Mulgan asks "are the achievements of freedom and the growth of independence compatible, or are we doomed to a classical tragedy in which our love of freedom destroys our capacity to be independent?" He then argues both sides of this question from an economic, sociological, and moral perspective.
In the end, the moral imperative of reciprocity (give and take, the golden mean) fuels his optimism for a self-organizing moral and societal order without the constraints of traditional methods of governance. However, Mulgan is no Pollyanna. He concludes with an optimistic view of the future tempered with a dash of realism. "The classical idea of progress as the unfolding of a grand plan or the expression of a higher intelligence is as doubtful as the much more recent faith that the world might have immanent properties that drive it towards complexity, integration, and self-organization. [...] There may be no destiny, and no certainty, nothing determined, only choices and chances. But life is all the better for that, because that is what leaves room for people to make their own history."
Mulgan's explanation of how we arrived at this point in the history of the world makes his analysis of the future more credible. For most of human history, a few traders linked the great trade centers but most economic life was local, face-to-face, and small scale. Larger social units were broadly defined and self-contained. Each unit could be mapped as a series of concentric circles of decreasing power radiating from the centers. Citizens at the centers of power were more cosmopolitan by virtue of their connectivity with other centers of power while residents of the distant regions were provincial.
The rise of rapid, economical, and global travel and digital communication (connexity) has reduced the hold of provincialism upon the outlying citizens and enabled a more cosmopolitan attitude to permeate throughout society. The trade networks and free-flowing information that liberated people f! rom the previous bonds of settled agriculture and industry produced a modern nomadic mobility. On the downside, connectivity promotes a sense of timeless time and of spaceless space that favors economic transactions over relationships and withdrawal from communities rather than staying engaged.
Mulgan contends that our freedom is intimately linked with that of the State. Fortunately, the State's very success in delivering both external and internal security has made new forms of government possible. Much of the baggage of sovereignty and power that that we have inherited from the days when the main role of government was to protect us from danger is now obsolete. Mulgan explores the impact of discarding this baggage (taxation, social order and control, and bureaucracy) in discussion of the rise of the city-state, assumption of pseudo-governmental roles for global corporations, and the relegation of national governments to figurehead status. Whatever form the new social order takes, it will require an environment where individuals define strength as the capacity to internalize interdependence and freedom as the achievement of individual well being in the context of attaining shared goals.