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March 4, 2007

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A New Axis to Grind

Prospect did a very Edge-y thing and asked a hundred smart people what the big important axis of the 21st century is going to be — think left/right except, you know, futuristic. I liked this one from Mark Cousins:

By the end of the 21st century, politicians and the idea of the executive will have disappeared entirely. As everyone will be connected to some evolved form of the internet, all political decisions will be made by daily and weekly referendums. Right and left will still be underlying polarities, but will disperse into the hundreds of decisions a citizen will make annually. There will be no political class to pillory. Instead, the new dilemma will be how to delineate a constituency. By nation? Supranational region? Continent?

Note that I do not actually think this is true. But, I like it.

I have to say, as with the Edge question-fests, I really appreciate the people who engage honestly with the question, instead of using it to simply describe how they think the world ought to be.

So my favorite answer might be Michael Ignatieff’s:

Everything that happens to us will be unexpected. There is no reason to be discouraged about this. Practical political life is the art of managing the unexpected, just as life itself is a matter of rising to the occasion.

(Via 3qd. Check out the second reply they highlight. Eep!)

Posted March 4, 2007 at 8:57 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Society/Culture


Wow, that's an interesting question followed by a lot of BS answers. Were there really only one or two respondents who said "there won't be a dominant axis by the end of the 21st"? That seems to be getting more and more obvious every year.


One of the weird things about the question is you can read it two ways: either "what is the new axis?" or "what's the aftermath of the left/right driven politics of the 20th century?"

I haven't read all of the responses, and I'm not going to -- seriously, Prospect and Edge both, can't they ask like twenty-five people and only print the best twenty? -- but the local/global axis seems like the best bet, both because of how many responses reference it in one way or another, and because it seems like a real and emerging issue right now.

Then again, the local vs. the global has always been an issue, even when most human beings weren't aware that they lived on a globe. Pick a moment in history, and you'll find it, in one shape or another.

One thing I like about Robert Cooper's answer is that it gets at something specific about our historical moment:

History, said Hegel, is the growing idea of freedom. In the 19th century, freedom came from the rule of law and the state. In this century, freedom will come from international law, but there is no international state. When Hegel wrote, the vital issues of the day—public health, workers’ rights, education, the franchise—were problems brought by industrialisation. These were solved through the national state, which brought an identity for people dislocated from the country, a legal framework for industry, and solutions for the problems it created. In the 21st century, the new forms of communication have brought us a new world and we need a new constitutional form too. The big question is how to organise this world in which politics and identity are national, but we can survive and prosper only if we act internationally. It is fine to talk about “the international community,” but who is it and how can it function?

I think you could make a further case that politics and identity are no longer as national as they used to be -- for example, consider the utopias (lit. "no places") of the subcultures. We haven't become cosmopolitan by becoming "citizens of the world" -- we've done it by redefining what constitutes the cosmos.

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