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The Decline and Fall of Davos Man

Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine loomed large at this year's annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, where political and business leaders once gathered to celebrate globalization and pursue more of it. Now, the world has entered a new phase of history in which geopolitics will predominate.

BERLIN – “Davos Man” has had a grim 14 years. The late Harvard University political scientist Samuel P. Huntington popularized the term in 2004 to describe a new overclass of evangelists for globalization. Davos Man, he claimed, wanted to see national borders disappear and the logic of politics superseded by that of the market.

But since the 2008 global financial crisis, politics has increasingly trumped economics, a trend that reached its apotheosis in 2016 with Donald Trump’s election in the United States and the Brexit referendum. Both events represented a backlash against Davos Man’s vision of a frictionless world governed (not run) as efficiently as possible by “multi-stakeholder processes.”

Moreover, at this year’s annual gathering in Davos, attendees had to confront an even bigger challenge than national politics: the return of geopolitics. The World Economic Forum’s theme was “History at a Turning Point,” in recognition of the fact that we have reached the end of the “end of history.” Although the WEF’s ethos is to promote cooperation in the pursuit of “one world,” the new agenda is necessarily focused on conflict and division.