BOOK REVIEW: Humanity-Craft for New Epoch Leaders

Humanity-Craft for New Epoch Leaders

Avant-Garde Politician: Leaders for a New Epoch

Yehezkel Dror (Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem). Washington: Westphalia Press (Policy Studies Organization), April 2014, 350p, $17.50pb.
[With Comparative Comment on Henry Kissinger World Order (Penguin, Sept 2014) and Ross Jackson, Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and  Political Reform (Chelsea Green, March 2012).]

Hundreds of books have been written about leadership, mostly about business leaders.

But few if any, place the tasks of leadership in the context of our rapidly changing times and the growing need for some better form of global governance. This “flagship” book by a former senior staff member of the RAND Corporation, and a long-time observer and advisor to heads of state in Israel and other countries, provides the context in extensive, future-oriented detail. Dror is also author of 15 books in ten languages (see concluding comment), Founding President of the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem, an Honorary member of the Club of Rome, and Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science.

His book is intended for a global audience: all who are interested in politics and policy studies writ large, political leaders and their advisors, and “the large variety of non-political leaders and decision-makers who desire to impact the future of humanity for the better.”

Dror’s distinctive style of providing long and provocative lists of points to support his wise arguments (sometimes with numbered items, sometimes not) is certainly apparent in this encyclopedic tour de force. It is not easy reading (I found myself dipping into the book on four different occasions), but the wealth of well-documented insights deserves multiple visits. Unfortunately, there is no index. So, to avoid missing any topic of substance, reviewing the chapters “by the numbers” is especially appropriate in this instance.


The fateful leap in human capacities to shape its future in interaction with the environment started around the mid-20th century with the atomic bomb. This was only a beginning: the leap in human capacities has become a quantum jump, and now includes rapidly escalating capabilities to destroy humanity. Citing Donald Michael’s 1968 book on The Unprepared Society, Dror warns of “Unprepared Humanity,” cascading into an epoch of metamorphosis. Yet, the vast majority of humanity is not aware of the existential challenges, and “the vast majority of political leaders are sleepwalkers,” suffering from significant mental blind spaces which assure disasters.

Given this diagnosis, this book fuses two leitmotifs: 1) the need for a novel “Humanity Constitution,” together with constantly expanding global law; and 2) bringing to the fore a novel type of “avant-garde” political leader with the qualities needed to cope with an era of metamorphosis, including founding the required Humanity Constitution. Dror explores the qualities of mind required by these politicians, and offers guidelines for becoming one. A new cohort of innovative moral, value, and spiritual leaders is also needed, “as illustrated by Pope Francis.”

Part One: Humanity: To Be, What To Be, Not To Be?

    1. Channeling Metamorphosis. Discusses the evolutionary perspective (“humanity is rushing into a radically new phase”), disruptive technologies (advanced robotics, next-generation genomics, new materials, advanced oil/gas recovery, etc.), leadership for metamorphosis, general prospects for humanity, desirable scenarios (climate engineering saves the environment, release from wearisome work enables cultural thriving, reduced dependence on scarce materials), disastrous scenarios (devastating pandemics, nuclear or other mass-killing wars, activated doomsday devices, irreversible damage to the environment, continuous breakdowns of the global financial system), problematic scenarios (brain enhancement technologies, cloning of humans, worldwide surveillance, artificial production of multicellular beings), and the Second Axial Age (“likely to be driven by the capacity of humanity to destroy or transform itself”; prudence takes pessimistic contingencies seriously).
    2. Circumscribed Global Leviathan. “Some approximation of what is presented below is probably essential for the future of the human species for an interim period of a couple of generations.” (p.31) Dror imagines an Executive Report of the fictional Omega-Alpha think tank of 15 select persons with different backgrounds, charged to make proposals on the needed form of global governance. The Report calls for a vigorous but strictly and narrowly circumscribed Global Leviathan based on a Humanity Constitution and related global law and institutions, with most ordinary governance tasks left to states on the principle of subsidiarity. Three existential imperatives are axiomatic: human species survival, human enhancement controls, and advancement of pluralistic flourishing. The new governance requires a 16-member Global Authority, a global surveillance system to assure detection of potentially dangerous activities, a monopoly over all types of mass-killing weapons, a Council of 16 eminent persons to serve as checks and balances and as a science court, and a Global Constitutional Court.
    3. Raison d’ Humanitie. Dror repeats and rephrases the three existential imperatives: 1) Survival Imperative (deserving absolute priority to assure long-term survival and prevent serious harm to many); 2) Species-Changing Inhibition Imperative (“production, diffusion, and use of species changing knowledge and technologies for human enhancement should be rigorously controlled on a global scale”); 3) Human Flourishing Imperative (subject to the two imperatives above, strenuous efforts should be made to advance long-term pluralistic flourishing of the human species, while taking care of short-term human needs; “free choice should be given to different societies in choosing their ways of flourishing, as long as they do not impair the free choice of others and respect universal human rights.”) The first two imperatives constitute “raison d’humanitie, radically distancing it from raison d’etat. It should receive absolute priority when issues of importance for the future of humanity are at stake.” Painful value changes are likely to be essential in the service of raison d’humanitie, e.g. values of state sovereignty have to be partly abandoned, the value of freedom of research needs subjugation to selective regulation to prevent potentially dangerous knowledge, free markets have to be strictly regulated to prevent black markets, etc.
    4. Value Compass. Lists 14 important components of the “raison d’humanite compass”: humanity as the measure, protecting essential physical conditions of the planet, panhuman communality as part of a maturing humanity, eradication of absolute evil, elimination of large-scale warfare and violent conflicts (including large-scale cyber-attacks), use of measured violence when essential, responsibilities and duties added to human rights, balance between individualism and social/humanity belonging, right to live and die, increasing elimination of extreme poverty, maturing humanity to enable flourishing (which requires avoiding many vices), creativity subject to minimal censorship, expanded pluralism to counter growing global homogenization, a good measure of compassion, and reducing moral hazards by imposing personal responsibility on those causing avoidable damage (e.g. unessential wars, polluting activities).

Part Two: Being An Avant-Garde Politician

    1. Total Calling. Discusses the idea of “calling” as central to an avant-garde politician, virtues (total commitment, praxis-directed solitary contemplation, gravitas, mental hygiene, wakefulness in that “adequate quality sleep is absolutely necessary”), 12 vices to avoid (e.g. extreme narcissism, King Lear Syndrome surrounded by sycophants, Othello Syndrome seeing enemies everywhere, Faustian delusion viewing minor successes as great achievements, etc.), and a 25-point Code of Personal Ethics (constant self-improvement, accepting full responsibility for errors, accepting criticism without hostility, cultivating other avant-garde politicians, having the courage of your convictions, leaving your position if impaired, etc.)
    2. The Mind Is Your “I”. The mind is at the core of an avant-garde politician and the location of the needed qualities. Explains “greatness” and intelligence, brain and mind, how the brain can acquire new capabilities based on activities, issues of the will, emotions and mental composure, plasticity, psychological interventions, seeking maximum internal autonomy in many domains (“including readiness to engage in iconoclasm of what is held dear and is deeply rooted in the mind”), and exposing oneself to a variety of cultures and readings.
    3. Core Qualities. Articulates 9 “bundles” of a leader laying foundations for a novel future: multiple personas (composer, visionary, entrepreneur, pedagogue, conductor), hybrid hedgehog-fox (including the better parts of the fox who knows many things and the hedgehog who knows one big thing), bondage to the past (not a total hindrance because there is much continuity to partly make the past into a helpful guide for the future), “foresight intuition,” Eureka effects (sudden insights, breakthrough mental events), “reading” minds of others, generalist-professionalism (a macroscopic view of broad domains), good executive function, and strict but not over-demanding self-assessment.
    4. >Historic Prototypes. Profiles of Konrad Adenauer, Mustafa Ataturk, David Ben-Gurion, Osama bin Laden [!!], Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, Deng Xiaoping, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles de Gaulle, Mikhail Gorbachev, Dag Hammarskjold, Adolf Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeini, Juscelino Kubitschek, Lee Kuan Yew, Vladimir Lenin, Nelson Mandela, Jean Monnet, Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Harry Truman, and Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Concludes with a list of 12 shared attributes of these “proto-avant-garde politicians,” including devotion to the embraced mission, a realistic vision of substantive improvement, much pondering, high-quality improvisations, unconventional thinking, a good dose of self-confidence, capacity to inspire and gain support, and iron will.

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