Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Resistance to Change

There are serious constraints to orderly – or even slightly disorderly – change. The existing institutions will, as an initial response, want to keep functioning just as they were. That is fair. History has moved from governance of the village, to towns, to districts, to provinces, to regions, to nations in a manner by which each of the pre-existing formal governance structures has managed to survive, albeit with less power and less control. How the existing nation-state will be subsumed is one lesson from history we have not yet learned.  

Resistance to change is equally true for the business world. Some multinational banks and corporations do not want to adapt to the instabilities they have created or recognize any future explicit role for themselves as international governors. They have created a world of product and service markets and all the features of globalization without worrying too much about political and social disruptions. In the past, they left these difficulties to be handled by NATO, the Pentagon, or other nation-state institutions. Now Davos is recommending that the executives of these enterprises take a morality oath and openly engage with the global political process. The dominant corporate executive response is to retreat back to a business-as-usual practice leaving ‘governing’ to others. How multinationals will engage in governance -- and, inherently, will themselves be governed -- is another one of the lessons of history that we have not yet learned.

For international civil society, too, there is a resistance to change. Whether the core elements of this internationalization of domestic societies is tied to earlier international labor alliances or to more recent global cultural phenomena, the evolution of international civil society is a bit difficult to forecast. By the rationale of the nation-state, citizens are – or rather were – represented by their governments. Over the past quarter of a century, international civil society has become a self-standing institution. Its members are not quite ‘world citizens’ as there is no world government. But they do share a sense of bonding that transcends geographical boundaries. This bonding, however, does not inherently pave the way to governance. Some members of the leadership of international civil society may well want to bond with international corporate executives and with international political leaders, but that does not necessarily make a creditable governance system. Only time and various experiments will tell how internationally oriented non-governmental bodies will fit into --and remake themselves into -- participants in the next governance system.   

Time is itself a constraining factor for change. The drive toward nano-second trading on stock markets and the 24 hour instant news cycle present extreme challenges to an orderly transition. A responsive governance system is one that confronts both daily challenges for peoples, cultures, businesses, and ecosystems and engages creatively with longer-term issues. A longer-time perspective is needed to address ecological issues with a sensitivity to biological rhythms, to attend to basic needs for billions with a multi-year commitment of necessary resources and to respond to armed conflicts with a gentleness of space and ethics. This time-space tension is not captured by Davos’ heavy focus criteria of effectiveness and legitimacy.

The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

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