Sunday, August 24, 2008

The End of History in a Post-American World

I am 103/259 through Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. Zakaria seems to be in the Fukuyama camp, that is, he assumes (or seems to) that Liberal Democracy is inevitable. Zakaria writes on page 102, “Looking at dozens of countries over decades of development, from South Korea to Argentina to Turkey, one finds that the pattern is strong – a market-based economy that achieves middle-income status tends, over the long run, toward liberal democracy. It may be, as many scholars have noted, the single most important and well-documented generalization in political science.”

I notice that Zakaria calls this tending a “generalization” and not a “principle.”

Zakaria sees China as being a largely free-market non-democratic autocracy, but he isn’t willing to say it won’t become a Liberal Democracy (Fukuyama’s thesis being his presupposition, or nearly so). On page 100, he writes, “China might yet prove to be an exception, but it is too soon to tell. The rule has held everywhere from Spain and Greece to south Korea, Taiwan, and Mexico: countries that marketize and modernize begin changing politically around the time that they achieve middle-income status (a rough categorization, that lies somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000). Since China’s income level is still below that range, it cannot be argued that the country has defied this trend.”

I am not as happy with Fukuyama’s thesis as I once was, perhaps due in large part to his rejection of the activism of the Neocon approach to the spreading of Liberal-Democracy. I can see his point of view: if Liberal-Democracy is an inevitability, then activism is 1) unnecessary and 2) counterproductive because one must go about the spread of democracy undemocratically. And yet I balk, or have come to balk, at the idea of inevitability. The Communists once referred to their doctrine of inevitability as “Dialectical Materialism.” Could we call Fukuyama’s thesis something like that? What about “dialectical free-market democracy”?

I remember Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer in which he saw several steps in a mass movement. One of the steps had to do with the “man of ideas.” This sort of man created the ideology that was taken over by the “man of action.” The “man of ideas” was swept aside once the “man of action” took control. Fukuyama would be a “man of ideas.” Of course Hoffa was writing at an earlier time when Hitler and Stalin were examples of men of action. We have no one today that would sweep a Fukuyama. And yet the Neocons weren’t being outrageous in their goals to the best of my knowledge. They wanted to further Liberal Democracy wherever possible. But of course even saying that in this American Liberal Democracy opens one up to all sorts of exaggerations. It is so easy to make a cartoon (to borrow an expression from Fukuyama’s Washington Post article) of the Neocon idea – an idea that Fukuyama was the author of – an idea promoted by people who believed in Fukuyama’s thesis.

I am inclined to view such generalizations as Fukuyama’s and now Zakaria’s and conclude: it is “too soon to tell.” That is my principle, and it is based on the fact that we as a species are old, about 200,000 years old while our civilization about which we want to create generalizations and principles is a bare 10,000 years old. Just the fact that all such generalizations and principles ignore 190,000 years of our specie’s existence causes me to doubt them. We are just beginning to examine the human genome. What have we inherited from our early history? Does it affect our psychology? Does it affect our social relations? Is the sort of “peaceful” construct of a Liberal Democracy compatible with our “human nature” which may be more violent and less malleable than thesis such as Fukuyama’s presuppose?

I think of earlier theoreticians. Zakaria mentions Malthus as a well-know example of getting things wrong. We have had many pessimists who predicted the fall of Western Civilizations. “Experts” looked at the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and a few others and tried to make a principle that would apply to America or the West. It is easy to poke holes in all of those theories. It is not so easy to poke holes in Fukuyama’s theory at the present time. I read his The End of History twice. He puts no time limit on his process. In fact if China took 200 years to convert to Liberal Democracy, it wouldn’t disprove his thesis in his own mind – nor if Russia created autocratic chaos for 300 years. Nor if Middle Eastern nations took 1,000 years. Liberal Democracy is inevitable.

Of course theoreticians aren’t going to wait that long – even if Fukuyama is. If semi-free-market economies coupled with semi-benign autocratic regimes succeed in China, Singapore, Russia and the Middle East, theoreticians are going to be creating a new paradigm to replace Fukuyama’s “End of History.” Notice how Russia’s little foray into Georgia have already gotten the theoreticians stirring.

Lawrence Helm

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