How Political Imagination Could Address Democracy's Challenges



Why a Philosophy of History in Which the Present Moment Is World-Altering is Not Hubris and Is Politically Necessary
The Democracy Papers


Nancy Rosenblum, the Senator Joseph Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government at Harvard University, argues that addressing the recent pessimism and doubt about the effectiveness of democracies requires an expansion of our political imagination.

The author sketches out three 'world-altering challenges' that are unique to advanced democracies in the early part of the 21st century:

  • The burden of 'Political time': a) the disconnect between the speed of democratic decision-making and the occasional need for rapid, energetic action and b) the greater-than-ever need for long-term planning against the short-term focus of the 'permanent campaign'.
  • Economic globalisation: the immense wealth-making and wealth-preserving power of 'concentrated corporate forces that supply the lifeblood of modern life' overwhelm government's capacity to regulate, control and tax them.
  • The rise and rise of the national security state: the ever-increasing claim of resources and power by defence and security agencies throughout the world appears invulnerable to parliaments and legislatures.

Rosenblum argues that facing these challenges requires an optimism and confidence in both ourselves and our governments that we fail to posses at the moment. Turning to Kant, she calls for a 'philosophy of history' that asks leaders and citizens alike to see the present moment as an historic turning point and to 'see ourselves as agents not just objects of history'.

Without such a shift in our political imagination, we will continue to be burdened by a 'confidence gap that resists all active policy, despairs of political agency, and finally hollows out our democracy'.


Thumbnail image: Health blog/Flickr


Nancy Rosenblum

Harvard University

Published Date
May 30, 2014