You won’t see “conservative” or “conservatism” anywhere in Don Eberly’s new book, The Rise of Global Civil Society: Building Communities and Nations from the Bottom Up, but the principles these terms embody are on every page.
Without sugarcoating the world’s most troubling problems, Eberly, a former White House aide to President Ronald Reagan, offers a bright and hopeful outlook for those wanting to do something to help the world’s poorest nations.
“There are a number of points I wanted to make with this book,” Eberly said during an interview with About.com Monday morning. “The most relevant is that we have a dynamic interconnected private sector exceeding on a global scale what the [American] government does every day.”
Twenty five years ago, Eberly said, 80 percent of all US outflows were governmental. Now, 25 years later, 80 percent of all US outflows are from the private-sector. We’re in a new age of giving, he said.
“Even as our government proves itself to be clumsy, there will be continued private-sector giving” Eberly said. “Thanks to technology, many products enjoyed by people in the US are now almost automatically available across the world. Fifty million Americans claim to be globally connected in a continuous way.”
While America’s greatest export may indeed be its norms, one has to ask whether it is in the world’s best interest to expose them to undeveloped or third-world countries. With the Western world’s colonial and post-colonial history of imperialism and domination over previously peaceful and “uncivilized” cultures, is America falling into the trap of economic expansionism and exploitation?
“I’m not interested in promoting American values or the American way of life,” Eberly said. “I’m interested in promoting human dignity. I’m not a big fan of colonialism. The agenda I’m talking about is the empowerment of poorer countries so that developing nations can be self-sufficient and self-directive.”
The chief failing of the global community is that it has not recognized the third-world as consumers and producers, Eberly said.
“The problem hasn’t been that there has been too much globalization in the developing world,” he said. “The problem has been that there has been too little globalization in the developing world. Globalization brings with it a certain amount of economic and social empowerment. The worst thing is to be ignored or to be a statistic.”
Eberly should know. Since the 1980s, he has put his ideals into practice. Besides serving in the Reagan White House, Eberly was one of the key personnel who helped established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush in 2002. Eberly was one of 24 civilians to be flown under cover of darkness into Iraq to help rebuild the country shortly after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. A chronicle of his efforts there can be read here.
The following year, Eberly again put his beliefs into practice with a trip to central Asia to help coordinate relief efforts for countries ravaged by the tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake.
“The tsunami reconstruction efforts were 3-to-1 from private contributions,” Eberly said. “And this kind of response inescapably regards Iraq. This is not something that can be militarily enforced. A constitution can’t be carried in in a briefcase. It has got to be organic.”
Due to recent technological advances, the scale of private-sector integration and cooperation on a global level is similar to that of the 50 states, Eberly said.
“Never before in human history has this happened before,” he said. “Many people have concluded the world is a pretty ugly place. And my book doesn’t sugar-coat anything. There are plenty of American setbacks. There is Islamic extremism and terrorism. There is also an enormous amount of good and human decency, too.”
All too often, Eberly said, the left gets fixated on the state and the right gets fixated on the markets.
“Civil society is the third leg of the stool,” he said. “You can’t replace government with nothing. So much is done by the private-sector outside the government and outside the markets. Social institutions and civic associations are incubators of civic and democratic wealth.”
Eberly is the co-founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative and the Civil Society Project and has authored and co-authored several other books.