Hamish McRae. The World in 2020, Power, Culture and Prosperity: A Vision of the Future. London: HarperCollins, 1995. xiii + 302 pp. 7.99 [pounds sterling].
THROUGH TIME, two antagonistic predictions of the future, Millennium and Apocalypse, have been common, and with the approach of the twenty-first century they have gained added prominence. The authors of these three looks at the near future are not much interested in such spectacular eschatologies but seek to show instead reasonable paths between them that will provide a basis for continuing, earthly, human development. They have in common a concern that past actions have brought the world today to a time of overwhelming changes that offer almost equal opportunities for disaster and good fortune in a future very different from the past. All three suggest means for achieving the latter, but, in varying degrees, they are unsure how successful such efforts will be.
Some forty years ago Frederik Polak proposed what might almost be a rubric for those who try to envision tomorrow's world: "Poised on the dividing line between past and future is man [sic], the unique bearer and transformer of culture" (The Image of the Future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1973, 1). In this light, history, the past--however viewed--is the story of human efforts to find a way to control the future. Whether such efforts have been successful is always in the eye of the beholder, but utopian writers have been especially eager to try.
"Every utopia," wrote Paul Tillich, "is an anticipation of human fulfillment, and many things anticipated in utopias have been shown to be real possibilities" ("Critique and Justification of Utopia." Utopias and Utopian Thought. Ed. Frank E. Manuel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966, 297). At least since Mercier, utopias have often been placed in the future. A relative few writers (e.g., Robinson, Wellman, Wooldridge) describe in detail how the utopia was brought about, but the usual pattern is to respond to the traditional visitor's questions in a perfunctory manner, often reeking of a kind of scorn/surprise that any such question would need to be asked (e.g., Bellamy, Hudson, Morris). The three writers here considered do not presume to call the future they project utopian, but their work reflects the same stage-by-stage process used by the former group.
All three begin with where we are today and examine the past as prelude to both the present and the future, but there are basic differences in their approaches. Dyson writes as a physicist who understands the enormous strides of science and technology in recent years and imagines even greater progress in the future. McRae, a financial journalist, examines the economic and political forces that have brought us to our present situation and projects their possible effects in the near future. De Santis portrays the broad sweep of human development since the earliest civilizations and proposes a path that avoids falling back into darkness and leads instead to a brighter tomorrow. In the end, they come remarkably close to Condorcet's view: "Our hopes for...
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