“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts,” said senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 20th century. If that were ever true, it is not now, as Jamie Susskind shows in this superb and necessary book. Highly unusually, Susskind, a young British lawyer, combines knowledge of technology with knowledge of political theory. He is as comfortable discussing Athenian democracy as the moral problems of having “sex” with a virtual child. His breadth of knowledge allows him to avoid replacing techno-utopianism with fashionable dystopianism, and gives us a work that emphasises that the future depends not just on technical advance but on political choices.
The tone of this book is as refreshing as the originality of insight. Susskind contends that “that there are causes for both optimism and pessimism, but what the future requires above all is vigilance”.
This approach, alone, commends this book to any reader eager to understand the new reckoning between technology, the state and the individual.... Some argue that it is too late. That our road to serfdom, at the mercy of the grind of technology, is inevitable. I profoundly disagree. However, to be a match for these realities, as Weber demands, requires new philosophies. Any citizen eager to be part of that debate should read this book.
If Future Politics focused only on the power of tech giants it would be a useful book covering familiar ground. But Susskind’s ambition is far greater... At the very least, it is an impressive feat of intellectual organisation... Without the colourful interludes Future Politics would be a harder book to read, but still an important one. It doesn’t contain many prescriptions... Who can blame him? It is mind-boggling enough just to contemplate the vastness of the challenge. To have written it all down so lucidly, engagingly and succinctly is a formidable achievement.
The book’s shortcoming is that it is a bit too general and theoretical. I don’t think we should take, as Susskind seems to, the current control of the internet by a few giant monopolies as a given. In the name of competition they should be broken up — this has happened in the past. But, in fairness, Susskind acknowledges that specific prophecies are almost always wrong.
His writing is clear and precise; he is a lawyer, he is making a case. Irritatingly, he puts in too many (one would be too many) cheeky-chappy asides such as, “At last, someone has found a use for spinach.” But, on the whole, he steers a course to the future that is as convincing as it is shocking. We can fix this, is his message, but there is also the nagging sense that we probably won’t.
Susskind's prose reads like an elongated Ted talk: the blindingly obvious is laid out as if it's newfound wisdom and he peppers the text with quotations from great men and women that smack of motivational speaking... Still, he has tremendous talent and the book is very readable – and its ability to pull together so much gives it the quality of a textbook, to which we may return in the future to see if he got it all right.