Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis: Geoff Mulgan Proposes a Constructive Direction for Politics and Policy after Brexit and Trump

Andrew Young — March 09, 2017

In a new essay on the Nesta blog, Geoff Mulgan proposes a theory aimed at providing a “constructive direction for politics and policy after Brexit and Trump.” The piece seeks to provide a blueprint for better understanding the opposing forces currently at play (i.e., the remnants of previous political order vs. the current, often populist shocks upending the system) and articulating a plausible, more broadly beneficial path forward across domains like health, education and democracy itself.

Mulgan begins his essay by referencing Francis Fukuyama’s theory about how the end of the Cold War (and the triumph of liberal democracy and the free market”) marked the “end of history.” Fukuyama’s proposition builds on the philosophy Georg Hegel. Mulgan similarly draws on the Hegelian tradition to understand our current global geopolitical moment:

“Now, following the political convulsions of 2016, we’re at a very different turning point, which many are trying to make sense of. I want to suggest that we can again usefully turn to Hegel, but this time to his idea that history evolves in dialectical ways, with successive phases of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

This framework fits well with where we stand today.  The ‘thesis’ that has dominated mainstream politics for the last generation – and continues to be articulated shrilly by many proponents – is the claim that the combination of globalisation, technological progress and liberalisation empowers the great majority.

The antithesis, which, in part, fuelled the votes for Brexit and Trump, as well as the rise of populist parties and populist authoritarian leaders in Europe and beyond, is the argument that this technocratic combination merely empowers a minority and disempowers the majority of citizens.

A more progressive synthesis - which I will outline - then has to address the flaws of the thesis and the grievances of the antithesis, in fields ranging from education and health to democracy and migration, dealing head on with questions of power and its distribution: questions about who has power, and who feels powerful.”

Read more here.