Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University and the author of Rebalancing Society: Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center.
A loose cannon loaded with nuclear warheads has become the leader of the free world. Not my free world. Most of us, in Canada and elsewhere, did not elect this man to the American presidency, let alone to this leadership. Yet we will all be suffering some of the consequences. Shall we sit back and hope for the best?
Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. It would likely be carved up by rival gangs, holding each other at bay when not engaging in outright hostilities. Well, this is the world in which we live. And don't tell me that the country leading this free world is noble. At times, the United States has certainly acted nobly, such as during the Second World War and in standing up for certain human rights. But no less prevalent has been nasty America, with its incursions all over Latin America and into Vietnam and Iraq. And make no mistake about it: Nasty America is on its way back in, possibly with a vengeance.
We are in an era of bullies – Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte and the rest – unless people concerned about this planet and our progeny do something. What can we do? Since the usual is not working, how about the impossible – at least seemingly so? After all, if Donald Trump can be elected President of the United States, surely anything is possible. Consider a council, a coalition and communities.
The closest we come to world government is the Security Council of the United Nations. This should be called the Insecurity Council, since each of its five permanent members with veto power has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, a history of bullying – whether in the form of colonialism or belligerent incursions – and together rank as the five largest exporters of armaments in the world. Aleppo is their most recent accomplishment. In this case, noble America held back while one of its inevitable rivals stepped in. Have we not had enough of the rivalries of big powers while the rest of the world looks on?
Imagine a Peace Council, made up of democratic nations with no nuclear weapons and no recent history of belligerence. Of course, this idea is impossible – so long as our thinking remains stuck in the existing world order. But if such a grouping was called together by a respected authority (Pope Francis, perhaps?) and vested with legitimacy by concerned people around the world, the whole thrust of international relations could change.
Bear in mind one clear message of the Trump, Brexit, Bernie Sanders and other votes: that a great many regular people are now prepared to act on the resentment they feel. The trouble is that, not knowing where to turn, many have vented their anger ineffectually. Mr. Trump may prove to be an awful choice for the people who elected him.
What if, to replace the deceptive rhetoric of populist politicians, a coalition of prominent NGOs – including, for example, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders – issued a compelling vision, around which concerned people everywhere could coalesce: a vision for balance across economic, political and social interests.
After all, the particular concerns of these NGOs – human rights, degradation of the environment and health services in disaster zones – have common cause, namely a world out of balance in favour of narrow, economic interests. With such a vision, concerned people could organize in their communities, and use the social media to connect around the world.
This could create a global groundswell for the restoration of decency and democracy. They could constrain globalization where it challenges legitimate national sovereignties, while targeting countries for their atrocities and boycotting organizations for their wrongdoings. And who better to get behind initiatives for global decency and democracy than Canadians, with our history of peacekeeping and of so many renowned figures who stood up for a better world?
To take a leaf from American history, in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote to the people of the American colonies that "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." That too must have seemed impossible. Yet that is what they did. And that is what we shall have to do now.