For those of us who believe that the U.S. and much of the world must make major changes, the presidential election can be little other than frustrating. Neither candidate is expressing a meaningful version of where we ought to go and how we can get there. The result will be that we abdicate our human responsibility to think collectively about our future and try to bring ourselves there. We will, then, give ourselves over to the social and technological trends that operate outside and to some extent beyond political control. This is precisely the worry Arendt expresses in her prologue to The Human Condition.
Walter Russell Mead, who will be speaking at the Arendt Center’s conference “Does the President Matter?“, has a good post today on the inconsequential nature of the presidential election. Here are the core last two graphs.
Our problem is that the time isn’t ripe: the real work of our society right now isn’t about political competition. It is about re-imagining, reinventing and restructuring core institutions and professions. Our health care system is wasteful and poorly organized and if in the next generation we don’t fundamentally reorganize it the country will go broke. Our educational system from kindergarten through grad school needs a variety of upgrades and innovations. Mass employment through manufacturing cannot support the kind of middle class society it once did; conventional big box retail cannot do it; government employment and subsidies can’t do it. Americans must find new ways to organize themselves for work and production, and we must learn to produce different (better and more interesting) goods. We must complete the transition from a late stage industrial society to an early stage information society and it’s something that nobody has ever done before in the history of the world.
Neither party, it must be emphasized, knows what to do about these issues. To a very large degree the solutions are outside politics. Policy and therefore politics will play a significant role ultimately in either furthering or retarding the changes we need, but so much of the shape of the future is still unknown that nobody can really tell us what should be done and in what order to create the best possible conditions in which a brighter future most quickly and most stably emerge.
You’ll do well to read the rest.