"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings"
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
There come times when a strange conjunction appears in human affairs. Times when, in the words of WB Yeats:
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
The Millennium Depression, which has been with us now for nearly four years, is testing the apparatus of government to the utmost. The party conferences in Britain demonstrated a lack of vision that might have been predictable but was no less shocking for all that. It is quite clear that politicians across the world do not understand the scale of the convulsions that are gripping the global economy. In short the putative leaders of the world look powerless.
This happened before. Although Yeats wrote his poem in 1920 to describe Europe in the aftermath of the First World War, it gained an even wider currency during the period of the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism and Communism. The breakdown of the world economy after the Wall St. Crash of 1929 created a sense of disillusion and anger towards the institutions of democratic rule that then- as now- seemed powerless to cope.
That same sense of futility has already hollowed out much of the democratic debate in Europe.
Party politics have been largely abandoned to a coterie of cynics and idealists, who fail to convince even each other, let alone engage with the wider world.
Yet, paradoxically, there is even greater pressure on the non-democratic world. The fall of North African Arab tyrants is not automatically leading to worse regimes. More open government and with it greater freedom of ideas is making progress. Even in Russia, the "renewal" of Putin's Presidency is asking more questions than it answers. The Chinese leadership too is facing challenges from within that have been unimaginable since the Tian-an-Men massacre.
It is not a given that the economic crisis will lead to the return of fascism, or its twenty-first century analogue, though that threat exists.
The world wide web is creating a global and highly egalitarian forum for discussion. There is a greater global level of education than has ever been seen. That education is rooted in the scepticism of the scientific method, not the hierarchy of authoritarian diktat, whether Communist or Confucian. There are greater communications and more connections across more borders than have ever existed in the history of our species.
The emergence of the inchoate and ad hoc "Tea Party" or "Occupy Wall St" citizens action groups, to my mind is the shape of things to come.
The point is that if we want a more open, tolerant, humane and decent society then we have to take the responsibility ourselves. The Murdoch scandal demonstrated how opinion and politics have been manipulated in the past. Now we source our ideas from a widening circle of information- and there is a clamour of opinion that can not be silenced.
Humanity may not have a high percentage of original thinkers, but those that exist are now more likely to educated and more likely to be connected to the global Agora- as a result they are likely to have a greater chance to make a contribution that will make a difference.
As a result, I believe that we are on the brink of a quantum leap in the way that our species interacts and governs itself, and one that will eventually lead to a far more pluralist arrangement than the state-based government systems that we have largely inherited from the Enlightenment.
The emerging Politics 2.0 that I dimly discern is own rooted in individuality. The population of humans is set to peak in the the late twenty-first century and then decline thereafter, and it is another paradox that the weight of numbers undermines the ability of global rulers to enforce conformity. Indeed Politics 2.0 will involve far greater individual autonomy and responsibility, as it becomes clear that state based welfare systems can not be relied upon.
That recognition of the limited economic power of the state may force greater pluralism, and perhaps greater tolerance of difference, as we understand that solutions for our immediate problems can not be delivered by government, and may, indeed be bound up in areas far from our own doorsteps. This awareness of our own relative weakness- both as individuals and communities- will require greater global debate, since no state has the ability to fully impose their will on others for more than brief periods. Communities on the web are blind to passports in any event, and political debate will reflect a diversity that more accurately reflects our differences of view- for good and for bad.
Politics 2.0 will be non-hierarchical, even anarchic, but will be rooted in a social autonomy of citizenship that may be more genuinely free than any of the government systems we have tried so far. The claims advanced by the practitioners of religion have been tested to destruction in the scientific world we actually live in- and the role of those who claim divine mandates to control other humans is already declining rapidly. Religion, once a fundamental basis of ideology and community, will probably become an exclusively personal matter, since the power of coercion fails in the new world.
We live in a time of crisis. This is a crisis that will reform our political as well as our economic relationships. In the twentieth century such a crisis led to National Socialism and then to the Second World War and then cold war confrontation with Soviet Socialism. These confrontations rallied pluralists around the conventions of democratic politics.
Yet this crisis may not lead to the failures that Yeats writes about so eloquently. If we, as individuals make choices in favour of tolerance and pluralism, then we can not only avoid the abyss of global war, but also create a new forum for political discourse.
It may be idealistic, that does not mean it is impossible.
Something I thought I should add: Christopher Hitchens:
"There are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution",