Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Nationalism of the Puppet Kind

There’s much talk about a resurgence of nationalism. But are we all talking about the same thing?

There is the true nationalism of patriots that brings people together to defend themselves against a common enemy who, externally or internally, poses a real and serious threat to them.

And there is the false nationalism deployed by devious puppeteers to mask their manipulative control, so they can exploit a country for their own gains by directing public anger to convenient scapegoats.

True nationalism originated in the late 18th and early 19th century when the infant United States and the First French Republic had to rouse their citizens into defending their newly established nations against those who were opposed to their existence. Soon, the approach was adopted in galvanising people in selected geographical areas to come together to form and protect what would become the unified countries of Germany and Italy in late 19th century.

But soon rabble-rousing political leaders cottoned on to the power of jingoism. And puppet nationalism became a go-to tool for devious tricksters who wave their country’s flag every time they want to deflect scrutiny of their dubious activities or to further their own ruthless ambition.

When Britain waged the Opium War (1839-1860) against China because the latter tried to stop British drug lords selling harmful narcotics to the Chinese people, it led no less a figure than Gladstone to declare, “a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I do not know.” But for Palmerston, who as Prime Minister ordered gunboats to China to destroy properties and civilian lives alike, it was time to hoist the Union Jack. When Members of Parliament disgusted with Palmerston’s behaviour tried to censure him, he excoriated them for their “anti-English feeling, an abnegation of all those ties which bind men to their country and to their fellow-countrymen, which I should hardly have expected from the lips of any member of this House. Everything that was English was wrong, and everything that was hostile to England was right.”

Palmerston’s puppetry would be replicated, under different national logos, by demagogues like Napoleon III who usurped the Second French Republic; autocrats like Wilhelm II who plunged Germany and the rest of Europe into the First World War; dictators in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and militarist Japan whose collective aggression ignited the Second World War; and the likes of Milošević who turned the break-up of Yugoslavia into genocidal conflicts.

International cooperation has always been sought by true nationalists, because the interests of the people are always better protected when external disputes can be peacefully resolved, and internal problems can get more attention without the distraction of security tensions or military confrontation. By contrast, false nationalists despise cross-border partnerships because these render them less able to paint foreigners abroad as enemies, or depict those at home as aliens. Deprived of the opportunities to set up scapegoats to divert public attention, it is so much more difficult for them to amass and abuse power to gratify themselves.

But alas, false nationalism is back with a vengeance [see Note 1]. Its leaders in different countries pull the strings of Islamophobia with a broader xenophobic backdrop, and the stage is set for the rabid denouncement of ‘foreign threats’, while behind the scene they plot to act unaccountably in pursuit of their own ambitions.

It’s time for true nationalism to take a stand, because we need to rally citizens to deal with this grave threat against us all – the creeping encroachment of our political space by nationalism of the puppet kind.

[Note 1] For example, Marine Le Pen (leader, National Front, France); Geert Wilders (leader, Party for Freedom, the Netherlands); Nigel Farage (ex-leader UKIP, UK); Viktor Orbán (ex-Prime Minister/leader, Civic Alliance Party, Hungary); Nobert Hofer (President of the National Council/member, Freedom Party, Austria); Donald Trump, (President/Republican Party, USA); Frauke Petry (leader, Alternative for Germany, Germany); Mattias Karlson (group leader in parliament, Sweden Democrats, Sweden); Jarosław Kaczyńsk (leader, Law & Order Party, Poland); Vladimir Putin (President/United Russia Party, Russia); Matteo Salvini (leader, Northern League, Italy).

For more on contrasting forms of nationalism, see Chapter 6, ‘Liberal versus Tribal Nationalism’ in Tam, H, (2015) Against Power Inequalities: a history of the progressive struggle.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The Business of Advancing Values

[A review of Values: how to bring values to life in your business, by Ed Mayo, Greenleaf Publishing: 2016]

Some businesses are only concerned about financial values. Some aspire to a wide range of values but do little to pursue them. But those who take seriously their own mission to advance social, economic and environmental values may turn out to be the most successful ones all round.

In his new book on values and business leadership, Ed Mayo, the Secretary-General of Cooperatives UK and former head of the New Economics Foundation, shows why values should not be treated as a public relations gloss, but ought to be integrated into every enterprise as the main driving force.

The book is a perfect antidote for any consultant-spiel about how to ‘do’ corporate values. It reminds us that Enron, that bastion of commercial deception on the grandest scale, once proudly proclaimed, “we work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely.” More recently, the board of Barclays Bank, having been at the receiving end of exposures of illegal practices, heavy fines and moral condemnation, replaced their CEO with someone appointed with the mandate to re-orientate the culture of the company towards better values. But when the new CEO (Antony Jenkins) proceeded to do just that, the board decided that his concern with business responsibility was getting in the way of making more money, more quickly, and gave him the push.

In short, if you’re not going to focus on values at the heart of your business, don’t waste time pretending. By contrast, taking values on board fully can deliver superior outcomes over time. For example, we learn that among young enterprises (those which have been in business between 2 and 10 years), those motivated strongly by their desire to make a positive difference socially and environmentally perform better than those operating with a narrow financial focus. Interestingly, 43% of the people running these young enterprises reported that the pursuit of broader values was a primary motivation for them.

In case anyone questions if we are jumping to too many conclusions based on the experiences of relatively new business ventures, Mayo draws on his considerable knowledge of the cooperative sector to confirm that, for well over a century, cooperatives of all shapes and sizes have been at the forefront of achieving more for their customers, workers and local communities by valuing their wellbeing as much as their own financial returns.

It’s a win-win situation since when the workers have a real stake in the enterprise they work in, they are naturally more dedicated to securing its success, and productivity is not surprisingly boosted by employee ownership. In fact, according to UK consumer research, cooperatives are among top third of ethical performers in 80% of the markets surveyed, and are the top performers in 23% of the markets surveyed.

Alas, even for those who believe that values are important in business, there is all often too big a gap between aspiration and action. But Mayo’s book has a few handy tips to bridge it. The one on testing the empathy of potential recruits is particularly pertinent as values have to be advanced by everyone in an enterprise. To succeed, a values-driven business must be sustained by people who care about improving the lives of others.

Egoists, in business as in politics, are the ones who should be kept at bay.