Why We Need to Reinvent Democracy (BBC)


“The origin of civil government,” wrote David Hume in 1739, is that “men are not able radically to cure, either in themselves or others, that narrowness of soul, which makes them prefer the present to the remote.” The Scottish philosopher was convinced that the institutions of government – such as political representatives and parliamentary debates – would serve to temper our impulsive and selfish desires, and foster society’s long-term interests and welfare.

Today Hume’s view appears little more than wishful thinking, since it is so startlingly clear that our political systems have become a cause of rampant short-termism rather than a cure for it. Many politicians can barely see beyond the next election, and dance to the tune of the latest opinion poll or tweet. Governments typically prefer quick fixes, such as putting more criminals behind bars rather than dealing with the deeper social and economic causes of crime. Nations bicker around international conference tables, focused on their near-term interests, while the planet burns and species disappear.

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