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At Last, 'The End Of History'

  • Peter Lavelle

Does Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" actually apply to the ideology he thought had prevailed, Western liberal democracy?

Does Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" actually apply to the ideology he thought had prevailed, Western liberal democracy?

The world is experiencing a paradigm shift that will fundamentally change how we think and live. Conventional wisdoms, some held in the West since the end of World War II and others dating from the end of the Cold War, are not only being challenged, but swept into the dustbin of history.

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published his "The End of History and the Last Man." At the time, Fukuyama's thesis seemed obvious for the Western world: "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."

Today these words appear out of place, if not simply gibberish. With the exception of a few neoconservatives, a growing number of people in the West and the vast majority of the world are questioning what was unquestionable in the Western mainstream -- for example, the role of the state in the economy, how the global economy should be run, and whether there should be engagement with groups now labeled as "terrorists."

The global financial slump is destroying not only economies, but also the foundations of the West's worldview. Examples abound. Over the last 20 years, the Western world dangerously deregulated sectors of the economy to the point of privatizing what have been traditionally state services, including the military. Those who questioned the wisdom of doing so were called "socialist," a word that in American political discourse is akin to an expletive. The hard reality today is that the state must also be an active economic player to ensure we don't repeat the follies that have brought the world to its knees.

To date, the world's economy has been dominated by a small group of Western countries, a legacy of the post-World War II era called the Bretton Woods arrangement. However, the global economic order has not kept up with the times. What are known as the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) remain almost invisible when it comes to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. When the G20 countries, which includes the BRICs, meet in London next month, this grouping should replace the Group of Eight and meet twice a year until the worst of the slump has been overcome, when it should become institutionalized.

The issue of "Western liberal democracy" has been monopolized by the West, particularly the United States. The idea of democracy has been so badly abused over the past 20 years that it has been rendered almost useless and nothing more than an ideological weapon of mass destruction by the West.

Dictated Democracy

Since the end of the Cold War, democracy has come to mean one thing: promotion of Washington's foreign-policy agenda. Rarely do we hear anything about the democratization of the global economic order. Russia and China continue to be viewed with suspicion, and the concept of "fair trade" with the rest of the world has been superceded by one-sided policies under the rubric of "free trade" that only and always favor Western economies.

In the area of international security the same applies. Where is "Western liberal democracy" in this sphere? NATO claims that Russia has no right to dictate which country can enter the alliance. Fair enough. However, what right does NATO have to threaten a country, specifically Russia, with its continued expansion? What is democratic about that?

Then there is the issue of democratic elections. The West wholeheartedly supported elections in Ukraine and Georgia (the so-called "Orange" and "Rose" revolutions). Washington gloated, but longer-term results in these so-called democracies have created many doubts about the continued political development of Ukraine and Georgia. Nonetheless, Washington congratulated itself on its ability to fast-forward history -- ending history all together, as Fukuyama prophesied.

What is the result? Both Ukraine and Georgia are becoming, or have already become, failed states, and the security consequences for Russia of that collapse are profound. Washington's misguided and ideologically driven hubris has resulted in Russia being left to pick up the pieces -- and being branded authoritarian and a regional hegemon in the process. And lest we forget, Hamas was democratically elected, but "Western liberal democracy" continues to reject election results elsewhere in the world it does not like. This is simply hypocrisy.

We all face new vistas. For the majority of the world it won't be easy. But the changes we face will be very hard for the West so accustomed to its "special place in history." That place in history is changing, and in the most dramatic way. The rest of the world has funded Western prosperity for decades, making the United States the greatest debtor state in history. As we can see today, this was a failed model and ideology. Now everyone must pay and be rewarded equally an idea the West abandoned long ago.

In a strange way, Fukuyama was right in his "The End of History and the Last Man." History never ends, but bankrupt ideologies do. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was buried two decades ago. In light of recent history, Fukuyama's "Western liberal democracy" should now be preparing for its own burial ceremony. I won't weep at the funeral -- nor will most of the world.

Peter Lavelle is a political commentator for Russia Today television. The views expressed in this commentary are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of Russia Today or RFE/RL

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