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The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, [Kindle Edition]

Virginia Postrel
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Today we have greater wealth, health, opportunity, and choice than at any time in history. Yet a chorus of intellectuals and politicians laments our current condition -- as slaves to technology, coarsened by popular culture, and insecure in the face of economic change. The future, they tell us, is dangerously out of control, and unless we precisely govern the forces of change, we risk disaster.

In The Future and Its Enemies, Virginia Postrel explodes the myths behind these claims. Using examples that range from medicine to fashion, she explores how progress truly occurs and demonstrates that human betterment depends not on conformity to one central vision but on creativity and decentralized, open-ended trial and error. She argues that these two opposing world-views -- "stasis" vs. "dynamism" -- are replacing "left" and "right" to define our cultural and political debate as we enter the next century.

In this bold exploration of how civilizations learn, Postrel heralds a fundamental shift in the way we view politics, culture, technology, and society as we face an unknown -- and invigorating -- future.

Editorial Reviews Review

Virginia Postrel smashes conventional political boundaries in this libertarian manifesto. World-views should be defined not by how they view the present, she says, but the future. Do they aim to control it, as many conservative reactionaries and liberal planners want to do? Or do they embrace it, even though they can't know what lies ahead? Postrel (editor of Reason magazine) firmly places herself in this latter category--the dynamists, she calls her happy tribe--and urges the rest of us to sign up. The future of economic prosperity, technological progress, and cultural innovation depends upon embracing principles of choice and competition. The downside of this philosophy, Postrel readily notes, is that it doesn't allow us to manage tomorrow by acting today. And that's exactly the point: we shouldn't want to. A future constructed by an infinite number of individual decisions, made privately, is one she believes we should encourage. The Future and Its Enemies is at once intellectually sweeping and reader-friendly; it has the potential to join a pantheon of books about freedom that includes works by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. --John J. Miller

From Library Journal

Postrel, editor of Reason magazine, believes that conflict between stasists (who urge control and favor the status quo) and dynamists will shape the future. In her opinion, the greatest threats to the future are efforts to shape it in advance. She believes in minimal controls, those necessary to create a framework for cooperation in which private property is respected. The topics she covers include technology, the environment, and urban planning. Postrel criticizes those who strive to re-create a simpler past or to thwart competition; specifically, she opposes William Greider (One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, LJ 1/97), who sees footloose capitalism as a danger. Her defense of the right to experiment is convincing, but it goes too far: Postrel seems to believe the status quo should yield to any proposal for change, ignoring the rights of people to enjoy the results of their own successful experiments. Nevertheless, her book is recommended as a thought-provoking look at an important subject.?A.J. Sobczak, formerly with California State Univ., Northridge
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 569 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0684862697
  • Publisher: Free Press (May 10, 2011)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004U7GX0U
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,299 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
...not even about Liberal vs. Conservative. Everyone seems to want change. Postrel make the convincing argument that the battle is really between those who demand central control and a pre-planned future vs. those who are willing to let the future evolve in a many time unexpected way. Essentially it's an age old debate - almighty wisdom vs. evolution.... It's authority (whether it be religion or the state) versus freedom of choice (whether it be the markets or experimentation). Postrel delineates the battle ground with a variety of examples...both contemporary and historic.
The book offers insights into the potential of creativity breaking out from the traditional command and control mentality. As a former urban planner, I was particularly enlightened by her examples as they relate to a changing urban scape.
Overall, this is a ground breaking book that links a number of guru management ideas, politics, science and economic thought....the kind of cross-disciplinary analysis that opens up new ways to more objectively view the world. The Future and Its Enemies is a worthwhile read that will help the reader understand the real underlying dichotomy and debate ("the paradigm" which is a term that Postrel gratfully doesn't use) that defines how politicians and others react to a wide variety of contentious debates. Now the reader can understand the underlying personalities and sets of beliefs and predict how the future balttle lines will be drawn..and what side to be on.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Postrel applied on a semi-socialist state January 12, 2003
As a citizen of Sweden Postrels book gets a special meaning. As a liberal politician in Sweden even more so.
Sweden can be classified as a semi-socialist state. On one hand Sweden is modern and liberal when it comes to all the standard human rights issues. On another there is a very deeply rooted, and dominant, culture of social engineering and socialization. Virtually everything, and I really mean everything, is in some manner under direct political influence. As everything in this country is politics, everything is also subject to thorough planning, scheduling and political debate. From my point of view, Sweden is a "stasist" state with very little room for any kind of dynamist influenses. This book has given me, beeing an anti-socialist in a semi-socialist society, new hope. Maybe there are other ways to break the stale mate in our country, when it comes to analyzing politics. I'll apply the dynamist-stasist dimension here, and see what happens.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heroine for the 21st Century February 8, 2000
By Tcaalaw
I was familiar with Virginia Postrel's work in Reason magazine before I bought this book, so I was already looking forward to it with great expectations. However, Ms. Postrel actually managed to exceed them! So often even the best journalists cannot make the transition to writing full-length texts, but Ms. Postrel has done so with ease. Some reviewers have complained that the book lacks depth and it is true that Ms. Postrel could have added more case studies or psychological and philosophical analysis. But I have never thought that every book must achieve the scope of _Human Action_ to be useful. Indeed, something can definitely be said for making a book accessible to the public-at-large rather than catering to the converted.
I found Ms. Postrel's arguments very compelling, especially when taken with the writings of previous authors. F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, and Frederic Bastiat of course did not use the terms dynamist and stasist in their works, but the same thread is clearly evident. Hayek, Rand, and Bastiat (along with many others) long ago identified the alliances between the far-left and far-right for the purpose of destroying progress. Yet Postrel's book brings that analysis to its logical conclusion by finally obliterating the falsity of the left-right dichotomy which many 19th and 20th Century writers still implicitly accepted even when they identified the parallels between stasist groups.
That said, Postrel's book, although certainly capable of being read on its own, would be best read as part of a body of literature. I would recommend also reading Hayek's _The Road to Serfdom_, Rand's _Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal_, and Bastiat's _Economic Sophisms_ for readers previously unfamiliar with the subject.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp insight from Virginia Postrel May 10, 2006
By K.
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I consider myself an optimist and insightful person, but somehow managed to miss many of Postrel's insights. She gives me even more hope that the future is going to be more wonderful than I previously thought. She does keep that hope in check, though, by talking about the enemies of the future- primarily protectionists and those that see free trade as a threat, instead of the blessing that it is.

She thoroughly destroys the notion that 'there is nothing new under that sun'. While the universe, therefore our earth, is necessarily finite, we misunderstand this finiteness because we misunderstand the different combinations things can be arranged in. For example, a deck of cards has only 52 cards, but the number of combinations you can put the cards into is 52x51x50x49x...x3x2x1, which is a number larger than the number of particles in the universe! So whenever you shuffle a deck of cards, you can rest assured, that that is probably the one and only time that arrangement of cards will ever be in existence... ever.

People are so inventive and creative and always looking for new things. Obviously, there will always be new things. Every time someone declares that we are nearing the end of history, science, technology, etc. it's safe to say they have no idea what they are talking about. We need to let people be as creative and as inventive as they can. It will only make our lives better, on the whole. There will always be setbacks, but as long as people can think, we will always find a way to make out of those setbacks.

The book is a stunning, intelligent look at modern life. I liked it so much, I bought The Substance of Style, which is, yet, another insightful look at modern life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars still worthwhile
I first read this in the nineties. Re-read again in 2015 on a friend's recommendation.

Stasists vs. dynamists -- this is as pertinent today as it was 20 years ago.
Published 3 months ago by M. Heiss
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good writer
Published 10 months ago by claude1876
5.0 out of 5 stars "Life will find a way" -- Dr. Malcolm (Jurassic Park)
"This diverse, decentralized process makes technocrats uncomfortable--no one is in charge, and the results are unpredictable--but it strikes reactionaries as downright evil. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Daniel Estes
5.0 out of 5 stars Pricing
The content of the book seems good (based on the sample), but this pricing is insane:

hardcover: $3.13
kindle: $14. Read more
Published on March 22, 2012 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring, valuable book
As a business person and someone interested in the motivations of people, I found The Future and its Enemies one of the best written books on how organizations make bed decisions,... Read more
Published on May 4, 2011 by Stephen Wahrhaftig
5.0 out of 5 stars Statists v. Dynamists, it's your choice
The Future and Its Enemies Read this. Twice. As this reviewer's title might suggest, at times the reading can get a little long and academic. Read more
Published on May 2, 2011 by Gene Cisewski
5.0 out of 5 stars Important and interesting look at freedom and innovation
I thought of PM Thatcher's "This is what we believe" quote upon finishing The Future and its Enemies. Something tells me I am going to be buying a bunch of copies of this. Read more
Published on March 8, 2011 by Johnny & Riza
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long, fails to address some important questions
I enjoyed the author's thoughts even if I am not inclined to agree with all of them. She could have stated her case much more concisely. Read more
Published on August 21, 2009 by Nick
3.0 out of 5 stars Benevolence of free actors can't be taken for granted
Postrel's future strikes me as naive and idealistic. Unleashing the creative animus of billions of free actors? Read more
Published on February 10, 2007 by P. Bierre
2.0 out of 5 stars Very dry and boring
If you need something to put you to sleep read a couple of pages just before bed time.
Published on January 11, 2007 by John J. Posephney
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More About the Author

Virginia Postrel a Los Angeles-based author, columnist, and speaker whose work spans a broad range of topics, from social science to fashion, concentrating on the intersection of culture and commerce.

Writing in Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus described her as "a master D.J. who sequences the latest riffs from the hard sciences, the social sciences, business, and technology, to name only a few sources."

Postrel is the author most recently of The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion (2013). Her previous books are The Substance of Style (2003) and The Future and Its Enemies (1998).

She is a regular columnist for Bloomberg View.

To learn more about her and read a large archive of her articles and blog posts, visit

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