Davos Culture

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN07 - Impression of the...
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In his excellent Foreign Affairs essay, Richard Betts describes “Davos culture” as

the transnational consensus of the jet set, who, Huntington wrote, “control virtually all international institutions, many of the world’s governments, and the bulk of the world’s economic and military capabilities.” Huntington, however, saw politics like a populist and pointed out how thin a veneer this elite was — “less than 50 million people or 1 percent of the world’s population.” The masses and middle classes of other civilizations have their own agendas. The progress of democratization celebrated at the end of history does not foster universal values but opens up those agendas and empowers nativist movements. “Politicians in non-Western societies do not win elections by showing how Western they are,” Huntington reminded readers. Although he did not say so, the mistaken identification of modernization with westernization comes naturally to so many U.S. analysts because they understand exotic countries through stays at Western-style hotels and meetings with cosmopolitan Davos people — the local frontmen — rather than through conversations in local languages with upwardly mobile citizens.

I’m a little fascinated by this idea because I think it says quite a lot about how cultures and ideological groupings form in the modern age. People from all over the world from a distinct income bracket and with a certain professional focus have formed a culture that encompasses and overlays the dramatically different cultures of their homelands. Populist leaders (loosely defined to mean “leaders who have any reason to care about what the majority of their citizenry thinks of them”) need to learn how to move between these two cultures with some degree of fluidity.

Of course, as Betts and Huntington suggest, people who spend most of their time in Davos culture are going to come to see it as the default. All of a sudden, it doesn’t look like a culture at all; it’s just the way sane, savvy people understand the world. This is the big category error that most people make about whatever culture they’re most immersed in, and anyone who’s complained about the Beltway elite or the church of the savvy knows what a big problem this is for politics.

But the fact that there is now some common set of norms among most of the major international heavies is both inevitable and desirable. The big questions I have right now are: What are those norms? And what should they be?

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