Friday, June 26, 2009

Hunkering down for the resumption of history

Doesn’t everyone living in a non-Liberal-Democratic nation long to be “free” – free as we are in Europe and the U.S.? Not China and surely not Russia we hasten to answer. It is naïve to believe that the people of Russia, China, and other non-Liberal-Democratic nations want to be just like us. But near-term events don’t materially affect Francis Fukuyama’s thesis about the “end of history” which may take awhile. His thesis is Hegelian in nature. History is deterministic as Hegel has argued, and the end of history, as Hegel, Kojeve and Fukuyama argue will occur when Liberal Democracy has replaced all the other forms of society.

The current issue of the London Review of Books has a review of Gillian Tett’s book Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe. Reading this review by Donald MacKenzie gave me a headache. Quite a lot is known about how it happened, but Tett seems to think it could have been prevented with just a tiny bit of regulation. The J.P. Morgan people originated the scheme (and you must read Tett’s book, or the above review to find it defined), but they didn’t let greed carry them to excess. So had there been some regulation in effect, something to make the other banks behaved more like J. P. Morgan, all would have been well. Tett is accused of having studied these bankers so much that she has “gone native,” meaning, her accusers argue, that far more regulation than she proposes is called for, but MacKenzie thinks she has the right of it.

In any case, the image of the American version of “free-market economy” has suffered in the eyes of many people, especially those people incapable of understanding (as Tett and MacKenzie probably do as much as anyone) what went wrong.

Will this “Unrestrained Greed” result in the end of the advance toward global Liberal Democracy? Have the Free-Market aspects of Liberal Democracy betrayed Fukuyama’s thesis?

In the current July/August 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs is an article entitled “Globalization in Retreat.” Nguyen Dinh Huynh provides the article on his web site: One may read it there along with Nguyen Dinh Huynh’s highlighting.

Altman believes the spread of American Liberal Democracy has suffered an enormous setback. He tells us “Much of the world . . . blames U.S. financial excesses for the global recession. This has put the U.S. model of free-market capitalism out of favor.”

Altman tells us that during this economic crisis, “Only China has prevailed. China’s growth did diminish but now may be picking up again. . . And measured by its estimated $2.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, no nation is wealthier.”

Implicit in Altman’s article is the view that Nationalism is gaining ground against Globalization. Globalization is (in effect) another name for Fukuyama’s “end of history.” Once the world has been thoroughly globalized. Once every nation is a Liberal Democracy committed to a world-wide free market economy, then the “end of history” will have been achieved. But if Liberal Democracy has fallen into disrepute, we may well return to a Wilson-Roosevelt model where the great powers exert influence on lesser nations. That is essentially what Altman is telling us when he writes, “It is increasingly clear that the U.S.-Chinese relationship will emerge as the most important bilateral one in the world. The two nations have similar geopolitical interests. Neither wants Iran to be destabilized, or Pakistan to become a failed state.”

On page 150 of the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs is a debate between Azar Gat (arguing that non-Liberal-Democratic nations may succeed as well as Liberal Democratic nations) and Deudney, Ikenberry, Inglehart, and Welzel (arguing that non-Liberal-Democratic nations cannot compete in the long run). Although all four of Gat’s antagonists waste space by denying that they are taking a deterministic stance. Gat, unlike the four (or so it seems to me), has read and understood Fukuyama and recognizes that their arguments derive from his – and Fukuyama’s arguments are deterministic.

Gat has written War in Human Civilization, in which, I gather, he has taken a position similar to that taken by Steven LeBlanc, Richard Wrangham and others who believe we are hard-wired for war. That doesn’t mean that we are instinctively driven to fight each other willy-nilly. It means that wars are one of the instinctive (traditional) ways we solve certain sorts of problems. If our families are starving and the tribe a few miles away has lots of food, we will do our best to get some of that food. If we don’t have enough women, and another tribe does, then we shall raid that tribe and steal some women. We have done this since hunter-gatherer days and perhaps even before as the study of Chimpanzees as our closest relative suggests.

If we can figure out a way to solve all the wants and needs of our species without war, then theoretically no nation would have to invade another, but when we review the “wants and needs” of our history the possibility of any system that could satisfy them all seems improbable. That is why David Fromkin toward the end of The Independence of Nations found hope in our space program. Only when we are near each other is there an occasion for war. If we can spread out in space then we put separation between ourselves and reduce the likelihood of war.

In don’t know what is motivating NASA, but it, along with other scientists are seriously studying other places in our solar system we might live. I knew of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, but I was surprised to learn that one scientist has proposed a method for colonizing Venus -- which has a surface pressure 92 times that of earth and a surface temperature of 860 degrees Fahrenheit. How could we possibly colonize such a planet? By living in balloon cities 35,000 feet about the surface. Up there, the scientist assures us, conditions are quite pleasant. I can think of problems with that concept, but perhaps this fellow has thought of the solutions. Better to lose a few people colonizing Venus, Fromkin would say, than a whole bunch in wars back on earth.

Altman at the end of his article says that “President Obama [has the] enormous goodwill [of other nations]. He has a uniquely influential podium, which he could use to espouse the benefits of globalization and market liberalization.” Altman concludes with the words “It is too soon to know whether he will use it that way. Let us hope that he does.” But nothing Altman has written in the rest of the article suggests that he really thinks Obama will do that. Are there Democrats that support Globalization? Yeah, sure, but I have no confidence that Obama is one of them.

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