Issue 132, March 2007

The big question
by Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next?
100 Prospect contributors answered our invitation to respond to the question above. Their answers are below.

The pessimism of the responses is striking: almost nobody expects the world to get better in the coming decades , and many think it will get much worse.

(Thanks to John Brockman, custodian of the Edge website, from where the Big Question idea was taken)

Bruce Ackerman, academic

Cosmos vs patriots. Cosmopolitans come in two varieties: for left cosmos, the pressing need is to deal with world problems--global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the unjust distribution of wealth and income. For right cosmos, it is to break down barriers to world trade. Cosmos of all stripes demand a big build-up in the powers of world institutions, and a cutback on state sovereignty. For local patriots, the cosmos represent a new imperialism by Davos-man and his do-good hangers-on. Left pats insist on protecting local workers from foreign competition and local cultures from McDonaldisation. Right pats want to protect the natives from strange ethnics and engage in pre-emptive strikes against threatening foreign powers. Pats of all varieties insist that the nation state remains the best last hope of democracy against the meritocratic pretensions of cosmo-elitists.

Arthur Aughey, political scientist

Immanuel Wallerstein defined the politics of the 20th century in terms of an irresolvable tension between the modernity of technology--the capacity of human inventiveness to increase our material wellbeing--and the modernity of liberation, the capacity of political action to enhance our secular wellbeing. The ideological faithful on the left and the right, albeit for different reasons, believed in the harmony of technology and liberation; the ideologically sceptical on the left and the right, again for different reasons, agonised about technological enslavement masquerading as emancipation.

However, for both, the distinction between technology and humanity was the commonsense complement to an ethical system that distinguished between the determined (our creations) and the autonomous (our capacity for freedom). That tension will be challenged in the future because technology will develop personality and persons will become "bio-technologised." In this new era the faultline of politics will be between post-humanism, the radical version of which would abolish all distinctions between the natural and the artificial, and old humanism, the radical version of which would transform the inheritance of the modern into a quasi-sacred and romantic cult of authenticity. The contesting visions are likely to be Blakean in tone, about the nature of being and not about the distribution of wealth.

Michael Axworthy, writer

The end of the cold war removed the edge of the left/right division, and left a question about the direction of political leadership. Political spin moved into that space, but the spin doctors got overconfident, and scandals and cover-ups followed. Truth reasserted itself, and the people became disillusioned. They see a country that has real problems: terrorism, climate change, an overblown civil service that neither governs nor critically analyses the operation of government. Above all, a country lobotomised by the failure of state secondary education, and the failed theories of comprehensive schooling and so-called child-centred teaching.

The division in future will not be between left and right, but between the vested interests of governmental incompetence on the one hand, and the democratic urge for reform on the other. Sooner or later some politician will discover the opportunity to reassert honesty and integrity, tackle the problems, and achieve popularity.

Julian Baggini, philosopher

The new conflict is between liberal universalism and a communitarianism which asserts the need for cultures to maintain their own values and traditions. Is the latter just a temporary brake on the former, or will the universalist dream die? One of the tasks of politics is to work out which values are universal and which are not.

Robin Banerji, journalist

In the 21st century there will be a new emphasis on the rights of the group as opposed to the 20th century's concern with the individual. Meanwhile, the relationship between the human and the non-human (primarily animals but also plants, plant species and perhaps even landscape) will become important as the consequences of climate change play out. Political Islam, which looks so menacing at the moment, will be contained and defeated, as it is a negative, nostalgic and reactive movement. Great progress will be made in biosciences and in particular neuroscience. The first challenge will be to understand the links between mind and brain, and once those are worked out, medical and bio-scientists will move towards a new understanding of the physiology of the unified mind and body. This will have profound consequences not just for healthcare, but for law and even for philosophy and religion.

Cheryll Barron, writer

What comes next is giving the intellectual heritage of non-western cultures a place above the salt. "If we are to feel at home in the world after the present war," Bertrand Russell wrote in 1946, "we shall have to admit Asia to equality in our thoughts, not only politically, but culturally."

His prescription is exactly right for today's eastward shift in economic and political power. Prospect won its spurs spurning dead-end partisan politics and thinking. In the same spirit, it will seek more contributions from lively investigators of centuries of eastern scholarship, writers and journalists who know better than to dismiss it all as woolly mysticism, and who have proven their own worth by exacting standards for critical thinking. Writers like John Gray, Amartya Sen, Martin Jacques, Francis Fukuyama--and others obscure today, trained in the hard sciences or harder soft sciences, like economics.

Don Berry, journalist

We need a planet-saving alternative to democracy. Mankind is set on exhausting the planet's resources. Voters in rich nations will not want to give anything up; voters (or dictators) in developing nations will seek what the rich have. Since democracies must reflect what majorities want, they cannot stop this process. (Dictatorships won't care.) Science will not rise to the challenge. Old ideas about philosopher-kings and benign dictatorships may be revived. Completely new ideas may emerge. Either way, democracy as we know it will not survive the century.

Philip Bobbitt, political writer

Nation state versus market state. The constitutional order of the nation state saw its role as one of regulating and reversing the results of markets. Market states, by contrast, try to use the market to achieve their governmental goals. Relatedly, nation states used law as a way of enforcing the moral codes of the dominant national group--usually, but not always, a dominant ethnic, cultural, linguistic and racial group. Nation state political parties saw law as the means of achieving their moral goals. Market state parties, whether deregulating industries or deregulating women's reproduction, try to maximise the choices of citizens without taking for granted anything much in the way of agreement about common goals. Among other consequences, this new constitutional order will generate a new form of terrorism.

Rudi Bogni, banker and director

Left vs right was and is purely a nominal distinction between two strands of the same totalitarian posture. The real problem of the 20th century was that the demographic and economic pressures that fractured the empires gave rise to national states with leaderships ill equipped to face the nihilist challenge. The vacuum was filled by totalitarian regimes, whose ideologies set fire to Europe and the world. Remember that Hitler was a failed architect, Stalin had studied for the priesthood and Mussolini was a schoolteacher. The heirs of the 19th and 20th century nihilists are today's faith-based terrorists. If today's democracies fail to win against the new nihilists on the intellectual and communication level, they will have no chance to win in the security space and will create another dangerous vacuum, ready to be filled. Nation states have proven a disastrous political experiment in the 19th and 20th century; they may well prove catastrophic in the 21st century, due to nuclear proliferation. Nevertheless, I hope that the 21st century will see a substantial reduction of political infrastructures. If a conglomerate is bad or indifferent at most of what it does, shareholders force it back to its core competences. Everything else has got to go. Why should it be different for governments? This is neither left nor right; it is common sense. Large countries' politicians love to deride small countries' direct democracies. Why? Because they fear their example and their nimbleness. The political systems inherited from the 20th century, whether democratic or totalitarian, are neo-feudal, incompatible with a 21st century when electors vote every so many years, but consumers vote and bloggers blog 24/7.

Joe Boyd, music producer

The big divide in the coming decades will be between the "reality-based community" and the "ideologically-based community." It was often observed in the 20th century that extreme right and left curved round behind the spectrum and met each other--sort of like Hitler and Stalin sharing a beer in Hades. The common ground extreme groups share is a deep-seated

resistance to facts, whether Bush's resistance to climate change data or Brezhnev's refusal to accept that reversing the flow of Siberian rivers was not a good idea. There is now a clear divide between those who are prepared to face uncomfortable truths and those who persist in insisting that their views of what ought to be will ultimately trump what is.

David Brooks journalist

Instead of left/right we're moving to open/closed. It's really a debate about how confident people feel. And the next big intellectual development will be unifying what we know about the brain, about genes, about human nature, to maximise human flourishing.

AS Byatt, novelist and critic

We will be governed by a kind of consensus populism--beliefs, ideas and policies that arise on blogs, websites, focus groups and so on. (Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced their candidacies on the web.) This has its appeal. It is also frightening, as Tocqueville found American democracy, because it leads to tyranny of the majority. It goes with vast quantities of not wholly accurate information--Wikipedia is splendid and maddening.

Menzies Campbell, politician

Liberalism vs authoritarianism is fast becoming the philosophical divide within developed societies. 9/11 and other terrorist atrocities have heightened a sense of anxiety about security in an increasingly globalised world. The response from governments has been to try to gain ever greater knowledge and control of the lives and activities of their citizens. The British government is one of the worst offenders. Identity cards, the excesses of the DNA database, and a relentless drive towards extending the period of detention without trial are all symptoms of its authoritarian tendencies.

Terrorism today is seen as a greater danger requiring a stronger response than in the 1970s or 1980s because we understand it less than we understood our home-grown threat. But there is no "war" against terrorism. The terrorist is a criminal and should be treated accordingly. The creeping power of the state is the order of the day, but terrorism thrives where civil liberties are denied. Liberals must make that point forcefully and oppose and reverse the trend towards authoritarianism.

Douglas Carswell, politician

The political faultlines in the years ahead are likely to see centralisers pitched against localisers, and believers in old-style representative democracy slug it out with the new direct democrats.

Few people today seriously believe that politicians should centrally manage our economy. Yet the default assumption of the political establishment today is that it should centrally manage public services. This assumption will unravel.

At the same time, expect the politics of "anti-politics." Voters are starting to recognise that the current political system is a bit of a con, and they will lose faith in the "quango state" that today really decides how our country is run. People will start to recognise that real power now lies in the hands of remote and unelected officials--not those you elect on polling day: 90 per cent of planning decisions are made by council officials; Nice and other quangos really run the NHS; unelected judges decide what constitutes school uniform; human rights rules govern immigration policy; the QCA decides what children are taught. Expect to see YouTube-style technology empowering small groups of activists outside the conventional political process. This will raise fundamental questions about the nature of our political system. Expect parties to hold proper open primaries to choose their candidates, a loosening of the party whip system, a greater role for independents, and less central direction.

Ram-Prasad Chakravarthi, philosopher

The argument of the left was that the poor could get less poor only if the rich got less rich; but no longer. However, a question remains. Can the poor get less poor only if the rich get richer, or do the poor only get poorer when the rich get richer? The weaker argument from the left now says that the rich cannot get richer if the poor are to get less poor. This debate will continue to inform the 21st-century world.

The most dramatic expression of the economics of the poor, however, will now come from religion. There will be those for whom human purpose is explicable only in terms of religion, and those for whom it is understood purely in terms of scientific processes. All major religions will be involved, facing secular resistance. The deep divide will be evident in debates over how to give succour to those who feel disempowered and without hope.

One mode of this debate will be over life-changing technologies, from genetic therapies to entertainment. The agonised liberal-secular challenge to the scope of these technologies will be squeezed out, as non-religious views of human nature rally around the boundless exploration of technological horizons, and clash with assertive religious opposition based partly on suspicion of challenges to faith, but also on the conviction that technological advances are skewed towards the benefit of the rich.

Stephen Chan, academic

In certain respects the accomplishment of the left has been to entrench conservatism. The bureaucratisation of social democracy means that no life is any longer free of reporting and performance criteria, standardisations and imposed safety measures. The meeting of left and right in Europe is about the size of the openings and escape clauses within life's measured accountabilities rather than about ideology.

When it comes to ideologies and philosophies, the debate around multiculturalism unites the conservatisms of both left and right. The emerging dogma from both Blair and Cameron is to do with One Britain with Colourful Flourishes. It is not to do with a debate and a dynamism about how Britain might be changing into something different. The unity of left and right is over a limit to change. I cannot see how this approach can be called progressive, nor how it can accommodate the tensions of confessional divides--which reflect those in the world at large. As if that world could be shut out of Britain.

Dave Clements, policy analyst

Once upon a time, housing policy was about building houses. The NHS had something to do with treating the sick. Schools were places where we sent our children to be educated. Social care supported society's most vulnerable members. And social security was about guaranteeing an income for those who had no other means. In the 21st century, they won't be talking about decent housing anymore, but about decent behaviour and decent neighbourhoods. The sick, in a throwback to the morality of the workhouse, will be divided into the deserving and undeserving of treatment. And the education system will be more interested in the contents of children's stomachs than their minds. Social services will finally come to the conclusion that we're all vulnerable now. And the social security system will be deemed unsustainable and prone to "timebombs," as the working population gets sicker and older by the day. Despite this, the authorities will continue to claim to be improving "outcomes" and promoting our "wellbeing" despite our refusal to be officially "happy." And we in turn will be rendered mute by an impenetrably empty rhetoric generated by a vacuous managerial political culture devoid of anything that might engage those it reluctantly courts only when it absolutely has to. And yet everybody will be urged to become "active" citizens.

Harvey Cole, businessman

The 70 years to 2077 in Britain fell into two phases. The first was a period of apprehension, dominated by fears that failed to

materialise, in which political parties split along authoritarian- libertarian lines. The second period, of retreat, was triggered by the sudden combination of feedback from global warming, a failure of crops and water in Asia and the rapid spread of a series of pandemics. A new party, the Islanders, swept to power in Britain (which was relatively unaffected by disaster at first). It was dedicated to localism, but soon the disruption in the rest of the world led it to split into rival urban and rural segments. Life in large cities was disrupted by unreliable energy supplies, symbolised by the collapse of the City as lifts in office buildings worked only spasmodically. National government was displaced by local groups, increasingly armed. Conflicts over territory, food and resources escalated.

Robert Cooper, EU official

History, said Hegel, is the growing idea of freedom. In the 19th century, freedom came from the rule of law and the state. In this century, freedom will come from international law, but there is no international state. When Hegel wrote, the vital issues of the day--public health, workers' rights, education, the franchise--were problems brought by industrialisation. These were solved through the national state, which brought an identity for people dislocated from the country, a legal framework for industry, and solutions for the problems it created. In the 21st century, the new forms of communication have brought us a new world and we need a new constitutional form too. The big question is how to organise this world in which politics and identity are national, but we can survive and prosper only if we act internationally. It is fine to talk about "the international community," but who is it and how can it function?

Mark Cousins, film critic

By the end of the 21st century, politicians and the idea of the executive will have disappeared entirely. As everyone will be connected to some evolved form of the internet, all political decisions will be made by daily and weekly referendums. Right and left will still be underlying polarities, but will disperse into the hundreds of decisions a citizen will make annually. There will be no political class to pillory. Instead, the new dilemma will be how to delineate a constituency. By nation? Supranational region? Continent?

David Cox, writer and broadcaster

In the absence of ideological conflict, interest groups are likely to reclaim the political process as a means of pursuing advantage. The constituencies most likely to find themselves in significant contention are not represented by existing political organisations, so new formations and battlefronts are likely to emerge.

Age may become one important faultline. Young adults are being squeezed ever harder by their elders, who own most of the available wealth but expect their juniors to fund pensions and other privileges which they will not be able to enjoy in their turn. At the same time, the young are being bequeathed problems generated by their parents' self-indulgence, like climate change and under-resourced public services. These will further impoverish the relevant cohort and feed an appetite for redress.

In Germany and the US, inter-generational politics is already seen as a way of addressing such grievances--think of Americans for Generational Equity, which is now challenging what is often considered that country's most powerful pressure group, The Association of Retired Persons. These are likely to be imitated elsewhere, and to gain traction as the proportion of elderly citizens grows.

Diane Coyle, economist

Technocracy against democracy. There are already important areas of public policy being run by experts rather than elected politicians, and run better than they were when electoral pressure affected outcomes: monetary policy is the obvious example. But there is a tension here. On one hand, new technologies give us hyper-democracy, rapid and massive populist pressure online. On the other, cognitive science and empirical social science build up a more reliable evidence base for technocrats about how people take decisions and what their consequences will be in practice.

Will Davies, policy analyst

A new politics of autonomy has arrived. On the one hand, imperatives and strategies for reducing autonomy are growing by the day. Public services are increasingly coercive, where people refuse to act in a way that will increase their health or wealth. Rights are becoming housed in our bodies rather than our minds, as biometrics become the means of accessing services. On the other hand, we see an assembled group of autonomists--religious factions, businesses, libertarians, binge drinking hedonists--who assert their right to select a lifestyle. Set in contrast to biological and sociological expertise, the demands of these latter groups come to be appear irrational, quaint or plain wrong. The worry is that without any fundamental reason to respect individual and collective choices, democracy itself will become tarred with the same brush.

Tom de Castella, journalist

Economic liberalism and the supremacy of individual liberty may become a dead ideology in the face of climate change. The need to cut emissions will probably result in second world war-style carbon rationing. It will also have to be backed up by interventionist government policy and quite intrusive, Big Brother (Orwellian not Bazalgettian) policing of business and individual behaviour. So will laissez-faire politicians conform to the new consensus or fight the new rules? And how will individualists, criminal gangs and rogue states respond to the new collectivist orthodoxy?

Geoff Dench, sociologist

The environmental crises which loom in the 21st century--not just because of climate change but also the timebombs of population growth and resource depletion--will see a revival of "centre vs periphery" issues, in place of right vs left. On one hand we will see the development of technology strengthening cosmopolitan tendencies, in particular through the growing supranational organisation of science and the accreditation of scientific expertise. But on the other, there will be a resurgence of nationalism around politics, asserting the collective ownership of natural resources rather than individual rights in productive property.

Overall we could see a return to an international order not unlike that under European feudalism. Hierarchies of political units devoted to husbanding their own(ed) lands would look to the new church--"universalist science," probably in alliance with a number of re-oriented faith groups including Christianity and Buddhism--to secure the legitimacy and authority of their regimes, as protectors of the planet. Most political processes, both at global level and within smaller units, would be conducted by experts. And most political conflict would be between expert cosmopolitans, geared to the interests of larger communities, and locals. Democracy would be weak, as the causes supported by the largest numbers of individuals would often, and manifestly, not be those in the best interests of the planet.

Meghnad Desai, economist

Left/right, north/south, east/west are dead. Politics will be global and/or personal. What little the state will be asked to do--mainly local issues--it will fail to do. People will devise their own solutions, however imperfectly. They will move across borders and create the preconditions of a global polity, not as a behemoth but as a beehive.

Ronald Dore, economist

The salient political fact will be class rigidity, the attenuation of social mobility under the combined inheritance effects of money, culture and genes. "Right" and "left" opposed the self-interest of the orthodox rich against the sympathies of the upwardly mobile for those they had left behind, plus the conscience of the deviant rich. In the two-nations future, the conscience of the rich will be on its own.

Two centuries ago, in the first two-nation era, Thomas Arnold offered the conscientious rich a classic statement championing "fraternity through greater equality" against liberty. "Knowing full well that [people] are not equal in natural powers, [nor in] artificial advantages; one of the falsest maxims which ever pandered to human selfishness under the name of political wisdom [is that] civil society ought to leave its members alone, each to look after their several interests, provided they do not employ direct fraud or force against their neighbour".

Anthony Dworkin, Crimes of War

It is a fashionable illusion to suppose that the left/right distinction is obsolete. It remains the key ideological dividing line because it is not dependent on a particular set of social and political circumstances but is rooted in the central question of the purpose of collective public policy. Essentially, the left is more inclined to see the state as an enabling force that can improve the conditions and prospects of its citizens, while the right sees it more as a restrictive force that is best employed in preventing harm. Politics may be clustering in the centre, but differences of instinct and outlook remain important. Who can doubt that Gordon Brown and David Cameron, at heart, see the world in different ways?

The divide between these inclinations carries over to foreign policy. The left tends to see international politics as an arena for promoting development and wellbeing, while the right sees it more in terms of eliminating security threats or restrictions on trade. New issues like climate change or terrorism are not the exclusive preserve of left or right, but responses to them are likely to divide on recognisable left/right grounds. So although Iraq and questions of military intervention do not neatly map on to a left/right framework, there are clear differences between leftist interventionists (who emphasise universal values and human rights) and rightist ones (who emphasise security and the balance of power). There may be occasional coalitions that cut across the left/right dichotomy, but these won't represent any cohesive ideology or broader view of the role of public policy--while the categories of left and right will continue to do so.

David Edgerton, academic

I suppose we have learnt that in the 20th century, lots of different deep-seated beliefs and ambitions about nations, empires, races, science and technology were inflected through a left/right divide, without that divide being necessarily the fundamental

one. Indeed, there were pretty radical shifts in what was taken to be a leftist or rightist position over time. Still, in the world of ideas, the left/right divide helped generate structured debate and questioning throughout society about many things. People will continue to disagree on many important topics, but let us hope any overarching framework of the future isn't race or nation or religion. Fox vs hedgehogs; carnivores vs herbivores; even mods vs rockers would be preferable.

Brian Eno, musician

Interventionists vs laissez-faireists One of the big divisions of the future will be between those who believe in intervention as a moral duty and those who don't. This issue cuts across the left/right divide, as we saw in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. It asks us to consider whether we believe our way of doing things to be so superior that we must persuade others to follow it, or whether, on the other hand, we are prepared to watch as other countries pursue their own, often apparently flawed, paths. It will be a discussion between pluralists, who are prepared to tolerate the discomfort of diversity, and those who feel they know what the best system is and feel it is their moral duty to encourage it.

Globalists vs nationalists How prepared are we to allow national governments the freedom to make decisions which may not be in the interests of the rest of the world? With issues such as climate change becoming increasingly urgent, many people will begin arguing for a global system of government with the power to overrule specific national interests.

Communities of geography vs communities of choice At the same time, some people will feel less and less allegiance to "the nation," which will become an increasingly nebulous act of faith, and more allegiance to "communities of choice" which exist outside national identities and geographical restraints. We see the beginnings of this in transnational pressure groups such as Greenpeace, MoveOn and Amnesty International, but also in the choices that people now make about where they live, bank their money, get their healthcare and go on holiday.

Real life vs virtual life Some people will spend more and more of their time in virtual communities such as Second Life. They will claim that their communities represent the logical extension of citizen democracy. They will be ridiculed and opposed by "First Lifers," who will insist that reality with all its complications always trumps virtual reality, but the second-lifers in turn will insist that they live in a world of their own design and therefore are by definition more creative and free. This division will deepen and intensify, and will develop from just a cultural preference into a choice about how and where people spend their lives.

Life extension for all vs for some There will be an increasingly agonised division between those who feel that new life-extension technologies should be either available to those who can afford them or available to everyone. Life itself will the resource over which wars will be fought: the "have nots" will feel that there is a fundamental injustice in the possibility for some people to enjoy conspicuously longer and healthier lives because they happen to be richer.

Julian Evans, writer and critic

The next hundred years will be a battleground between spirit and technology. The imperialist reach of technology is already global in ways that large sections of humanity, not least Islamist extremists, are hostile to. But it is not just terrorists who will be against the west's technological and economic hegemony. Democratic citizens will voice increasing unease at an empire of innovation that dumps its products on every street and its garbage sacks in every corner of the planet. So political battle lines will be drawn between ideologies of spirit--expressed in everything from Islam and other religious faiths to eco-campaigning--and ideologies of technology, mostly in its economic formulations. One truism of the west is that we could all do with less. Somewhere in the psychological territory the two sides will be fighting for, there will be the warring instincts of those who believe we find our identity, as well as our deepest pleasure and harmony, in intimacy and relationships, with nature as much as each other, and of those who obtain their satisfactions in the desire-based, individualistic life-support systems sold to us by technology.

Duncan Fallowell writer

All future politics will be about survival, pure and simple. The mass migration from the hot to temperate regions has already begun. The battle between generosity and self-interest will be increasingly subject to collective panic attacks. Fear is already everywhere.

Catherine Fieschi, director, Demos

As an organisational blueprint for representational politics, the left/right dichotomy is probably dead. However, dismissing it on that basis is missing the point. Left and right are shortcuts but, beyond the revolutionary, partisan politics that gave rise to the terms, they reflect fundamentally different understandings of human nature and of how we can best hope to manage living together in the face of change.

This is not so much about progress as it is about the capacity of human beings to change. For the right, even the most enlightened right, solutions come from managing what is. At its best it is about compassion and responsibility. But the structures through which these operate are relatively fixed. A left-wing view of human nature is rooted not only in what is, but in what might be. It is about the belief in individuals not just to improve their circumstances but to change themselves and the very structures they inhabit. It's called emancipation. Our seeing the 21st century out rests on our capacity to affect human behaviour and human choice on a scale unseen before.

So understanding that such fundamental change is possible, how to encourage it, how to trigger it, is our main challenge. As the politics of identity continue to take centre-stage against a backdrop of increased resource scarcity, holding on to the conviction that our identities--and therefore our preferences and choices--are not predetermined is by no means outmoded.

Michael Fry, historian

The 21st century will be dominated by conflicts of the fit and the slack, the thin and the fat, the ascetic and the sybaritic.? This will be a re-run of the age-old conflict between those intent on doing what they want to do and those intent on forcing others to do what they don't want to do. In the 21st century this conflict will be fought out over the body.

Carlo Gébler, author

When I look around, I see great wells of poisonous fantasy and long lines of people, with politicians and the press at the head of the queue, drinking deep. There are, to be sure, sceptics urging us not to drink. They told us Blair was not a model of probity. They told us George W Bush was first elected in a bloodless coup d'etat. They told us Iraq had no WMDs. But nothing happened and our leaders just carried on.

The response to this will be a resurgent counter-culture operating through the internet, devoted to truth-telling and slaying those who urge us to drink lies. We will hear tirades from sceptics who want to demolish the preposterous claims of religious believers, and class politics will raise its unlovely head again. In addition there'll also be a lot of material from various experts; we'll have doctors and nurses demolishing medical lies, policemen demolishing police lies, and who knows, even journalists demolishing press lies.

All this information will, I believe, catalyse mini-revolutions in our western neoliberal democracies. Whether better societies will result is another matter. Past experience suggests probably not.

Tony Giddens, academic

"The future isn't what it used to be," George Burns once said. And he was right. This century we are peering over a precipice, and it's an awful long way down. We have unleashed forces into the world that it is not certain that we can control. We may have already done so much damage to the planet that by the end of the century people will live in a world ravaged by storms, with large areas flooded and others arid. But you have to add in nuclear proliferation, and new diseases that we might inadvertently created. Space might become thoroughly militarised. The emergence of mega-computers, allied to robotics, might at some point also create beings able to escape the clutches of their creators.

Against that, you could say that we haven't much clue what the future will bring, except it's bound to be things that we haven't even suspected. Twenty years ago, Bill Gates thought there was no future in the internet. The current century might turn out much more benign than scary.

As for politics, left and right aren't about to disappear--the metaphor is too strongly entrenched for that. My best guess about where politics will focus would be upon life itself. Life politics concerns the environment, lifestyle change, health, ageing, identity and technology. It may be a politics of survival, it may be a politics of hope, or perhaps a bit of both.

Todd Gitlin, sociologist

The coming cleavage is between zealots and realists. Zealots think the world will yield to their strenuous, righteous will. These include Islamists, utopian free traders, neoconservatives, purists of all stripes. Realists think that you work with the world you have, not the world you wish you had. Realists are often greyer, more lethargic. They look for non-zero-sum games, buildings constructed from crooked timbers. Zealots are, well, thrillingly zealous about their final solutions.

Charles Grant, EU analyst

The big divide of the 21st century will be between supporters of openness, globalisation and multilateralism, and partisans of introversion, protection and unilateralism. Do you welcome the competition and opportunity that comes with international capitalism, or do you want the state to constrain it for the sake of greater equity? This is not the old left-right divide. In most of Europe, far-right nationalists and the hard left oppose EU enlargement, the WTO trade round, more powers for supranational institutions, and mass immigration. Moderates of the left and right believe in international trade and investment, global governance and multiculturalism.

The apostles of openness are right that open economies grow faster and create the wealth that can be distributed to poorer citizens--or poorer countries--through various sorts of welfare. But the introverts have strong arguments too: the embrace of globalisation in countries such as Britain and America seems to require degrees of inequality and social stress that scare those who feel insecure. Continental "altermondialistes," socialists and nationalists argue that a state which limits immigration, imports and the freedom of multinationals to buy local companies is good for social cohesion. The same divisions are visible in the US, where populist Republicans and left-wing Democrats oppose international trade agreements and support economic nationalism. Britain is a partial exception to this big divide: all its mainstream parties favour an open economy. But the Conservatives remain virulently anti-EU, having failed to see--as have most continental parties--that the EU is an agent for globalisation.

John Gray, philosopher

In British politics the near-term prospect is the collapse of New Labour. Cameron's Tories have accepted the psephological imperative and constructed a new public philosophy to suit Lib Dem and Labour voters in marginal seats. At the same time a generational shift has taken place. The next general election will be held 30 years after Thatcher came to power and could be decided by voters not yet born when she was toppled. New Labour--a by-product of the Thatcher era--is an anachronism, and the political initiative is shifting inexorably from the centre left. But there are few signs of new thinking, and in foreign policy Britain will trail on behind the floundering American juggernaut.

Both ends of the political spectrum share a Fukuyama-like faith in the triumph of liberal democracy, though for the first time since the interwar era, authoritarian states are shaping the international system. Russia has re-emerged as an energy superpower and China continues to advance by ignoring western models. In the middle east, the Iraq war is fuelling Sunni-Shia antagonism. Rapid escalation to include Iran is the logic of events, with varieties of popular theocracy challenging the region's remaining secular regimes. In a pattern political thought has yet to grasp, resource war and intra-Islamic civilisational conflict are reshaping the global scene, while climate change moves to its next, irreversible stage.

Susan Greenberg, journalist

We all made fun of Donald Rumsfeld's "known knowns" and "unknowns." But it is a useful analytical framework. And the main faultline of the future will be between those who recognise when they don't know something, and those who cannot or will not. The best neuroscientists, for example, are those who acknowledge the limits to what they know about consciousness, and remain open to the insights that can be gained from a dialogue with philosophy or psychology. The best leaders are aware of unintended consequences.

Jonathan Heawood, director, PEN

The choice facing the next generation will not be between left and right, but between politics and non-politics. The consolation peddled by the left/right narrative was twofold: a) that life is an economic phenomenon, and b) that politicians have the tools and ability to manage this phenomenon. That story doesn't hold up any more, and politics has not yet come up with a satisfactory riposte to the growing attractions of religion, pressure groups, corporate brands, virtual reality and nihilist violence as cure-alls.

When economics was politics' "other," the choice politicians presented to the electorate was clear: whether and how far to regulate the free flow of capital and labour around the world. That political choice is redundant in almost all the world's democracies, as political parties downgrade their promises to manage globalisation.

Meanwhile, these alternative value-systems are making ever bigger and more persuasive offers to consumer-citizens. The choice for our children will not be which political option to follow, but whether to commit to the political process at all. Until politicians can find a way of framing the issues at stake--dignity, happiness, meaningfulness--and mapping a variety of coherent options for approaching them, the political system will continue to wither.

Ernst Hillebrand, director, FES London

Best candidate will be a conflict between a pro-globalisation "cosmopolitanism" and a more parochial attitude best labelled "anti-cosmopolitanism," invoking local, national and class solidarities and protectionist economic policies. What makes this divide a good succession candidate to left/right is its groundings in the political economy. What differentiates it from left/right is that it is not about capitalism per se, and the fact that the split cuts across established social classes.

We may also see the emergence of "liberal" cultural relativism vs cultural conservatism. The row over gay adoption in Britain might be a typical example. The imposition of liberal relativism may imply increasing social contradictions and a hefty dose of semi-authoritarian social engineering from above.

But let's not forget nationalism. While it may give way to a dominant "cosmopolitanism" and cultural relativism in the west, nationalism will still be the dominant ideological force in the rest of the world; a crucial instrument to steer the societies of the "emerging powers" in Asia and Latin America through massive economic and social transformations.

Donald Hirsch, writer

The late 20th century saw a battle between the role of collective action and individual self-interest. To a large extent, individualism won. Today's "progressive" politics speaks of community, but lacks the will to act together as a community, using the state or other collective measures to make fundamental changes to society. Interestingly, a new "equalities" agenda speaks not of economic restructuring or solidarity, but of individual rights. Ironically, in some cases this is creating not mutual respect and togetherness, but rifts between different groups asserting their rights in different ways--Christian freedom of conscience vs gay freedom of action, for example.

It must be too early to tell what political lines of cleavage--if any--will emerge from the death of state-sponsored social solidarity. We have long lived with a left that combines a generalised belief in collective action with an assertion of political and social rights for individuals, and with a right that asks the state to withdraw economically but has an authoritarian streak on social matters. With parties stealing each other's clothes in each of these four domains, who can tell whether ideological order will emerge from the confusion? I suspect it will not, and activists, governments and many voters will continue to perceive themselves as left or right according to age-old proclivities. The failure of governments to live up to those labels will cause activists to cry betrayal as loudly as they have always done.

Eric Hobsbawm, historian

None of the major problems facing humanity in the 21st century can be solved by the principles that still dominate the developed countries of the west: unlimited economic growth and technical progress, the ideal of individual autonomy, freedom of choice, electoral democracy. As is evident in the case of the environmental crisis, facing these problems will require in practice regulation by institutions, in theory a revision of both the current political rhetoric and even the more reputable intellectual constructions of liberalism. The question is can this be done within the framework of the rationalist, secularist and civilised tradition of the Enlightenment. As for left vs right, it will plainly remain central in an era which is increasing the gap between haves and have-nots. However, today the danger is that this struggle is being subsumed in the irrationalist mobilisations of ethnic or religious or other group identity.

Gerald Holtham, economist

The new alignment will combine social conservatives and egalitarians on the one hand, uniting under the banner of patriotism and responsibility to fellow citizens and supported by the votes of the less competitive. They will be opposed by meritocrats and libertarians backed by big business. The clash between the politics of identity and the politics of money will become explicit. At present the strains are contained because globalisation, although it is eroding community, is delivering prosperity. But this is unstable. By vastly increasing the supply of labour to the world economy, globalisation has led to an increase in profit share and a decline in the wage share in all industrialised countries. In the emerging economies of Asia, it has created 19th-century conditions where profits and investment can account for 50 per cent of GDP. In the west, while wage incomes have not kept up, consumption has, thanks to an explosion of consumer debt. Neither investment nor consumer debt can indefinitely grow faster than GDP without a slump. When the slump comes, alliances will reform on nationalist vs globalist lines.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, scientist

Global and national politics will turn simple and Hobbesian in 50-70 years. In the interim, energy hunger will drive the US and European countries to squeeze out, and steal, the last drops of oil from under Muslim sands. As bridges between Islam and the west collapse, expect global civil war and triumphant neo-Talibanic movements circling the globe. Should a few western capitals be levelled, Muslim capitals will be randomly nuked in retaliation. The old planetary order is condemned to die. But the human spirit may yet prevail, and a new and better one may emerge.

Chris Huhne, politician

We are moving rapidly from a politics of class to a politics of attitude. The new cleavage will be on how we handle the big threats to human civilisation: global warming, terrorism, social solidarity, opportunity. Liberals will put the individual's rights and life chances at the centre of politics--as Benjamin Franklin said, any free people who trade their security for their freedom deserve neither. Liberals will stress choice in reacting to the need to curb carbon emissions: not regulatory decisions but carbon prices and taxes. By contrast, authoritarians will stress obligations to the community and the state, arguing that no one who is innocent need fear ID cards or Big Brother.

Nicholas Humphrey, scientist

How can anyone doubt that the faultline is going to be religion? On one side there will be those who continue to appeal for their political and moral values to what they understand to be God's will. On the other there will be the atheists, agnostics and scientific materialists, who see human lives as being under human control, subject only to the relatively negotiable constraints of our evolved psychology. What makes the outcome uncertain is that our evolved psychology almost certainly leans us towards religion, as an essential defence against the terror of death and meaninglessness.

Will Hutton, journalist

The key argument in the decades ahead will be between moral fundamentalists, animated by faith or nationalism or some combination of both, and Enlightenment liberals. This is already the battle line in the US, but there are echoes in Europe. This fundamentalism was at the core of the argument over the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands, has haunted Spanish politics since the end of Franco and is emerging in Britain with an incipient English nationalism while Scottish nationalism becomes the dominant force in Scottish politics. In Poland faith and nationalism have fused to give one of the ugliest internal debates in Europe.

The moral fundamentalists are ideological magpies. They are often quite ready to back protectionist economic policies, high public spending and strong welfare support, especially for the so-called deserving poor. They are even anti-business, especially if it is global; they distrust globalisation. More conventionally, they are passionate believers in the family, nation and enemies of multiculturalism, portrayed as privileging foreign minority cultures over the dominant host community. They are instinctive censors and are anti-science. They distrust gender equality, and believe in traditional sex roles. They are on the march everywhere.

Enlightenment liberals have been unsure how to respond. Some have tried to create alliances with the moral fundamentalists on issues like the family or multiculturalism, only to find that although there may be some agreement over tactics and means, there is a profound cleavage over ends. This attempt at unsuccessfully forming alliances with the new fundamentalists is arguably part of the story of New Labour.

More recently, I detect signs of a growing recognition that those of us who believe in Enlightenment values have got to fight back--assert what we believe and stop making concessions or attempted alliances with the intolerant fundamentalists. This is certainly beginning to happen in the US, with the growing readiness to take on the religious right. In Britain there has been an encouraging affirmation of Enlightenment principles before a coalition of faith communities insisting that conscience should trump equality over gay adoption; the Enlightenment view prevailed. Confronting rising English and Scottish nationalism may prove more problematic. All over the globe--China, Iran, Japan, Venezuela, the US, France, Poland. Russia--there are politicians putting themselves at the head of nationalist movements appealing to "volk," "the mother or fatherland," and the primacy of ethnic, cultural and blood affinities. Insisting on tolerance, the rule of law, equality, liberty, rationalism, science, solidarity, pluralism and human rights before this rising movement is the battle of our times. It is a battle that may prove

harder to win than the 20th-century victory over fascism and communism.

Michael Ignatieff, politician

Everything that happens to us will be unexpected. There is no reason to be discouraged about this. Practical political life is the art of managing the unexpected, just as life itself is a matter of rising to the occasion.?

Pico Iyer, writer

The battle between left and right has long been eclipsed by the much more urgent debate between future and past--between, on one hand, those who hold, as the old have always done, that wisdom lies in tradition, community, continuity, and on the other, those who are convinced that transformation lies just around the corner, in whatever we come up with tomorrow. It is this division, between tenses more than civilisations, that has already put Europe in a different camp from America, and linked Syria, or even France, say, to Venezuela. It is this overarching conflict that has left China and Japan not sure which direction they're moving in. And it is this contest that has not just set technology against the claims of religion, but asked all of us how much we will listen to Silicon Valley, and how much to Jerusalem. The conflict between old and new is far deeper and graver than just the dialogue between the Islamic world and the secular west. What will divide and therefore define the century now dawning is the quarrel between those who are committed to change and those who root themselves in the changeless.

Simon Jenkins, journalist

Left vs right will be replaced by a clash of interest groups and bureaucracies. It will manifest itself in battles between tiers of government: global, regional, national and local. While the more public struggle will be within the UN, the EU and other regional bodies, the daily round of politics will pit central governments against provincial and local. The sophisticated anonymity of the electronic village will be balanced by a more active and angry local village. A wealthier, more leisured population will be less inclined to accept top-down authority. Deciding how far they can truly govern themselves will determine the success or failure of the new politics.

Josef Joffe, editor, "Die Zeit"

Samuel Huntington was right: "Islam has bloody borders," and those borders are not just those of Gaza, south Lebanon, Chechnya or Kashmir. They are also within Islam (see Iraq) and the west--in the inner and outer cities of Paris, Amsterdam, London, Berlin and Rome. And western liberalism is trapped in its own sacred traditions: how to integrate, assimilate or fight the enemy within while remembering our horrifying history of colonialism and racism and honouring our liberal values.

Alan Johnson, political scientist

The future of progressive politics lies in a ten-syllable word: antitotalitarianism. The left vs right political division will be overlaid with another: democracy vs totalitarianism. A critical openness to modernity and plurality will pit itself against traditionalist closure. In a radically changed world, many have backed themselves into an incoherent and negativist "anti-imperialist" corner, losing touch with democratic, egalitarian and humane values. In the 21st century, democrats will be guided by a positive animating ethic: the great rallying calls of the democratic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. Those precious liberal ideas were rendered the inheritance of all by the social democratic, anti-colonial, feminist and egalitarian revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries. But they were preserved for our times by the antitotalitarians--from Albert Camus to Kanan Makiya--who exposed and opposed the totalitarian temptation.

Radical Islamism is today's totalitarianism. To resist its anti-modernism, irrationalism, fear of freedom, loathing of women, and cult of master-slave human relations, we progressives will be forced to drop our knowing irony, drop our 1960s-vintage occidentalism, and become partisans and artisans of a liberal and antitotalitarian fighting faith. As we seek modes of realisation of our animating ethic through practical reform efforts to make poverty and tyranny history, we will defeat what Paul Berman has called "the totalitarian mindset."

RW Johnson, writer

The big question Prospect Magazine