Almost every fictional dystopia, from 1984 to The Handmaid’s Tale, involves a “vast and oppressive state”, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. Because 20th-century dictators like Hitler and Stalin “have such a hold on Western thought”, we expect the next big threat to take a similar shape. We shouldn’t. “The story of our species is mostly the story of disorder, not too much order; of anarchy rather than tyranny.” As long as Donald Trump remains on the scene, strongmen remain a danger, but the larger trend “is towards fragmentation and chaos”.
Take America, a nation “that is not just split but checkmated”. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a route to the kind of “electoral hegemony” needed to pass necessary reforms like last century’s New Deal or Reagan revolution. At least a third of Americans are open to the secession of their state from the union. In France, parliament “brims with radicals” and the “quasi-monarchical” presidency has been filled, in recent decades, with disappointments. Britain has had three PMs since 2016, the same number as it had in the 28 years between 1979 and 2007. The “laughing cavalier” Boris Johnson has turned ethical conventions “into dust”; his 80-seat majority proves impotent against unions and Nimbys. If we want to guard against a bleak future, we should fear “under-government” rather than too much of it.