I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA
II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA
III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”
IV. REGAINING BALANCE
V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION
Someone once remarked that “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”1 What most of us do instead is extrapolate: the optimists the trends they like, the pessimists the ones they don’t. To complete this five-part essay, I will do both. I have made my choice; what’s yours?
We can maintain the course we are on—do nothing much different, continue to ride the current, with a few adjustments—which may lead to devastation, and possibly annihilation, whether from a climate that has had enough of us or a world war that will be the last. Or else we can wake up and address a situation that is no longer tenable. There are signs of that too.
In one significant sense, the prevailing trend today resembles that of Germany in 1933, when a third of the electorate, angered by the treaty that ended World War I, sought their revenge by voting for the Nazi party. Fascism, and World War II followed. Many people today, angered by the imbalance that marginalizes them, have also been seeking their revenge by voting for tyrants.
Five centuries earlier, also in what is now Germany, many people were angry too, with the established ecclesiastic, political, and economic powers, but they did something quite different: engaged in a ground-up reformation that rearranged power in their world. Today, many people have similar feelings about the greediness and lack of compassion of the established powers, and have been expressing a readiness to act for constructive change. Give them a compelling way forward and watch them go.
The States of the World Today Democracy is now deteriorating at an alarming rate, resulting in a growing number of illiberal democracies (such as in Hungary and the Philippines), that are sliding in the direction of the many established autocratic regimes. This leaves a few countries clinging to a flawed model of liberal democracy (notably the UK and US) and some that do maintain a semblance of balanced democracy (such as Germany, Canada, the Nordic states, and several other small countries). Meanwhile, the same old superpowers continue with their antics, one undemocratic (China), another illiberal (Russia), the third headed that way under the leadership of a loose cannon (US).
The real danger is the slide toward autocracy, because, at the rate it is going, this planet could soon end up with global fascism. The recent experience of Venezuela, in the lead, so to speak, shows how easily tyranny can sweep aside constitutional protections—as if we needed more evidence of this. And it makes no difference if the autocracy is called communism, capitalism, or populism (whether Muslim, anti-Muslim, Jewish, anti-Semitic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or secular). Dogma is dogma, and demagogues are demagogues. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Fearing decency, the autocrats of the world unite. Angela Merkel was denounced for caring about refugees, while Saudi Arabia punished Canada for a single tweet about its arrest of two journalists. They united in the 1930s too, although eventually America came to the rescue. Imagine World War II without this and you may be seeing World War III.
Reformation from the Ground Up What if we come to our collective senses? Early in the Sixteenth Century, with so many people angered at the corruption of their church, the Reformation followed after a monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the door of a church in a town called Wittenberg. This sparked a movement from the ground up, eventually engaging certain established officials, that spread fast, far, and wide—thanks to a new communications technology of the time, the printing press. Does this sound familiar? With our new social media, and so many people now prepared to act, another reformation—meaning massive but largely nonviolent change in social behavior—could well be coming.
Does this sound utopian? Maybe, but the current reality is hardy utopian. A reformation on such a scale may be unprecedented, but the problems we face are unprecedented.
Let me offer another example, indicative of how quickly a people can reframe and shift behavior from the ground up. I refer to what is known here in Quebec as The Quiet Revolution, although it was really a quiet reformation. By 1960, many of the women of Quebec had had it with a dominating church in cahoots with autocratic politics. The death of a long-entrenched Premier was the spark that set off the change. Just about every Quebecoise I know from that time has many siblings; their mothers driven by the clergy to procreate non-stop. Just about none has more than a child or two. One wrote to me recently about this “effervescent period”: “The Church that consumed my youth fell apart like a house of cards.” Other places in the world have experienced similar shifts, but perhaps none so profoundly as Quebec. At that point, there were no marches, no protests, no election of other autocrats, just a sweeping shift in mindset that profoundly changed the society. Quebec became, and with lapses remains, probably the most progressive place in North America.
Answering the Irene Question Irene is a finance manager in Canada, who has worked in the private and plural sectors. She read a draft of my book Rebalancing Society and responded with: “I’d like to do something. I just don’t know where to start.” You cannot imagine how often I have been asked the Irene question ever since!
Add up all the Irenes and Ivans of the world, and we have the makings of a massive global movement for constructive reformation. We just need to coalesce our energies around some shared sense of direction—some compelling narrative that suggests a way forward. The idea of a reformation to rebalance society could be that: to attain a dynamic equilibrium across the public, private, and plural sectors of society.
What can we do in our own lives? What can we do in our communities and associations? What can our enterprises do, small and large, entrepreneurial and corporate, national and international? What can our governments do, at the municipal, national, and global levels? And what can all of us and all of this do together? In other words, the levels of change can be Personal, Plural, Private, Public, and Planet, shown in the table below in terms of Reframing our Beliefs, Reforming our Wrongs, and Renewing our Rights (in both senses of the term).
Find your place in the table: the possibilities are endless. I have my own collection, all over the table. For example, at the top left, I have “ditch the economic dogma”2 (personal level reframing); in the middle, “fix or abandon the stock market” (private level reforming) and “grow the social economy” (plural level renewing); and on the bottom right, “create a Peace Council to replace the (in)Security Council of the United Nations” (planet level renewing).
A Pathway to Reformation In an earlier blog, I wrote about the puzzling puzzle of rebalancing society. Unlike a pat puzzle (such as a jigsaw one):
- The pieces have to be discovered, or created.
- Each appears obscure, like a fragment.
- They need to connect, although never neatly.
- With no box in sight, the picture has to be constructed from these fragments and connections.
The table above can help to identify many of these fragments. But how to fit them together to create the compelling image? Perhaps an answer can lie in what I am currently working on, labelled a Pathway to Reformation, in four phases.
A. Reformation begins in a long-simmering place, about to combust spontaneously. The women of Quebec, like the Eastern Europeans under communism, were all ready to go. Now, perhaps as never before, a great many people are ready to go, all around the globe.
B. A spark ignites, in the form of an event (the death of a politician), or the action of a group (opening up the Berlin Wall), a community or even a major part of a society (the women of Quebec).
C. This spreads, in the form of a massive but non-violent shift in social behavior, as a groundswell of social initiatives to reframe and renew. These days, with the help of the social media, it can spread from community to community to go global, becoming a worldwide social movement.
D. Reforms mostly follow, in institutions—governments in the public sector, businesses in the private sector, associations in the plural sector. Most institutions need to be overwhelmed by social forces before they will accept major reforms.
Is such a reformation possible? With the decline of democracy, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the warming of the planet, it had better be possible. This world will simply not fix itself. People who care about it will have to do that. There is wealth in the world as never before, enough for decent living far and wide—so long as we can relinquish our superfluous entitlements. Some of us might just discover what decent living is all about.
For the sake of survival, we need to shift the initiative from our private interests to our common interest. Like the women of Quebec, we shall have to get our collective act together—to reframe our thinking so that we can reform our wrongs and renew our rights. Hence, ask not what your leadership has been doing to you. Ask what you can be doing for our communityship—not as conservatives or liberals, from the left or the right, but as decent folk who care about our planet and our progeny.
What’s your choice??
© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center for the forerunner to this series.
1 Apparently first said in the Danish parliament in the 1930s.
2 that greed is good, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect.