Tony Judt, in the valedictory conversations with Timothy Snyder whose title is echoed in this book, said that the task of the public intellectual in the face of growing global insecurities would no longer be ‘to imagine better worlds but rather to think how to prevent worse ones’. There is no way out, ‘the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant’ and it is all we can hope for that a handful will survive to start again.
And yet – both books, by their very existence, suggest the contrary – that, in extremis, it is faith in a better world in a distant and unknowable future that validates a life – that there is no reason to suppose that there is a shortage of better worlds to come.
Of course, some of those better worlds may not feature Facebook and buttered crumpets. It remains to be seen whether we will be dragged screaming and kicking to a sustainable economy by an angry earth, or achieve it through reason and collaboration. This book is all for the latter and offers us a comprehensive a guide to the ideas that will help us do it.
Thinking the Twenty-First Century is a magnificent, unruly, exuberant book in which Malcolm McIntosh sets aside miserabilism and finds cause for optimism – if optimism is not too pale a word here – in every kind of source, literary, political, philosophical; a book that traverses all the modalities of human thought and action to find practical wisdom in unlikely places. It offers us a viable and satisfying model for political and intellectual leadership, an alternative to masculine and hyperbolised fantasy leadership and the reflexive distrust of collective deliberation and collaborative action that goes with it.
This optimism and these prescriptions have been wrought from, are suffused by, righteous anger. This is a sane and life-affirming voice in a world laid waste by idiotic market ideology and deranged consumerism, by narrow-minded and militaristic managerialism. If the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability really do want a transdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approach to a new political economy then they could not want for a better guide, a better prompt than this luminous parting shot.
Institute for Leadership and Sustainability
Thinking the Twenty-First Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy by Malcolm McIntosh is published by Greenleaf Publishing and is out on April 1st. Visit the Greenleaf Publishing website to get 20% off. Offer ends April 1st 2015.