Does it ever feel like the world’s moving too fast to keep up? That events are coming thicker and faster, that we increasingly find ourselves racing to keep up?

It’s not just your imagination: life really is getting faster. The evidence shows that people are speaking more quickly, walking more quickly, becoming ever more impatient with any form of dither and delay. Goods, capital and ideas flow around the world with quicksilver speed. 

In an accelerated age, we need to demonstrate again and again that it is still the free market and liberal values that offer the best route to a better life. 

This acceleration, I would argue, is the driving force behind many of the changes in our economy, our society and our politics. And it is happening not because of some sinister plot hatched in Silicon Valley, but because it is what we want. Every time we are given the opportunity to vote with our wallets, we go for the choice that offers greater speed and greater convenience.

For conservatives, this new environment is invigorating and disconcerting in equal measure. In the broadest sense, acceleration is very much to be welcomed. A faster pace of life is correlated with greater health, greater wealth and greater happiness. Cities like London are not large because they are prosperous but prosperous because they are large: the greater the population of a given community, the faster the pace, and the more money and ideas those people generate.

Acceleration also helps shrink the state, or at least point up its flaws. The quicker market gets at serving us – the easier it is to order goods from Amazon with the click of a button – the worse the public sector looks by comparison. The inadequacies and inefficiencies of the great monopolies and bureaucracies are thrown into ever sharper relief by the greater speed and efficiency of the world outside them. 

Yet, at the same time, acceleration also raises new questions. As the prosperous parts of our nations race forwards, it opens up ever wider gaps with those who are ill-positioned to take advantage of an accelerated economy – who experience it as a threatening and disruptive force rather than an invigorating one. This in turn can make it more tempting to listen to those, from Donald Trump to Beppe Grillo, who promise to turn the clock back – or, more accurately, to slow the world down.

Acceleration is also changing the structure of our economy. It is making it more interconnected, but also more fragile. And it is polarising it between large and small. A striking figure of online markets is the way in which they tend towards monopoly, not because the firms involved have colluded against the consumer, but because they are so efficient at serving them.

And, of course, acceleration makes people feel unsettled. Ever since the world started to get faster with the invention of the Bessemer engine, people have been complaining about its increasing speed, and warning that our bodies, our minds and our values are sure to be shattered in the process. Yet even as we complain, we seize the benefits of acceleration with both hands.

For conservatives, then, this new environment presents a peculiar challenge: to combine radicalism with reassurance.

In the long term, our countries will not prosper until they are prepared to take advantage of this new age: to be faster, fitter and more flexible, with workers who can adapt to new industries and technologies rather than rotting on the dole queues. 

Yet at the same time we also need to, well, conserve – to make sure that in an age that is less interested in tolerance, hierarchy and restraint of any kind, we do not discard what is valuable for what is novel.

In the long term, our countries will not prosper until they are prepared to take advantage of this new age: to be faster, fitter and more flexible, with workers who can adapt to new industries and technologies rather than rotting on the dole queues. 

And above all, we need to take voters with us. That means providing support for those who do not live in the great accelerated cities: those for whom change is not an opportunity, but a threat. Too often, as David Goodhart points out in his new book The Road to Somewhere, such people have been treated with contempt by the ruling classes, made to feel inferior because they do not want to join in the rush.

In recent decades, our lives have been getting dramatically better: the entry of countries in Asia and elsewhere into the accelerated economy has pulled billions out of poverty and enriched us all. Yet our inbuilt bias towards pessimism too often convinces us that the world is rushing to hell in a handcart – that we cannot cope with a sharper, speedier ride.

It is in precisely such an environment, sadly, that people are most willing to listen to those who make empty promises of protection, who offer the moth-­eaten answers of old-school socialism or the empty certainties of xenophobic bombast. In an accelerated age, we need to demonstrate again and again that it is still the free market and liberal values that offer the best route to a better life.