Mark P. Lagon – Centennial Fellow: Global Justice Blog

mark-lagonAmbassador Mark P. Lagon is a SFS Centennial Fellow and Distinguished Senior Scholar. Lagon most recently served as President of Freedom House, an international nonprofit devoted to research and programs advancing human rights and democratic governance.

The Global Justice Blog addresses ethics, international law, and human rights in today’s fractured world. Centennial Fellow Mark P. Lagon and guest bloggers will grapple will raise key issues and dilemmas among these priorities and strengths of the Walsh School of Foreign Service. A parallel Global Justice Lecture Series will interest readers.


Think Globally, Acting Locally: Not So Hackneyed

Posted: May 25, 2017, 1:19 pm

By Mark P. Lagon


As we reach the end of the academic year for this Global Justice Blog, going on break, it is a moment to reflect on priorities.  There is a common expression, long literally on bumper stickers: “Think Globally, Act Locally.”  Lest that thought induce an eyeroll as too cheery or idealistic in our current world and political environment, it bears consideration.  It’s not just a bromide.

In considering issues of international law, ethics, and human rights, it is important to have a holistic, global view.  It not only adds moral perspective but it raises questions about priorities.  For instance, should we prioritize helping empower the very most impoverished nations in the world, or remember those left behind as disadvantaged groups in highly successful economies with widened inquality like Brazil, India, China, or a even longstanding advanced industrial nation like the U.S.

Thinking globally also propels one to consider demonstration effects.  If rule of law, freedom of the press, or an independent judiciary begin to erode in a Poland, a Hungary, indeed in the United States, how does that affect the prospects of those precious things spreading and deepening globally

In that way the local matters to the global.

In other ways, the most valuable way one can work for justice is to sustain the civil society voices on a local level to speak up effectively for access to justice and opportunity.  I have seen this in my new work researching and advocating for work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, on which I have written.

I also saw this as President of Freedom House.  Freedom House is known for its highly credible reports on political, civil, press, and Internet freedoms in all countries.  But the vast majority of its work today is assisting civil society actors–and not just NGOs in capitals run by those occasional charismatic activists detached from the periphery of their nation.  For over a quarter-century it has been heavily engaged locally assisting (not puppeteering) civil society groups – offering capacity building. And its most dynamic work is now, in turn, in emergency assistance to human rights defenders, NGOs, journalists, LGBT activists, and voices for freedom of conscience.  Acting locally.

There’s another way to act locally I have found more rewarding than anything (on the Hilltop at Georgetown and in practitioner settings): teaching and mentoring.

A number of contributors to this blog have been students and mentees turned collaborators and friends.

Tony Arend and I would not have co-edited our book Human Dignity and the Future of Global Institutions if not for seminars on ethics in international affairs and on global institutions I taught, and which ferment among students in the two courses former ideas for the book.

Contributors include Rebecca Hughes and Katharine Nasielski.  Both MSFS students who were research assistants to me at Freedom House, they pressed me to think in new ways.  Teach and ye shall learn.  Rebecca co-authored an article on women’s empowerment and got me to think about an issue to which I am interested more than any other in more expansive ways.  And Katharine helped craft a journal article on rethinking the U.S. relationship  with Saudi Arabia – and I cajoled her to think more about human rights dimensions, she effectively helped frame security considerations in a strategy for bilateral relations premised on justice.  (Her helping shape the essay bears a look as President Trump soon visits the despotic kingdom.)  Congratulations as they collect their degrees from the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program, and both are considering improving Capitol Hill by joining its staff.

MSFS alum Mike Fox of InterAction was also a contributor.  He took part in a workshop on less for non-violent resistance globally to be drawn from Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement while I was a curricular chair at MSFS.  He led the efforts of students to carry on that training opportunity for American and non-American Masters students – taking it farther and developing it.

Recent contributor Andrew Oravecz worked with me at Freedom House.  There we both worked to hold up a mirror to the conduct of established democracies – the U.S., Poland, Israel – as democracy promotion as a deeply worthy aim requires being exemplars too.  It is so fitting that Andrew went from Freedom House to teach less advantaged youth in his native Connecticut in Americorps.  Acting locally.  Living his own sermon.

Last and most important is Sarah Mucha, who just graduated from undergraduate studies in the School of Foreign Service.  Cheers to her.  As research assistant, she’s been a driving force in the creativity and breadth of this blog, as its impresario.  In addition to being a contributor, she regularly leavened the focuses of the blog and the parallel Global Justice Lectures – notably on a free press and fake news afar and nearby, and incorporating the thinking of Global Justice Lecturer and SFS honorary degree awardee Anne Applebaum.  As Sarah moves to CNN, she embodies evidence of a couple of propositions:  Teach and ye shall learn.  Mentor, for the rewards will equal the modest help you impart.

Think globally.  Act locally.  Really locally.  Not only might you help fellow humans enjoy the justice they are equally due just a tiny bit more.  You might become a wee bit more human in the process.

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