Nationalism worked because it let us build a far bigger mental picture of “us” than we’d ever before envisioned. It is failing now because it can’t keep pace with the power of newer social innovations, like the corporation, capable of even greater scale and reach.
Look closely at our dilemma, and you see not decline, but leadership. We are being buffeted by the first waves of a storm spreading around the world. We’re not worst, but merely first.
Can a democracy organized around the mediating influence of social capital survive the rise of transience? Can this system function when so few of its brightest, most talented and successful people can name a single local politician? Perhaps, but across the world the results so far don’t look promising.
Trump’s personal repulsiveness, criminality, and incompetence deliver a second chance not offered to Italians and Germans in the 30’s.
Now that the government at the center of the “Free World” has been bought off by a corrupt global kleptocrats, who is standing up for liberal democratic values? Corporations, of course. Get used to it, because this is the strange new shape of liberal democracy.
Monarchies still exist, they just don’t matter. This is likely the fate of democratic institutions as Next takes shape.
A pivot toward social democracy might form a bridge to a post-Trump world, a rhetorical rally point to organize short-term resistance to fascism, but it is unlikely to offer any long term solution to the weaknesses eroding liberal democracy.
Before throwing our weight behind one bold plan or another, it would be wise to revisit first principles. In politics, that starts by winding back to the most fundamental questions of all. What is power? And how does it work?
If you want to ruin the power of businesses to innovate and succeed, just insulate them from competition and protect them from failure. Likewise, if you want to see public institutions adapt some of the habits and characteristics of the best private entities, expose them to forces that weed out poor performance and open up massive new channels for decision-making and experimentation.
Whatever succeeds, history tells us it will not be merely a continuation of what came before.