Given the return of Great Power Competition, could democratic governments have been better at anticipatory policymaking? Have weapons of mass distraction diverted attention from the persistent challenge of war? To what extent has a self-referential fascination with ourselves, our universalism and challenges to it from within (like radicalisation) diminished our ability to read the prevailing winds of how most states read the world? Have the twin conceits of cultural narcissism and presentism diminished the ability of major democracies to navigate a volatile world? If lessons are learned from the false futurism of the past, there are ways in which a more robust capability could be fostered in government. To do so, we need to revalorise concepts of biography, radical uncertainty and longitudinal policy-making – none of which are fashionable or prioritised.
Alexander Evans is a Professor in Practice in Public Policy at the London School of Economics.