The Caux Round Table (CRT) held its 26th Global Dialogue on July 28th and 29th, 2011 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The theme of the Dialogue was: ”Must there be a Clash of Civilizations?” The theme was chosen to mark the 15th anniversary of the publication of Professor Samuel Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order and the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on New York City’s World Trade Center. Prior to his death, Professor Huntington had been a member of the CRT’s Academic Advisory Council.
Dialogue participants concluded that the risk and challenge facing the world is less the internal values of different cultures and civilizations and more a leadership deficit among those who purport to speak for nations, ethnic groups, cultures and traditions of civilization.
Whether civilizations clash or accommodate one another depends on their vision of the common good and their concern for others. Good and bad can occur in any civilization or society and they are all at risk of their fundamental values and beliefs being corrupted. Whether or not such corruption of values and beliefs occurs is, first and foremost, a question of ethical leadership.
Without ethical leadership, things can’t happen or, if they do, happen for the worse. It is the responsibility of leaders to think ethically and wisely about the common good and to resist the temptations brought to the fore by whatever seems to be self-serving or immediate.
In the lead up to the 2008 global financial crisis and subsequent collapse of credit markets, however, we saw the leaders involved create unsustainable levels of risk while allowing self-interested greed and excess to be elevated to the status of core values.
Ethical leadership embodies concern for the common good and respect for human dignity. It is a responsible stewardship that flows from the moral sense. Ethical leaders bridge civilizations; civilizations tend to perpetuate themselves in psychic isolation.
We live surrounded by a competition of ideas. Those communities who succeed – for better or worse - will be the ones who open people’s minds to ways of looking at and appreciating the diversity of the world. This is leadership. It is a collective process of dialogue and engagement.
Ethical leaders should reframe our way of considering the true interests at stake from the perspective of the least well off on a global basis, but in doing so, they need an evocative vocabulary. Language comes with legacies; words divide us, as well as bring us together. Words such as “capitalism,” “social justice,” and “welfare” have legacies that hinder mutual engagement.
The CRT would be well advised to set standards for ethical leaders in business, government and civil society by reminding them of the universal core of humane values that have inspired the most admired cultures and civilizations. To be civilized and to ensure sustainable prosperity for all is to live by high standards of universal ethical responsibility; to be civilized is to rise above moral and ethical poverty. Consequently, there is a critical need to provide thought leadership on ethical visions which bridge civilizations, cultures and national interests.
Ethical leaders who are conscious of their power and responsibility to promote the common good emerge in three ways: education; personal visioning; and conditioning by incentives and disincentives – largely, remuneration structures, market and regulatory influences and peer pressure.
Priority tasks for the CRT would be to: engage those who provide education, especially of the young and of citizens in general; to stimulate and integrate the ideas and actions of think-tanks and do-tanks which shape public norms upholding the common good; and promote the Rule of Law.
Providing a global communications platform for the dissemination of such ideas and ideals would be a helpful contribution to the emerging new global order. Guidelines and publications to assist business leaders understand and engage with different cultures are also needed.
The sponsoring of round tables on the ethics of leadership by CRT country chapters would be another important contribution.
Finally, the Dialogue reaffirmed that the Rule of Law, which bridges civilizations and stands on ownership rights for individuals, requires the abolition of crony capitalism and an end to elite plundering of the state and society. In particular, recovery of illicitly acquired assets in the developing world should be a high priority for CRT activism, as it would result in more equitable distribution of wealth and an expansion of the middle classes from below, both of which are essential to sustain social optimism and harmonize democratic forces.