One recalls—just barely-- the halcyon days when the Berlin Wall fell and when liberal democracy was busting out all over. Francis Fukuyama became famous for declaring that we had reached the end of history and that the Hegelian prophecy had been fulfilled.
For reasons that escape me many conservative thinkers embraced Fukuyama as one of their own. And yet, Hegel was anything but a conservative. He was a wide-eyed idealist who became the godfather of Marxism.
Fukuyama had allowed his mind to be occupied by one of Europe’s greatest idealists. Yet, he and his acolytes failed to understand that Hegel was anything but a proponent of free enterprise and liberal democracy. Hegel did not believe that human beings could, through the exercise of their free will, direct the course of history. His was an alternative to British empiricism and eventually American pragmatism.
Hegel believed that history embodied the movement of the World Spirit. Human beings could advance the historical narrative or resist it. They could catch the wave or fight it. There was no place for true freedom in Hegelianism. This never prevented Communist governments from calling themselves “democratic.” By that they meant that they were enacting what Rousseau called the “general will,” the true wishes of the populace, even if they had not been expressed in an election. If the people do not know what is good for them the Party does.
Fukuyama simply misunderstood Hegel. In so doing, he resurrected the reputation of a thinker whose acolytes brought extraordinary destruction to the world.
It was anything but conservative thinking. This shows a regrettable truth: conservative thinkers have ceded the philosophical high ground to the left. When they take a whiff of its thin air they become disoriented. It’s a conspicuous failure, one that should not be dismissed lightly.
If we wish to extricate ourselves from the Hegelian straitjacket we should note that the end of Communism did not produce a triumph of liberal democracy. It offered us two nations trying, each in its own way, to recover from Communism. Call it a clash of policies, a competition between different approaches to political and economic reform. Nothing about it was given in advance.
In Russia Mikhail Gorbachev offered economic reforms, coupled with what he called “glasnost,” a Jeffersonian approach involving free elections, free speech, a free press and the other trappings of liberal democracy.
In China, which was in far worse shape than Russia, the transformation had begun ten years earlier, when Deng Xiaoping instituted economic reforms by privatizing communal property and opening the doors to free enterprise. The Chinese leader had no real use for liberal democracy, probably because he believed that it was a destabilizing force.
The protesters who occupied Tiananmen Square in 1989 discovered that Deng and his cohorts in the Politburo saw democracy as a threat to economic reform, not its handmaiden. China’s subsequent success has told many people that democracy was not a necessary accompaniment to free enterprise capitalism.
When Communism fell, China got to work and Russia got to bickering. After a time Russia decided that an authoritarian ruler would be more effective than a liberal democrat. With the advent of Vladimir Putin, it appears, at least for now, that Deng won the debate. The more they see Americans having a debate over transgendered restrooms, the more they are convinced that they made the right decision.
Today, countries that want to institute serious economic reforms are more likely to follow the Chinese than the Russian models. Worse yet, Western democracies with their hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over everyone’s hurt feelings seem to many leaders to be weak and in decline.
And yet, in the past, nations have underestimated the certain nations in the West. In particular, German militarists mistakenly imagined that the nation that gave us gentility and good manners would not have the guts to fight against an embodiment of macho strength. They learned, to their chagrin, that they had underestimated Anglo-American grit and strength.
Great Britain gave us the architect of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain, but it also gave us Winston Churchill. We note that the weak-kneed Obama administration removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the oval office. How better to choose personal pique over strength? How better to announce that one is going to follow a policy of appeasement?
And yet, today’s European social democracies have been projecting weakness. As has the pusillanimous Obama administration. They seem to believe in the Hegelian prophecy, thus that they are on the right side of history and need not do anything in particular to prevail. By attacking all evidence of masculine and martial virtues they have systematically weakened Western culture, to the point where entire nations have opened their arms to marauding armies of Muslim refugees.
The issue was in play in the last presidential election. There, to the manifest chagrin of all those who embraced the gospel of weakness, the American people chose strength over weakness. Even though the Trump campaign manifested too much macho posturing, it succeeded in getting its message across.
True enough, Trump kept suggesting that he wanted to become more isolationist and less internationalist. And yet, with the nomination of Gen. James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense Trump has shown that perhaps he did not really mean much of what he said about disengaging from the world. And he certainly showed that he wanted strength above all else. Strangely enough, the New York Times this morning suggested that a guy nicknamed “mad dog” would be a good influence on the Donald. Because Mattis was thoroughly familiar with geopolitics and the functioning of the military. Naturally, a senator named Kirsten Gillibrand said that she would oppose Mattis, on the grounds that he was military. Would she have said the same of George Marshall? Or was she just trying to manifest girl power?
The American people seemed to decide that candidates not named Trump were too weak and too sensitive to conduct the war against Islamic terrorism. President Obama was so afraid of it that he refused to pronounce its name. As for Hillary, she failed miserably in her Libyan incursion and she was surrounded by women. At times, her campaign looked like it was being run by a coven. She made “Stronger Together” her campaign slogan, but very few people really believed that it was more than posturing.
In a time of war, at a time when Western civilization is under attack, the American people opted for strength over weakness. And the American people, especially America’s young people, seem less concerned with the bickering that has come to define democratic deliberation and more concerned with a strong leader who can fight and win a war. They were less worried that George Bush was too strong than that he was not strong enough.
Fukuyama notwithstanding, liberal democracy is no longer the rage that it once was. Around the world young people say that they would prefer a military coup, thus a more authoritarian government.
The following account of a recent study comes to us from Quartz:
People everywhere are down on democracy. Especially young people. In fact, so rampant is democratic indifference and disengagement among millennials that a shocking share of them are open to trying something new—like, say, government by military coup.
That’s according to research by Yascha Mounk, a Harvard University researcher, and Roberto Stefan Foa, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne. The remit of their study, which the Journal of Democracy will publish in January, analyzes historical data on attitudes toward government that spans various generations in North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. They find that, across the board, citizens of stable liberal democracies have grown jaded about their government, say Mounk and Foa—and worse.
And that is not all. These young people are open to radical proposals to limit freedom of speech. This might mean that they have been brainwashed in authoritarian principles. But it might also mean that they are looking for a wartime leader and not for more girl power.
Young people today are more into political radicalism and exhibit less support for freedom of speech than previous generations, according to the July study.
The survey also tells us that young people are less interested in civil rights and do not much care about elections.
Charles Krauthammer made a similar point in a recent column:
That era is over. The autocracies are back and rising; democracy is on the defensive; the U.S. is in retreat. Look no further than Aleppo. A Western-backed resistance to a local tyrant — backed by a resurgent Russia, an expanding Iran, and an array of proxy Shiite militias — is on the brink of annihilation. Russia drops bombs; America issues statements.
What better symbol for the end of that heady liberal-democratic historical moment. The West is turning inward and going home, leaving the field to the rising authoritarians — Russia, China, and Iran. In France, the conservative party’s newly nominated presidential contender is fashionably conservative and populist and soft on Vladimir Putin. As are several of the newer Eastern Europe democracies — Hungary, Bulgaria, even Poland — themselves showing authoritarian tendencies.
Discredit where discredit is due. Krauthammer believes the current feckless American administration has opened the way for an authoritarian resurgence:
And even as Europe tires of the sanctions imposed on Russia for its rape of Ukraine, President Obama’s much touted “isolation” of Russia has ignominiously dissolved, as our secretary of state repeatedly goes cap in hand to Russia to beg for mercy in Syria.
With China, Krauthammer sees the same tendency:
As for China, the other great challenger to the post–Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines has openly defected to the Chinese side. Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States.
Of course, the post-Cold War period now seems to have been defined by the rise of Islamic terrorism. Faced with a significant threat, some Western nations have been trying to appease the holy warriors. Others are willing to fight.
The soft power of gynocentric European nations has led to a massive invasion and to increasing threats of terrorism. The authoritarian regimes in Russia and China have followed different policies and have tamped down on the jihadi tendencies of the Muslims within their borders. Vladimir Putin is not promoting a Merkelian open arms policy toward Muslim refugees. Xi Jinping has not concerned himself with the sensibilities of Chinese Muslims.
If you are addressing an enemy that seeks to destroy your civilization by terrorizing your population and by raping your women, you might think that show of force is required. And you might believe that you must unify the nation behind its leaders. This would not make you an incipient fascist. It would show you to be a realist who has tasked himself with cleaning up the mess that weak-kneed social democrats have visited on their nations.