Monday, August 25, 2014

160. History goes on

Francis Fukuyama became famous for his claim of the ‘end of history’. What he meant was that rivalry between political ideologies is over, with capitalist liberal democracy as the only viable ideology left.

This claim has been much criticized. How about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, with the claim of IS (until recently called ISIS) to establish a fundamentalist, extremist caliphate across the Middle East and further.

How about the rise of authoritarian regimes, as in China, Russia, and Turkey, which allow for capitalist markets but not for liberal freedoms?

How about the paralysis of American politics, with the two parties in deadlock of mutual veto?

How about populist rebellion in Western European democracies?

In a recent article[1] Fukuyama recognized these setbacks but reiterated his claim that in spite of them in the end capitalist liberal democracy will necessarily prevail.

Methodologically this is rather weak. In that way one can defend anything that has not yet happened. The second coming of Christ. Divine miracles. Logically one cannot prove that something will never occur.

So what is the argument, and what the evidence? 

Fukuyama claims, plausibly, that IS will not in the long run succeed in its violent destruction of freedom. China, Russia and Turkey will run into the phenomenon that with rising prosperity of the middle classes they will demand freedom, with liberal democracy as the inevitable outcome. That is less self-evident. Middle classes may choose to be bought into loyalty with prosperity and privileges.

Concerning facts, Fukuyama points to revolts against authoritarianism and corruption in Egypt, Ukraine, and Turkey. Yes, but they have all subsided or been sidetracked.

My counterexamples are the street protests in Greece and Spain against the derailment of financial markets and democratic institutions, the protests of the ‘Occupy’ movement, widespread demonstrations against capitalist globalisation.

Those also seem to have subsided, dissolved, suppressed, or sidetracked. Does that prove that they were misguided, and does it confirm the triumph of capitalist liberal democracy? No, not any more than that the subdued protests in authoritarian states prove their superiority.  

I propose that the rise and fall of protests against capitalist liberal democracy demonstrate the ‘system tragedy’ that I have argued earlier in this blog: the inability of a system that has become perverse to reform itself from inside. Criticism from outside the system falters from the paradox, discussed in item 151 of this blog, that people protest against the results of an ideology of individualism that they have learned to endorse and practise themselves. Ideologically, they stand empty handed.

I preceding items in this blog I have argued how deep, how fundamental, philosophically, the crises of capitalist societies are.

What, then, is my answer to Fukuyama’s question what alternative, viable ideology there is, or could be?

In this blog have tried to provide fundamental ideas for that, in a new understanding of equality, individuality, and solidarity (in items 150-152).

Related to that, as an item of practical policy, I advocated the introduction of a Basic Income (154).

Does this amount to a viable and forceful rival ideology? Not yet, surely.

The most fundamental point is a switch from a utilitarian ethics to a virtue ethics, as the basis for a radically different view of markets, with collaboration next to rivalry, with a large measure of reciprocity, and with regard to intrinsic next to extrinsic, purely instrumental utilitarian views of work and enterprise.

That might yield some revised form of capitalist liberal democracy, or some variation upon it, but it would be fundamentally different, perhaps deserving a different name. Let new history begin.        

[1] Francis Fukuyama, ‘At the end of history still stands democracy’, the Wall Street Journal, 6th June 2014.