Cooperation between ideologies

In some recent articles, I have discussed the importance of cooperation rather than confrontation between people, organisations and countries, in economic, cultural and other fields, even if we disagree on ideologies and other more or less profound things. I have referred to the work of the World Economic Forum (WEF), founded and led by Professor Klaus Schwab since the earlier 1970s. WEF brings together world leaders, yes, the rich and famous, powerful and ruthless, but also members of the youth and others in cultural and other fields, with less power but sometimes with alternative thoughts. Everyone benefits from discussing with friends and foes, strangers and others with entirely different take on reality and how to do things better. If we all mix and exchange views openly and honestly, perhaps we will realise that we can work together on many things. But we must realise that there is a need for more common regulations and systems for cooperation so it can benefit all, not only the rich and famous, indeed the multinationals. We need more democracy for broader contact and cooperation to work; it should be based on principles and standards, even ideologies.

About one third of the world’s countries are not democracies; some of them have wars and internal conflicts. But also countries considered democracies take part in military conflicts abroad, but their situation at home is usually more peaceful than in countries under authoritarian rule. There is a distinction between democracies and non-democracies, but there are degrees of people’s participation in both types of states. It is important that discussions and dialogue take place, irrespective of what one would think about the other states’ systems.

In my article last week, I drew attention to Western Europe’s failure to cooperate more positively with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the end of the Cold War. It was a costly failure that the world suffers from today. Countries with longer democratic experience can give advice to younger states; older democracies will learn on the way, too, so they can renew their systems and cooperate better with others. Once the Corona pandemic is over, we have an important opportunity to revisit and renew bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, including the UN and other organisations.

In all countries, political parties, civil society organisations, universities and think tanks, the civil service and the private sector, and so on, must all improve. We should know that even in the best democracies, such as those in Scandinavian countries, there is a huge space for improvements, especially in fields and organisations that have been left too much or their own, unnoticed and hidden. As the world keeps changing, as it will always do, there will be new situations to be addressed, and there is a need for people’s participation. It is worrying that fewer young people join political parties. We have become less ideological and that leads to less deep engagement.

The modern communication technologies can be tools for easier participation and widened democratic participation and cooperation. Young people have exciting tasks ahead to change their world, locally and globally. I believe that the political parties have major challenges; they must change in organisational forms, the ways they work, the ways they recruit members, and so on. I believe that ideologies and values must become clearer, and strategies for how to reach results. Also, political parties must include the private sector in their work; the private sector must not only focus on making money, but on how to pay back to society, and participate and discuss with politicians. Professor Schwab’s newly released book, ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’, becomes useful.

We seem to be awaiting grand new political ideas, top names, new visions, future-looking ideologies, and values that are good for all in a more equal world. We live in a technocratic, bureaucratic and meritocratic time. The political class may be comfortable enough with the state of affairs and not be searching seriously enough for real improvements, new ideas and change. I believe we should revitalise old ideologies, indeed socialism and also social democracy. But in some fields, such as gender equality and the environmental issues and climate change, leaders have done very well. All politicians can learn from their work. I believe that the migration and refugee issues need urgent attention, with new theories, ideas and sustainable solutions. Last week I made reference to the unique writer Mohsin Hamid and his libertarian suggestions about migration; he is thinking outside the box. It is good a writer takes up the issues, but it is the responsibility of politicians, international organisations, the private sector, and others to find ways of practical implementation.

It is a fact that political and other ideologies play a less prominent role today than fifty or a hundred years ago. Religion and faith were clearer and simpler, too: one would be born into a religion and stay with it for life. Few would question dogma and doctrine, and even those who did, wouldn’t speak too much about it. In politics, people were either on the socialist or bourgeoisie side. Most people were strongly against Nazi thinking. The small Communist Party was there, and people in the Labour Party would often borrow thinking from that party, but wouldn’t speak about it quite openly, as Labour developed into a more centrist social-democratic party. The Conservatives stood for less government and state regulations.

The decades after WWII were the era of Labour and the development welfare state in Europe, with a model function far beyond. People felt it was safe to have more government and state policies, including the development of military alliances. WWII had been devastating, and old alliances were not always honoured and helped the small state; many thought that the USA for a long time supported Europe with ‘one hand in the pocket’. However, during the Cold War, many would say that the USA played a too dominant role in Europe and the world. It still remains the only superpower; Russia is less prominent, but China is rising fast, especially in the economic field, and it will soon overtake the USA’s economy in size, but not in GDP per capita. China’s population (1.4 billion) is almost five times that of the USA’s (330 thousand), and over four times that of the EU (450 million). China’s economy grows much faster than those of the EU and USA; well, they all depend on each other and also on other countries in an interdependent world—with one ‘ideology’ only, notably capitalism.

Let me conclude my article today by underlining that we should in future cooperate more across all borders, and that we should also develop clearer ideologies, principles and values. I also believe that we should revive certain old ideologies. I believe we should modernise our thinking about socialism, social-democracy and capitalism, the latter to become ‘stakeholder capitalism’, as Professor Schwab has discussed in his new book. We all need to revise, update and modernise our thinking, and political and other social scientists must become more visible. We need to become more principled and value theory and ideology, and people from all fields need to cooperate and learn from each other. Foundations are important for practical politics, for developing a new and more equal world for all.

Atle Hetland

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid

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