Future Politics

by Jamie Susskind, OUP, 544pp, £20

One of the most infuriating things I hear when speaking about the internet is a knowing retort, which goes something like: “People complained about the printing press and the radio and the television too. There’s nothing new here.”

Next time I hear this nonsense – which won’t be long – I’ll bash the speaker over the head with Jamie Susskind’s brilliant new book. In addition to being rather weighty and therefore capable of inflicting minor injury, it explains in detail why, where, and how politics will change due to the exigencies of modern technology. “New technologies make it possible to do things that previously couldn’t be done,” he writes with typical clarity, “and they make it easier to do some things that we could already do.”

This simple idea has profound consequences for the entire political system. As Neil Postman memorably wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death, would a society in which smoke signals were the primary form of long-distance communications have been able to run complex, large-scale bureaucracies?

Obviously not. And our systems of arranging the world may one day appear equally ill-suited to a universe of smart machines, big data and the rest. Assumptions that have served us well – about fundamental political ideas of power, property, freedom, equality and the law – are up for grabs again. “We’ll need a radical upgrade of our political ideas,” says Susskind.

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