Sunday, December 1, 2019

The End of the End of History

According to David Goldman, Donald Trump’s call for “America First” does not mean what we think it means. It is a good idea, perhaps even an essential idea, poorly expressed. You see, “America First” was last used by isolationist politicians who wanted to keep America out of World War II. In truth, Franklin Roosevelt did not want to be involved, so America First was running cover for FDR.

One might argue, as Winston Churchill, that two of America’s biggest mistakes, mistakes that contributed to the horror house of the twentieth century, were to stay out of the world wars too long. By Churchill’s reasoning, getting involved earlier would have stopped the carnage before it provoked a sequence of events that killed hundreds of millions of people. If Woodrow Wilson had followed the lead of Theodore Roosevelt and had gotten involved sooner…. If Roosevelt had heeded the warnings issued by Churchill and had gotten involved sooner….

In one sense it was none of our business. In another sense, letting the situation fester made it our business. By the time it became our business, there was no relatively easy solution… short of all-war. Those who think that the choice is between war and peace are seriously short-sighted. The choice was between a small war and a large war. Which should we have preferred?

And besides, we did stand idly by while al Qaeda built up its resources in Afghanistan… because Afghanistan was not really our problem. How did that work out?

So, “America First,” proposed during the twentieth century, has now made a comeback. One understands the Trumpian idea. One would have preferred if the president had chosen a better expression, but surely, his idea has considerable merit.

Goldman offers this analysis:

Donald Trump has one quality for which the rest of the world should be grateful: He really does not care how China, Russia, or any other country manages its affairs. By “America First,” he simply means that he cares about what happens in America, and is incurious about what happens outside America unless it affects his country directly. That stands in sharp contrast to view of all the wings of America’s political Establishment – progressive, “realist” and neoconservative – who believe that America should bring about the millenarian End of History by bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, by expanding NATO into a giant social-engineering project, by pressing China to transform itself into a Western-style democracy, and so forth.

It’s one thing to manage crises that are developing around the world. It’s one thing to manage such crises when our interests, especially our trading interests, demand it. And it was surely good to destroy the ISIS caliphate.

And yet, it is well past time that we jettison the Wilsonian notion that we should be exporting democracy, and that once countries get a taste of democracy they will naturally love peace more than war. Those who accept the End of History argument, namely that liberal democracy will naturally be accepted as the best way to govern nations, should awaken from their ideological stupor.

They should return to their philosophy books and learn what G. W. F. Hegel really thought. The man who gave us the End of History—and who was also the godfather of Marxism—thought that he espied the real end of history when he saw the conquering emperor Napoleon riding his white horse through his Prussian city.

You do not need to know too much about history or about imperial rulers to understand that Napoleon did not invade Prussia, among other countries, in order to bring them liberal democracy.


UbuMaccabee said...

We had a republic, but now we have something else; a hybrid of an unaccountable administrative state linked to a kakocracy. I would not export our model to others at this point; our model has huge glitches in it. There are several excellent books on the subject from Paul Moreno, John Marini, and the great Philip Hamburger. We are exporting something, but it’s not necessarily good government.

Trump also understands that we cannot afford to convert the world to a form of government (one that we do not actually adhere to ourselves) even if we wanted to. We don’t have the money; it’s not 1950 and every other industrial economy is in ruins. We have competition everywhere.

We cannot even make any meaningful progress on paying down our debt to a justifiable level. We just lost the technology war for 5G because we didn’t even show up. Our schools are degraded and large swatches of our population is illiterate or indoctrinated. Our primary civil rights organization issues directives on social media repeating: “men can menstruate.” Our culture is like a leaking nuclear reactor.

Huntington > Fukuyama. History never ends, it doesn’t have a teleology.

Anonymous said...

You can also argue sticking our nose in WWI allowed the allies to impose the terms that guaranteed a WWII.