Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

The Problem of Global Moral Leadership

Jiri Toman, professor of law at SCU, looked at the problem of global moral leadership from two different perspectives, as a lawyer and as a European, at a panel discussion, May 6, 2004.

Toman began by looking at the word leadership and what it takes to present oneself as a leader. Toman pointed out that not all leaders are democratically elected, but they usually must have a solid base. Some come to leadership accidentally; he argued, citing President Putin, about whom Toman said, "He was simply in the right place and available at the right time."

Toman also looked at leadership from the perspective of comparative constitutional law. As a Czech refugee to Switzerland, Toman commended the Swiss system, where there are no leaders; there are only councils. The councils divide the power between the members, each holding the office of president for a single year. Toman favored this system because no leader becomes accustomed to holding a position of power. Conversely, one of the flaws in the U.S. system, Toman argued, was that it affords the potential for two presidential terms. Very often those who are elected to power spend their first term trying to be elected for a second.

On an international level, Toman talked about the establishment of the League of Nations, whose covenants, though spearheaded by President Woodrow Wilson, were never ratified by the United States. The current period was established in San Francisco after the experiences of WWI and WWII inspired the creation of the United Nations. We owe the U.N. charter for the present system regarding political security, the use of force, and self-defense, Toman said. He recommended the U.N. Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States as a basic examination of the use of force in international relations.

Toman also recommended the recent books by Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski about the leadership role of America in international relations. Both, he said, recognize the need for consensual leadership, as well as for understanding common global destiny. The United States must not forget that it is part of the international community. According to Toman the Australian, Coral Bell, brilliantly described America's challenge: "to reorganize it's own parameters but to protect its policy as if it were still living in the world of many centers of power. In such a world the United States will find partners not only for sharing the psychological bonds of leadership but also for shaping an international order consistent with freedom and democracy.'

Finally, Toman emphasized the importance of education and learning good behavior. "Let us never impose our ideas on others," he said. "We have a certain concept of democracy; we have certain concept of human rights, but we must never impose our view on others whose education causes them to look at human rights differently."

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