Zimbabwe: Is Democracy the End of History?

13 January 2020
opinion

As the curtain came down on the Cold War in 1989, Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama - an American political scientist, political economist, and writer - curved his name as one of the greatest thinkers to ever walk the face of the earth after delivering a piece titled, "The End of History".

The USSR was crumbling and the world was celebrating the triumph of Western democracy, capitalism and liberalism over socialism.

Scholars took pen to paper trying to explain prevailing events and predict what would happen next.

Fukuyama rebuked their analysis, saying they did not see the greater picture: This was not just the end of the cold war or socialism and communism, but the end of history itself.

This is because, as Fukuyama's disciples put it, there is nothing after democracy. Democracy is the highest point of civilisation. Fascism, socialism, communism and every other cycle of human development had failed.

At the end of the Cold War, all the countries in the world would now take a liberal stance. Capitalism would be the order of the day and all peoples of the world would demand democracy in their countries.

The triumphant members of the free world - America, Britain, France and their allies - would not only preach the gospel of democracy, but would impose liberalism on "backward" countries by means of war, civic society, sanctions and even Hollywood.

Democratic peace theorists who believed that the world would be a safer place if all countries embraced democracy, went to town over the new world order.

The primary claim of democratic peace proponents is that democratic states do not wage war against each other, although a number of scholars have modified the claim to the proposition that "democracies are less likely to fight wars with each other".

They also claim that democracies tend to prevail in wars they fight with non-democracies, and in wars they initiate, democracies suffer fewer casualties.

Democracies, they further argue, fight shorter wars than non-democratic states, while democratic states locked in disputes with each other choose more peaceful means of resolution than other pairings of states.

"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 colour 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.

"What we may be witnessing is 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 endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government," Fukuyama declared in The End of History.

Unfortunately for Fukuyama, history is stubborn. Instead of ending, it keeps going round and round in circles.

Recent events where an Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US-led airstrike in Baghdad, and many other events since the official end of the Cold War in 1991 are testimony to this fact.

The Iranian commander of the Quds Force was killed on January 3 in a targeted air-strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.

The US has been seeking to promote the values of liberty and democracy since its independence declaration in 1776, with the main goal of US foreign policy being "bringing individual freedom and human rights to people around the world".

This is what is commonly known as "ethical" foreign policy, which defines the principles and practice of international relations based on the respect for human rights, international obligations, transparency and accountability.

However, Western states claiming to have adopted ethical foreign policy have been recorded by history as major violators of human rights or major suppliers of arms to autocratic countries.

These countries also rate as some of the most military-strong countries in the world, according to the Global Firepower Index of 2018. France, Germany, the UK and the US are in the top 10 together with some of their major allies, South Korea and Japan.

Blogger Arthur Charpentier in 2017 did some interesting math. He discovered that America has been at war 93 percent of the time since the Declaration of Independence: 239 years since 1776, the US had been at war for 222 years.

Clearly, the world's foremost liberal democracy has not been promoting peace, but war, while Fukuyama's assertion that liberal democracy is the last form of democracy is not supported by empirical evidence.

Theocracies, monarchs and other forms of authoritarian regimes have recorded economic growth that has not been seen, even in leading liberal economies.

A number of such countries are developing faster than democracies and one of the major reasons cited by scholars is the absence of "divisive" elections held regularly over short periods in democracies.

Autocratic governments have ample time to implement economic strategies without the fear of factionalism, political violence, opposition and draining campaigns.

With the legitimacy of the US being brought into question following decades of unnecessary wars and Asian and Middle East giants showcasing the attractive nature of autocracy, history will not end any time soon. Liberalism will continue to be tested, and might not withstand the greatest test of all.

The test of time.

Wrote Louis Menand in a 2018 New Yorker article titled, "Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History": "Twenty-nine years later, it seems that the realists haven't gone anywhere, and that history has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It turns out that liberal democracy and free trade may actually be rather fragile achievements. (Consumerism appears safe for now.) There is something out there that doesn't like liberalism, and is making trouble for the survival of its institutions."

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