Does the digital age make us more free?

Do you still believe in that digital utopia that internet available to everyone would mean the end of totalitarianisms and that each individual would have more freedom against the State…?

I’m afraid not.

The pandemic has helped us to realize that states have never had so much power and so much technology and means to exercise it.

For the common good?

The evidence is that the states – democratic or not – have been able to confine, through coercion and surveillance, millions of citizens – whether we want it or not – day and night for months “for our own good”.

Don’t you think it was worse in China?

In China, it has been shown that the internet has not put an end to the Leviathan State and totalitarianisms, as the delusional believed in the 90s, but that it is a State strengthened by its mastery of technology to dominate us.

What has the digital age achieved?

The digital world is no longer divided between totalitarian and democratic states as in the Cold War. Everything is more diffuse.

Neither democracies nor totalitarianisms are as much as you think or what they were?

Nor are there communist parties in Western democracies, as there were in the Cold War, supporting the Soviet Union or China with their votes.

Why is everything more diffuse?

Because China, the rival in the new cold war, is no longer totalitarian, but authoritarian.

Define “authoritarian”.

Well, it’s not a democracy at all, but it does have market freedom and any Chinese can leave the country whenever they want.

My neighborhood is full of working Chinese.

On the other hand, no one could leave the Soviet Union no matter how much they wanted.

And if you crossed the wall they would shoot you.

You only have to take a train to Shanghai to see that they have improved people’s lives. And it’s not that I’m pro-Chinese: I just note that China is not the USSR.

But there is one mandatory match.

And if there was a war and China invaded Taiwan, all this fuzzy division between them and us today would suddenly end and there would only be one huge Chinese prison. But now, in fact, our democracies resemble China more than we think.

In what?

China today is as technocratic as our democracies. Here and there they command specialists who are under the orders of politicians. But the Chinese are more pragmatic…

In what sense?

Our politicians are ordered by the bankers and financiers; Chinese politicians, on the other hand, are commanded by engineers. In our democracies those who really rule are the central bankers, private bankers, economists, financiers…

Don’t Chinese politicians rule with money in mind?

It is part of the power equation, but not the decisive one. They think of bridges, trains, roads, houses… China in many ways is still a big factory. For good and for bad.

Today the Chinese say that the ideological struggle of other times is now technological.

And who will win it? Those who make and sell things or those who make and sell debt to buy them? Who will have the logic of force in their favor to impose the other?

Can there be democracy without money to finance it?

Everyone talks about democracy, but in reality its globalization is much more recent than that of the nation state. And it is successful in a more fragile world than the institution of the nation state, which is already unquestionable in the world.

Is the State, an unquestioned universal institution, in better health than democracy?

The states of the 21st century are formidable machines that are increasingly powerful and, in effect, accepted as the only possible way to organize ourselves, to force people to do what they do not want. Will we still be democracies 50 years from now? I do not know…

Don’t scare us.

But I am sure we will continue to be nation states. For this reason, the independence of Scotland would have changed the United Kingdom more – if it had been reformed from top to bottom – than Brexit has changed it.


Because British institutions do not work and Brexit has only reinforced the falsehood that they do serve. They are anachronistic.

You are a viscount political scientist…

I have inherited a noble title without doing anything to deserve it, if it is merit at all.

So why does he keep it?

I only inherit a man who amassed political and financial power. And with it he bought a hereditary symbolic power.

Did you know how to choose your family at birth?

There are still inherited powers here: this is still Great Britain.