There is a lot of literature about leadership, there even is a lot of literature about political leadership, written by political scientists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, neuro-scientists ...
- but which of those books are the classics, which maybe the most innovative or most insightful, which the most controversial or most influential?
And there is a lot of talk about leadership, in the media, at the pup, even at work ... , almost always demanding more, better, stronger or just questioning current political leadership.
We are concerned about and we talk passionately about leadership, we write about and research political leadership - but what do we really know?
And why is it even important to understand?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Benjamin R. Barber [2013]

If Mayors Ruled the World. Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities

Quote: "With obstreperous nation-states that once rescued democracy from problems of scale now thwarting democracy's globalization, it is time to ask in earnest,´Can cities save the world?` I believe they can." [p.3 / pos. 143]

Abstract: The renown political scientist Benjamin R. Barber (best known for Jihad vs. McWorld, 1995) proposes to implement a global parliament of mayors in order to lead (where nation-states are doomed to fail) and meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Key-Words: mayors as glocal leaders - glocal leadership - parliament of mayors

Definition of Leadership: calls for pragmatic, consensual and progressive leadership - which is only seen globally feasible via so-called glocal leaderhip by a parliament of mayors

  • failure of nation-states to lead
One of the strengths of the book is its in-depth analysis of the inherent short-comings of national leadership. Though obviously highly influenced by the current state of high political partisanship, ensuing gridlock and distrust in politics and government within the United States Barber is able to make a convincing case against national leadership on a global scale.

He argues that the very essence of nation-states - common identity, defining borders/territory, sovereignty - hinders them to lead in an interconnected, interdependent world, where it is more important to cooperate than to compete with each other: Nation-states might have been "the perfect political recipe for the liberty and independence of autonomous peoples" (...) but are "utterly unsuited to interdependence" [p.3 / pos.148]: "In the world of independence, sovereignty works; in the world of interdependence, it is dysfunctional." [p.147 / pos.2394]
  • cities as democratic strongholds - mayors as successful leaders 
Not only do live more than half of earth's population in cities, Barber also argues that cities are - because of their very nature - destined to lead in a world of interdependence, of interconnectedness: "If we are to be rescued, the city rather than the nation-state must be the agent of change" [p.4  / pos.154], they "have little choice: to survive and flourish they must remain hospitable to pragmatism and problem solving, to creativity and innovation." [p.13 / pos.318]

Cities have to interconnect with their region and with each other, even cross-border in order to function, they have to put politics and ideologies aside, they have to move forward, they have always done so and they will always do and as Barber reminds us strongly "isolation is simply not an urban state of being" [p.113 / pos.1941] and furthermore ancient cities had been the origin of democracy.

Cities are governed by mayors and their leadership-style reflects the nature of cities: on the whole it is pragmatic, less ideologic, consensual, interested in best practices and it is deeply rooted in its constituents - therefore bottom-up and progressive. It is because of this that mayors are ideal global players. The very fact that they are not all powerful but have to make do within sovereign states enables them to find common ground even on the global level by using soft power.
  • the idea of glocal leaderhip
"The challenge of democracy in the modern world has been how to join participation, which is local, with power, which is central." [p.5 / pos.173]
The challenges of the 21st century are global, neither security, nor the fight for equality, nor environmental threats or cultural endeavors can be solved nationally.

Cooperation is imperative - globalization is nothing you can avoid, it just is.

But right now it is driven by competitive, by non-democratic (in structure and organisation) though powerful players - like multinational corporations or autonomous states (clearly not all of them democracies) even the various NGOs or traditional international organisations lack democratic legitimity.

It is actually global democratization that's at the core of the proposal of a parliament of mayors  and its goal is a glocal civil society and confederalism: "To say mayors should rule the world is really to say that citizens should rule the world" [p.300 / pos.4879] - allowing for "global relations among citzens and their civic associations that reflect some measure of participation, transparency, accountability and equality." [p.301 / pos.4892]

  • the parliament of mayors
Barber has worked out an elaborate plan for implementing the above parliament.

He proposes a World Assembly of Cities, represented by mayors "meeting three times a year in different cities, dedicated to listening and deliberation" [p.349 / pos.5689] and exercising influence solely via "global public opinion and the force of example" [p.350. / pos.5696], maybe accompanied by a second chamber, a parliament of regions, both voluntary and consensual in character.

The parliament of mayors should be limited to 300 cities in any one session, 50 seats should be reserved for megacities (population over 10 million), 125 seats each for cities with a population of over 500.000 and of under 500.000, all cities elected by lot for each session.

The mayors of these cities each will have one vote per city and a second weighted vote according to their population (500.000 people representing 1 demographic vote). They might be advised by 2-3 citizens, also chosen by lot.

The cities itselves should be able to opt-in or if the decision had already been approved in parliament opt-out through referenda, which forces the mayors to find majorities among their citzens and in so doing creates legitimacy.

And finally any decision had to go through 3 readings i.e. any decision must win simple majorities in 3 successive parliaments.

Key-principles: Listening, deliberation, sortition, glocality, voluntary action, leading by example, opt-in and opt-out options and mayors as global trustees.

But cities "will have to do what they do with and not against states, with and not as alternatives to the United Nations, with and not as rivals to NGOs and multinational corporations." [p.358 / pos.5837]

Critique: Barber's If Mayors Ruled the World is a passionate call für glocal leadership as a last resort for rescuing democracy. The author though obviously highly disappointed with the current state of democracy, political leadership and national and international politics sees mayoral leadership i.e. pragmatic leadership that puts ideologies and politics aside as clearly superior and consequently is also highly enthusiastic about the idea of a global parliament of mayors.

He gives a lot of examples, quotes, as well as historical and literary references, which makes for an interesting though not too easy read.

Last but not least he highlights the already ongoing pursuits of mayors and cities to cooperate on a global scale.
First Sentence: "In a teeming world of too much difference and too little solidarity, democracy is in deep crisis." [p.3 / pos. 142]

Last Sentence: "Reasons enough - good reasons - why mayors and their fellow citizens can and should rule the world." [p.359 / pos. 5847]
Language: english - needs time to read

Assessment: in-depth analysis of mayoral leadership including 11 profiles of mayors - passionate critique of failing national states
Link to Author's Site: Benjamin R. Barber, which also includes a video of a talk concerning the above book's topic by the author at TED, Edinburgh, Scotland in March 2013.