If 2016 was the year when reactionary populism swept the world — when Brexit rocked Britain, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency, and the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte — 2017 was a year of reckoning. As the new order took hold, the rest of us were forced to rethink long-held narratives and find ways to confront the new reality.
Of course, populism wasn’t the only big story that dominated 2017. North Korea test-fired powerful new missiles capable of hitting the United States. The Islamic State suffered one battlefield defeat after another — but continued to metastasize. Democracies struggled to deal with Russia’s increasingly aggressive meddling in their affairs. Billionaires came to dominate the U.S. government. The alt-right got its first taste of state power. Energized by these events, the far-left jumped from the backbenches to the front row. And the world largely ignored the largest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II: According to the United Nations, the number of people forcibly displaced reached record levels, and some 20 million risked starvation.
Politicians and protesters weren’t the only ones to respond. Saudi women activists finally won the right to drive. A new film presented a stark retelling of the Vietnam War — one that included many local voices for the first time. Gene editing offered new hope in the fight against genetic diseases. An exiled Chinese artist aimed his lens on the world’s growing refugee crisis. And a powerful new women’s movement focused the world’s attention on the age-old scourge of sexual abuse and predation.
This year, Foreign Policy is proud to feature the Global reThinkers — the legislators, technocrats, comedians, advocates, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, presidents, provocateurs, political prisoners, researchers, strategists, and visionaries — who together found amazing ways not just to rethink our strange new world but also to reshape it. They are the doers who defined 2017.
Illustration by Adam Simpson