What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such…. That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
It was almost three decades ago that an obscure political scientist from the Rand Corporation penned an essay whose readership would ordinarily be limited to scholars and assorted policy wonks and political junkies.
When Francis Fukuyama authored “The End of History?” (later incorporated into a book with the same name) on the eve of destruction of the Berlin Wall on November 8, 1989, both his thesis and the evidence to support it were hardly complicated: The Soviet Union was crumbling, and with it their satellite states of Eastern Europe. Ipso facto, the war between capitalism and socialism, between liberal democracy and statist authoritarianism, was over. And the good guys won.
Little did Mr. Fukuyama realize that his essay would become a meme before the advent of memes. His simple, bold assertion that a succession of nations had by their actions issued a de facto full and final repudiation of communism became the central point of discussion and argument – a trending topic – at gatherings of political elites far and wide.
But take note of the question mark which concludes the title. Fukuyama was less asserting than wondering whether the end of (political) history had indeed arrived.
In the fullness of time, we now realize that even the unbroken string of failures associated with one socialist government after another has not killed the snake, for the snake famously holds the ability to live and even to bite after being decapitated.
Indeed, so many of the very democracies of western Europe which served as bulwarks of freedom in the monumental clash of civilizations during the 70-year cold war are the same ones who adopted a kinder, gentler form of socialism – soft socialism, if you will – since Fukuyama’s end of history. The rank totalitarian history of hard socialism has been replaced by the chronic low growth, high unemployment, cultural rot and rapidly diminishing national identity and sovereignty of soft socialism.
Even in America, a perfect storm of domestic and foreign disasters (the financial meltdown and the Iraq War) conspired to grant the keys of the kingdom to the most avowed leftist in presidential history, a man who promised a fundamental transformation of our national identity, a man who one could plausibly argue is alone among our 45 presidents in his belief that America was on the wrong side of history. The predictable result was unparalleled overreach into the heart of American life and enterprise, and a withdrawal from the projection of historic American values to a world desperate for leadership.
But then came 2016, a year which will live in infamy for those given to autocracy. The shocking triumphs of Brexit and Donald Trump signal – again – an obvious repudiation of elites and their suffocating structures which, with the advent of first the European Union and then the eight year reign of Barack Obama, expanded from national capitals such as Washington and London to even more distant and unaccountable global power centers such as Brussels. The rising popularity of nationalist movements across Europe suggests this trend will continue.
So, is it time to ask the question afresh and forge a sequel to this notion of the end of history – again with a question mark at the end? Just how many times must the snake be struck down before its final death and burial?
History has repeatedly demonstrated that, when a nation’s people lose control of their own ability to thrive and determine who is entitled to join their society, chaos ensues and revolt among the common man becomes inevitable. Indeed, the millions of illegal immigrants allowed to continue living in our midst, and the millions welcomed into Europe from the middle east, were at the heart of the 2016 rebellion. The left attributes this to pure xenophobia, but when a nation witnesses the willing bow of its leaders to powers beyond its own borders, the resulting loss of sovereignty hits at the heart of national identity.
The message from rank and file Brits was clear: it was bad enough when London controlled and ignored us, but now it has descended to the point where pointy-headed bureaucrats sitting in comfortable office suites in Belgium are determining what we can and can’t do and who has the right to live among us.
Likewise, ordinary Americans rose up, most famously beyond even the now-legendary blue wall, to deliver a vote of no confidence in the fundamental transformation of the American culture and economy. They just said no. And lest one accepts the argument advanced by the left that Donald Trump’s election was simply the product of an outbreak of mental phobias (racism, sexism, xenophobia et al.), consider that that over 200 counties which voted for Obama twice switched to Trump on the same date – November 8 – that marked the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unless you tie yourself in knots by citing recidivist racism (these Obama-Trump voters were racist before Obama, healed themselves of the affliction for a time and then reverted to their racist ways eight years later), there is little to argue beyond the obvious: the dogs would no longer eat the dog food.
Consider what Obama himself said to a pre-election gathering of fellow leftists, “I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election.” $1,200,000,000 and endless withering attacks on the character of Donald Trump later, the bombastic billionaire scored a decisive victory which changed American politics forever. The rejection of a multitude of impressive Republican politicians and a legacy Democrat, and the impossibly long odds faced by Trump – not to mention behavior that would disqualify any other political candidate – serve as an exclamation point in the determination of American voters to kick the bums out, with little regard to the qualifications of the radical alternative.
This debate may not be framed in the same stark terms as it was in 1989. Then, it was capitalism vs. communism. With Soviet communism thankfully relegated to the ash heap of history, it is now more along the reduced lines of nationalism vs. globalism. But it is clearly along the same continuum of revolt by the common man against those who would control their lives. Framed by bookends with the date stamp of November 8, is it not time to renew the debate: Is this The End of History – The Sequel?
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