What might the fourth revolution be? What are, or were, revolutions one, two and three? Not the Glorious Revolution or the French Revolution. But political revolution – changes driven by ideas developed and ingrained over time.
And what form should the state take in future – in what direction should it be evolving? Political theory is too often disparaged: cognoscenti have to work behind the scenes and pretend they know nothing. We prefer to deal in simple solutions, absolutes of right and wrong. Not sadly of now and then. More now and forever: the certainty of the believing moment dictates policy and attitudes. Not the wisdom of the past.
John Mickelthwait and Adrian Woolridge, respectively editor-in-chief and editor of the Schumpeter column on the Economist, make a pretty good stab at serious informed political theory. They sketch a brief history of the last four hundred years, from the rising nation state (and Thomas Hobbes) by way of the 19th century liberal state (JS Mill) to the welfare state (Beatrice Webb)… and then turn futurologists and with Woolridge’s omnivorous capacity for detail outline the brave new world of the smaller state. Private enterprise drives both the economy and the state, power is devolved, and initiative lies at the individual level. Friedman and Hayek would rejoice – but only to a point. California at the mercy of propositions (referenda) has made good governance almost impossible, and the authors have a more than sneaking admiration for Lee Juan Yew’s Singapore. And indeed China, dirigiste in most things save the absolute right to engage in making money and building businesses.
So their model in more measured, more cautious, less neo-liberal than we might have expected. The closest to their ideal they find in Scandinavia. The Nordic model marries clear direction from government to social responsibility, and in Sweden, since big changes back in 1991, it seems to have worked.
Maybe it’s all a bit glib. This is the way the authors believe it should happen, but how can you create circumstances where it really will happen? The Tea Party fragments rather than encourages responsibility. Traditional political parties as agents of change aren’t listened to or respected. Pressure groups as matter of pride and preference keep their focus narrow.
It is a valiant and impressive and entertaining (well almost) attempt to point a way forward.
But making it happen – there lies the challenge.