Can we restart history after all?
Daniel McCarthy has written a remarkable essay in The American Conservative questioning Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of The End of History. McCarthy challenges the assumption that the Hegelian process of History has come to an end with the worldwide triumph of liberal democracy. McCarthy contends that the so called “end of history” is simply a product of Anglo-American world hegemony–and points to the rise of anti-liberal systems such as fascism when this hegemony was challenged. He concludes:
Liberal democracy is unnatural. It is a product of power and security, not innate human sociability. It is peculiar rather than universal, accidental rather than teleologically preordained. And Americans have been shaped by its framework throughout their history; they have internalized liberalism’s habits and rationales. Not surprisingly, they have also acquired the habits and rationales of empire—and now they must understand why.
In short, “liberalism means empire.”
While Fukuyama’s work is mostly driven by ideas, McCarthy’s thesis is driven by geopolitics. McCarthy bases a large amount of his thesis on the common geopolitical assumption that land based, imperialist, militaristic powers practice a more anti-liberal form of social organization. In contrast, the offshore-balancing Atlanticist powers of Great Britain and the United States did not face the constant existential threat of invasion and therefore, were more willing and able to permit free speech and develop liberal institutions–at least most of the time.
McCarthy’s thesis, true to what one would expect from The American Conservative, is that one of the great threats to liberalism comes from its most militant defenders–the neoconservatives. Their insistence on spreading liberal revolution by force is challenging the entire security system that guarantees liberalism by introducing catastrophic instability. McCarthy writes:
The conservative realist knows that America will not be anything other than broadly liberal and democratic for a long time to come, and liberal democracy requires a delicately balanced system of international security upheld by an empire or hegemon. This balance is apt to be upset not only by some rampaging foreign power—by a Napoleonic France or a Nazi Germany or Soviet Union—but also by our own revolution-loving, democracy-promoting liberals.
Of course, what if you don’t want to safeguard liberal democracy–and aren’t particularly happy about America being liberal and democratic either? McCarthy identifies George Kennan and Pat Buchanan as examples of anti-liberal anti imperialists. While they “are among our greatest critics, they are also among our most neglected. They preach what a liberal nation will not hear.”
Most readers will read this and come away with a greater appreciation of the fragility of the international order and the need for prudence in foreign affairs. A thinker of the New Right may accept McCarthy’s premise but come to a different conclusion. After all, we are not so much fighting Islamization, egalitarianism, or dysgenics as we are fighting that most terrible of all conjurations–the Last Man.
Therefore, if McCarthy is correct, we should know hope–this too shall pass, and Western Man will once again have the chance to walk the upward path unrestrained by liberalism, classical or otherwise. Will liberalism fade with the end of the American Empire? We can only hope.
The Persistence of the Last Man
But is McCarthy right? Before judging, it’s necessary to clarify that Fukuyama’s thesis has been widely misinterpreted by many commentators—who think it was “disproved” by September 11, the persistence of authoritarianism, or Islamic fundamentalism. There has also been some whining from leftists who will point to poverty or inequality as disproving what they see as American triumphalism.
American hegemony or some kind of democratic utopia wasn’t what Fukuyama was defending. He simply stated that liberal democracy represented a universal ideal that most governments feel the need to pay lip service to and that provides a rhetorical framework for people to express their yearning for dignity as a human being. Whatever authoritarian holdouts remain, this thesis remains essentially true in 2014, as even countries like Belarus, Iran, and China use democratic trappings to justify their system.
Though Islamic fundamentalism and the yearning for a caliphate is a theoretical rival, in practice such an opinion is relegated to the fringe of the Islamic world, as even most “fundamentalists” mobilize via political parties that participate in elections, a la the Muslim Brotherhood. The new “Caliphate” of ISIS has its fiercest rival in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The fact that stating “I am a man” or “We are human beings” is considered some kind of compelling political statement shows the power of Fukuyama’s argument.
However, though Fukuyama generally supports democracy, he had the integrity to say that there was the possibility of a challenge. Interestingly, Fukuyama held that the most compelling challenge to the worldwide system of liberal democracy could only come from the Nietzschean Right. The Last Man–the men without chests who prize safety, comfort, and consumption–are contemptible creatures, and the “dignity” they secure through democracy may not seem enough to some individuals. Fukuyama writes that the striving for megalothymia is the great danger to liberal democracies, and it requires safe outlets. Interestingly, he notes that “for most of post-historical Europe, the World Cup has replaced military competition as the chief outlet for nationalist strivings to be number one.”
More importantly, Fukuyama recognizes that “liberal democracies… are not self-sufficient; the community life on which they depend must ultimately come from a source different than liberalism itself.” Citizens need an irrational pride in their own institutions in order for the largely rationalistic ends those institutions serve to be fulfilled. Absent that pride, the institutions cannot be maintained and Fukuyama has since written about the tendency of democracies, including the United States, to fall into “political decay.”
Nevertheless, Fukuyama wrote this year that:
No one living in an established democracy should be complacent about its survival. But despite the short-term ebb and flow of world politics, the power of the democratic ideal remains immense. We see it in the mass protests that continue to erupt unexpectedly from Tunis to Kiev to Istanbul, where ordinary people demand governments that recognize their equal dignity as human beings. We also see it in the millions of poor people desperate to move each year from places like Guatemala City or Karachi to Los Angeles or London.
Even as we raise questions about how soon everyone will get there, we should have no doubt as to what kind of society lies at the end of History.
It hurts to say it, but from the standpoint of 2014, Fukuyama is right. The eternal temptation any commentator is to confuse what we hope to be the case with what is the case. I hope Fukuyama is wrong. I fear that he is right.
McCarthy suggests that all of this is less the working out of some grand historical pattern than an accident of history. If societies are under threat, the premises that underlie liberal democracy will be abandoned and societies will (presumably) return to more traditional arrangements where social choice is limited in order to safeguard the existence of the state.
However, since 1989, the “men without chests” have only grown in number. While Fukuyama lightly says that nature itself will impose limits on egalitarianism, we now live in a society where “fat shaming” and pregnant men are part of the daily conversation. Although the tendency to megalothymia is still a driving force in our culture (for God’s sake, witness Kanye West), liberal democracy has been remarkably adept at assimilating every attempt at social rebellion or self-expression into simply another form of consumerism. This is less a function of collective security than individuals taking the ideological premises of liberal democracy to their logical conclusions.
More importantly, if McCarthy is right, threats to security would prompt illiberal tendencies in American life. Yet the response of the West to 9/11, terrorist bombings in England and Spain, and demographic transformation of host populations has been an even greater emphasis on tolerance and multiculturalism. Though government surveillance has grown, none of it is being directed towards the maintenance of traditional Western identity or the restoration of Authority. Instead, it’s being targeted at those reactionary elements of the population who insist on maintaining their national identities. As Mark Steyn put it, “Just as the AIDS pandemic greatly facilitated societal surrender to the gay agenda, so 9/11 is greatly facilitating our surrender to the most extreme aspects of the multicultural agenda.” For most people in the West, the literal replacement of entire national populations with the debris of the Third World is either not worthy of notice, or is actually a cause for celebration.
This does not mean we are living in a classical liberal paradise. On the contrary, the state controls more of our lives than ever before, and even a casual glance through the morning paper makes one pine for the return of George III or even Nero. Yet in the kinds of freedoms ordinary Westerners favor–consumption, obscenity, entertainment, and sex–Western Man is “free.” The prominence of homosexual and other movements of sexual “liberation” indicates that sexual freedom is now the only freedom that seems to matter. Liberal democracy has triumphed because it provides limited government for the things modern people care about–the freedom to intoxicate, rut, and consume their way into a meaningless oblivion.
Though McCarthy references the “Red Scare” as an example of how even liberal America can abandon liberalism when under foreign threat, he does not bring up the never ending “Brown Scare” raging throughout the West, where physical attacks, workplace discrimination, and even blunt government repression are all justified in the name of fighting racism.
In this never ending climate of hysteria, we see the one thing Fukuyama got wrong–it is not “community” that is the illiberal value on which democracy relies. It is a constant war footing against fascism, Traditionalism, and racism as expressed in law codes throughout the West and organized anti-White hysteria in the Third World. Liberalism relies upon whipping up continuous hatred against prospective anti-liberals. The rights of church or family are swiftly abandoned if government repression is performed in the sacred name of “anti-fascism.” And although some of it may just be acquiescence due to fear, the fact remains that more people believe in anti-racism in the West than sincerely believe in God–and those that believe in God probably believe He and anti-racism are the same thing. Indeed, we may have something worse than the Last Man—the Proud Cuckold who is willing to fight, but only in defense of his own degradation.
Is there an Asian exception? Asia will be the powerhouse of the global economy in the next century, and Asians have not fallen for the poison of mass immigration or national self-loathing–yet. However, Japanese and South Korean culture can hardly be called more edifying than the pop culture of the West. Nor is there a real ideological alternative to liberal democracy taking shape in the Asian Tigers or even in China. While there may not be the same kind of racial replacement taking place, the Asian nations are slowly transforming into economic administrative units just like the nations of the West.
The Return of History
Can the Last Man be killed off?
Radical Traditionalists believe in the cyclical nature of history and that an age of decadence and collapse is necessary before a purging fire and rebirth. Civilizations become decadent and are overwhelmed by stronger and culturally healthier outsiders, like the Germanic barbarians that sacked degenerate Rome. McCarthy’s thesis ultimately depends on the existence of external blocs that will eventually displace the American Empire.
Unfortunately, this theory presupposes civilizations, states, or nations are still in competition. To those that rule Europe, it really does not make a difference if national populations are replaced or traditional cultures annihilated. To paraphrase Sam Francis, most elites in history have had a stake in the survival of the society and were therefore conservative, but the new managerial elite actually depends upon social deconstruction as the basis of its power. Absent sweeping revolution, the end of the military hegemony of the United States or even the end of Western Civilization doesn’t really challenge the position of the financial interests that are increasingly functioning as part of one global unit.
Many of the great security problems of the past seem unlikely to return, even if America disappeared altogether. With the creation of the common market, who can imagine France once again warring with Germany? At the same time, the very same leaders that seem most enthusiastic about the American Empire and its ability to make war, like Senators McCain and Graham, are the also the most indifferent about violations of sovereignty that would have had a Bismarck or even a Metternich mobilizing the troops. The interest of “empire”–as defined as the security arrangement that underlies the global economy–is not the same as the interest of America, even to American government officials.
Empire, as McCarthy noted, is valuable because it facilitates systems of global trade. Is American hegemony really necessary to maintain that system? While the relative decline of the West compared to Asia will change the makeup of the international financial elite, there’s nothing to suggest than an international financial system can’t facilitate that transformation peacefully. More importantly, there’s nothing to suggest that Western populations would even resist large scale displacement, provided they were still given an outlet for consumption and sex. America may go away–but the Empire that sustains liberalism is now international in scope, and it is based out of banks and media outlets, not airstrips or barracks.
I see nothing inevitable about the end of the End of History. In fact, I think it can stumble on all but indefinitely. As Fukuyama posits, even in the face of incredible disaster or the fabled “collapse,” people would hasten to reconstruct it. We have an elite that is fueled by the monetization of humankind’s basest instincts–and those are not going away anytime soon.
“The Ride Never Ends” – Unless We End It
Is there hope? As Fukuyama suggests, it is the Right–those who actually wish for the destruction of global liberalism–that can offer the only challenge. This cannot be primarily an economic challenge, but a challenge of spirit, a contention that the life liberal democracy offers us is simply not good enough.
What the collapse of American Empire would offer is only an opportunity. It might open up a vacuum that would give competing creeds, power centers, and systems opposed to classical liberalism an opportunity to offer their alternatives. But even if America somehow collapsed tomorrow with its media, educational system, and law enforcement, there’s no reason to suggest that the leaderless masses would do anything other than try to build it back up again. And there’s no guarantee that the Empire would even be interrupted in its repression against the authentic Right–it would simply change how anarcho-tyranny is administered.
Still, I hope Dan McCarthy is right. His pessimism is actually optimism to a Man Against Time. But the lesson to be learned is not to wait for the collapse. It’s to live our lives in accordance with the principles that we wish to see in the world. It’s to build the alternative in the real world with every action we take. And it’s to wage a war by any means necessary from within the core of the democratic world itself against the Last Man and all he represents, holding before us the distant hope of that victory which can start the world again.