The first thing we do is, let's kill all the lawyers,” from Henry VI, Part 2—except in that context the lawyers were the protectors of the rule of law, you had to get past the lawyers in order to take the power that you wanted, and so you would kill them off first. Here, you just go hire them. [Laughter]

I will conclude tonight by saying ethics requires an insistence on the truth, on sharing it, on standing up for it, and facing down disinformation, propaganda, and lies. Unless we do so, we will not be able to have a shared sense of national interest capable of meeting the challenges of the global order and balancing other great powers.

Carnegie Council has a voice, Carnegie Council has standing, Carnegie Council has a responsibility in this arena, but so do each of us. Ours is a Sisyphean task—our duty is to push the rock uphill, our duty is to fight for that truth, to not accept lies, to not let language become meaningless because it is stood on its head—and when the world quakes and the rock rolls back, pray it will not roll all the way to the bottom, and push uphill again.

Thank you.

And now, Professor Charles W. Kegley.

CHARLES KEGLEY: Kid, you still have it. [Laughter] In fact, you’re going to be a really hard act to follow.

I am so touched and honored by the inaugural address and your decision to start it now when I could be here to see it rather than looking from upstairs. So thank you, Joel. I just want to express my appreciation, and let me take just a few moments.

I don’t feel that I am deserving of this recognition. My father told me I was the flower of the family, the blooming idiot [Laughter], and ever since then I’ve had a complex about that.

Life has been better than I ever thought it would be. Our world is not better than I had hoped it would be. Steve summarized in a really sweeping statement—Steve, I’m very proud of you—and has given us all a lot to think about.

Joel said I could have a few moments. I have decided to confine my remarks to 45 minutes. [Laughter]

Let me say this. In some ways I would like to correct the record of how I became involved in this Council. It wasn’t a direct line. You would think, with my father’s background in philosophy and ethics, that it would be natural, but I was trained in the social sciences, with a capital S for science, the quantitative study of international relations, so I was a data cruncher, an empiricist. At that time Karl Deutsch at Yale was saying things like, “If it can’t be measured it’s not worth knowing.” Those were interesting times.

My career actually started in graduate school. My first book was an anthology, Analyzing International Relations: A Multimethod Introduction, and the chapter that I was most proud to see in print was by Hans Morgenthau, which was titled something like “The intellectual, political, and moral failure of America’s war in Vietnam.” Morgenthau was leading teach-ins and helping a whole generation of protesters to wake up to—he would love the word—realities, for the United States was not facing those realities at that time, at least in my opinion.

But off I went doing empirical research, quantitative international relations. My father passed away in 1986 and the State of California chose to endow the Kegley Institute of Ethics at Bakersfield College in his honor. My father left New York and went there. To his wife, who was turning 85, I said, “Jackie, Kevin McCarthy went through here. Was he one of your students?” She said, “I hope not.” [Laughter]

I was asked to give the first lecture, and I gave it a shot. Somehow, Bob Myers, the president of the Council, got hold of it. I had titled it, “Values as a Matter of Fact,” and what I did was I took some normative ethical principles and said: “These are testable. Science is not incompatible with the study of ethics. Let me show you.” I took four cases. I think the one that stands out the best was reciprocity—the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—in international relations you could find that, you could demonstrate that. Soviet-American relations—how the United States treated Moscow was how Moscow treated Washington.

Bob Myers said he would like to publish it in the Council’s journal. I said, “Boy, that’s great.” So I stepped outside my comfort zone. Sure enough, it appeared. The title was changed, and the person who changed it was none other than Joel Rosenthal, for the better.

It was a seductive path. I always tried to think ethically and knew its importance, and some of my colleagues did not regard that as worthy of consideration: “Let’s just describe international relations, let’s try to explain it, and let’s predict it.” That led to an invitation to do a second piece for the Journal. I ended up doing four.

I was invited to a Norman Castle in England, and that is where I first got to know Joel and got to see what exactly this young guy was like, and I was impressed. That started my entry into this field and my association with the Council.

Now, as things evolved, Bob Myers was getting ready to retire. Ed Luck was chair at the time, and he and Helen Mueller tried to talk me into leading the academy, and they made a pretty persuasive case for that. But I look back now and I say, “I haven’t done much for the Council, the Council has done more for me than I ever did for them.” But, if I can speak with pride, I think there are two gifts that I gave the Council.

The first was I turned that offer down. I said, “There’s a better person, Joel Rosenthal.” I got resistance: “He’s too young.” I said, “He is better read and more conversant with the literature than most of our speakers and you couldn’t find anyone better.” But what really struck me was his passion, and it came out clear. It looked like the rumor had spread through the building here that I might be coming in, and he pulled me aside and he said, “If you stay and take this position—and I hope you will—can I stay too?” I knew at that moment that he had the passion, the vision, and the dedication that this Council needed. So I lobbied along with a lot of other people. It didn’t take much persuasion, but we had to overcome some resistance. So, Joel, that is something I did for the Council.

The second gift was Mr. Hibbard here. Can you imagine a student like that? I have had some great students over the years, and as a retired professor one of the most rewarding things is to see them pick up the mantle and carry it forward and succeed.

But there is only one Steve Hibbard. He just had it from the very beginning. We became friends and he helped me quite a bit. I sometimes thought, I’m like a father to him and he’s like the son I never had. But I can’t be his father, I would have had to have him when I was 16, and that’s not right. [Laughter] Besides that, I got to know him, he would probably ask for an allowance [Laughter] and I didn’t like that either.

I said to Joel, “I know someone you ought to get to know.” He looked at me suspiciously and said, “Okay.” Well, there was a meeting, kind of a tryout, and you two hit it off, and it has been my great reward to see you two work to orchestrate a reinvention of this Council. So my gift is the two of you. You have done all the work.

I didn’t know how to define my relationship and my role in this Council. I thought, Well, you can be a cheerleader, you can be a coach, or you could be a player. I tried all roles—probably failed at most of them—but I just knew that this Council was in good hands.

I would like to close by saying that when I came in here the Council should have been called “The Carnegie Council for the Study of Ethics in International Relations.” It was narrow. It was academics, hence, my comfort zone was, “Well, they’re all one of us.” We talked about all of the academic ways you can address what ethics involves and what it entails and what it demands, but under your leadership this has changed enormously from that narrow confine. By the way, if anything, scholars are still there, they are still applauding, and they are still appreciative, but it has become so much more. You wouldn’t even recognize it from when I found it. I can’t say that happened on my watch because all I was doing was watching, standing back.

Now it is deeper, it is wider, it is global, and the voice for ethics. When I came in, it was a murmur, a whisper, and the voice steadily has grown louder and louder and louder.

So Joel, Steve, and, Alex, you deserve a hand too—we have all worked together on this—my hope is that this Council will draw together even stronger than it has ever been and continue the pursuit of a glorious mission.

Thank you.

STEPHEN HIBBARD: There is a tradition that whoever speaks has to stand and answer questions if there are any questions. I tried to make that very limited by letting there be a filibuster and a following speaker, but, to honor the tradition, I will field a question or two, if there is one, with a reception to follow—and let’s not let any questions be in the way of that—and if you want to take them offline, that’s fine too. I thought I should at least give the opportunity.

Excellent. Seeing none, the gavel comes down and we can move right on to the reception.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you all for coming. We are going to go upstairs and we will continue the conversation.

Thank you, Steve.

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