Dr Benjamin Barber – August 2 1939 – April 24 2017

New York, April 25 – Dr Barber, Founder of the Global Parliament of Mayors died on April 24th. In his last weeks, he wrote: “ Thank you, dear friends, for your leadership in the Global Parliament of Mayors which I believe stands ready to become a governance organization of great significance that will provide alternatives to nationalist populism and to foolish “America First” or “Russia First” approach to global politics.  I know the GPM, under the Chairmanship of Mayor de Lille, is now ready to take giant steps forward and I am very pleased to have that knowledge as I move into the next stage of my care.”

An internationally renowned author, political theorist and intellectual, Dr  Barber brought an abiding concern for democracy and citizenship to issues of politics, globalization, culture and education in America and around the world. From his long and prestigious career, he is best known for three of his 18 books: Strong Democracy (1984, 20th anniversary edition, 2004), the international best-seller Jihad vs. McWorld (1995) and If Mayors Ruled the World (2014) which gave birth to the concept of the Global Parliament of Mayors. Before he died, he saw the publication of his last book, Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming.

A man of action as much as theory, he formed the Interdependence Movement, and  Interdependence Day, an annual gathering held each year on September 12, the day following 9/11, to seek alternatives to terrorism and the war on terrorism, solutions rooted in cooperation and pooled sovereignty rather than national hegemony and unilateralism.

Dr Barber’s many honours included a knighthood (Palmes Academiques/Chevalier) from the French Government (2001), the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin (2001) and the John Dewey Award (2003). He was also been awarded Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Social Science Research Fellowships, honorary doctorates from Grinnell College, Monmouth University and Connecticut College, and held the chair of American Civilization at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Dr Barber was a true Renaissance man, and he applied his prodigious talents equally to the worlds of politics and culture. He set out to change the world and succeeded.

2017-05-08T14:56:47+00:00

35 Comments

  1. Barnaby Spring 25 April 2017 at 16:28 - Reply

    I am as devastated by this news as I am grateful for having knowing this man.

    As he was to many, he was a mentor, teacher, friend, comrade, brother, father, nurturer, guide, challenger and champion in and of my life. He was, in my opinion, a precious jewel, which is how all teachers of his kind must be regarded. He wed action and reflection in a way that was irresistible and contagious. You had to engage in life, in meaning, in questioning, in laughter and, most assuredly in discourse, discussion and debate when and if you encountered him. His praxis was of a quality, an ethos not unlike those of great leaders, heroes and heroines. His sense of humor and love of beauty and the creative imagination was Whitmanesque.

    I write this from work where one colleague of mine just asked me if I want to go home due to the too much, too-muchness of this loss. Too bad for me, I knew Ben too well. There is a critical meeting coming up today that involves the kinds of key issues that mattered very much to Ben: education, empowerment of dis-empowered youth, citizenship. I’ll go home when I go home…but now I get to stay close to Ben and carry him with me into this meeting.

    Another colleague came by my desk and asked, “Are you going to be all right?” It was this incredibly busy and engaged glocal leader, Dr. Ben Barber – leading locally and globally – who befriended me in the midst of my messy youth, along with this beloved wife Leah Barber, and who walked me through some of the greatest losses of my life thus far. Now he walks me through an even greater loss in losing him. What a paradox. I can see him grinning and laughing and saying “Of course you’re going to be all right!!” Of course I am.

    How lucky are we who knew, loved, worked with and debated with him. How willing and humble we all must be now in taking up the core of his message and life’s work at this very specific time in human history…particularly those beneficiaries of the “Barber Diaspora” who happen to live in America. It’s a far lighter load, in fact, then the load of moving on without my dear friend. Yet, he is closer to me than he ever was before. Yes, he changed the world and succeeded.

    Barnaby Spring
    New York City

    • Christian W. Hübel 26 April 2017 at 16:40 - Reply

      Good spoken! Thank you for this!

  2. Pascal Derrien 25 April 2017 at 16:52 - Reply

    Where do I start Ben 🙂 So maybe let’s say that most of us would agree you were more than just a fine human being, Wherever you go I will keep on cheering you on……

  3. LabGov, the LABoratory for the GOVernance of the commons staff 25 April 2017 at 17:30 - Reply

    We are sorry and frustrated by the disappearance of Dr. Benjamin Barber. He has been able to build a legacy that will last for generations after him. The speed he has gave to the Global Parliament of Mayors project (GPM) over the last few months is the same speed that Elinor Ostrom gave to her work after the Nobel Prize, despite the illness. We too will try to make our small contribution to make his intellectual heritage live.

  4. Roberta Wallach 25 April 2017 at 19:48 - Reply

    Sending much love to Leah, ❤️ Chip & Hilary, love, Birdie W

  5. Barbara Oomen 25 April 2017 at 20:19 - Reply

    So sorry to learn about this terrible news. Benjamin Barber combined vision, scholarship and a desire to change our world for the better in the most inspiring way imagineable, I wish all those close to him all the strength needed to deal with this big loss.

  6. Carolyn N. Long 25 April 2017 at 20:53 - Reply

    This is terrible news. I was fortunate to work with him as a Research Assistant on Jihad v. McWorld, and he was a mentor and an inspiration. His work influenced many and his passion for scholarship and life was something to behold. Much love to his family and friends during this difficult time.

  7. Mugasa Grace mary (Hoima Uganda) 25 April 2017 at 22:53 - Reply

    Am shuttered by the departure of my great mentor who inspired me quite a lot in my career as mayor(IF MAYORS RULED THE WORLD?).We only met in Hague last year in September but he touched my heart because of his love for humanity .on the 28th of march he sent me an e mail clearly showing that he was still optimistic about the growth of GPM.Am in tears .may his soul rest in peace .will always love Dr BB.

  8. Mugasa Grace mary (Hoima Uganda) 25 April 2017 at 23:01 - Reply

    My sister Patricia thank you for informing us about the demise of our Father.we pray that GPM grows to greater heights. I know where ever he is he will still monitor the progress of GPM.my condolences to the family and GPM members. I can’t stop crying today.May his soul rest in eternal peace.love u dad always

  9. Bridget Brown 26 April 2017 at 02:11 - Reply

    Sending heartfelt condolences to Hillary & Chip

  10. Holly Lane 26 April 2017 at 03:36 - Reply

    I was shocked and sad to hear of his passing. I had the pleasure of working for Ben from 2006-10. I got to witness firsthand the dynamic way he was able to bring together civic leaders, religious leaders, scholars and artists to come together to celebrate Interdependence. I was privy to his brilliance on a daily basis for those years. He helped me grow so much both professionally and personally. His legacy is strong, his work will continue through the network he created.

  11. Robert Gibson 26 April 2017 at 04:25 - Reply

    As a Grinnell College student in the years immediately following Ben Barber’s graduation, I was introduced to his name and reputation immediately after my arrival at the college. Ben Barber had already made a reputation that lived long after his departure for graduate studies at Harvard. I celebrate Ben Barber’s intelligence and creativity and trust that his efforts to make GPM a force for future democratic societies’ strengthening and improvement will continue to succeed.
    Rest in peace, Ben.

  12. Stuart Samuels 26 April 2017 at 04:56 - Reply

    So sorry to hear this. Ben was a true intellectual activist. Fondly remember those long talks at Penn in the 1970’s

  13. Martin Best 26 April 2017 at 07:04 - Reply

    Ben was my closest and most loyal friend for nearly 59 years. He leaves a hole in my heart and in the lives of uncountable numbers of those whom he inspired.

  14. Emmanuel Serunjoji 26 April 2017 at 14:12 - Reply

    Members, it is sad to hear that Dr. Benjamin Barber has passed on at this critical time when we have just started the long journey of putting the Global Parliament of Mayor on top.
    The only way to reward a person who started this is to keep the fire burning. So members let us keep the fire of GPM burning.

    • Emmanuel Serunjoji 26 April 2017 at 14:25 - Reply

      Mayor of Kampala capital City, Kawempe Division Urban Council

  15. Grzegorz Makowski 26 April 2017 at 17:16 - Reply

    Very sad news. 🙁 I met prof. Barber several times and had opportunity to exchange views on different topics like civic education, consumer culture, democracy. Brilliant academician, full of humor and warm person, friend of Poland. Big loss to sociology… His books were the fundament of my academic career in sociology.

  16. Matthew Shapiro 27 April 2017 at 06:18 - Reply

    About 20 years ago I reached out to Dr. Barber to ask if he’d be willing to write a foreword for a new edition of Mary Parker Follett’s seminal work, The New State (1918). At first he declined, but after reading her, he changed his mind and then brought it to Penn State Press, who agreed to reissue the work. Thank you, Dr. Barber, for having given Follett a chance and helping bring her work to light yet again.

  17. Tom Cochran 29 April 2017 at 05:04 - Reply

    Ben Barber died Monday. Many of you know him from his book If Mayors Ruled The World. He wrote 17 books, his latest, Cool Cities, was published a few days before his death. Noted academics heralded him as one of the world’s greatest political theorists. Universities and academics and national governments awarded him the highest honors for his writing, his thoughts, and his words.

    I knew him as a dreamer; a dreamer with a passion, a dreamer with courage, a dreamer with tough words, a dreamer who knew what he wanted to do, a dreamer who would never stop pushing, cajoling, and never ever, ever gave up until his dream came through.

    When I met him, he had already written his book; he was already on the international circuit to call attention to the nations on earth that cities and mayors are the future of our planet.

    During my decades of working with mayors, I, too, had a dream that one day, we would have an organization where mayors, and mayors only, could sit, discuss, share, and vote on common beliefs and even more, vote on present and future actions.

    When we met in 2015, our dreams collided and connected and coupled on his new-born dream of establishing a Global Parliament of Mayors. He had already presided over preliminary meetings in Rotterdam. Our minds clicked and we came together, united, to work together, to establish the Global Parliament of Mayors.

    From the time I met him, along with his associate Eileen Haring Woods, I followed his dream. And Paul Leroux and I followed him literally and physically all over the world.

    There were phone calls, emails, trips, and meetings over lunch, dinner, and yes, drinks. When I was with Ben, I seldom relaxed because we were working on our future project. We would make one step forward and then we would stumble and have to rethink our next move. So much of our working together had to do with people who we thought we had with us and then they would not be with us. Ben was obsessed with recruiting mayors and sometimes non-mayors to be a part of “his” Global Parliament of Mayors.

    And there were times when Eileen and his staff and I with my staff could not keep up with who he had met or what he had promised.

    But that didn’t matter. Ben was Ben. He had a dream and he never stopped using his incredible energy to make the Global Parliament of Mayors a reality. We adjusted to any decision he made with anyone he met anywhere in the world. That’s the way it was. And that’s why it was so special. Ben was Ben and we pondered but accepted it, because we believed in him.

    My life has been mayors. And I never knew anyone who believes in mayors as much as Ben Barber did. That’s why I followed him and I was fortunate to have met a person who believes as he did and wondered once or twice why we hadn’t met earlier in our careers.

    In The Hague on September 9, 2016, the Global Parliament of Mayors was born. As with the creation of any international organization, it wasn’t an easy birth and the organization is still new and in its infancy. The dream of Ben Barber though was accomplished and it could not have happened without his idea and his tenaciousness to make it happen.

    While Brexit, Trumpism, and national populism are indeed pushing to change the international political landscape of the world, we must not forget what Ben Barber taught us.

    His theory and assessment was, and still is, that the “humankind began its march to politics and civilization in the polis – the township. It was democracy’s original incubator. But for millennia, we relied on monarchy and empire and then on newly invented nation-states to bear the civilization burden of the democratic load. Today, after a long history of regional successes, the nation-state is failing us on a global scale. It is unsuited to interdependence. The city, always the human habitat of first resort, has in today’s globalizing world once again become democracy’s best hope.”

    In Ben’s speeches, words, TED talks, and lectures, he breathed life into his words by stating the facts about what is already happening as we observe and are involved increasingly in networks of “culture, commerce, and communication.”

    About his noted book, If Mayors Ruled the World -“What I want to do in this book is to get something done. To change the subject: from states [nations] to cities, from independence to interdependence, from ideology to problem-solving. The city is the right subject today because hope has always been an urban currency and mayors have always in the first instance been optimists in getting something done.”

    I started off this piece saying that Ben was a dreamer. But, the bottom line is that he was a pragmatist. He knew if the challenges of the humans on earth are to be met, mayors must be involved. “Mayors count nowadays, even more in the age of globalization than in the past… mayors define cities as much as cities define them, and in ways that national leaders cannot and do not define the nation they lead. An occasional Mandela or de Gaul, or Nehru or Churchill, or Mao, or Roosevelt come to incarnate a nation… but ordinary prime ministers are ordinary politicians, whereas mayors in ordinary times are often extraordinary, bigger than the city’s character and amplify its influence.”

    The news came, it seems, weeks ago; Ben was ill. The cancer took him before I could make myself face his death with him. I regret that. But in many ways, maybe I couldn’t face his death. And maybe I still can’t.

    The Ben I knew, the dream he left, is still inside me. And we must go forward to keep the Global Parliament of Mayors alive and well. To that, we are committed – to keep on working to bring the mayors of the cities of the world together to simply make our cities a better place, where our people, as Ben would say, “learn and love, work and sleep, pray and play, grow and eat, and finally, die.”

  18. Ed Johnson 29 April 2017 at 12:46 - Reply

    Dr. Barber’s vision of and commitment to bringing the world together as a global community to share in addressing our common challenges and realizing innovative solutions was remarkable. It will serve as an example to all of us now and for future generations.

  19. Nasim Sharafi 1 May 2017 at 18:59 - Reply

    He gave me so much inspiration when I was lost and always encouraged the youth to speak up and engage in meaningful conversations. He shared so much love and i know he has a bigger and better view of the whole process we are all setting out to crystallize in action from greater heights. Thinking of his loved ones who were left behind. I hope this sacrifice of a precious human being brings an impulse to us to continue to act.

  20. Alicia Betts 2 May 2017 at 11:50 - Reply

    From the Global University Network for innovation (GUNi) and from the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP) we would like to extend our condolences to Dr. Barber’s family in this sad moment. We were looking forward to having him at our conference and will be very missed.

  21. Shimri Zameret 2 May 2017 at 12:18 - Reply

    A sad day. May you rest in peace Benjamin.

  22. Claus W. Kamstrup 2 May 2017 at 18:35 - Reply

    In a time where the nation state for obvious reasons is not ideal for local or global challenges we needed Barber more than ever. He seemed like a wise – even good – guy.

  23. David Brunnen 3 May 2017 at 10:00 - Reply

    Those of us who knew Ben only through his writings are as saddened by his loss as those who were closer – and that thought speaks volumes for Ben’s great ability as a communicator of fresh thinking. Our worlds, our communities, need such vision and innovative leadership

  24. Prof. Dr. Eckart Würzner 4 May 2017 at 07:33 - Reply

    It is with deep sadness that I have heard of Dr. Benjamin Barber´s death.

    Dr. Barber, the GPM founding father, did a wonderful job and established a powerful network of mayors and cities. The network enables all cities to further their cooperation in addressing global challenges and to speak in one voice on issues that matter to all people living around the world.

    Please allow me to assure you of all the sympathy of myself. I would like to express my deep felt compassion for his family.

    Words can hardly offer any comfort in this situation. However, I hope the many beautiful memories of things his family has done together with him will give them the strength to carry through this difficult time.

    With my deepest sympathy

    Prof. Dr. Eckart Würzner
    City of Heidelberg
    Mayor

  25. Frans Bouwen 4 May 2017 at 07:45 - Reply

    Dearest Ben died and we remain behind in sadness but also in a spirit of being vigilant which he passed on to all his friends and colleagues. Ben: A visionary human being with strong commitment to the ongoing appeal for Justice and a most dedicated person make us humbly realise that if Ben would have ruled the world with the cities of his visions it indeed could have become a better place. With full respect and rich memories let us remember him. That he may rest in peace and that his family and friends may be strengthened by love. With warmest greetings, Frans Bouwen, founder and Director of external relations of The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration (THP) Foundation

  26. Pietvankempen 7 May 2017 at 17:45 - Reply

    Thank you for your brilliant ideaal.

  27. Hari Pathik 10 May 2017 at 06:49 - Reply

    Dr. Benjamin Barber was really a great visionary person . We are so stunned and have been so sorry on his demise.I had met him in Istanbul in 2009 for the first time . Since 2009,I had been working with him continuously till 2015. I was also invited to Hague GPM convene .I am highly impressed by his cordial behavior . He was a great hero of his time .He was a good writer , teacher , philosopher and a dreamer for globalized democracy to create a ,civic,civil and civilized world.. He had made some financial support to Nepal at the time of devastating earthquake in Nepal. He was a top level Think-Tank of his time . We will try with earnest promise to proceed along with the visionary path based on his guide lines with all our interdependent friends/colleagues to carry out/carry on his dream of a better world … ..We have realized the world has lost a great person of our time .

  28. Hari Pathik 10 May 2017 at 06:56 - Reply

    He (Ben) had sent some relief fund to the earth quake victims and the affected families to Nepal at the time of great devastating earthquake in 2015 . We are so sorry on his demise .

  29. Robert Muggah 15 May 2017 at 11:10 - Reply

    Nation states are failing miserably on some of the more urgent global challenges of the modern age — especially climate change, predatory capitalism, terrorism and forced migration. Nations are increasingly closed, parochial and outdated, slow to respond to the pressures of a fast changing world. The three and a half long century experiment is rapidly coming to an end.

    The good news is that cities are stepping-up to fill the gap. And not a moment too soon. Mayors of some of the world’s largest cities are agitating for a new urban agenda. And while many nation states succumb to reactionary nationalism and dangerous populism, more and more cities are calling for openness, interdependency and pluralism.

    Every once in a while a scholar comes along who predicts the big trends before the rest of us. Benjamin Barber was such a person. His 2013 TED talk — Why Mayors Should Rule the World — was a clarion call to action. It also led, late last year, to the creation of the world’s first Global Parliament of Mayors which today empowers city leaders from around the world not just to talk about our problems, but to deliver solutions.

    Benjamin was a democratic futurist. His thinking was big, bold, and bombastic. His 1984 Strong Democracy: Politics for a New Age — urged readers to embrace the politics of the local. His celebrated Jihad versus McWorld came out six years before 9/11. And his most recent books — If Mayors Ruled the World (2013) and Cool Cities (2017) — are manifestos for a progressive politics of urban governance.

    Benjamin was an indefatigable urban activist. He did more than shout from the rooftops. He got down into the trenches and led the way. Benjamin spent the better part of the past decade recruiting mayors to the cause. He convinced them that cities don’t just have the responsibility to confront our most urgent global challenges, but the right to do so. He radiated optimism and suffered no fools.

    Benjamin was a fighter to the end. His last tweet in April ended with a reference to #globalcities and #localresistance to Trump. His life embodies all that is great about TED — the sharing of transformation ideas and the conviction to see them put into the service of the public good. He will be dearly missed, though his tireless efforts to build a better world will live on in his words and deeds.

  30. Dr. Yousef Al Shawarbeh 23 May 2017 at 14:20 - Reply

    It is with heavy hearts that we have learned of Dr. Benjamin Barber’s passing, I am writing on behalf of the Greater Amman Municipality and Amman Municipal Committee to convey our deepest sympathies and share the grief of all GPM members in mourning the loss of distinguished ‘Cities’ champion’ the Founder of the Global Parliament of Mayors.

    He was the wise-man recognizing the inherent power of cities; Ben sought ways to empower mayors to fill the increasing void in urban policy. His book, “If Mayors Ruled the World” became the touchstone for a new way of thinking regarding urban governance.

    It would be difficult to measure the impact he has had on the many leaders and those that he touched personally and professionally with a finesse that stirred passions and more importantly, action. He has been able to build a legacy that will last for generations after him, HE will always be remembered and cherished by all.

    Please accept my heartfelt condolences

    Sincerely yours,

    Dr. Yousef Al Shawarbeh
    Chairman of Amman Municipal Committee

  31. Hari Pathik 5 June 2017 at 10:37 - Reply

    Ben was certainly a great visionary hero of his time .

  32. Hari Pathik 5 June 2017 at 10:38 - Reply

    I love , honor this personality very much .

    • John M. Williams 7 June 2017 at 03:57 - Reply

      Dr. Barber’s vision of a future in which mayors will play a more prominent role does appear to be coming true. In light of recent events, the U.S. Dropping out of the Paris Agreement, failing nation states, and national rivalries, we need the GPM now more than ever. It is encouraging to see the U.S. Mayors and various governors remaining committed to the Paris Agreement. Let’s hope that the GPM will help provide guidance and hope in these troubling times.

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