Written by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, on May 2014 at the Induction in the College of Fellows
Michael West Oborne, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology salutes you.
In the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, the Council fathers attempted to articulate the mission of the Church to the world:
The Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served. To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. …We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. (Gaudium et Spes 3,4)
In your distinguished career you have precisely sought to “recognize and understand the world in which we live” by “scrutinizing the signs of the times.”
Having received your doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley and then at Cambridge University and the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris you taught at Smith College, the University of California, Berkeley and then at the University of Paris IX as professor. Then in 1980 at the invitation of a director you began work for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris where you remained for 31 years.
Your initial work with the OECD involved a study of the Asian Pacific region long before it received notoriety. You were sent to work in China, learned Chinese and produced four books on the economic emergence of China, working closely with the Bank of China and the Chinese government. Returning to Paris four years later you were invited by the secretary general to his cabinet as an advisor for political affairs. Then, in 1989, you were appointed deputy director for the science and technology division where you undertook, among many other projects, the first studies on the emerging public Internet, establishing the first principles and protocols for managing the Internet. You contributed to the Global Science Form and the first international discussion on climate change.
For the last 10 years at the OECD you served as Director General for Strategic Foresight. The work entailed projecting social and economic conditions 50 or 60 years into the future attempting to project the trends and future possible challenges for governments and for society in order to inform and invite policy dialogue. Your work involved such economic and social concerns as: energy supply and the environment; social policies such as “end of life” strategies for an aging worldwide population; higher education and the tendency to regard education as a commodity; the future of the family and the changing manner in which households are defined; issues in biotechnology and bio-economy.
Following your retirement from the OECD in 2011 you directed the Las Casas Institute at Black Friars Hall, Oxford where, as a Fellow, you continue to teach in close collaboration with the Dominican community. In addition, you teach annually at the University of Pavia, in Italy and at the Institute of Political Science in Paris. Recently you have served as senior advisor for research initiatives in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, the United Kingdom, France, and Washington, DC.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that, apart from infused knowledge, it is impossible for us to foresee future events; for us there can be no knowledge of future contingents. However, by the virtue of prudence we can have insight into Divine Providence:
For providence is the principal part of prudence, and the other two parts—viz., memory of what is past and understanding of what is present—are ordered toward it. For it is from the past as remembered and the present as understood that we make inferences about future things that have to be provided for (Summa Theologiae, I, 22, 1).
It has been your task, above all, to exercise the virtue of prudence which has been evidenced both in the carefulness of your approach: “We have to be very, very careful – economists, and social scientists, and in any other field – to make sure that the narrative we have about wealth, poverty, technology, and growth is well-founded. Because the narrative is a story, and destroying means you have taken some elements and left others out or you don’t know others. In many cases, narratives are based on ignorance;” and in the decisiveness of your judgments: “the only guarantee to having an interesting person is to have an educated person.”
We are delighted that you have accepted our invitation to discern with us the signs of the times as a member of the College of Fellows.
Therefore, as an expression of our esteem and gratitude, and in virtue of the authority invested in me by the Board of Members of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, I am privileged to bestow upon you, Michael West Oborne, the degree Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, and to name you a Fellow of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.