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Chris Kutarna – a Higher Loyalty? The open letter

Chris Kutarna is the Co-author of the bestseller Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance which he wrote in his five years completing a doctorate in politics at the University of Oxford. The book predicts both Brexit and Trump by drawing on wisdom from the Renaissance. Kutarna’s work aims to tear up the unconscious biases that obscure our understanding of present political, economic, technological and social trends; ultimately demystifying the age of discovery that is upon us.


Kutarna’s open letters, posted weekly, are deemed required reading by some of the world’s smartest people and shape debate in media, boardrooms and classrooms around the world. Read the beginnings of his latest open letter below – discussing former FBI Director James Comey’s forthcoming book: A Higher Loyalty

I was in Washington, D.C. this past week—the talk-shop capital of the world. I attended a conference on the future of war and spoke at a conference on the future of energy. In between, I took in Mark Zuckerberg’s hearings on Capitol Hill—and even found time to binge on a season of West Wing. (In the 2000s, it was serious political drama. Now, it’s good comedy. What seemed scandalous for the White House fifteen years ago looks so cute today.)

Sucked Into D.C. Coffee Row


I’ve been trying to get my head out of politics for the last couple of weeks, but in D.C. that’s impossible. The first question everyone asks you is, “So, what do you do?” (Here, networking is a way of life.) Then there’s a mandatory 10-minute conversation about the last Trump-smacker: his latest Tweet, or the latest story to break on Politico or The Hill or NYT or WaPo. (This is a city that votes 90% Democrat.) Then they ask you your name.


Other than Zuck’s Facebook testimony, the biggest story on everyone’s lips in D.C. this past week was A Higher Loyalty, the forthcoming book by former FBI Director James Comey. Technically it’s an autobiography of Comey’s full career in law enforcement, but most people are only interested in the last chapter—his time with, and firing by, Donald Trump.


The title references the now infamous, intimate ‘loyalty dinner’ that Comey attended at the White House mere days after Trump’s inauguration. Trump allegedly asked his FBI Director to pledge his loyalty, and Comey, demurring, pledged ‘honesty’ instead.


A few months later, in May 2017, Trump fired Comey. That action prompted the Justice Department to appoint a Special Counsel to look into Trump’s Russia connections (if any), and here we still are, a year later, gobbling up every scrap of this story as fast as it emerges.


The release of Comey’s book this week marks another feeding frenzy. And while the talking heads on MSNBC and Fox News each push their particular narratives, the bigger question will be ignored completely: Is there something ‘higher’—higher to which all members of a society (even the democratically elected leader) owe loyalty? And if so, what is that thing?


This is a really good, really timely question.

The Constitution Isn’t High Enough


The obvious (but, I think, wrong) answer is ‘the constitution’. The U.S. constitution allows a two-thirds majority of the Senate to remove a president who has committed ‘Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ Democrats in this town dream that one day Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation will find a smoking gun under Trump’s pillow, leaving the Senate—and the American people—no choice but to evict, and convict, The Donald.


More likely, I think, Muller’s investigation will find ‘evidence of wrong-doing’—something in between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. And everyone will be just as divided as before—or, more likely, present divisions will worsen—because the process and the law leave ample room for judgment and interpretation. Was the investigative process ‘fair’? Can we ‘trust’ the process? And even if we do trust the process, does the ‘wrong-doing’ rise to the level of a ‘High Crime’—high enough to overturn the voters’ choice from 2016?


If there is to be something to which members of a society owe a ‘Higher Loyalty,’ it must be something above a country’s constitution. It must be that high place upon which we stand when the constitution is read.


Sociologists talk about trust. Economists talk about social capital. Biologists talk about the evolutionary advantages of cooperation. Political scientists talk about civil society. Lawyers talk about the distinction between ‘ethical’ and ‘legal’. Comey talks about a ‘higher loyalty’. They’re all investigations of the same idea: a healthy society depends upon more than its rules. It also depends upon a shared sense of why the rules matter.


But in a democracy, what’s higher than the constitution?

Continue reading Chris Kutarna’s thoughts here.

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