Isaiah Berlin’s ‘Message to the 21st Century’

isaiah berlinThere are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached, argued Isaiah Berlin.

Let me explain, he wrote for the New York Review of Books:

If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.

So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future? he asked in A Message to the 21st Century:

My point is that some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.

So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals….. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. …..

I am glad to note that toward the end of my long life some realization of this is beginning to dawn. Rationality, tolerance, rare enough in human history, are not despised. Liberal democracy, despite everything, despite the greatest modern scourge of fanatical, fundamentalist nationalism, is spreading. Great tyrannies are in ruins, or will be—even in China the day is not too distant.


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Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Inclusion: A New Development Consensus?

carotherscolormedium8saskiaFour key principles—accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion—have in recent years become nearly universal features of the policy statements and programs of international development organizations. Yet this apparently widespread new consensus is deceptive: behind the ringing declarations lie fundamental fissures over the value and application of these concepts, Thomas Carothers (right) and Saskia Brechenmacher (left) write in a new Carnegie Endowment analysis.

Accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion have emerged as crucial aid priorities and principles as part of the broader opening of the door to politics in development work over the past twenty-five years. This opening was driven by a change in thinking about development that occurred at major aid institutions in the late 1980s—the realization that bad governance is often a key driver of chronic underdevelopment, and that the donor emphasis on market reform would only succeed if developing countries built capable, effective state institutions. ….

The dramatically changed international political landscape opened the door to politics in aid work in several additional ways. The end of the superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union weakened some of the political constraints that had characterized much development work in the second half of the twentieth century—chiefly the need for major Western donors to maintain friendships with strategically useful partners in the developing world in spite of their records of domestic repression. The U.S. and European governments of course retained close military and trade relations with various authoritarian governments for the sake of security and economic interests—including, for example, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Yet in a number of places no longer ensnared in a global ideological contest, such as sub-Saharan Africa, they proved increasingly willing to raise problematic domestic political issues with aid-receiving governments.

In addition, the onset of a startling global wave of democratization, which Western governments generally perceived to be in their political and economic interest, prompted Western aid actors to find new ways to support this trend. Providing politically related assistance quickly emerged as a crucial tool in this regard. The end of the global ideological schism as well as rapidly growing civil society activism in many countries attempting democratic transitions also brought about a greater international consensus on human rights frameworks and their role as tools for social and political change…..

As a result of these varied drivers of change, the development community started to shed the apolitical mindset and technocratic habits that had characterized it since the 1950s. Three new streams of assistance took hold, reflecting the impetus toward a greater integration of politics into development: aid to strengthen governance, to support democracy, and to advance human rights. Governance quickly became a focus at many mainstream development organizations. Democracy was taken on as a priority area by a smaller number, initially USAID and several more specialized political aid organizations that were funded by governments but at arm’s length from them, such as the National Endowment for Democracy and various European political foundations. Rights-based development became a growing preoccupation of several northern European donors as well as a number of multilateral institutions, especially within the United Nations family.


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Ideas in Action: Open Government Partnership

cgdOn the afternoon of Wednesday, November 5, 2014, the Center for Global Development will honor the Open Government Partnership with the 2014 Commitment to Development “Ideas in Action” Award.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency and accountability, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Since its inception in 2011, OGP has grown from eight founding governments to 65 countries, representing one-third of the world’s population, and secured more than 2,000 commitments from participating governments to be more open and accountable to their citizens. Many of those commitments have already brought real changes for citizens in both developing and developed countries.

CGD’s Commitment to Development Award, given annually since 2003, honors an individual or organization for making a significant contribution to changing attitudes and policies of the rich and powerful toward the developing world. Previous recipients include Unilever chief executive officer Paul Polman (2013), US Senator Richard Lugar (2012), the ONE Campaign (2008), and Gordon Brown (2005). More information about the Award and a full list of previous winners is available here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Eastern Time Zone

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Center for Global Development Fifth Floor 2055 L ST, NW Washington, District of Columbia 20036 202.416.4000

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Brazil’s election illusion

Brazil-mARINA sILVAThe heated presidential race between Rousseff and Neves conceals the most important fact: There’s not much daylight between the candidates, according to Michael Schifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. 

Brazil’s ongoing presidential election has been described as electrifying and unpredictable, suitable for a telenovela. To be sure, there has been no shortage of high drama: the tragic, accidental death of a major candidate, the spectacular rise and fall of his vice presidential pick who took his place, and the late surge of a candidate who most pundits not long ago had written off. Given the volatility, few dare predict with confidence what will happen in the Oct. 26 runoff between incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) and former Minas Gerais governor Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB).

To add to the excitement, the second round has been cast by the two remaining candidates and their respective supporters as an ideological battle that pits left (Rousseff) versus right (Neves). According to the Neves camp, Rousseff would continue the state-interventionist, protectionist policies she pursued during her first term, which have led to inflation and an economic slowdown, while Neves would embrace more market-friendly approaches and would open Brazil to the world, including the United States. Rousseff, in turn, accuses Neves of proposing an economic program that serves the bankers and industrialists, while planning to cut back popular welfare programs that have made Brazil more equal and middle-class. 

Rousseff and Neves spent most of their three face-to-face debates trading charges of corruption and nepotism (though the third had a less bitter tone). Despite the bitterness of the campaign, however, the platforms of the two candidates are remarkably similar. (More than a sharply drawn ideological clash, the divisions are more like those between Old Labour and New Labour in Britain.) Both want growth and stability, poverty reduction, better public services, and more infrastructure. Both have called for improved relations with Washington. 

The poor and the vulnerable middle class are concerned that a Neves victory could put at risk their real social gains, while the nation’s well-off are worried that Rousseff is running the economy into the ground. Poor Brazilians — most receive cash payments and are concentrated in the north of Brazil — overwhelmingly favor Rousseff, while those from the upper strata, particularly in the southern region around São Paulo, Brazil’s major city, are keen on Neves. Both Rousseff and Neves are disputing voters in the middle, who are less set in their positions and more susceptible to campaign appeals.

For a time, Marina Silva, the former environment minister (above) who, after a stunning ascent, failed to make it to the final vote because of negative ads against her and her mistakes, had occupied the middle ground. Silva and her adopted Socialist Party have backed Neves in the second round, though it is not clear whether that will be enough to deny Rousseff re-election.


See also: A Conversation with Colombia’s Minister of Labor, Luis Eduardo Garzón moderated by Michael Shifter, a former program officer with the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Advances and Challenges in Party Assistance

ndi toolsPolitical parties remain the least trusted institution in every region of the world and are struggling to keep pace with citizen expectations and revolutionary changes in communication practices. Nevertheless, they remain fundamental to the healthy functioning of democratic systems. While more development partners are recognizing the importance of party assistance, concerns remain given perceptions that this area of democracy support is difficult to understand and evaluate. Please join us for a discussion about how the international community can build upon past experiences and adapt to new challenges and opportunities in political party support.   

The National Democratic Institute cordially invites you to attend:
Advances and Challenges in Party Assistance
Friday, November 7, 2014
12:00-1:30 pm
National Democratic Institute, 455 Massachusetts Ave. NW

A light lunch will be served.

The event will  feature: 

New NDI Materials On Improving Party Assistance

These publications include tools to help party assistance providers analyse diverse political, social and economic contexts, design effective assistance programs, and improve monitoring and evaluation. For more information and to watch a brief video overview of the publications, please see: 

  With comments from

Thomas Carothers, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Please RSVP via this web-form and direct any questions about the event to Philippa Wood.
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