Toward Understanding Our World's Moral Landscape: Carnegie Council's Centennial Projects on a "Global Ethic"
August 4, 2014
In anticipation of Carnegie Council's 2014 Centennial anniversary, we launched several multi-year projects aimed at illuminating the prospects and contours of a "global ethic." I define a global ethic as the moral values that apply to the welfare of the planet and can be shared by a broad range of communities. Our projects included our Global Ethical Dialogues, conversations led by our Centennial Chair Michael Ignatieff about moral contentions with hundreds of community members around the world, as well as our Thought Leaders Forum, a series of interviews I conducted from 2012 to 2013 with 55 public intellectuals from a wide variety of regions and backgrounds.
We began the Thought Leaders Forum (TLF) interview series in 2012 by identifying hundreds of people who possessed specific characteristics: they positively influenced the way the world's societies think about ethics; they had a unique contribution to moral thought through their careers, writings, or teachings; and they were recognized, via international media, prizes, or other accolades, as making such contributions. Interviewees included writers, scholars, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, and others. We succeeded in conducting 55 interviews, which were recorded, curated, and published using the Council's in-house Carnegie Ethics Studio in New York City. The TLF multimedia website, which features videos, podcasts, and transcripts of the interviews, is available here.
The aim of the TLF project was ambitious: By asking the world's influencers a set of seven "unreasonably big" questions about "the state of the world today and how we get to a better future," we sought to understand the moral condition of the planet, the challenges we collectively face, and what our shared priorities should be. In this way, we also aimed to provide insights for the future of Carnegie Council's programs as it enters its second century but also for any decision-maker, policymaker, scholar, or student who is interested in ethics in international affairs.
The approach of the Global Ethical Dialogues was no less ambitious: Its goal has been to take the conversation outside of Manhattan's Upper East Side into communities struggling to resolve competing moral claims and live together despite differences. Dialogues spanned six topical areas, from citizenship and difference to war and reconciliation. This project has taken us to several towns and cities in the pursuit of examining specific contentious cases, including: to Gualeguaychu, Argentina to examine disputes surrounding a pulp mill plant on the Uruguay River; to Rio de Janeiro to look at public frustration over government corruption and waste, including the Mensalao graft scandal and the 2013 protest over a bus fare hike; to Los Angeles to interview civil rights and religious leaders involved with claims against police brutality against minorities in 1992 as well as to Queens, NY, on a similar theme, including the police's use of "stop and frisk" tactics; and to Srebrenica, Prijedor, and Mostar to hear how former enemies during the Bosnian War are managing to live together.
A major theme of both projects connects with the premise of our Centennial celebration: That is that all citizens, no matter what their background may be, demand "equality of voice."
A major theme of both projects connects with the premise of our Centennial celebration: That is that all citizens, no matter what their background may be, demand "equality of voice," and that the newly connected world is amplifying that voice against entrenched interests. It is therefore appropriate that we named our overarching Centennial program "Ethics for a Connected World." This phenomenon of fortified "people power" is one of the most important developments in international affairs today.
As Ignatieff writes in our Global Ethical Dialogues concept paper: "Two features distinguish the modern situation: new technologies are accelerating the interaction and new ethical principles are structuring the dialogue. New technologies allow for real-time, interactive dialogue as never before. These dialogues are occurring under a new normative dispensation: the idea that every person, every faith, every race and creed come to the table as equals, with the same right to be heard and the same right to shape both the conversation and the outcome."
Ignatieff concludes, "These citizens live—or want to live—in a morally flat world, one based on equality of respect, meaning a world where everyone has a right to speak and be heard. The new social media technologies have enormously empowered and enabled this idea of equality of voice."
In many parts of the world including those we visited—from Bosnia to Brazil—the clash between the norm of equal voice and the reality of political inequality between rulers and the ruled is being felt and tested with a new intensity—against a backdrop of geopolitical disorder. In Bosnia, citizens have attacked the buildings of a nepotistic government that wastes $1 billion in graft per year and is grounded in ethnic identity and patronage. The current Bosnian political system was set up as a temporary, reconciliatory measure after the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s but has instead remained in place for two decades. In Brazil, the 2013 hike in public transit fares set off historic protests of a million people nationwide, despite government plans to appease public dissatisfaction with poor government services by hosting extravagant sporting spectacles—the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
In short, publics are demanding dignity and equality, the central values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Whether by tribalism, graft, or extremism, well-worn distractions are failing to stop publics from demanding their voices be heard for what the people want: economic opportunity, public services, and accountable government. In short, publics are demanding dignity and equality, the central values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The technological empowerment of publics also has helped individuals expose violence against women, discrimination, poor labor conditions, and other injustices for which officials can be held to account. Meanwhile, the number of people registered on social media has climbed from 1 million ten years ago to 2 billion today. Out of the world's 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones—more than the number of people who have access to working toilets. The world is connected online, and with the presumption of at least an aspiration to equal voice, publics are no longer settling for subpar performance or abuse of power from their officials.
As part of Carnegie Council's interviews with thought leaders, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson told me, "What strikes me about the world today is that it's a world of 7 billion people who are more connected than ever before, and yet the divides are huge. We see growing inequality both within countries and between countries."
In another interview, former U.S. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft noted, "For most of world history, the bulk of the world's population didn't engage in the political process at all. They lived their own little lives. They lived just like their parents lived. They thought their children would live just like they did. That was the order of things. Now, with modern communications—cell phones, TV, everything—they look out and they look at TV and they say, 'It doesn't have to be that way.' I think this has given rise to an upwelling of a demand for what I would call dignity."
"I'm not sure that we can continue like this and be socially cohesive," Robinson warned, "because everywhere I go in the poorest parts of Africa or South Asia there are television aerials or smartphones on which they're looking at the other world. Even within countries, it doesn't bring about social peace. I think that's one of the reasons why young people feel a lot of angst about the world—the Occupy movement, the Arab Awakening—the sense that the world is too unfair still."
When this schism between peoples' expectations and their immediate lives reaches a breaking point, newly empowered, educated, connected, and globally-aware publics rise up against their rulers, making their voices heard. Columnist Thomas Friedman observed in The New York Times a "new global force" is emerging, thanks to the democratization and diffusion of the IT revolution and globalization, that he calls "the Square People" in reference to their use of smart phones (squares) as well as demonstrations in the public squares of "Tunis, Cairo, Istanbul, New Delhi, Damascus, Tripoli, Beirut, Sana, Tehran, Moscow, Rio, Tel Aviv and Kiev, as well as in the virtual squares of Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam."
Even in Japan, a country that is often thought of as stagnant and stable to a fault, a group of activist changemakers is on the rise, as I describe in a recent article in Foreign Affairs titled "Japan's Change Generation." Several factors in Japan, including a widely held belief that the government response to the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake was inadequate and a feeling that the status quo is unsustainable, have helped to create a cohort of elite professionals that are changing society from outside politics, yet they will have a long-term impact on politics in Japan. The younger tech-savvy crowd calls this group "the '76 Generation" or "nana roku sedai" in Japanese. Their emergence has the echo of the normative shifts represented by the political influence of 88 Generation in Burma or even Generation X in the United States.
Elsewhere in Asia, publics have similarly displayed their disappointment with incompetent officials and demanded accountability. President Obama's trip to Asia in spring 2014 coincided with public outcry in the Philippines over poor government response to Typhoon Haiyan, in South Korea over failure by its coast guard to respond effectively to the sinking of a ferry packed with school children, and in Malaysia over the embarrassment of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Worldwide, publics are collectively saying: "Our voices need to be heard on an equal basis with those in power. We demand accountable government. We refuse to be distracted by cynical political tactics. Enough is enough." As one protester told us in Brazil during the peak of a nationwide protest that reached one million people, "We have a message for our government: Stop treating us like clowns!" These movements are the successors of the Czech Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the Philippine People Power movement in 1986 but the newer ones are being supercharged by the aforementioned megatrends that shape world politics today, the topic of the first question we posed to the 55 thought leaders. As journalist Ahmed Rashid said during one of our interviews, people—including minorities and women—are more willing to fight for their rights and are no longer prepared to take things "lying down."
The remainder of this essay is an attempt to summarize some of the common themes from the answers thought leaders provided to our seven big questions. It must be noted that given the large amount of interview transcripts, hundreds of pages, it would be impossible to include each perspective on each question. In fact, another writer could probably use our TLF website to produce a report with much different findings. But as the primary interviewer, I have attempted to capture the spirit of the collective wisdom from the interviews.
1. What is morally distinct about our world today?
As mentioned above, a global normative shift toward an equality of voice is being augmented by the positive developments of globalization, the IT revolution, economic growth and poverty reduction, and public awareness and education. The fastest shift in demands for government accountability is taking place in the emerging markets where rapid growth is fostering rapid change. Once basic needs are fulfilled—like food, shelter, and health—citizens in these countries start to demand a voice as well. World economic output has quadrupled since the 1970s. The Millennium Development Goal of halving global poverty (the percentage of those living on less than $1.25 a day) between 1990 and 2015 was achieved five years ahead of schedule.
Once the "swamp" of poverty and desperation is drained, new political needs emerge, focusing in particular on inequality in its various forms—political, social, and economic. Speaking to this theme of inequality and echoing Mary Robinson, Hong Kong politician Emily Lau underscored the importance of, "the inequality between the haves and the have-nots and the rich and the poor. Some people get excessive access to resources whereas a big, big majority get denied. And then those who have such access they are economically and militarily and politically exceedingly powerful. And so those being oppressed feel bitterly hopeless."
Economist Pankaj Ghemawat described our connected world today: "Certainly the awareness or the ability to be aware of what's happening to other people in far-flung parts of the world in a way that really wasn't feasible in previous ages. One of the clearest implications of that greater awareness is more attention to some of the inequalities that have already existed." A potentially positive effect of greater connections worldwide means an expansion of our moral duties. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt put it, "The expansion of the moral circle to the point where people, while they may not care a great deal about what happens far away, care a little. That, to me, is kind of amazing and wonderful." Jewish scholar Jonathan Sacks pointed to the "immediacy" to which we now encounter views that are "radically different" from our own.
"What do we owe human beings around the world, and what do human beings owe each other? I think it's a new era of international ethics." -Anne-Marie Slaughter Anne-Marie Slaughter, currently CEO of the New America Foundation, also highlighted the positive implications of our growing connectedness. She said we now have to consider policies in moral terms: "We are seeing a whole set of issues, from climate change to pandemics. What do we owe human beings around the world, and what do human beings owe each other? I think it's a new era of international ethics." Cosmopolitan philosopher Anthony Appiah agreed that our growing connections yield growing responsibilities, saying "It has always been the case, I think, that, people understood that they had moral obligations to people they knew about. Well, now you know about everybody. So, in a certain sense, this kind of information flow makes it essential that we in some sense take responsibility for everybody."
Yet the amplification of citizen voices and interest groups is taking place amid increasingly powerful challengers to American preeminence, leading to global disorder and uncertainty. Without a clear global hegemon, strong regional organizations, or the global order previously provided by the Cold War, political instability will fill the vacuum.
Speaking to this instability, journalist Steve Coll remarked, "The connectivity, the pace at which computer power and telecommunications are changing the way information flows, the speed at which it flows, the amount of information that's available, and its effect on public life. Volatility, I think, is one implication. You create volatility." As Ian Bremmer put it in our TLF series, we now live in a world without "a single moral guidepost." With more voices, a chaotic cacophony of competing claims is a risk. Juan Somavia, former head of the ILO, also worried about finding a "moral compass," saying "We now have a growth and globalization model without a moral compass. We may have globalization, more interconnectedness, more trade. But what's the moral compass?"
Our world is described as one without a single moral compass and without a single moral authority, either. Author Robert Kaplan said, "When I look out and travel around the world, what I see in many places is an increasing lack of central authority. For decades, we have been used to strong authoritarian states in the greater Middle East, from Morocco all the way to Pakistan. So we're going from strong authoritarian states that were suffocating in their repression to the loss of central authority." The lack of authority is a double edged sword that also, "creates more freedom," Kaplan added.
Similarly, when asked what was unique about the world today, Independent Diplomat founder Carne Ross responded, "Globalization, in a word. But disaggregated; this incredible interconnectedness of humanity now through electronic means but also through better transport; the sheer number of people; the fact of a kind of awareness of global issues. I think it makes it harder and harder for individual nation-states' governments to manage the world. It demands a new kind of politics to address political change."
Internet activist Ethan Zuckerman of MIT went a step further, adding some skepticism about how real the globalization we take for granted really is, saying, "The term that I often use to describe the world I see today is 'imaginary globalization,' which is to say I think we have gotten very good at imagining how connected we are to the rest of the world. We're really aware that we're tied together, that we have mutual dependencies, that we're interacting with each other, but we don't know each other very well."
Another less positive development that is sparking this call for change is the ubiquity of politicians who have learned to game the system and cling to the status quo and international support for oppressive regimes on the questionable grounds of national interest. When the new norm of equal voice crashes into the incumbent, static forces in power, there are casualties. When the traditional forces prevail, the change-makers are imprisoned and sometimes killed. But when the equality of voice prevails, a fairer, more just society emerges. Over the long-run, there is hope, based on an optimistic view of history, that the more progressive of these two forces will win the day.
2. What is our greatest ethical challenge?
So we live a globalized, interconnected world with increasingly complex sets of obligations to one another but how do we make sense of priorities? Our world is witnessing growing voice and freedoms but also more chaos and unpredictability and a challenge to coordinated global action. Our second question to the thought leaders was meant to build on the first one and ask, given how you view the world today, what is the right thing to do?
Inequality is seen as a top global challenge and was mentioned several times during the interviews. Political theorist Michael Walzer's first priority was "inequality, which is both caused by human greed but which also has all kinds of other deep structural causes" as well as the need for political space to address that inequality. Women's World Banking president Mary Ellen Iskenderian underscored the importance of gender inequality, saying: "It is almost becoming cliché for us to be talking about 52 percent of the world's population is underutilized. The data is just pouring in at an untold rate about if you can close the economic equality gap between men and women, the benefits that redound in every other aspect of the society are so palpable." Nobuo Tanaka, former head of the IEA, mentioned the unequal access to electricity globally. Finally, Mary Robinson noted the unequal vulnerabilities that poorer countries face from climate change in the form of flooding and other disasters.
Jonathan Sacks warned that the global capitalist system has yielded "markets without morals."
Getting our economic systems to work and effectively distribute "scarce resources," as Bremmer noted, is another theme. Carne Ross
said that there is a "crisis in capitalism" in that our economic system may have provided economic growth but not "what matters to us as humans," namely a fair, sustainable distribution growth. Economist Dambisa Moyo also worried about policymakers' abilities to continue to deliver sustainable economic growth. Economist Tomas Sedlacek finds a moral flaw in the capitalist system in that, "Raw capitalism in its abridged form really tends to lead to a concentration of capital. Capital is a magnet to other capital and those who have will have even more, and those who do not, even that little of what they have will be taken away from them." Jonathan Sacks also noted that the global capitalist system has yielded "markets without morals."
Several interviewees, including social entrepreneur Jessica Jackley and Colombian politician Enrique Penalosa, mentioned the goal of achieving human fulfillment, potential, and improvement. Carnegie Endowment scholar Rachel Kleinfeld similarly said, "I would love to see the expansion of human empowerment, of human flourishing. I think one of the greatest injustices of our time is that while people are born with ability and values and equality at birth, the distribution of ability to get things done in the world, of education, poverty, war, conflict, movements because of refugee activity—all of that is extremely unequally distributed, fundamentally unjust."
Specific policy challenges mentioned during these interviews also included poverty, climate change, nuclear proliferation and other types of security, as well as the multiplicity of global challenges or "unadulterated claims," as scholar Michael Doyle put it.
3. Is world peace possible?
While the first two questions attempted to better understand the world as it is today, the second two looked into possible futures. Will we ever achieve Andrew Carnegie's dream of world peace? What other futures might be possible?
Some interviewees answered our world peace question with a question: How do you define world peace? Scholar Joseph Nye, like Jay Winter, noted that if you define peace as preventing a "major conflagration among great powers with widespread destruction," as Andrew Carnegie did in his time, it can be reached. Bineta Diop and Rebecca MacKinnon noted that however one defines world peace, violence is still a fact of life and can be severe, whether it is non-state or inter-religious battles or street violence.
One of the most candid moments of the 55 interviews came from Carne Ross's answer, which was, "I have absolutely no idea." After a pause, he followed up by encouraging the world to keep working toward peace even though we may never know the answer; he recommended revisiting the central actor in international affairs, the nation-state—a point that other interviewees made—in order to reflect new realities.
Michael Walzer and Gillian Tett of the Financial Times doubted that we will see world peace anytime soon, with Tett calling such a notion "naive." Walzer added that some wars are "preventable." Historian Winter said, "War, like sin, is inevitable, but it need not dominate the world." Winter recommended marginalizing war from a major conflagration to a mere "brushfire."
Philosopher Thomas Pogge identified the political economy mechanisms, those related to the military-industrial complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of in 1961 that are preventing Immanuel Kant's dream of "perpetual peace." Pogge noted that countries with relatively strong militaries have an interest in creating political tensions externally as do the executive branches of government internally. He added, "This phenomenon—that there will always be some states and their leaders who have an interest, for purposes of maximizing the power of their own state, to create tension and hostility—this problem is aggravated by the fact that even for the internal distribution of power, war can shift the power balance. So war is good for the executive generally, because it gets more deference from the legislature and the judiciary in periods of hostility and tension."
While Pogge sees an inherent political interest hindering peace, others identified the necessary conditions for achieving peace, although different thinkers had different conditions. Democracy activist Srdja Popovic believes in a democratic peace because, based on his experience in the Balkans, democracies have "powerful mechanisms" to stop war. In Zuckerman's view, peace cannot be achieved without "justice for those who are wronged" or "representation for those who are underrepresented;" otherwise one would just have a suboptimal "stable tyranny." Moyo said if the world can deal with the two main causes of war—scarce resources and ideological differences—peace has a chance. British Scholar Lawrence Freedman and Singaporean diplomat Chan Heng Chee also raised scarcity as a source of conflict. Penalosa said wars come about from "irrational beliefs," so education is the answer. Gillian Tett argues that "economic integration and harmony" are needed for peace.
Rowan Williams and Peter Morales pointed to the progress that Europe has made over the past century toward reducing conflict as an encouraging example of how the world can move toward peace.
Theologians Rowan Williams and Peter Morales pointed to the progress that Europe has made over the past century toward reducing conflict as an encouraging example of how the world can move toward peace. Other thinkers were downright optimistic, including E.O. Wilson, Nancy Birdsall, Victor Cha, Ian Bremmer, Michael Doyle, and Anne-Marie Slaughter. In this light, Kishore Mahbubani extolled the virtues and inevitability of peace, saying, "I actually think that world peace is not just possible, it's highly likely in the years to come, because there is absolutely no reason today to go to war with one another because you can succeed and become a thriving, prosperous country—in fact, you are more likely to succeed in becoming a thriving, prosperous country—if you avoid wars."
On the most optimistic end of the spectrum, Birdsall said world peace was "absolutely" possible and that given how much more peaceful the world is today than in the past, historically speaking, "we are really close" the achieving the goal.
4. What would you like to see happen in the future?
Whether the world is heading toward peace is open to interpretation and debate but it was refreshing to hear so much optimism. The next related question asked what the interviewee would like to see happen in the future—more of an aspirational question than a predictive one. We had considered asking for actual predictions about the future but interviewees immediately seemed uncomfortable with that endeavor, and rightly so—scholar Peter Drucker once said, "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." So what were the hopes for the future?
Dambisa Moyo hopes to see a fairer world in which all people, including Africans, have a voice in setting global priorities.
Foreshadowing the later question about a global ethic, Jonathan Sacks said he would like to see human dignity "enhanced" over the next century as all advances—in economic growth, technology, or medicine—are ultimately about enhancing dignity. Moyo replied she would like to see a fairer world in which all people, including Africans, have a voice in setting global priorities. Similarly, gender equality was cited by multiple interviewees, including Arbour and Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC. Others pointed to flaws in our current institutions that need fixing; Zuckerman said we need to "get globalization right," while Appiah said we need to figure out how to "make democracy work."
Finally, others, such as Alan Blinder, cited policy problems, such as "getting serious about climate change;" otherwise the planet will be a lot less inhabitable in 100 years. Mahbubani's policy priority was to make "bold steps" toward a nuclear weapons-free world.
5. How do you define a global ethic?
The final three questions focused on ethical thinking and action by examining the "global ethic," the principles of leadership, and final accountability for the problems identified in the project.
Theologian Hans Kung, one of the originators of the idea, called the global ethic, "a set of elementary moral values, standards, and attitudes, which can be found in all great religious and ethical traditions of humankind and can be shared by all human beings, believers and nonbelievers." Tested through time and geography, these set of values or guidelines have been set up across humanity to protect human life, relations between the sexes, property, and the truth, according to Kung.
Tariq Ramadan framed the plurality of human ethics using a metaphor, saying, a global ethic is "like a mountain with a summit and you have many routes and many paths."Another religious scholar Tariq Ramadan framed the plurality of human ethics using a metaphor, saying, a global ethic is "like a mountain with a summit and you have many routes and many paths. Every tradition, every religion, every culture or civilization might have a specific path and we join and we meet at the summit. Global ethics is what we get at the summit, but we have to accept that there are different routes."
Many interviewees identified a single value that might be shared across cultures. One that came up many times was "dignity." Brent Scowcroft put dignity as the highest moral value. He said, "We have had great success in taming the physical world around us. We have taken natural resources and built a wonderful life out of them. We have not had that success in dealing with the internal aspects of the human being. I would say that the ultimate in ethics right now—I would use the term 'dignity,' to be treated as an individual who does not belong to anybody and who has certain rights." Steve Coll said, "I do believe there is a global ethic. It has to do with the dignity of individuals, the right to security and liberty, both. I do believe that the human condition in its social setting is universal enough to give rise to global rights and global ethics."
Anne-Marie Slaughter highlighted the ethic of responsibility, including the responsibility to protect, saying, states "have a responsibility to their own citizens, and that responsibility means they don't perpetrate genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, or grave and systematic war crimes against their own citizens; and if they do, the world community has a responsibility to step in, to do something about it. Now, that is such a profound change." Other universal values mentioned included freedom and tolerance.
Meanwhile, some interviewees sought to place a global ethic in the cosmopolitan view of a shared, common humanity. Human rights activist Hawa Abdi stated, "We cannot be separated. The world is one. Humanity is one. And if the world is one, if something happens in some place, it will spread immediately to another corner, so we have to be always together to know each other. Our awareness must be global." Biologist E.O. Wilson said we should "ask the question that very much has at its core a global ethic: Where do we wish as a species on this one small planet to go?" Doyle called the global ethic a recognition of our independence and "common humanity." For Tett, it was about recognizing that, "we are all in this together."
Of course, there was healthy skepticism about whether a global ethic exists or will ever be viable. Since global coordination has become increasingly difficult in today's world, the concept of a global ethic does not resonate with Ian Bremmer. Instead, he recommended countries get together and work on problems as ad hoc coalitions. Carne Ross similarly said that action is more powerful than moralizing especially when governments, for example in making the case for the Iraq War, can be hypocritical about the rationale for policy. To that point, Ross asserted, "I don't really believe in morals or ethics. I believe what matters is what you do. People can talk the hind legs off a donkey about morals, and I have learned to be very skeptical of that kind of talk."
6. How do you define moral leadership?
Humility, courage, honesty, and the vision to act on behalf of a community instead of for personal gain. Those were leadership virtues cited in many of the interviews. As Gillian Tett put it, "Moral leadership means having the courage to do things that may be unpopular, to speak truth even though it may not be what people want to hear, but also to retain a sense of humility."
"Moral leadership requires self-awareness, a willingness to listen to others, and a particular combination of courage and humility." -Rachel Kleinfeld
Humility gives leaders the ability to be honest, self-aware, intellectually curious, and giving. In Kleinfeld's words, "Moral leadership requires self-awareness, a willingness to listen to others, and a particular combination of courage and humility." Diop described giving and solidarity as "feminine" virtues that all leaders must possess no matter what their gender is: "It is that touch, that caring, giving, solidarity. Those are things that for me are very fundamental in leadership."
On courage, Victor Cha said leadership is about "standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves." Arbour phrased it, "I think it means the requirement that people who occupy leadership positions understand that their contribution has to be rooted in, first of all, their concerns for others as opposed to their own personal advancement and their willingness to be guided, not just by narrow conventional rules, but by the profound question, on a daily basis, of what is the right thing to do and the courage to stand by that assessment."
Walzer and Freedman highlighted the virtue of honesty explaining difficult truths to the public. For Walzer, political leadership is "a willingness to explain to your own people the costs of doing good in the world, which might involve sacrifices for them." Similarly, Freedman said, "I think good leaders make people aware of the costs of a course of action, the difficulties of a course of action, rather than just oversell the benefits."
Finally, Mary Ellen Iskenderian noted that an important leadership skill is being able to lead from whatever station in life they happen to be in at the time. She mentioned Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi as models. Whether you are in prison, on the activist front lines, or in political office, leadership means the ability to move or inspire people no matter what the context.
7. Who is ultimately accountable?
We wanted to end these interviews with a call to action: After describing the world today, its problems, the priorities, and values of leadership, who should be accountable for all of these things? Who should act upon the problems and solutions we talked about? We got four types of answers: I am; we all are; nobody is; and those with the greatest power are.
Who is responsible? Thomas Pogge answered in a frank way: "I am responsible. I think that I certainly have responsibility. I'm a privileged, well-educated person with good opportunities in life and a citizen of a wealthy country that matters in world affairs, and so I can really make a difference and I should make a difference. I should bear the responsibility, as we all should, I think, as citizens."
The most common answer, however, was the more communal, "we are all accountable or responsible." Zuckerman's explanation sheds light on the ubiquity of this answer: "The only possible answer to the question of who's responsible for this is that 'we all are.' That's maybe not a helpful answer. Obviously, once you get to a world as big and complicated as ours, people have more opportunity and people have more power. But it's really disempowering to take away from people the notion that they are complicit, that they are responsible, that it's part of their work."
A less sanguine view is that the complexity of the world creates something of a free-rider problem. The buck can be passed so easily given the multiple connections and causes in international affairs. To this problem, Scowcroft noted, "The problem is that nobody is accountable. But that is because it's hard in the world, the structure that we have now—who makes one accountable? Right now accountability has been the victors over the vanquished. More times than not, the victors have been, relatively speaking, the good side. But that has been what it is. The fundamental aim of accountability being in terms of ethical progress has not really been prominent."
"Ultimately the United States is accountable. Andrew Carnegie, if he were alive today, would understand that." -Ian Bremmer.
Recalling an ethic attributed to Roosevelt, Jesus, and Spider Man—with great power comes great responsibility—Bremmer placed the burden on the United States: "Ultimately the United States is accountable. Andrew Carnegie, if he were alive today, would understand that. The United States is the world's largest economy, it's by far the wealthiest economy of any nations of scale, we have world-beating technology in all of the key areas of cutting-edge innovation, we have the best institutions of higher learning by a large margin, and we have the world's strongest military."
Bremmer concluded, "When you are in a position of such exorbitant strength compared to other countries, that comes with responsibility. With leadership comes responsibility. With strength comes responsibility. With responsibility comes accountability."
This article was written for a forthcoming volume published with Carnegie Council's Global Ethics Fellows. Part of the first section of this article also appeared in Foreign Policy magazine's Democracy Lab website.