Foreign Policy's Top 100: A Picture of World Exceptionalism


What do the following people have in common?

Mohamed ElBaradei: former director of IAEA and winner of Nobel Peace Prize

Manal al-Sharif: Saudi computer consultant and women’s rights activist

Ben Bernanke: Chairman of the Federal Reserve

Barack Obama: President of the United States

Dick Cheney: former vice president

Condoleezza Rice: former secretary of state

Christine LaGarde: Manager of the International Monetary Fund

Ai Weiwei: Chinese artist

David Beers: Head of Standard & Poors Sovereign Ratings, Britain

Aung San Suu Kyi: Burmese democracy advocate

Joseph Stiglitz: Nobel Economics Prize winner

Elizabeth Warren: Massachusetts Senate candidate

David Cameron: Prime Minister of Britain

Dilma Rousseff: President of Brazil

Desmond Tutu: Archbishop Emeritus, South Africa 

These 15 and others – whose names aren’t all immediately recognizable – share billing as Foreign Policy’s "Top 100 Global Thinkers." It is pretty exclusive company and there are some surprising choices on the list: Representative Paul Ryan, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, for example. Other choices aren’t surprising (Bill and Hillary Clinton both made the list) but they aren’t as well known to most Americans: Wadah Khanfar, former Director General of Al-Jazeera; Recep Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey; Nouriel Roubini, the economist who predicted the economic disaster of ’08; Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Some of the people listed above – and they are not the top 15 of the top 100, by the way – are Americans, and you will notice that I took pains to include both liberal and conservative thinkers. By far the largest percentage of the "Top 100 Global Thinkers" are not Americans and their ideas and aspirations take no account of us in any way. In short, the arguments for “American exceptionalism” ring arrogant and hollow in the face of the accomplishments of most of the people on this list. Everyone named is known for breaking new ground in his or her chosen field of endeavor and/or for upsetting the status quo ante.

The article with the list, short biographies and summaries of these people’s contributions to the global conversation in their fields is fascinating reading and well worthwhile. Our sum total of intelligence and our knowledge base would be considerably expanded if we all had passing acquaintance with these thoughts, theories, movements, efforts, bodies of work, accomplishments and cries in the wilderness.

I often decry our collective dearth of background from which to make intelligent arguments and to draw conclusions, as well as our limited and parochial worldview. Just reading through the Top 100 ought to go a long way toward jolting the collective “we” out of our complacent and self-satisfied notions. There are indeed exceptional people with exceptional ideas here on this list, but they aren’t all Americans and some of them have ideas to which Americans will have to adapt in the coming decades.

And now, with the best of good will…have at it. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons