The bend of history

I do not in general pay much attention to trendy political science theses, but I finally got around to reading the ever-topical End of History essay by Francis Fukuyama. It seems that any reference to this theory, like its near relative the “clash of civilizations” theory of Samuel Huntington, must be prefaced by a mandatory disavowal of it. The idea seems to be that on a global level the events of Sep. 11 and all the wars and terrorist attacks in its train proved the notion of a relatively harmonious global capitalist order devoid of any real ideological competitors to be fatally naive. But one could surely at least say that within Western society the collapse (or perhaps merely exposure of the absence) of any such viable alternatives has been one of the major, if somewhat unspoken, political themes of the last 20 years. Especially in America people often talk of the continued impotence and inertia of “the Left” and especially of the various socialist and post-socialist groups of all stripes, but it seems intuitively clear that the disbanding of the Soviet Union, the gigantic country that represented a clear statist alternative to the American system, created a huge void, even if only subconsciously. It is hard to summon much opposition to the status quo and the conservatives who defend it when it means living in by far the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. The only major alternative candidates, like Europe and China, seem to a greater or lesser degree to be converging with this system, especially in an economic sense.

Fukuyama’s basic thesis that liberalism is going to predominate for the great majority of the world seems like a pretty good description of the dominant trends of today. In what, sense, then, could recent terrorism and chaos in the Islamic world have unsettled the validity of the thesis? The terrorist attacks seem to have plausibly demonstrated a massive democratization of destructive capability. Implicit in Fukuyama’s thesis is that a large majority of the world’s people living in liberal society will greatly pacify the world, since he seems to assume that a rather large number of people, at least enough to govern and run a powerful nation, must subscribe to an aggressive belief system for it to threaten world peace. But if 20 people can kill 3,000 in a day with regular household supplies, it seems that the threshold for keeping the world a dangerous place indefinitely is rather lower. The statement probably most embarassing to Fukuyama in hindsight is the claim that:

“In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism. But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance. Other less organized religious impulses have been successfully satisfied within the sphere of personal life that is permitted in liberal societies.”

Since Islam, unlike say race, is an ostensibly universalist category, i.e. anyone could potentially join it, the statement that “[Islamic theocracy] has little appeal for non-Muslims” doesn’t actually prove anything. All the non-Muslims of the world could convert! And should the policy of “conversion by the sword,” possibly the primary source of Islam’s original growth, ever arise again as a popular policy, conversion and violence could go hand in hand. And even if not a single non-Muslim were to convert to Islam and the birthrate in the Muslim world, currently much higher than the world average, were not to significantly increase the Muslim share of the world’s population, over 1 billion, or about 1/6 of the world’s people, would still be Muslim. Given that Fukuyama is willing to consider fascism a legitimate historical competitor with liberalism despite the fact that Germany and Italy had less than 150 million people between them at the time (granted, the world as a whole was a lot smaller then), it seems a little strange that Islam cannot be considered a major political force when only seven times as many people follow it. Of course, they are not as centralized within such relatively powerful nations, but that goes back to the first point. Of course had Fukuyama simply confined himself to political analysis and disburthened himelf of the pointless Hegelian metaphysical nonsense he would have alleviated himself of the primary source of criticism, the misunderstanding-inducing phrases “the end of history” and “the last man” themselves. Because it is not like he believes that the Rapture would descend on us all if universal free trade were instituted; he makes pretty clear that ideological conflict could re-emerge at any time should a non-discredited ideology arise against liberalism, or even in a fit of boredom. Come, crazed bourgeois-loathing theorists of the world! The humanities professors of the world pine for you!

One Response to “The bend of history”

  1. Dave Says:

    I read the article. The thesis that liberal/capitalistic ways of doing things has no competitor appears to be true. In the absence of alternatives, opponents turn to unalloyed negativity and violence. At least Lenin lied and promised the workers a better way of life, not just homicide and/or suicide and deferred rewards from Allah. True capitalism, as opposed to crony capitalism has power divided and invested in non-government groups which are free to create products and there is the free but peaceful exchange of ideas, capital, power, material resources. If a company fouls up, it disappears. Things work Darwinisticaly. Government agencies seem immortal, because they build their own political constituencies.

    A problem occurs when people find that stealing, cheating, lying, or wielding government influence, beats free voluntary exchange as a means of company survival and enrichment. You also need an overseeing government that is honest and ideologically committed to the private system, contrary to anarco- capitalist fantasy. There is also the problem that the private system does not answer the needs of those who can’t compete. So you need government in this area as well a culture of charity in the private sector. This involves a mixed economy and society in which simplistic college dormitory ideology or systems dreamed of by philosophers, or clerics simply fail. This is because the solutions they prescribe are too top down and ignorant of the real world. The governments of even perpetually poor countries spawn huge bureaucracies run by politicians, guaranteeing poverty.

    The mixed capitalistic system creates the wealth and is milked but somewhat weakened by the public sector. Both systems serve human needs in different ways. Of course there are all sorts of opportunities for rats, and other parasites and no philosopher could love it, but it is the best economy humans have been able to come up with.

    There are so many things wrong with this system that everyone can find fault as they feed off of it. Intellectuals, professors, clerics and politicians sustained themselves as parasites on the system, producing nothing but living affluently as critics, while pretending to be morally superior. Fortunately their advice is usually ignored.

    Now that state socialism has been shown to be a complete failure, you would think that all people would now embrace the capitalism, but that would mean giving up participation in fanatical hate groups, going to work and actually producing things people want. It is more exciting, profitable and fun to support gangsters or better yet be one. You also get more respect than a shop keeper.

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