“Attention is power,” the fictional cable TV host Roy McCoy tells his studio guest, Greek philosopher Plato, in an interview imagined by writer Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in her new book. Plato at the Googleplex connects the timeless wisdom of the ancients to the shortcomings of modern political culture, applying Plato’s questioning methods to the 21st century’s digital media-driven, appeal-to-your-tribe brand of politics.

The old still has something to tell us about the new.

This summer’s reading issue is an antidote to our culture’s impulse to constantly hit ”refresh.” The book excerpts in our collection are rooted in either what is new and must be noted or what is old but still relevant. Simon Head (Mindless) warns us to beware of the rise of data-driven management that threatens our ways of working, and Glenn Greenwald (No Place to Hide) points out the perils of ubiquitous digital surveillance. Bruce Jones (Still Ours to Lead) counters the school that sees American power in decline, and Robert Kaplan (Asia’s Cauldron) paints the competition in Asia as an old-fashioned nationalist struggle for economic power rather than a clash of new ideas. Each of these books carries insights for policy-makers wondering where we’re headed.

Some of the selections describe the state of our democracy. Excerpts from Miser sur l’égalité, a collection of articles edited by Alain Noël and Miriam Fahmy, discuss the worrying impact of inequality on democracy and the environment. Joseph Heath (Enlightenment 2.0) lays out the case for a more thoughtful politics that allows our rational minds to counter the unenlightened politics of intuition.

Even Karl Marx, another old-timer, may still have something to say about our current state. As global capitalism struggles to regain its footing as the unchallenged master of the planet, Marxist thought — once in full retreat from the failures of central planning and the totalitarian horrors committed in its name during the 20th century — is enjoying a bit of a revival. As Benjamin Kunkel argues in Utopia or Bust, Marx’s perspective may offer the best vantage for contemplating why capitalism finds itself under duress (even if Marxism as an ideology is hardly poised to provide ready answers to replace it). The distance between old and new is less than we might imagine.

Bruce Wallace
Bruce Wallace was appointed editor of Policy Options magazine, the IRPP's flagship publication, in August 2012. A native of Montreal, he was Tokyo bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times from 2004 to 2008, after which he became that newspaper's foreign editor. Over a long career in journalism he has reported from across Canada and around the world, covering wars, elections, economics and three Olympic Games. He has worked outside Canada for 16 of the last 19 years, so he has a good understanding of the global economic, political and security currents that affect Canadian public policy.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License