The Revenge Of History
Several years ago, in the days when I still had a full head of hair, as a young freshman at university I read an exert of Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” for my PoliSci 101 course. By now anyone of even modest intellect is aware of his general thesis that the great historical debates of politics and values had come to an end; liberal democratic capitalism had triumphed, leaving the cold bodies of its challengers in its wake, and while time would march on as it always had history in meaningful sense had reached its conclusion. A new Jerusalem had been built in the form of stripmalls and the McDonald’s Golden Arches, and we all would worship before it.
To my nineteen year old self, this theory seemed beyond question. I recalled that some time in my hazy childhood we had beaten communism, the only competing ideology on the block, and banished it to the netherworld of academia and student activist groups. Petty strongmen like Kim Jong Il and the unnamed Premier of China occasionally made the news, but no one seriously considered them a real geopolitical threat. Some guy named Osama Bin Laden lurked threateningly in the background and occasionally a double decker bus in London or a subway station in Madrid was bombed yet the idea that Islamic fundamentalism could pose an actual danger to the West’s continued existence was laughable.
History indeed seemed to be at an end. The Enlightenment consensus had been unchallenged in the Western world for all the decades that had followed the Second World War, and with the USSR vanquished and with America – liberal democracy’s greatest patron – now the penultimate power surely the rest of the world would obediently follow; myself still being in my Ayn Randian-libertarian stage I indeed revelled in the certainty of coming triumph of materialism and individualism that was so tantalizingly in sight.
In hindsight it is of course hard not to laugh at the unspeakable arrogance of the whole farce. As it turned out history had not so much ended as gone for an ever so brief nap. True, the long years of the Cold War forced an ideological hegemony upon the West; reactionaries and all but the most extreme members of the hard right wrapped themselves in the mantle of capitalism and democracy in opposition to the godless collectivism of international communism just as all but the most fanatical adherents of the left did the same out of disgust at the Soviet Union’s rampant totalitarianism and oppression. When the USSR and its sycophantic minions collapsed in on their rotten core, naturally the West enjoyed a brief honeymoon of calm where no one dared to challenge the perceived the newly triumphant gladiator on the blood soaked sands of his victory.
Instead of taking the situation for what it was, a temporary void that would eventually be filled, the West instead saw this as proof that their way would remain the only way forevermore. The world was now flat, as one rather arrogant economist proclaimed, and it would only grow smaller as the forces of globalization inevitably washed away the last lingering, inconvenient traces and remnants of the old order of sovereign states and national identities.
This fundamental miscalculation can be seen as the root of many of the Western world’s great blunders in recent years; the futile military adventures in nation building inspired by he now repudiated belief that all the peoples of the world secretly aspire to be just like us, its inability to contain either Putin’s Russia or Iran through the classic prescription of economic sanctions and diplomatic finger wagging (for of course what rational would forsake economic growth and foreign investment for such quaint concepts as national pride or assertion of sovereignty), even the insane decision by Europe to throw open its borders to over a million young men from the patriarchal, homophobic, misogynistic hellhole of the world only to react in bafflement when these same young men turned out to be totally disinterested in becoming your typical effeminate and emancipated males of modernity with predictable results.
History is indeed back and it would seem to be reaping a terrible revenge on the new liberal intelligentsia who so arrogantly presumed to prematurely write its obituary. From Brexit, to the twin phenomena of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the States, to the rise of populist parties formerly on the fringes of either the left or right across Europe, the grip on power of liberal elites is being challenged from all directions and it has never seemed more brittle. Dry rot has infested the most basic foundations of the Cathedral itself, and the creeking noises of its potential collapse have grown so loud they have penetrated into its darkest and deepest depths so even the high priests of modernity can no longer discount the possibility.