From the International to the Global, From Gutenberg to the Web, Implications for Legitimacy and Communication (by Dr. Daniel Warner)

by Didier Marlier on Saturday May 19th, 2012

Daniel Warner was my Professor, a very long time ago. Two years ago, when I was still working with Fundação Dom Cabral in Brazil, we reconnected in a large event for C.E.O.’s organized there. Daniel is an astute observer of the macro political world and an influential although discreet adviser to many of its actors. He has accepted to share some of his thoughts with our readers.

In all aspects of our daily lives we are confronted with rapid change. For those in positions of authority, decisions have to be made beyond the immediate. Medium and long term planning cannot be avoided. How does one make those decisions when overwhelmed with the present? A better understanding of the larger currents helps not only understanding but also offers possibilities for improved decision-making. Understanding the crisis of legitimacy and the implications of the technological revolution for communication offer insights with direct impact on policy formation as well as employer-employee relations.

To say that we are living through a period of accelerated change is banal, but the implications of that banality are not always obvious. First, geopolitically, the state system begun in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia is being challenged. For over 350 years, the international system was based on state sovereignty, founded on the twin principles of domaine reservé and non-interference in the internal affairs of another state. Current challenges to absolute sovereignty come from above the state with international organizations like the United Nations, and from below the state from multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, the media, powerful individuals, and armed non-state groups, among others.  The geopolitical shift from the international to the global has had profound effects for the question of legitimacy. The state system was structured vertically; today’s global system is structured horizontally.

At the same time the state system is being challenged, we are also witnessing a technological revolution. With Internet, Twitter and SMS, a major question is whether the new technology is merely a tool or whether it has more profound implications for society and individuals. While the revolution seems to be fostering more democracy, as with the Arab Spring, there are those who argue that it has in fact led to a loss of socialization. Educational institutions at all levels are grappling with a new type of student brought up on hyperlinks and video games rather than linear learning. Similar to the geopolitical transformations, the technological revolution has also raised questions about legitimacy and structure. Flexible technology challenge hierarchical legitimacy just as non-state actors threaten sovereignty.

New technology has also raised questions about the limits of rationality and the functioning of the brain with enormous implications for communication. Intuition and emotions are now competing with rational choice and homo economicus. The polarization between liberals and conservatives, the lack of communication between different segments of society are being explored as functions of the brain and cultural dynamics. Although arguments about the clash of civilizations are no longer popular, there is no question that we are living in an era of clashing values at the same time as complex interdependence. As with the geopolitical challenges and technological revolution, questions of legitimacy are central to understanding individual and moral psychology with communication becoming more and more problematic.

What does all this mean for the business community? While schools and universities are grappling with new types of learning methods as well as new types of students, businesses are also wrestling with new types of production, transportation and marketing. One of the most understudied results of these phenomena is the new type of relationship between the employer and employee. Among the questions are: What are the implications of moving from the vertical to horizontal structure in terms of employment and human resources? How does an enterprise function with young graduates?

Dr. Daniel Warner has a PhD in international relations and was for many years the Deputy to the Director at the Graduate Institute of International Relations in Geneva. He has lectured at the major universities in the world (Harvard, Oxford, Beijing, Sorbonne, etc.), trained government officials in over 30 countries, consulted with major international organizations (UNHCR, NATO, ILO, OSCE, etc.) and governments as well as working in the private sector. He is also regularly in the media throughout the world.

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