Philosophy in the Street: Reading #4


 

The End of History? [excerpts]

Francis Fukuyama

The National Interest, Summer 1989

 

[1] In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history. The past year has seen a flood of articles commemorating the end of the Cold War, and the fact that "peace" seems to be breaking out in many regions of the world. Most of these analyses lack any larger conceptual framework for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history, and are predictably superficial. If Mr. Gorbachev were ousted from the Kremlin or a new Ayatollah proclaimed the millennium for a desolate Middle Eastern capital, these same commentators would scramble to announce the rebirth of a new era of conflict.

 

[2] And yet, all of these people sense dimly that there is some larger process at work, a process that gives coherence and order to the daily headlines. the twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: no to an "end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

 

[3] The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world's two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants' markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.

 

[4] What we may be witnessing in not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war 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. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affairs's yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run. To understand how this is so, we must first consider some theoretical issues concerning the nature of historical change . . .

 

[5] The state that emerges at the end of history is liberal insofar as it recognize and protects through a system of law man's universal right to freedom, and democratic insofar as it exists only with the consent of the governed. For Kojeve, this so-called "universal homogenous state" found real-life embodiment in the countries of postwar Western Europe precisely those flabby, prosperous, self-satisfied, inward-looking, weak-willed states whose grandest project was nothing more heroic than the creation of the Common Market. But this was only to be expected. For human history and the conflict that characterized it was based on the existence of "contradictions": primitive man's quest for mutual recognition, the dialectic of the master and slave, the transformation and mastery of nature, the struggle for the universal recognition of rights, and the dichotomy between proletarian and capitalist. But in the universal homogenous state, all prior contradictions are resolved and al human needs are satisfied. There is no struggle or conflict over "large" issues, and consequently no need for generals or statesmen; what remains is primarily economic activity.


 

 

Timothy Snyder

The Road to Unfreedom   (2018)

Prologue  [excerpts]

 

[1] On or about April 2010, human character changed. When I wrote the birth announcement of my first child, I had to go to my office and use a computer; smartphones were not yet widespread. I expected replies over the course of days or weeks, not at once. By the time my daughter was born two years later, this had all changed: to own a smartphone was the norm, and responses were either immedi­ate or not forthcoming. Having two children is quite different than having one; and yet I think that, for all of us, time in the early 2010s became more fragmented and elusive.

 

[2] The machines that were meant to create time were consuming it instead. As we lost our ability to concentrate and recall, everything seemed new. After Tony Judt's death, in August 2010, I toured to discuss the book we had written together, which he had entitled Thinking the Twentieth Century. I realized as I traveled around the United States that its subject had been forgotten all too well. In hotel rooms, I watched Russian television toy with the traumatic American history of race, suggesting that Barack Obama had been born in Africa. It struck me as odd that the American entertainer Donald Trump picked up the theme not long thereafter.

 

[3] Americans and Europeans were guided through the new century by a tale about "the end of history," by what I will call the politics of inevitability, a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done. In the American capitalist version of this story, nature brought the market, which brought democracy, which brought happiness. In the European version, history brought the nation, which learned from war that peace was good, and hence chose integration and prosperity.

 

[4] Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, communism had its own politics of inevitability: nature permits technology; technology brings social change; social change causes revolution; revolution enacts utopia. When this turned out not to be true, the European and American politicians of inevitability were triumphant. Europeans busied themselves completing the creation of the European Union in 1992. Americans reasoned that the failure of the commu­nist story confirmed the truth of the capitalist one. Americans and Europeans kept telling themselves their tales of inevitability for a quarter century after the end of communism, and so raised a millennial generation without history.

 

[5] The American politics of inevitability, like all such stories, resisted facts. The fates of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus after 1991 showed well enough that the fall of one system did not create a blank slate on which nature generated markets and markets generated rights. Iraq in 2003 might have confirmed this lesson, had the initiators of America's illegal war reflected upon its disastrous consequences. The financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation of campaign contributions in the United States in 2010 magnified the influence of the wealthy and reduced that of voters. As economic inequality grew, time horizons shrank, and fewer Americans believed that the future held a better version of the present. Lacking a functional state that assured basic social goods taken for granted elsewhere— education, pensions, health care, transport, parental leave, vacations— Americans could be overwhelmed by each day, and lose a sense of the future.

 

[6] The collapse of the politics of inevitability ushers in another expe­rience of time: the politics of eternity. Whereas inevitability promises a better future for everyone, eternity places one nation at the center of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past. Within inevitability, no one is responsible because we all know that the details will sort themselves out for the better; within eter­nity, no one is responsible because we all know that the enemy is coming no matter what we do. Eternity politicians spread the conviction that government cannot aid society as a whole, but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to doom.

 

[7] In power, eternity politicians manufacture crisis and manipulate the resultant emotion. To distract from their inability or unwillingness to reform, eternity politicians instruct their citizens to experi­ence elation and outrage at short intervals, drowning the future in the present. In foreign policy, eternity politicians belittle and undo the achievements of countries that might seem like models to their own citizens. Using technology to transmit political fiction, both at home and abroad, eternity politicians deny truth and seek to reduce life to spectacle and feeling.

 

[8] Perhaps more was happening in the 2010s than we grasped. Perhaps the tumbling succession of moments between the Smolensk crash and the Trump presidency was an era of transformation that we failed to experience as such. Perhaps we are slipping from one sense of time to another because we do not see how history makes us, and how we make history. Inevitability and eternity translate facts into narratives. Those swayed by inevitability see every fact as a blip that does not alter the overall story of progress; those who shift to eternity classify every new event as just one more instance of a timeless threat. Each masquerades as history; each does away with history. Inevitability politicians teach that the specifics of the past are irrelevant, since anything that happens is just grist for the mill of progress. Eternity politicians leap from one moment to another, over decades or centuries, to build a myth of innocence and danger. They imagine cycles of threat in the past, creating an imagined pattern that they realize in the present by producing artificial crises and daily drama.

 

[9] Inevitability and eternity have specific propaganda styles. Inevitability politicians spin facts into a web of well-being. Eternity politicians suppress facts in order to dismiss the reality that people are freer and richer in other countries, and the idea that reforms could be formulated on the basis of knowledge. In the 2010s, much of what was happening was the deliberate creation of political fiction, outsized stories that commanded attention and colonized the space needed for contemplation. Yet whatever impression propaganda makes at the time, it is not history's final verdict. There is a difference between memory, the impressions we are given; and history, the connections that we work to make— if we wish.

 

[10] This book is an attempt to win back the present for historical time, and thus to win back historical time for politics. This means trying to understand one set of interconnected events in our own contemporary world history, from Russia to the United States, at a time when factuality itself was put into question. Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014 was a reality test for the European Union and the United States. Many Europeans and Americans found it easier to follow Russia's propaganda phantoms than to defend a legal order. Europeans and Americans wasted time by asking whether an inva­sion had taken place, whether Ukraine was a country, and whether it had somehow deserved to be invaded. This revealed a capacious vulnerability that Russia soon exploited within the European Union and the United States.

 

[11] History as a discipline began as a confrontation with war propaganda. In the first history book, The, Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides was careful to wake a distinction between leaders accounts of. their actions and the real reasons for their decisions. In our time, as rising inequality elevates political fiction, investigative journalism becomes the more precious. Its renaissance began during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as courageous reporters filed stories from dangerous locations. In Russia and Ukraine, journalistic initiatives clustered around the problems of kleptocracy and corruption, and then report­ers trained in these subjects covered the war.

 

[12] What has already happened in Russia is what might happen in America and Europe: the stabilization of massive inequality, the displacement of policy by propaganda, the shift from the politics of inevitability to the politics of eternity. Russian leaders could invite Europeans and Americans to eternity because Russia got there first. They understood American and European weaknesses, which they had first seen and exploited at home.

 

[13] For many Europeans and Americans, events in the 2010s— the rise of antidemocratic politics, the Russian turn against Europe and invasion of Ukraine, the Brexit referendum, the Trump election— came as a surprise. Americans tend to react to surprise in two ways: either by imagining that the unexpected event is not really happening, or by claiming that it is totally new and hence not amenable to historical understanding. Either all will somehow be well, or all is so ill that nothing can be done. The first response is a defense mechanism of the politics of inevitability. The second is the creaking sound that inevitability makes just before it breaks and gives way to eternity. The politics of inevitability first erodes civic responsibility, and then collapses into the politics of eternity when it meets a serious challenge. Americans reacted in these ways when Russia's candidate became president of the United States.

 

[14] In the 1990s and in the 2000s, influence flowed from west to cast, in the transplant of economic and political models, the spread of the English language, and the enlargement of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Meanwhile, unregulated spaces of American and European capitalism summoned wealthy Russians into a realm without an east-west geography, that of offshore bank accounts, shell companies, and anonymous deals, where wealth stolen from the Russian people was laundered clean. Partly for this reason, in the 2010s influence flowed from east to west, as the offshore exception became the rule, as Russian politi­cal fiction penetrated beyond Russia. In Tbe Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides defined "oligarchy" as rule by the few, and opposed it to "democracy." For Aristotle "oligarchy" meant rule by the wealthy few; the word in this sense was revived in the Russian language in the 1990s, and then, with good reason, in English in the 2010s.

 

[15] Concepts and practices moved from east to west. An example is the word "fake," as in "fake news." This sounds like an American invention, and Donald Trump claimed it as his own; but the term was used in Russia and Ukraine long before it began its career in the United States. It meant creating a fictional text that posed as a piece of journalism, both to spread confusion about a particular event and to discredit journalism as such. Eternity politicians first spread fake news themselves, then claim that all news is fake, and finally that only their spectacles are real. The Russian campaign to fill the international public sphere with fiction began in Ukraine in 2014, and then spread to the United States in 2015, where it helped to elect a president in 2016. The techniques were everywhere the same, although they grew more sophisticated over time.

 

[16] Russia in the 2010s was a kleptocratic regime that sought to export the politics of eternity: to demolish factuality, to preserve inequality, and to accelerate similar tendencies in Europe and the United States. This is well seen from Ukraine, where Russia fought a regular war while it amplified campaigns to undo the European Union and the United States. The advisor of the first pro-Russian American presidential candidate had been the advisor of the last pro-Russian Ukrainian president. Russian tactics that failed in Ukraine succeeded in the United States. Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs hid their money in a way that sustained the career of an American presidential candidate. This is all one history, the history of our moment and our choices.

 

[17] Can history be so contemporary? We think of the Peloponnesian Wars as ancient history, since the Athenians fought the Spartans more than two thousand years ago. Yet their historian Thucydides was describing events that he experienced. He included discussions of the past insofar as this was necessary to clarify the stakes in the present. This work humbly follows that approach.

 

[18] The Road to Unfreedom delves into Russian, Ukrainian, European, and American history as necessary to define the political problems of the present, and to dispel some of the myths that enshroud them. It draws on primary sources from the countries concerned, and seeks patterns and concepts that can help us make sense of our own time. The languages of the sources— Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German, French, and English— are tools of scholarship but also fonts of experience. I read and watched media from Russia, Ukraine, Europe, and the United States during these years, traveled to many of the places concerned, and could sometimes compare accounts of events with my own experiences or those of people I knew. Each chapter focuses upon a particular event and a particular year— the return of totali­tarian thought (2011); the collapse of democratic politics in Russia (2012); the Russian assault upon the European Union (2013); the revolution in Ukraine and the subsequent Russian invasion (2014); the spread of political fiction in Russia, Europe, and America (2015); and the election of Donald Trump (2016).

 

[19] By suggesting that political foundations cannot really change, the politics of inevitability spread uncertainty as to what those founda­tions really are. If we think the future is an automatic extension of good political order, we need not ask what that order is, why it is good, how it is sustained, and how it might he improved. History is and must be political thought, in the sense that it opens an aperture between inevitability and vicinity, preventing us from drifting from the one to the other, helping us see the moment when we might make a difference.

 

[20] As we emerge from inevitability and contend with eternity, a his­tory of disintegration can be a guide to repair. Erosion reveals what resists, what can be reinforced, what can be reconstructed, and what must be reconceived. Because understanding is empowerment, this book's chapter titles are framed as alternatives: Individualism or Totalitarianism; Succession or Failure; Integration or Empire; Novelty or Eternity; Truth or Lies; Equality or Oligarchy. Thus individuality, endurance, cooperation, novelty, honesty, and justice figure as politi­cal virtues. These qualities are not mere platitudes or preferences, but facts of history, no less than material forces might be. Virtues are inseparable from the institutions they inspire and nourish.

 

[21] An institution might cultivate certain ideas of the good, and it also depends upon them. If institutions are to flourish, they need vir­tues; if virtues are to be cultivated, they need institutions. The moral question of what is good and evil in public life can never be sepa­rated from the historical investigation of structure. It is the politics of inevitability and eternity that make virtues seem irrelevant or even laughable: inevitability by promising that the good is what already exists and must predictably expand, eternity by assuring that the evil is always external and that we are forever its innocent victims. If we wish to have a better account of good and evil, we will have to resuscitate history.


 

Eurasian Mission: An Introduction to Neo-Eurasianism—

The Fourth Political Theory (4PT)  [2012]

Alexander Dugin

 

 

American deep identity

[1] In thinking of how to apply the 4PT in the United States, we first need to find its subject, to discover deep identity there, and to affirm the American people as existing. Here we immediately come across some serious problems. The US was founded as a purely conceptual society conveying the very essence of modernity. Modern anthropology is based on equating humanity with the individual. The individual is a concept constructed out of an atomistic vision of nature and society. The individual is a social atom. But we know now that in modern physics, more and more sub-atomic structures are being discovered. The meanings of the words a-tom (Greek) and individual (Latin) are precisely “what cannot be further divided.” But there is no such entity in nature. It is no more than a concept . . .

 

[2] Likewise, American society was constructed on the basis of this concept. It is a very individualistic society and very liberal in all senses. It is strictly coeval with European modernity. It was born modern. This is important. To be born modern means that the US never became modern; it has never been pre-modern. It is not relatively modern. It is absolutely modern. The US doesn’t know what it is like to be unmodern. The pre-modern tribes of American Indians were completely annihilated by the European settlers, many of them during the Revolutionary War (the majority of the Indians fought on the side of the British). For European people, modernity was an epoch that developed only after the pre-modern Middle Ages; therefore the roots of the European people are pre-modern. That is their past and their semantic prelude to modernity. Modernity is the negation of pre-modernity: secularism against theocracy, the nation-state against empire, the human against the divine, and the individual against the state, ethos, religious community, and so on. Positive modern values were constructed upon the denial of superseded, obsolete pre-modern values.

 

[3] America completely lacks pre-modernity. It has never been an empire, theocracy, or caste society. As a result it is missing such deep dimensions. This is a difference between the US and Latin America. Latin America was never cut off so radically from Mother Europe. It was conceived as a peripheral part of Europe, and maintained strong ties to her. Latin America was part of European history, and so it has inherited European pre-modernity— Catholicism, the idea of empire, caste society, and so on. Modernity for Latin America has the same sense as it has for Europe: it is one step beyond its pre-modern roots. So South America is much more European than America, and its deep identity is much easier to discover. Its roots are Latin: Spanish, Portuguese, Catholic, and Mediterranean. The only root of American society is the modern concept of the individual. There is nothing that lies beneath the individual. There is no pre-modern dimension to it and no deep roots. America came into existence too late to have genuine rootedness in its soil. This poses a real problem in the search for deep identity there, and thus makes the application of the 4PT in American society difficult. 

 

The soil that lacks

[4] The question of roots in the search for deep identity evokes the concepts of soil, space, and of landscape. The people live in a space. Heidegger wrote, “Dasein existiert räumlich.” Dasein exists as space and through space. A people exists through space. The landscape is the living image of the country and the people that dwells there. The soil is sacred for deep identity as the most basic, vegetative level of the soul. The soil of Europe is a kind of visible, material manifestation of its culture. The German archaeologist and anthropologist Leo Frobenius used to say, “Culture is the Earth manifesting itself through man.”

 

[5] Deep identity is linked to the soil. It is the dimension of eternity, of everlasting stability and immutability. America has no soil, or rather, the soil that it has doesn’t belong to Americans. The soil is essentially pre-modern. American society was constructed while completely neglecting the soil. The real living space belongs to those who inhabited the continent before the Whites, to the Indian. To them, the soil does matter. It is the basis of the Indian soul. This was not the case with the White settlers. They settled in the middle of nowhere in order to create a utopia, a place that cannot exist in space. From the beginning, America was a mobile, highly dynamic society of nomads moving about on the surface of a minimized, almost non-existent space. There is no such thing as American earth. There is no earth there, there is only America, the country without soil, without roots, open to all and allowing no one a place to exist— only a place to keep moving, endlessly and always, developing, progressing, and changing . . . Therefore, the space of America doesn’t allow roots to grow. It is an asphalt world. The space of America was virtual from the very beginning of its civilization. The invention of cyberspace was only a delayed iteration of this reality that was achieved long ago . . .

 

[6] The absence of soil is a dramatic obstacle in the search for deep identity. This prevents the projection of the 4PT onto American society. We need to resolve this problem somehow. By accepting that the very structure of American society is missing the profound dimension of existential depth that is present in all other cultures and civilizations, we can nevertheless suggest some paths to explore. The liberalism that is at the heart of American society and the individualism that forms its core values should be accepted as basic features of American identity. That is the birthmark of the artificial construction of American society as a laboratory project of Western modernity.

 

[7] Liberalism and individualism represent the two main characteristics of diffused identity. To be American means to be liberal, individualistic, progressive, and modern. It is not a fixed state, it is a process. The US is not being but becoming. Above this diffused identity there are two parallel mainstream ideological narratives: Democrat and Republican. They are the summary of diffused identity, conveying and deforming it simultaneously in their rational approximations. Liberalism is the center— Democrats are a little to the Left, Republicans a little to the Right. But both these forms of external identity are based on consensus. All other proposals for the formulation of a new political identity are marginalized because there is insufficient social support for such alternative formulations.  The American bipartite political-ideological structure is almost a mathematical expression of the American identity, oscillating around its main vectors— liberalism, individualism, freedom, progress, process, development, efficiency, and so on.