Premature Prognosis: The End of History?
Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936).
Novelist, poet, essayist, journalist, philosopher.
The breaching and subsequent destruction of the Berlin Wall between 1989 and 1992 represented both a symbolic and tangible series of events which signalled the end of communist-inspired industrial and social organization in Central and Eastern Europe and marked the return of market(ish)-based economies to the former Soviet Union satellite trading nations.
As these momentous events took place, an article titled ‘The End of History?’ was penned by Francis Fukuyama, an unknown US State Department official and amateur political scientist, published in an equally obscure American journal, The National Interest.
The thesis which Fukuyama presented was both compelling and powerful and, as time would tell, a tad premature: it claimed that a new geopolitical norm was emerging, and it argued that this would be the final output of a long historical process of continuity and radical change.
The principal tenets of Fukuyama’s end-of-history hypothesis concerned the apparent convergence of economic systems and modes of political organization worldwide. The original article was subsequently developed into a book, intriguingly entitled The End of History and the Last Man, which simultaneously defended and expanded the thesis to accommodate real-world, real-time developments since its publication.
From his observations of historical political and economic developments, Fukuyama argued that there appeared to be a fundamental and sustained trend towards a dominant role for liberal democracy in the global geopolitical system, as even the most totalitarian of political regimes appeared to be moving towards the enfranchisement of the populace and a general freeing-up of markets.
In the liberal economic model, resources are allocated through the interaction of supply and demand. Consumers have free choice in what to buy, and firms have free choice in what to produce. In the context of political economy, it can generally be stated that governments deliver policies that involve a greater or lesser degree of state ownership and a greater or lesser degree of intervention in directing how economic decision making is practised.
Democratic political organization is based on equality, freedom of choice, and the participation of all (eligible) individuals in the decision-making processes that develop and maintain society.
In complex democracies, individuals are represented by members of political parties who are free to organize without constraint and create policies that they are mandated to implement if elected by a majority of voters. Terms in office are limited, and the complete system is regulated by ‘checks and balances’ through the independence of the executive (government) and legislature (legal system). In the Federal Government of the US, the Constitution stipulates a third branch of government, judicial, i.e. the Supreme Court.
This form of political organization, coupled with economic freedoms, has led to capitalism as a dominant global paradigm and has underpinned the globalization of the world economy through free trade, aid, and foreign direct investment (FDI).
Perhaps the most famous producer of an ‘end of history’ thesis was Karl Marx, who, through his studies of politics, economics and society, saw capitalism as one stage of a historical process, a precursor to socialism en route to a truly communist society.
By way of an aside, and to lighten things a little, it’s worth noting here an observation on communism from the eminent biologist E.O. Wilson, who specialised in myrmecology, the study of ants: “wonderful theory, wrong species”.
The critiques levelled at Marx can be equally directed at Fukuyama. The future is always shrouded in a cloudy present. History helps because it provides a benchmark that may or may not offer some causal explanation of future events. Furthermore, from an economics perspective, it must be acknowledged that business does not function in a vacuum. It acts upon and is shaped by the environment in which it operates.
It is the new world order idea – based on the political and economic freedom of the individual as a desirable finalé to an overlong series of unnecessary if not uninteresting dramas – which defines what Fukuyama describes as ‘The End of History’: “Liberal democracy remains the only coherent political aspiration that spans different regions and cultures across the globe”.
It is plausible that Fukuyama used the phrase ‘The End of History’ as a political economy metaphor rather than a literal interpretation of emerging trends as he saw them. However, the expression still has a deterministic naïvety that has dogged its author since events took a significantly different turn than he suggested they might, starting more or less when his book was published.
Between the publication of the original end-of-history essay and during ‘… the Last Man’ book’s writing, there was a rapidly emerging null hypothesis to the otherwise logical thesis which Fukuyama promulgated, one wild inexactitude in waiting:
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All content © Colin Edward Egan, 2022