Consolidation for Reformation

7 March 2020

“We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

The blog on January 1st introduced The Declaration of our Interdependence, for the restoration of balance across the three sectors of society—public governments, private enterprises, and plural communities. But how to get from words on a screen to rebalancing of societies? The blog that followed, on February 1st, outlined the first step—the taking of individual and collective actions (shown in a table of of 32 possibilities). This blog discusses how to consolidate such actions into a movement for grounded reformation.

The Message of the 16th Century Reformation

What is known as the Reformation began with words on a door in Germany and ended with a realignment of power in Europe. In 1517, with widespread outrage over corruption in the dominating religion, an obscure monk named Martin Luther challenged its prevailing authority by nailing a list of 95 theses (really grievances) to the door of one of its churches. His words spread within weeks, carried by the new social medium of the time, the printing press. A groundswell followed, as angry people in communities confronted the corruption. Eventually, new institutions formed and some existing ones reformed. Much of the world changed.

Can our world so change? That was Europe five centuries ago, concerning the corruption of one institution. Today we face corruption in many institutions, worldwide. Is reformation on a global scale impossible? Well, the devastating effects of climate change are not only possible but existent. Income disparities are on the rise. And another great war is possible—and would be the last—with several loose cannons elected by people fed up with these income disparities. When disaster looms, the impossible can become possible, indeed necessary.

Starting on the ground, not at the “top”

Where, then, to begin? At the top? The Reformation did not begin at any top, yet today that is where the  preferred solutions focus: the established authorities are supposed to fix the establishment. Elect heroic leaders. Hold lofty conferences. Make 30-year plans. Pretend to fix capitalism. All to no avail.

The record of heroic leadership is hardly stellar. Much of it has proved to be impotent when not autocratic. Have we not had enough of the leadership fix?

The lofty conferences on global warming seem to generate more of it, thanks to all the travel, let alone the talk (not to mention the swarms of private jets that descend on Davos every year to bemoan the warming). At home, politicians with four-year mandates proclaim 30-year plans. Why do we tolerate such nonsense?

Then there are the adjectival capitalism fixes—Progressive Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, even Democratic Capitalism (democracy being the adjective). Capitalism certainly needs fixing, but that will not fix societies broken by its own power. It is these societies that need fixing, by restoring balance across their sectors.

The change we require will have to begin on the ground, as it did in the Reformation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt caught the spirit of this when he was asked by an activist to champion a particular change. He replied: “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now go out and make me do it.” The message is clear: reforming established institutions may be the last step in reformation. The first ones have to be taken on the ground.

Pathway to Reformation

Consider these steps to reformation:

Declaration of common cause => Reframing beliefs => Reversing wrongs and Renewing rights => Consolidating this activity => Reforming institutions

The path to reformation is opened by a compelling statement of common cause that reframes what we believe, or have been made to believe, so that we can understand what is wrong and take action to make it right. If we believe that change must come from the top, then most of us will sit around waiting for it to happen. If we believe that the wealth of globalization trickles down to everyone, then we will take what we get. If we believe that democracy is about swinging between left and right, then we will not see the plural sector for the role it must play in buttressing the power of the public and private sectors. It is the reframing of beliefs that galvanizes action.

Consolidating Activities

The last blog presented a table outlining a variety of actions that can be taken to address our problems. We are, in fact, getting a great deal of it, more than ever before. One book estimated the number of social initiatives for such activities to exceed one million, on a wide variety of fronts: for social justice, sustainable environment, world peace, reformed education, and much more.

That book was published in 2007, yet consider what has been happening to the imbalance ever since. The more constructive activity we get, the worse the imbalance becomes. That is because, while the efforts for reformative change are scattered, the forces that exacerbate the imbalance work in concert, for self-interest—as when they promote conspicuous consumption. These efforts will have to consolidate, around a common cause, which I believe will have to be the restoration of balance. A clear focus of attention (such The Declaration of our Interdependence) is required to fuse a myriad of activities into a movement for regeneration. But this consolidation cannot center on any institution or plan; it has to happen as a groundswell of community activity, as in the Reformation, but this time networked worldwide.

We shall have to recognize that imbalance in society is a root cause of the major problems we face—the social injustices, income disparities, decline of democracy, even much of climate change. How, for example, are we to reverse climate change as long as private power drives so much conspicuous consumption? In other words, if you are concerned about the climate, you had better put the rebalancing of society front and center.

The corruption of established institutions is far more widespread than at the time of Luther, and the dangers we face are far more alarming. We have glorified greed and excess long enough; it is time to value balance and benevolence. Our choice comes down to this: grounded reformation or global devastation. We can continue to plunder this planet, and each other, or we can make our way to reformation.

© Henry Mintzberg 2020, adapted from a note on “Next Steps” on The Declaration of our Interdependence.   

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