November 03, 2009

Age and Democracy

Peter Burke in his book on the Renaissance argues that one of the differences between Florence and Venice lay in their attitude to age. Florentines became citizens at the age of 14 and young Florentines could easily take part in politics: Venetians became citizens at the age of 21 and did not become politically active until they had accumulated much more experience. Burke suggests that this may be one of the reasons why Venice, famously according to Machiavelli a republic for stability, was a much more cautious and conservative place than Florence. Burke's induction might be wrong but he is not the only person to try and tie age to political attitudes. George Monbiot suggested today in the Guardian that age may influence the way that people think about global warming: he argues that as global warming is really a threat to life and livelihood, that older people who are more concerned with death than the young (because they are closer to it) may attempt to resist the idea more.

I do not know quite frankly whether either idea is true: but leaving aside obvious questions like pensions and healthcare, the aging of a population must change the way that a population responds to risk and to decision making. One interesting thing for example is the predeliction for younger populations to choose older leaders, whereas as the proportion of the old increases in the west, the desire for youthful leaders (Clinton, Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron) has never been stronger. If you regard, as I do, government as a mechanism to take decisions the changing age profile of the population and of politicians must change the ways that those decisions are made. I don't know enough about the scholarship in this area: but I do think one of the fascinating dynamics of the next century will be that as in China, the US, Europe and eventually the rest of the world, the population becomes older, we may need new models for the ways that states behave.