Five decades ago, humanity took a huge step forward. For the first time, we truly understood what it means to be human. One of the most powerful photos of all time – an image of our blue planet from space, enriched by the accounts of the first astronauts to make it up there – prompted us to see ourselves in a new light, namely as inhabitants of earth. All of humanity was included. Before this, social identity consisted in of drawing boundaries. Now, however, the globalisation of goods, images and communication has resulted in the development of a global identity, with the millennia-old ‘us against the others’ tribal structure coming up against an ‘all of us together’ anti-tribal structure.

These two mindsets continue to conflict with one another. That said, in the meantime the globalist anti-tribalism side has adopted a tribal structure of its own. The original ‘all of us together’ idea behind global discourse has developed into a ‘us against those who do not think globally’ mindset. In other words, the anti-tribe has become a tribe. This is the conclusion drawn from the results of this year’s Global Thought Leader studies, research that has been conducted by the GDI each year since 2012. Among the ranks of the great thinkers of our time are conservatives, progressives, optimists, sceptics, spiritualists and nerds – but no nationalists. Openness toward all positions in global discourse ends with those who question global discourse itself.


Thought Leaders in 2018

This discovery was not the original aim of the Global Thought Leader study. The most influential thinkers in the world can be determined using software that is able to measure the intensity of networks and answer the question: who influences humanity the most? The focus here is on the power of their ideas rather than authority or economic power. Each year, 200 candidates – preferably known on a global rather than regional level – are entered into the Condor software developed by MIT researcher Peter Gloor. The main selection criteria include the number of languages in which the person’s biography is available on Wikipedia, as an indication of both their relevance and their international character.

Table 1 shows the top 10 names in the 2018 Global Thought Leader study. As in previous years, the Pope occupies the top spot. Virtually no other institution in the world can outdo the Catholic Church when it comes to internationality, and Pope Francis’ desire to participate in current – and timeless – debates appears to be as strong as ever. The Dalai Lama and head atheist Richard Dawkins are two other religious thinkers in the leading group, proving that eternal values remain a topic of debate across the world.

Rank Name Role
1 Pope Francis Religious Leader
2 Noam Chomsky Linguist
3 Stephen Hawking Physicist
4 Richard Dawkings Evolutionary Biologist
5 Al Gore Activist
6 Henry Kissinger Political Scientist
7 Bill Gates Philantropist
8 Dalai Lama Religious Leader
9 Desmond Tutu Activist
10 J. K. Rowling Author

Table 1: GDI 2018 Global Thought Leader Top 10

A multi-year comparison further highlights the dominance of religious leaders: they occupy three of the four top spots on the list. Intelligent minds with global reach (such as Stephen Hawking), activist (e.g. Muhammad Yunus) and successful authors (such as J. K. Rowling) complete the leading pack.

Rank Name Role Appereance
1 Pope Francis Religious Leader 4
2 Dalai Lama Religious Leader 3
3 Bill Gates Philanthropist 2
4 Pope Benedict XVI Religious Leader 3
5 Orhan Pamuk Author 3
6 Al Gore Activist 5
7 J. K. Rowling Author 2
8 Muhammad Yunus Activist 4
9 Tim Berners-Lee Computer Scientist 5
10 Stephen Hawking Physicist 6

Table 2: GDI 2018 Global Thought Leader Top 10 (at least two appearances, ranked according to average place number)


The Globalist Tribe

Although no specific conceptual focus has been established, a community of the most influential thinkers on the planet – encompassing everything from philosophers to physicists and economists to popes and activists – has emerged: a shift away from narrow national identities. This is evident from an analysis of the data using Tribefinder software, which is still in its testing phase. Developed by Peter Gloor, the software analyses individual Twitter accounts to determine the extent to which the content match one of four fundamental positions:

Spiritualist: They trust in their beliefs, and they believe in higher beings and eternal values. They find strength in contemplation, – and their behaviour is driven by karma. The Dalai Lama and Pope Francis rank highest for spiritualism among the global thought leaders.

Nerd: They believe that progress, science and technology are a blessing. They want to overcome death and colonise Mars. They are fans of globalisation and network with each other in Davos. Among the thought leaders, people such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates have a particularly high ‘nerd’ rating.

Treehugger: They believe in the limits of growth and the protection of nature. They challenge some elements of technological progress (e.g. gene manipulation) and welcome others (e.g. alternative energies). Thought leaders such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Jane Goodall have a high ‘Treehugger’ rating.

Fatherlander: They believe in God and homelands, and they believe their homeland to be the best one. They cling to the good old times, hold the idea of the family in high regard and have little time for foreigners. Not a single global thought leader achieved a top rating in this category.

Although more than a 10th of the 102 thought leader candidates examined achieved especially high ratings for the other three mindsets (more than 40%), not a single one recorded a rating of even 30% for the ‘Fatherlander’ tribe. In total, 62 of 102 – i.e. an absolute majority of the thought leaders – have an extremely low Fatherlander rating of less than 10%.

Tribe Rating Percentage Low (0-30%) Middle (31-70%) High (71-100%)
Spiritualist 76 23 3
Nerd 55 47 0
Fatherlander 102 0 0
Treehugger 52 46 4

Table 3: Thought Leader tribe ratings (figures for 2018, for Thought Leader candidates with Twitter account (102 out of 207))

The results show that rather than there being a hostile or competitive link with the world of nationalist and/or populist Fatherlanders, actually no connection at all. This is evident in particular from an evaluation performed by Gloor in November 2016 following the election of Donald Trump as US president. The people who shaped the political sphere around Trump had virtually no link to the spectrum of global thought leaders. If Steve Bannon – at the time the most important figure in the Trump entourage – had been selected as a thought leader candidate in the 2016 study, it is certain that he would have lagged behind at the rear of the pack. This is despite the fact that as an influential adviser to the most powerful person on the planet, Bannon meets the criteria to change the course of the world through his ideas. This atmosphere of mutual misunderstanding between global and national thinkers continues today; it is a typical feature of tribal structures.


Ivy League, Old-School Media, First World

Which features are indicative of the tribe of anti-tribalists? The thought leader studies derived from GDI’s data provide an insight here too. Some education and media networks were also included in the study: with which universities are thought leaders affiliated? In which media channels do they play a prominent role?

In terms of university networks, elite Anglo-Saxon institutions are clearly dominant, as shown in Table 4. The table reveals the universities at which the 2016 thought leader candidates studied and/or taught on a frequent basis, with seven US and three British universities making up the top 10. Considering the dominance of the English language in global discourse, it stands to reason that the majority of thinkers with global reach would at the very least have come into contact with Anglo-Saxon universities. The US elite university Harvard is head and shoulders above the rest, with almost one in four thought leaders having spent at least some time studying or working there.

Rank University Country TL Rating
1 Harvard US 22.4%
2 Oxford UK 12.1%
3 MIT US 11.6%
4 Princeton US 9.0%
5 Cambridge UK 8,1%
6 Stanford US 7.6%
7 Yale US 5.8%
7 LSE UK 5.8%
9 Berkeley US 5.4%
10 New York US 4.9%

Table 4: The most relevant universities for global thought leaders (data for 2016 thought leaders, ranked according to the rating of the persons evaluated who studied and/or taught at the university in question)

As might be supposed, the media channels in which the global thought leaders appear on a particularly frequent basis are dominated by English-language variants. Der Spiegel is the only medium in the top 20 this year where the primary language of communication is not English. The flagships of Anglo-Saxon journalism lead the way, namely The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, along with social media heavyweights Facebook and Twitter, a few largely public radio and television broadcasters, and TED, where talks focus strongly on thought leaders.

Rank Medium Type
1 Wikipedia Encyclopedia
2 YouTube Video Portal
3 The Guardian Newspaper
4 Facebook Social Media
5 Twitter Social Media
6 The New York Times Newspaper
7 TED Video Talks
7 The New Yorker Newspaper
9 National Public Radio NPR Radio
10 The Washington Post Newspaper
11 The Huffington Post Online News
12 British Broadcasting Corporation BBC Television
13 Cable News Network CNN Television
14 Public Broadcasting Service PBS Television
15 Slate Online Magazine
16 The New York Review of Books Magazine
17 Vanity Fair Magazine
18 Der Spiegel Magazine
19 Business Insider Online News
20 Politico Online News

Table 5 and network above: The 20 / 16  most relevant media for thought leaders (Figures for 2018, arranged by betweenness centrality, without databases, aggregators, search machines, etc.; figures collected for the medium’s online domain)

Regional limitations are another indicator that global thinkers should be categorised as a tribe. In the thought leader studies from previous years, it was noted on several occasions that global discourse is not really global; in actual fact, it barely registers in key cultural areas around the world. This primarily concerns two major language regions: China and the Arab world. Although the Spanish, German and French language regions have their own cultural idiosyncrasies, they are largely integrated into global (i.e. English) discourse. This is also the case for India: time and again, bright minds such as the Spanish-speaking artists Mario Vargas Llosa and Pedro Almodóvar, the German-speaking thinkers Jürgen Habermas and Hans Küng, and prominent Indians such as Arundhati Roy and Amartya Sen occupy the top spots on the global ranking list. China and the Arabian Peninsula, on the other hand, are in a league of their own. As with the Fatherlanders, rather than this being an example of hostility, it is a matter of mutual ignorance.

The Thought Leader analysis therefore proves the suspected existence of an ‘elite bubble’. In today’s world, the tribal structure of globalists is obstructive. It impedes dialogue with emerging cultures outside the limits of Anglo-Saxon culture, and it prevents an understanding of those forces that have led to an upsurge in populist and nationalist influence in the western world. Who is the most influential thought leader in that arena? There isn’t one, unfortunately.