Monday, November 6, 2017

Has History Really Ended?

Nearly three decades ago Francis Fukuyama declared that history was over and that Western values had won. Henceforth, there would be no real alternatives to a liberal democracy that had proved itself to be the best and the greatest form of human government. Since free market capitalism was a constituent part of said democracy Fukuyama happily placed himself on the side of Western political and economic systems.

Taking a cue from Hegel, Fukuyama argued that history was an open debate between liberal democracies and other more autocratic systems of governance. If liberal democracy had emerged as the ultimate victor, the debate was over and history had ended.

Needless to say, Fukuyama was widely rebuked for ham-handedly applying German idealism to world history. His seeming yearning for a world government, a superstate that would join all of humanity in one heavenly city seemed naïve. Basing himself on the theorizing of Hegel, the godfather of Communism, Fukuyama failed to see that Marx and Lenin and their ilk, also assiduous readers of Hegel, had concluded that the end of history lay in the advent of a transnational Communist police state. Many of his critics declared that it was perhaps too early to jump too quickly off the bandwagon of history.

Dare we mention that Communist states insist that they are democratic, in the sense that the Party represents the unanimous will of the people? It’s one thing to say that we should respect the results of elections because voters can freely choose to vote for whomever they please for whatever reason makes sense to them. It is quite another thing to challenge the results of elections because you believe that people have been duped into voting against their best interest—which only a select few Party members really understand.

And we should also mention a fundamental confusion, namely that while the individualism that undergirds liberal democracies and free market economies allows individuals the freedom to function according to the rules of the marketplace the individualism promoted by Hegel and his postmodern disciples allowed individuals to reject the rules of the marketplace—because they produce injustice and inequality—in favor of a command and control economy that guarantees freedom from want and an equal distribution of misery. It’s one thing to be free to play by the rules. It’s quite another to feel free to play by your own rules. These are not the same freedoms.

Failing to understand these basic differences makes the argument  incoherent.

Anyway, Financial Times columnist Edward Luce has replied to Fukuyama’s thesis in a new book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Patrick Lee Miller expounds, at far too much length, about it in an essay on Quillette.

Miller opens with a brief glimpse at the state of the world after the fall of Communism:

By the end of the twentieth century, liberal democracy seemed not only triumphant but, to some, inevitable. In the 1970s, Portugal, Greece and Spain closed the long chapter of European fascism. As the Soviets retreated from their satellites, democratic governments (more or less liberal) spread across central and eastern Europe. Through the 1990s, even Russia appeared to be moving closer to the Western consensus over individual human rights and popular representation through genuine, multi-party elections. In three decades (1970–2000), the number of democracies worldwide went from thirty to one hundred. Perhaps even China would liberalize, many Western leaders hoped, as it opened up to Western investment, belying its Marxist rhetoric with an increasingly capitalist reality.

While Fukuyama was regaling us in triumphalist rhetoric the world was turning against liberal democracy:

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama foresaw the possibility of “the end of history”, when the rivalry of regimes constituting the drama of history—or at least the drama of the last two and a half centuries—would conclude with a final act of liberal democracy triumphant everywhere. In retrospect, Fukuyama’s thesis seems absurd. History has continued. Since the turn of the 21st Century, twenty-five democracies have failed. Authoritarianism is resurgent all over the world. Tyrants control the erstwhile democracies of Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Venezuela, Thailand, Botswana and the Philippines. What is most disturbing to those, such as Luce, who think liberal democracy is the best sort of regime is that authoritarian candidates are now growing popular in the very countries that first embodied this Enlightenment ideal. Along with other far-right candidates in other European countries (Hofer in Austria, Gauland in Germany, Wilders in Holland), Le Pen has become a serious contender for the leadership of France. In the U.S.A, of course, there is Trump.

Luce offers a panoply of reasons, many of which are cogent. And yet, as we watch the government of Saudi Arabia follow the Chinese model for modernization, we understand that the impetus away from liberal democracy has been China’s success. China introduced free market capitalist reforms and modernized itself without benefit of liberal democracy, elections and a Bill of Rights. Chinese leaders aimed at social harmony, not individual self-fulfillment.

The Chinese model seemed to work. Its earlier version, the Singapore model seemed also to work. At the same time, neither Miller nor Luce mention it, Western civilization was sinking into a terminal decadence, projecting weakness around the world. Instead of free markets we had increased government regulation of markets. In place of the marketplace of ideas we had universities teaching students the dogmas of political correctness.

Luce, however, suggests that the armies of the Anglosphere were more efficient than their Fascist and Nazi opponents because their nations were democracies.

Miller explains:

Luce comes close to saying this when he claims that democracies are “more efficient” than autocracies. His evidence comes from a general appraisal of the combatants in the Second World War: “the two most efficient belligerents by far were the US and Britain,” he writes, because rather than fear, “trust is the glue of a successful free society.” So which is it, trust or growth? The correct answer is neither. Public trust and economic growth are good things, to be sure, and it may very well be true that Western liberalism will eventually expire without them, but it does not follow that either of them is its essence. That essence is a constellation of values that foster, though hardly guarantee, trust and growth. These are the values that ultimately unite us. And what are they?

We must note that armies are not democratic institutions. Even in democratic nations army leaders do not lead by taking a vote. And we will also note that the difference is not between trust and growth, but between producing wealth and redistributing wealth. In our zeal to engineer something that resembles equality, we have effectively crushed large segments of our economy under a blizzard of regulations. America today has around twice as many bureaucrats per capita as does Communist China.

Luce recommends that we get back into the business of producing liberal individuals who hold to liberal values. Good luck persuading our educational establishment to allow the free and open discussion of ideas in class. And one must also note that our nation needs to produce citizens who love their country, who are patriotic. As of now, patriotism has been so thoroughly maligned and undermined that most citizens identify more as members of subgroups than of the nation entire. People who are not loyal to their countries or to their companies cannot be trusted.

Through the aegis of the postmodern version of Germanic idealism we have set out to produce self-involved, self-important, self-actualizing independent autonomous individuals. They do not know how to coordinate schedules, to work together, to cooperate and to respect each other. It is not the necessary consequence of liberal democracy, but represents an aberrant form, forged in the cauldron of Germanic idealism.

Miller sees clearly that the nation’s classrooms are undermining liberal values:

Our failure to produce liberal individuals in recent decades is, I have argued, a symptom of corruption in our schools, especially our universities, which are forming thought-leaders who are not only ignorant of liberalism, but occasionally hostile to it. The humanities classrooms Luce promotes as the places where Westerners can once again acquire “basic levels of political literacy” are often political, but they are usually critical of the classical liberalism Luce has in mind. When it comes to political theory, for example, undergraduates are less likely to read Locke, Madison and Mill than they are to read Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida.

In the absence of any understanding of our nation, its culture and traditions, America’s educators are teaching children to feel like they are citizens of the world—remember that one—and that their values are no better or worse than anyone else’s. So long, national pride.

If you are smart enough to understand that the competition between civilizations is not a grand historical drama that will lead to a grand synthesis, you will also understand that a political culture that produces such individuals will fall behind, will fail in international competition and will tell the developing world to look elsewhere for a role model.


Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Chinese leaders aimed at social harmony, not individual self-fulfillment.

Is this really what Chinese leaders have done? It looks to me that China has embraced a get-rich-quick economy fueled by unlimited cheap debt like the rest of the world, only times 100.

What harmony is there in bubble economics where a few early billionaires make out like bandits and the middle class raise themselves out of poverty for a half generation until the bubble bursts? And what are the successful Chinese supposed to invest in? Apparently they're still building ghost cities as hopeful retirement accounts. 12 eerie photos of enormous Chinese cities completely empty of people, Oct. 3, 2017

It looks like every excess of centralized planning has been implemented to the nth degree, but while the bubble of constructions lasts, and the debt can be expanded, it looks like prosperity.

James Howard Kunstler said the suburbs are the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of humanity, but clearly empty cities that the vast majority can't afford to live in must be a greater waste. I suppose when the revolution comes, at least they're be lots of housing to distribute, even if it'll all be torn down in less than 20 years as the shoddy construction makes upkeep the ultimate money pit.

James said...

Is history dead? Wake up tomorrow and tell me about today. Is history dead, what a crock.

Sam L. said...

Marxism LIVES is the universities and colleges. Communism lives in Cuba and China.