One of the most oft-quoted books in international relations theory is Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man”.
This is one of the three books I hope I never have to read. It goes along with Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” and Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Now, the last one from what I’ve heard is probably actually pretty good but it’s just quoted and covered so much that the book is hardly worth reading anymore. There are more interesting off-shoots from it by now. I read a similar book in my Globalization class, “Ecological Imperialism”, by Alfred Crosby.
As for Friedman, this dope is pretty good at crafting a message that people can conceptualize easy and then parrot to their friends, but basically he’s wrong. The world isn’t becoming flat as a result of globalization. If anything, it’s becoming far more starkly textured and terrained. More importantly, the world will become more interesting. Ricardian specialization will make even more pronounced the expertise of some regions over others in certain goods. Cultural identities will return as societies learn how to integrate the new international order into their old customs and traditions. Right now many societies are just being smothered by globalization but they will adjust.
In other words I think Friedman is just wrong. And at least right now, the prospect of free trade and liberal democracy is precarious. It’s presumptuous to declare victory.
Which is what Fukuyama did in his book. One thing I’ve read recently that’s interesting is that the end of the Cold War is being reinterpreted. Instead of the Cold War being normal international relations, it was actually an anomoly. It allowed for a calculated, insured world where everyone knew what the stakes and rules were. The US and the Soviet Union used MAD and detente to keep order.
Then the Cold War ended, and communism was considered a massive failure, leaving capitalist liberal democracy as the sole superpower in political economy.
This should have been a good thing, but the balance was now completely off. Capitalism was left unchecked by any real-world or theoretical competitor. And that’s what we’ve seen: corporatism in the US government, a privatization of everything traditionally done by the government, and a massive spread in income inequality as natural capitalism laws exert their forces upon society.
Fukuyama recently wrote an essay for the Washington Post. You can see that he focuses almost entirely on authoritarian governments, because his detractors are arguing that the rise of Chavez in Venezuela and Putin in Russia and so on signals some return of those types of governments. But I think one can explain the rise of those governments based on another portion of international relations theory: balance of power. US capitalism is pushing hard into the rest of the world and countries are beginning to strongly resist, seeking nationalist leaders who protect local identity.
Strangely, Fukuyama says the greatest competitor to capitalist liberal democracy is radical Islamism, whatever that means. Notice he didn’t say just Islam, or fundamentalist Islam, but radical Islamism. Who the fuck even says Islamism? What I think is happening in the Muslim world is the long-awaited reform, where, as Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, says, bin Laden has taken the fatwa and made it an individual decision and not one given by corrupt mullahs, and eventually that sense of spiritual individualism will lead to a version of Islam that is incompatible with militant jihad.
The 21st century in my mind was all about economics, and for Fukuyama to not address the fact that there needs to be a competitor to unchecked capitalism is just strange to me. It’s clear that centrism is the way to proceed, and that the two poles are socialism and Friedman neo-liberalism. And you can see an emergence of socialism in Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army and Venezuela (corrupt as it is), and other groups labeled as evil by the US. Fukuyama says that Russia and China are more than happy to embrace capitalism, so democracy is on its way. Well, not necessarily. In fact, as Fukuyama quotes Zakaria’s “post-American world”, competitors are stepping up against the US. This includes competitors with different political economic models, which all seem to work well in the international system. I mean, China is an authoritarian system with a growing capitalist model. The EU is a fascinating hodge-podge of socialist structures within an increasingly competitive union. It may be that the American model ends up not being the one that succeeds in the future.
As long as the international system only rewards profits and GDP growth, and not things like human values, strong labor rights, etc., then countries like China and Russia can still be part of the current system without suffering. Is this an end of history?
I sat in on a class on the internet and society which I won’t end up taking because the syllabus is a little too undergrad-ish. But the prof does have a blog post in which she says in response to Fukuyama, “Even from this most favorable vantage point, we see that capitalism and democracy are compatible with violence, environmental destruction, poverty, and war, itself.”
What Fukuyama is promoting is a world without balance, completely focused around the US, where you have to get rich or die tryin’. Through money comes power, and that’s it. And this is why I strongly dislike what he has to say.