Life has improved dramatically over the past few centuries, for almost everyone, everywhere. We live longer, are increasingly well-educated, and enjoy unparalleled access to fresh water, food, energy, and resources. We live in a time of abundance, unmatched throughout the course of human history.
And yet, it is said that we are in the age of the “permacrisis”. The age of decline, scarcity, and alarming futures. Our people feel destabilised, anxious, and vulnerable. Our democracy is fragile. “Westlessness” is what some columnists call it. We have lost our confidence and are unsure about the merits of the foundations on which we stand.
Nobody is providing viable answers to the challenges we face. We are at a critical turning point but too often in public life we focus on technocratic solutions, not foundational questions. We’ve spent our time focusing so rigidly on the what, that we’ve lost any sense of the why.
It’s time for us to tell a better story about who we are, and what we stand for.
The Alliance for Responsible Citizenship will host our inaugural conference in London at the end of October. We’ll be bringing together hundreds of policymakers and thinkers from around the world to seek a better vision for the way forward. Speakers at the Conference include not only significant political leaders from across the Anglosphere and Europe, but also some of the world’s top public intellectuals from historians such as Tom Holland and Niall Ferguson to psychologists ranging from Jonathan Haidt and Erica Komisar to Jordan Peterson. They will be helping us to make the case for our way of life, and to articulate a positive vision of our values.
Our central theme is asking what it will take to reinvigorate a hope-filled vision in an age of permacrisis and declinism. Is it possible to find a better story? Our ideology has been shaped by previous generations, but our connection to its origins is breaking down at speed. We must remember who we are. By drawing on our classical, liberal, and Judeo-Christian roots, we will find a new vision for human flourishing.
Consider, for instance, the family. Too often, we overlook its value. And yet family is our first connection in life and often our last. According to the evidence, there is no better model than the family for our core human relationships. But policymakers and the media have forgotten its central role in providing identity, stability, and responsibility.
The last 200 years have been filled with astonishing innovation and creativity, thanks to the power of free markets. Liberal democracies have been sustained. But we need a better story for business, and the role that enterprise has played in society. This must, in part, involve addressing current issues – from the growing monopolies of big tech firms to the failure to provide opportunities to those who feel left behind.
At the heart of our endeavour, is this simple belief: we have an enormous amount to be grateful for in our heritage. An economic system which encourages creativity and fosters abundance, a legal system which starts with the presumption of innocence and guarantees a fair trial, a press which is free to tell the truth, democratic accountability and feedback loops, a virtue and value set which encourages integrity, humility, decency and honesty.
Looking forward, will we be able to build on the rich legacy we have inherited? We are at a civilisational moment – our universities teach critique but not how to build, and the younger generation is in danger of inadvertently throwing aside its inheritance. We are failing to pass down the fundamental principles which have animated the spirit of democratic capitalism for generations. Meanwhile, the liberal democratic model’s legitimacy depends on the economic model continuing to promote just outcomes. A failure to hear the cries of the left behind is driving discontent, polarisation, and a decline in institutional trust.
Ultimately, a flower detached from its roots may be sustained for a period, but it will eventually wither, and die. The world cannot afford the decline of the West. This is the moment to relay our foundations and deeply interrogate the value of our inheritance. This is the moment to remember who we are and tell a better story.
Baroness Stroud is chief executive of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship