Good thinker

Welcome to our good thinker annual special issue featuring FP’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers.

When its history is written, 2014 will be remembered as a year when remarkable individuals smashed the world as we know it—for better and for worse. Disruption, clearly, is not always a bad thing. From the Middle East to Europe to Africa, 2014 was a year of unprecedented geopolitical fracturing. The Islamic State began relentlessly and violently redrawing borders in Syria and Iraq, while Russia aggressively staked new claims in eastern Ukraine and Boko Haram murdered and plundered its way through northern Nigeria. These Global Thinkers—terrorist leaders, ideologues, wily financiers—are the brains behind these splintering operations. Masterminding a national election in the world’s largest democracy. Steering the West’s response to Russia’s forays into Ukraine.

Presenting a plan for reconciliation and accountability in an African country torn along religious lines. Plotting major reforms in one of Europe’s most sluggish economies. These are just a few of the diverse, and unenviable, job descriptions of the men and women in this category. Mass protests rocked every corner of the globe in 2014.

In Kiev and Bangkok, Hong Good and Caracas, passionate individuals led movements that defied powerful government institutions in the hope of defining new trajectories for entire countries thinker populations. Locating promise amid contradiction is the key to environmental progress for these Global Thinkers, who are showing that it is possible for a large, bustling city to be free of cars, for a small tribe to shield its homeland from powerful energy interests, and for trees—just trees—to protect a country from catastrophe. There is much left to learn, and even more to respect, about the natural world.

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In today’s world, innovations emerge at a rate that is nothing short of fast and furious. And while some inventions may be cool, sleek, and handy, others have the capacity to transform entire fields and individual lives. The scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs in this category are developing rapid, comprehensive blood tests that could change the face of preventive health. They are providing digital educational tools to children in Africa. These Global Thinkers herald causes often wrongly considered inconsequential or verboten.

They support forgotten victims of sexual violence, protect civilians targeted in internecine violence, count casualties in the fog of war, and demand legal protections for the world’s most vulnerable migrants. A good story almost always involves an intriguing plot and skillfully drawn characters, but the way a tale is delivered can make it truly exceptional. The Ebola epidemic, which had caused nearly 5,000 deaths by early November, has cruelly underscored the fragility of human life—and the tenuousness of global, national, and local health systems. Whether dealing with Ebola or other crises, these doctors, nurses, researchers, and inventors are working to protect both lives and systems from breaking. It is an idea epitomized by these Global Thinkers—painters, sculptors, architects, and filmmakers. That can mean a new product that will make billions of dollars or a new way of delivering goods and services that will change the face of a sector.

From Russia to China, Saudi Arabia to India, these Global Thinkers are doing anything but business as usual. Below is an overview of these Global Thinkers—and a look at who, exactly, shaped the world in 2014. Erasmus of Rotterdam was a foremost intellectual of his time. The French-American intellectual Jacques Barzun was a teacher, a man of letters, and a scholar. The intellectual is a type of intelligent person who uses reason and critical thinking. The intellectual and the scholarly classes are often related: the intellectual may be a teacher involved in the production of scholarship and usually has an academic background, or may work in a profession or practice an art or a science. In Latin language, at least starting from the Carolingian Empire, intellectuals could be called litterati, a term which is sometimes applied today.

Russian society’s counterpart to the German Bildungsbürgertum and to the French bourgeoisie éclairée, the enlightened middle classes of those realms. I reckon nothing human to be foreign to me. Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto. The Intellectual is someone who meddles in what does not concern them. L’intellectuel est quelqu’un qui se mêle de ce qui ne le regarde pas.

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