Regular readers of this blog, as well as followers of my Twitter and Reader feeds, will know that for many months, I have been obsessed by the British general election. Earlier this week, my friend and True/Slant blogger Ethan Epstein chastised American journalists for over-hyping this story at the expense of more significant elections, like the August ouster of the Liberal Democrats in Japan.
To be sure, in their domestic political contexts, the recent Japanese or (I might add) Chilean elections were milestones that deserved better treatment from the media. But from the perspective of U.S. media outlets concerned primarily with American foreign policy, the British election carries weight.
There is, admittedly, another reason I have been entranced by this campaign: it encapsulated the tension I have been whining about on this blog for over a year between institutionalism and individualism.The dichotomy appears most clearly in the talks the two candidates gave at the TED conferences. In February, Cameron painted a picture of the web as a libertarian paradise, where individuals can get an education or build a business or track criminals all by themselves. With such tools, he concludes, who needs governments? That is the common view among many of the digirati, even though most of them lean left, and the reason that I worry about the future of institutionalism in the digital age. Brown’s speech last summer, however, helped me see a route out of this. His vision of the web is as an institution builder, a tool that draws us OUT of our bubbles to engage with our communities and our government and to deepen our humanitarian resolve. It’s not a complete vision, but it’s something institutionalists need to take to heart and start working from.