The Future & Its Enemies

The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress

The Future & Its Enemies
"the best book for rescuing the country from a ruinous itch for tidiness"
-- George Will, March 2012

"Today’s digital economy is the manifestation of Postrel’s dynamist ethos: innovation and abundance born of complex messiness."
-- Adam Thierer, August 2013

Today we have greater wealth, health, opportunity, and choice than at any time in history - the fruits of human ingenuity, curiosity, and perseverance. Yet a chorus of intellectuals and politicians loudly laments our condition. Technology, they say, enslaves us. Economic change makes us insecure. Popular culture coarsens and brutalizes us. Consumerism despoils the environment. The future, they say, is dangerously out of control, and unless we rein in these forces of change and guide them closely, we risk disaster.

In The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress,first published in November 1998, Virginia Postrel explodes this myth, embarking on a bold exploration of how progress really occurs. In areas of endeavor ranging from fashion to fisheries, from movies to medicine, from contact lenses to computers, she shows how and why unplanned, open-ended trial and error - not conformity to one central vision - is the key to human betterment. Thus, the true enemies of humanity's future are those who insist on prescribing outcomes in advance, circumventing the process of competition and experiment in favor of their own preconceptions and prejudices.

Postrel argues that these conflicting views of progress, rather than the traditional left and right, increasingly define our political and cultural debate. On one side, she identifies a collection of strange bedfellows: Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader standing shoulder to shoulder against international trade; "right-wing" nativists and "left-wing" environmentalists opposing immigration; traditionalists and technocrats denouncing Wal-Mart, biotechnology, the Internet, and suburban "sprawl." Some prefer a pre-industrial past, while others envision a bureaucratically engineered future, but all share a devotion to what she calls "stasis," a controlled, uniform society that changes only with permission from some central authority.

On the other side is an emerging coalition in support of what Postrel calls "dynamism": an open-ended society where creativity and enterprise, operating under predictable rules, generate progress in unpredictable ways. Dynamists are united not by a single political agenda but by an appreciation for such complex evolutionary processes as scientific inquiry, market competition, artistic development, and technological invention. Entrepreneurs and artists, scientists and legal theorists, cultural analysts and computer programmers, dynamists are, says Postrel, "the party of life."

The Future and Its Enemies is a vigorous manifesto for the dynamist world view, as well as a penetrating analysis of how our beliefs about personal knowledge, nature, virtue, and even the relation between work and play shape the way we run our businesses, make public policy, and search for truth and beauty. Controversial and provocative, Virginia Postrel's thesis heralds a fundamental shift in the way we view politics, culture, and society as we face an unknown—and thus invigorating—future.