David Cannadine is Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University and an honorary fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.
David Cannadine on
I suppose we face, as we always have done, the challenge of how to sustain human life on the scale it is and at the level it is, on a planet where the pressure on resources is greater than it has ever been. It's a challenge about the balance between the numbers of people and the resources that are available to support their lives.
Clearly there is a set of problems by which the world is beset—poverty would obviously be one, a lack of education would be another, malnutrition, illness would be another, global warming would be another—which are not confined to individual nations and which require treatment on a scale which transcends the limitations of national politics and national sovereignty.
Our awareness of the global nature of humankind is, in fact, a relatively recent phenomenon. I think, to some degree, that has been accompanied by thinkers concerned about humanity as a whole, about the human condition as a whole. There's a kind of big gap, it seems to me, between what some thinkers might be saying about the human condition as a whole and the possibilities of leaders of particular countries being able to take on that agenda.
Would a world wholly at peace be acceptable if there was an unacceptable amount of poverty and inequality? Peace of itself maybe isn't enough.
I think we don't believe, on the whole, that people in public life are motivated by admirable qualities and characteristics. The media rarely wants to give public figures the benefit of the doubt, let alone starting from the presumption that they might actually be rather admirable figures.
A greater appreciation of and more attention given to the multiple identities of individual people, which seems to me to be what the richness of humanity is made up of, rather than what seems to me the excessive stress on single collective identities, which I think are a grotesque oversimplification of the richness and complexity of the human condition and often are very irresponsible and lead to no good.