Missing: Political Creativity

EDITORIAL, 15 May 2017

#481 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

A key slogan during the student revolt in Paris May 1968, soon 50 years ago, was Imagination au pouvoir! Bring imagination to power!

We were there, walking with thousands from Champs-Élysées to Place Etoile where a stentorian voice commanded us to sit in small groups in the circles under the Arch to “discuss the situation”.  So we did.

France is now suffering from more imagination deficit than ever.  To call Le Pen-Front National “extreme right” when the issue is for or against the EU is not helpful; left-right was 20th century politics.

Why not think bigger, beyond EU: for or against EURASIA, Russia-China are ready? Trade fills trains London-Beijing; a West-East axis, not the old colonial obsession with North-South (neo)colonialism. And how about both, EURASIAFRICA? They hang together geographically.

Another word for imagination is creativity. Engineers apply it to matter, architects to space, artist to form, scientists to how things hang together, humans to how people may hang together. And people who use their democratic power to how politics hangs together. “Populism” so-called–yes, democracy is populist=peopleist, and there have been solid No’s recently to elitism shared by dominant political parties.

Thus, the French managed to get rid of Socialists/Gaullists.  England graduated from Tory/Liberal to Conservatives/Labour long ago; now with the labor party disappearing.  Brexit was not elitist, and Theresa May, loyal to populist Brexit, is no classical conservative.

Sooner or later USA will be liberated from Democrats/Republicans, the alliance running the US political machine. Trump did. Fired FBI director James Comey called him “crazy” (NYT 12 May 2017); “autistic”, rather. He is now up against “Fired by Trump, unite!” and a Nixonian future.

What is happening?  All over, old social faultlines yield to new.  Like right-left to war-peace?  People see it more clearly than those with vested interests–including money!–in the old.  Vox populi, vox dei.

But that divine voice is not heard at the level of world politics as there are no world elections or referenda, and the EU is not the world.

There is something static, almost dead about the world state system, particularly how states relate to each other; as if they have found their final form and as if their relations will remain anarchic.  Concerns for security, no violence within and without, are legitimate; but not dominance of police and military using violence and threats as knee-jerk reflexes, devoid of imagination, even of reflections.

In addition, more seriously, as if the agenda for inter-state relations had only one point: security, guided by what is known as paranoia.

Except that states do trade across gaps of distrust, even paranoia?  They do, and often very creatively, for mutual and equal benefit, greatly helped by market price mechanisms defining what is “equal”. And all are better off with good business deals.  But they do not want other parties to be much better off. They watch each other, knowing that the survival of the other party may be a condition for own survival. But they do not want all-out winners, with themselves as all-out losers.

However, cooperation by exchange for mutual and equal benefit can be expanded much beyond economic goods supplied and demanded. This is where the theory and practice of negative and positive peace enter.

Negative peace calls for non-provocative security, defensive defense, including guarding well what should be defended.  Better than hunting for terrorists not understanding what they want. No violence, no exchanging of bad for bad; including psychologically, as threats.

Positive peace goes beyond that, into exchanging good for good, like in trade.  We would put our fingers on skills.  “You seem to do well on something I am not good at; on the other hand, I am good at–“.  At the personal level we may think of cooperation between the bright student with no skills in sports and the sporty but somewhat dumb student, both lifting each other up.  And at the inter-state level?

Using an Octagon map of our present multi-polar world, with Russia-India-China-Islam emerging, USA-EU declining, and Latin America Caribbean-Africa as the classical “Third World”, we get 8×7/1×2 = 28 bilateral relations.  All these poles have bad as well as good aspects. It is entirely legitimate to be on guard against the bad aspects, and entirely illegitimate not to be open to the good aspects, like skills. Examples abound, spelled out on the cover pages of A Theory of Peace (TRANSCEND University Press, 2012).

Take two giants, nos. 1 and 2 in population (not smaller Western states), China and India.  China is good at lifting the bottom up (but has still a far way to go), India not, ridden by caste. India is good at accommodating cultural diversity with its linguistic federalism (except in Assam); China not.  How about meeting, comparing notes in an open-ended dialogue, itself an instrument of mutual and equal benefit? Preferably not behind closed doors because others have also much to learn, not the least from willingness to having problems publicly discussed.

Take the old super-powers, USA and Russia. USA good on individual freedom to innovate and practice, Russia on divesting itself of an empire almost without violence–both short where the other is strong.  Of course, it takes some courage for them, as also for China and India, to admit shortcomings, but that could be forthcoming.  Furthermore, the more forward-looking the better to make sense to the whole world of the great advantages of having a skills market where good can meet with good, not only bad meeting with–deterring, fighting, winning over–bad.

There is a major problem though. Overfed with the developed-developing dichotomy, many believe that the former have no problems whereas the latter have only problems.  Much better is a Yin-Yang perspective:  something is missing in all; something has been accomplished by all.

The limitation is in our limited political imagination. Grow so that world visions will open up in our minds, shared with others in new speeches, enacted in new acts.  We can if we will.  And we will if we imagine.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. Prof. Galtung has published more than 1500 articles and book chapters, over 470 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and more than 150 books on peace and related issues, of which more than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at transcend.org/galtung.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 May 2017.

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7 Responses to “Missing: Political Creativity”

  1. Gary Corseri. says:

    A fine essay that brings us back to the heady days of the “student revolution” in France (and elsewhere) in 1968, brings us forward to 2017, and looks ahead to a better world–if we have the “courage” to imagine that better world!

    Many challenges confront us, but Galtung shows us here how wisdom has met with the challenges of our modern world–moving beyond separatist dualisms–like “Tory-Liberal” (in England) or “Socialists-Gaullists” (in France). Can we not imagine moving beyond the “Democrat-Republican” miasma of the USA?

    We have many new realities to consider: the decline of US and EU military, economic and moral “power”; and the rise of Russia, China, India and Islam. Reflexively, to guard what we have, we’re inclined to fall back on the kinds of violence Galtung has described so well elsewhere: “Direct”; “Structural”; and “Creative.” A better approach is to “fall back” on “Negative Peace”: “defensive defense” without violence. But, there’s an even better goal: “Positive Peace”: “cooperation by exchange for mutual and equal benefit….”

    Do we have the wisdom to listen, to acknowledge grievances, to work out mutually beneficial solutions, in order to achieve lasting, positive peace, a new equilibrium? Do we have the courage to imagine?

  2. Maniol says:


    Strong points in J Galtung’s and your’s. Yet I’m not quite convinced about the “newness”. And about the “decline” re “rise” of the two blocks. What is the rise of Islam for instance? When muslims move they overwhelmingly move West. As refugees often to the EU (if they move outside the “Islam”-block. Or as migrants (few muslims but many many others) often to the US for education and jobs. Triggering conflicts and xenofobia as a start but bringing diversity, ideas, hard work ethos and growth long term. Very few (Muslims or other) migrate to India and China. Even fewer to Russia.

    Russia is declining. China may do a “Japan” (in terms of economy and population). India carries promise. But is mired in Caste. Islam is fragmented and ranges from rise/growth to severe decline. So the “new realities” may end up as old “new realities” did in the 1960ies.

    So we may have to envision a new world and better world based on “old realities”. And what they carry.

  3. Satoshi Ashikaga says:

    The above editorial reminds me of Einstein’s words, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

    This editorial is written from the world view point. It leads the reader to the contemporary world perspectives of a “satellite”, orbiting around the planet Earth. I like this editorial very much.

    Thank you very much for this wise and inspiring world scale editorial, Prof. Galtung!

  4. Per-Stian says:


    Sorry for posting a link to a Norwegian article. It basically argues that conflicts occur due to inequality between groups (religious, ethnic,…) and not due to inequality between rich/poor, to be more general about it.

    It’s pretty generalised, but then it has to be, I guess, to get published in a place like that.

  5. Gary Corseri. says:

    Maniol–Thanks for your comments (and close reading!). Concerning your last, concluding sentence/paragraph: “…we may have to envision a new world and better world based on “old realities”. And what they carry.”

    Don’t many of our problems derive from exclusivist views? “My way, not yours!” Black or white, “right” or “wrong” solutions.

    Galtung often recommends a blend. What can work for both of us? What vision can we share?

    Can we imagine a “new world and better world” based on “old realities” AND new realities?

    New realities evolve every day. “Old realities” need to be discussed and better understood.

    Let us begin.

  6. Zeki Ergas says:

    There is a lot of talk about Einstein lately. Big article about ‘Genius’ in the National Geographic, and Einstein is Number One. Ex eaquo perhaps with Leonardo da Vinci. The solution of our world’s problems is simple Einstein said: A world government with the power of distributing resources and wealth fairly. We are all world citizens, but rich countries don’t want to share, and individual greed is enormous. Aristotle, another genius, said it also in his Golden Mean Doctrine: all extremes are bad. And our world is full of extremes: of wealth, of privilege, of knowledge. And it is getting worse all the times. We have a new class of billionaires who control multinational corporations that are getting bigger and bigger. The system may be called corporatocracy mascarading as a democracy. Despite all the talk about solidarity, sharing, etc., it is a system that is profit oriented, not people oriented. As long as that is the case, things will get worse. the fourth digital revolution with robotisation, artificial intelligence and unorganic life may result in the disappearance of the homo sapiens that we are and its replacement of a half human, half-machine being. It could be the end of human civilization. We are not even able to dismantle, get rid of nuclear weapons which hang over our heads like a Damocles’ Sword. Will a new Alexander emerge to sever the rope that holds it? Will a savior emerge to save the human species?

  7. Gary Corseri. says:

    “…the fourth digital revolution with robotisation, artificial intelligence and unorganic life may result in the disappearance of the homo sapiens that we are and its replacement of a half human, half-machine being….”

    Zeki Ergas, you may be right about that 4th digital revolution and the “disappearance of homo sapiens” and our “replacement” with a “half-human, half-machine being.”

    Come to think of it, that might not necessarily be calamitous (when we recall all the horrors 100% humans have inflicted on each other, other creatures and their environment! Imagine a “half-human, half-machine being” with the best qualities such a “being.” A being like Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Einstein, Michelangelo, da Vinci, but with super-computer abilities, too; “able to leap tall buildings” (as the old TV “Superman” series had it!). Would it be possible to instill empathy in such an android?

    Suppose we start thinking about such beings now–before the worst of our human qualities and the worst of our nightmares of machine-“life” overwhelm us. To imagine is to begin….