The Harvard political scientist, Samuel Huntington, is most well-known for the idea of a clash of civilisations: Post-Cold War conflicts, he anticipated, would be between clashing cultures rather than between ideologies or sovereign states. Not as well-known is another idea from Huntington: The rise of the Davos Man, a new breed of elite who has “little need for national loyalty, view(s) national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see(s) national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.” Davos is, of course, where such men (and, alas, they are still mostly men) brave bad weather and even worse traffic to congregate every January; the latest congregation concluded just last week. Since the news media loves to follow celebrity, there are few places that garner as much interest, especially remarkable for how little actually gets done there. What is even more remarkable is that the biggest news headlines in recent years were not about the Davos men that congregated on Davos, but about the un-Davos men who gate-crashed the party.
The visionary organisers of Davos, the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab and his dedicated team of lieutenants, (full disclosure: I serve on one of their Global Future Councils) have been nudging the Davos narrative in a different direction — towards a collection of transformational technologies — a Fourth Industrial Revolution that enables the Davos Man’s wildest dreams and is inclusive in the benefits it confers on the billions that shall never visit Davos. But the gate-crashing by un-Davos men may be hijacking the narrative.
Last year, all of Davos was in post-Trumpian plus post-Brexit shock and this created the perfect opportunity for the incursion. Chinese president Xi Jinping seized the chance to fill a vacuum and made an unprecedented appearance. It cannot be argued that Xi — the man with more than a dozen governing titles, including president, general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, core leader, “chairman of everything”… I can go on — would ever entertain the silly idea of “national governments as residues from the past”. Without question, he would fail the test of Davos manhood. His appearance seems to have emboldened others. This year, Xi was followed by two more prominent un-Davos men: Narendra Modi and Donald Trump himself.
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