Moral Leadership: Sympathy, Liberal Arts and Connection

       Globalisation needs moral leadership. On the one hand, globalisation gives us convenience such as computer and smart phone. On the other hand, globalisation caused undesired consequences such as expansion of terrorism and inequality. However, it does not necessarily mean globalisation is bad. We can make globalisation better with effective global governance. How can we make globalisation better? Some believes institution is important. But what can help to change institution to make globalisation work efficiently? Moral leadership can.

       The world is changing. We have to have new moral leadership to make the world better. As great figures of moral leadership, I recall Sadako Ogata and Kofi Annan. They were international servants, and they worked for people whose voices are not heard. We can see their sympathy to people who need care. In addition to that, liberal arts education and connection between actors are needed to moral leadership today.

New Challenges

       We face many challenges today. In terms of peace and security, weapons can be transferred, and we cannot stop them at the border. Under the name of national security of the Realist assumption, states rearm because they believe in deterrence theory. Nonetheless, we cannot guarantee its effectiveness, and human security is threatened because of national security. Norm of human rights spread with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the globalisation, but inequality spread with the globalisation too. We can borrow money from international organisations, but they put harsh conditionality. Conditionality sometimes works, but it creates miserable outcome when it does not work as we can see from the Asian financial crisis. Many people cannot purchase medicine because they are too expensive to protect intellectual property rights of the medicine researcher. Many people starve in the South while some people have more food than enough in the North. These are issues of the business sector. Recently, we know that we face environmental issues. While states and business sectors tend to reluctant to solve issues, civil society is keen to publicise the problem. Sometimes, we can find some success of cooperation between states, business sector and civil society when power, interests and ideas go together.

       The world is changing, and realism and liberalism theory in international relations are not persuasive explanatory and normatively. Constructivism tries to adapt to this change. It emphasises the importance of ideas. If we have a different idea, the world can be changed. I believe it is the way the world is heading to. Of course, there can be some structural constraints, so I support co-determinism, but still we can change or choose many things. Pessimistic structuralism may be cool, but what does it imply? Can’t we do anything? We have to do something to meet many challenges we face. We live in the globalised world, and we can affect to people who live in the opposite side of the earth for better or worse. We have to do something. This is why we need moral leadership. Many people did not even recognise this unfairness. Moral leaders have to show uncomfortable fact to the public and lead to morally acceptable action. Sadako Ogata and Kofi Annan showed us difficult world situation, and they tried to solve the problem.

Great Figures

       Sadako Ogata and Kofi Annan can be recognised as great figures of moral leadership. Sadako Ogata is one of the most well-known Japanese international civil servants. She was the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR). She changed the tradition of the UNHCR. It originally worked only on issues of refugees, who have crossed the border. However, there were many internally displaced persons (IDPs) who lived in the very similar situation, but could not be recognised as refugees because they could not cross the border. Facing this issue, Ogata decided to work for IDPs. As a result, many people who could not be protected before were protected.

       Kofi Annan is a former Secretary-General of the United Nations. He posed the question “if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica –to and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?” in his report titled ‘We the peoples’: The role of the United Nations in the 21st century (Annan, 2000: 48). This question triggered the establishment of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) to create historic human-centred concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2001, which was recognised in the United Nations General Assembly in 2005. It must be a challenge for him because he must know that state sovereignty is a central norm in the international community. However, he posed the question after facing tragedies in Rwanda and Srebrenica.

       What we can learn from Ogata and Annan is that the importance of sympathy. They sympathised with people who need support and they challenged tradition. I believe they were shocked emotionally. This shock based on sympathy changed the world. They sympathised to people, but we can do it possibly for nature too today, when we are facing the environmental issues. This sympathy is important for moral leadership.

Moral Leadership Today

       In addition to sympathy, there are some other elements which are needed to moral leadership today. Morality is something which we can develop. When we find new facts and ideas, our sense of value can be challenged. This experience helps to develop our morality. Moreover, morality derived from our birth is not sufficient to use in reality. The world is complex and changing. We have to challenge our sense of value each time. For example, we used to have the sense of economic superiority after WWII. Especially in case of Japan, it is understandable because many Japanese people did not have enough food to eat. They had to work and develop economically to get enough food. However, there is a new issue. We often need to sacrifice nature of this planet to develop economically. We found that it could be an issue for the future generation or even for this generation. Also, some Japanese people think about the African children who are starving and donate money. But some do not care about it. Although the world and our sense of value change, the world does not determine our sense of value. I believe we get morality while we get new information. We feel what we have to do with new information.

       To solve complex issues, we have to know many things. History is important to think about reality because we live in the world based on our history. Philosophy is also important because it guides the way of life. We should learn humanities to think about philosophy, and natural science and social science to know about reality. Ideal moral leaders have to know everything. Moral leaders have to learn in liberal arts style because they have to show the broad direction to go. Practical process can be decided by specialists.

       Also, moral leaders have to know many actors such as states, business and civil society. They are never perfect, but it is good. I think it is another three branches of democracy. State represents power (at least for the moment), business represents interest and civil society represents ideas. If they are monopolised by one actor, there is no discussion or freedom. We just need to obey to it. I do not think many people want it to happen. However, moral leaders can bridge them. It is difficult, but if we can bridge them, we can change the world today. It is the model of moral leadership and Maurice Strong, the secretary general of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Development can be a few notable real models. If the moral leader connects three actors, the world can be better.


       We need moral leadership today. We need moral leaders who can reveal uncomfortable reality. Moral leadership has to connect many actors to solve globalised complex issues. We have to sympathise with people who do not have says and possibly with the environment. If we find issues from the current structure, we have to challenge tradition. Also, we cannot solve issues with one speciality. With liberal arts approach, we will be able to solve them.

       We have to sympathise with others, study with liberal arts approach and make connections to many actors. It may take to time to achieve these three things, so we have to train from now. Many issues are urgent, and we have to solve them as soon as possible. We have to train to solve issues as moral leaders in the future.


International Christian University, College of Liberal Arts (JAPAN)

Undergraduate student

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