Friday, August 13, 2010

Not the end of history

I have been thinking more about Francis Fukuyama's End of History. This is an article he wrote in 1989, when the Soviet Union and Communist China were still intact entities, predicting that they were gradually rejecting Marxism-Leninism as an ideology. To Fukuyama, if Communism no longer represented a viable, living ideology, then that would mark the ultimate victory of what he calls a homogeneous liberal democracy. He concedes that this process would take some time, as more "backwards" countries still worked out their ideological differences, but that it would be an inevitable process, leading eventually to the end of history. He doesn't mean that people would cease to exist, but rather that there would be no more historical conflicts between ideologies, and hence humanity would occupy itself mainly in the economic sphere and in small adjustments in policy. He points to the European Union as an example of this post-historical world, in which there are no longer large-scale conflicts or pretensions to dominate the rest of the world.

I have a lot of disagreements with Fukuyama. First of all, as I noted in my article about Samuel Huntington, I think it's foolish to proclaim today's dominant ideology as the end-point of ideological evolution.

A related point is that it's foolish to think of history in terms of a single linear progression. I believe there have been moments in history of greater or lesser ideological foment and conflict. In much of the pre-modern age (the Middle Ages in Europe, for example), not many people or even rulers were thinking about large, abstract ideological issues. Commoners dedicated themselves to living and raising families, and rulers dedicated themselves to extracting wealth from their subjects and expanding their kingdoms. Even today, I think common people in much of the world are not driven primarily by large abstract concerns but by day-to-day life. Furthermore, if we accept Fukuyama's premise that secular ideological conflict will end, while following his and Huntington's implications that it will be replaced by religious and cultural conflict, how is this an end to history? The prospect for religious and cultural conflict is essentially infinite. Because culture is so entrenched and non-negotiable, there is endless potential for conflict, unless we foresee the eventual replacement of all other cultures by one "true" culture or religion.

But my biggest problem with Fukuyama is his narrow vision of what constitutes history. Even if we concede that ideological conflict is what separates real history from a sort of bourgeois, post-historic boredom, what constitutes ideological conflict? Does it have to be the clash between one upper-case "ism" and another? Don't those "isms" have their origin in day-to-day existence?

Haiti could be considered a post-historical state by Fukuyama's definition. It has all the outward trappings of a free-market liberal democracy. But people still starve, still struggle, still get angry with things, still fight for their interests. I think it's inaccurate for Fukuyama to dismiss a post-historical society's concerns as "just" the creation and allocation of wealth. Creation and allocation of wealth is a big deal. It gets people worked up enough to kill one another. Indeed, what were the conflicting ideologies of the Cold War about if not the creation and allocation of wealth?

I have to think that as long as inequality and injustice exist, history will never end. Take Colombia, for example. We have a free-market liberal democracy with a welfare state, and I don't think any major sectors of our society want a communist revolution or any other type of radical changes. Even the FARC and the ELN, the two major leftist insurgencies, have been weakened to the point of irrelevance. But so long as land continues to be unjustly distributed, so long as powerful men abuse and terrorize the weak, there will be some form of resistance, some type of attempt to change how society looks. Even if FARC and ELN were essentially eliminated, as they seemed to be a year or two ago, they or some other movements of the poor would rise again in response to the problems in society. Indeed, we may be in the middle of such a process, as FARC leaders are back in the public spotlight, and terrorist attacks have returned to Bogota.

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