Monday, 9 November 2009

The End of History?

The Nobility of Lying.

Today is November 9th 2009, 20 years ago the Berlin Wall collapsed, heralding the beginning of the end for the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was more than just a structure which physically divided Germany, the Wall represented the division between the "Communist East" and the "Capitalist West". Thus, the collapse of such a wall would be held up as much more than just a mundane act of demolition. Instead, the collapse came to represent liberation. It was the neoconservative Francis Fukuyama who labelled the collapse as the "End of History", in reference to the Hegelian view of history. Fukuyama was implying that the struggle experienced by humanity, between two distinct political philosophies, over the course of nearly two centuries had ended. The implication being that capitalism had triumphed over communism. A fully globalised international community would soon be forged in the image of socio-economic liberalism, in other words a "new world order" was just on the horizon.
As a neoconservative thinker it seems like that, Francis Fukuyama could have been intentionally promoting an idealistic view of liberal democracy. Neoconservative thought is part of a long tradition in academia, that of defending the state and providing justification of the state's actions. Leo Strauss, one of the major philosophical precursors to neoconservatism, believed that it is necessary for the elite to propagate "noble lies" in the form of powerful myths - which Strauss deemed to be necessary illusions. The function of such powerful myths and necessary illusions was to hold society together as it endured liberalism. Strauss viewed liberalism as the road to nihilism, of which the herd would drag American society down and towards an inevitable destination in self-destruction. One such myth, or necessary illusion, being that of God, in the Judeo-Christian faith, as having a particularly "special relationship" with America. The idea of the American nation, as having a fundamentally good role to play in the world in the fight against evil. These ideas are necessary for the bewildered herd, but not for the "creative elite" disseminating these "noble lies".

But why would a card-carrying neocon promote the idea that liberalism had won? The same has been seen from neoconservatives like Michael Ledeen, who claims that he wants to see "democratic revolutions" in countries like Iraq, which will bring liberal democracy to such states. This could be viewed as contradictory of neoconservatives to "promote" the very thing they hate most. But as Michael Ledeen once said "I know the struggle against evil is going to go on forever." The point being that neoconservatives are aware that there work will never be done, because there is an endless supply of countries they can turn into enemies. In the past, Ledeen, a friend of Karl Rove, has advocated military force as the primary tool to achieve "democratic revolutions" in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya and North Korea. On an interesting side-note, only Syria and North Korea are lacking oil reserves, or at least vast oil reserves. Therefore, it might be naive to assume that neoconservatives have one primary goal - the "avoidance" of liberalism - since "noble lies" are to be applied in a liberal society.

Unless you've been living on the moon for the last 10 years, it's obvious that neoconservatives are not focused on spreading democracy around the world. Since neoconservatives view God and the country as necessary illusions which can be used to unite the masses - who they view as stupid when compared to the "creative elite" - surely it is more than likely that democratic ideals and liberal freedoms are just as powerful as myths in today's world. Of course, we cannot read minds and should not speculate wildly. But it seems rational, that neocons would use such rhetoric to hide their own hawkish agenda, because this is how we've seen neoconservatism affect politics. In relation to the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Michael Ledeen (among lots of others) were clearly not promoting freedom and democracy in the aggressive style of foreign policy they advocated. It is common knowledge that the war in Iraq was fought for oil, 80% of Iraqi oil will be "received" by American and British energy companies.
After all, it was neoconservatives like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz who turned the Soviet Union into an "Evil Empire" in the 70s and 80s. But this is a consistent pattern in the West. The very nature of communism has been distorted over several decades by anti-communist propaganda in the West, and the self-proclaimed communist propaganda in the East. The truth is that communism has never existed, communism is a classless society in which all private property is owned by the members of that society. Marx theorised that communism was a long-term goal. Once achieved, the state will begin to wither away as society becomes increasingly sophisticated in terms of technological organisation. Marxist-Leninist states are constructed in preparation of a real revolution, that has to take place in an advanced capitalist society for socialism to ever be achieved.
Fukuyama's thesis may well be the celebration of this supposed triumph, by good over evil. "Good" being the Capitalist West and "Evil" being the proverbial Communist East. This is what happened, although in a more amoral way. Once the dust had settled from the "democratic revolutions" (without US sponsorship) in former Marxist-Leninist dictatorships, groups of radical free-marketeers moved in to pick through the wreckage of the old regimes and initiated an experiment in free-markets. Soon these experiments became "globalised" affairs. But it was these experiments that have devastated many Eastern European countries and even turned Russia back into the Third World. Just like Michael Ledeen and other neocon hawks, Fukuyama saw the writing on the world - this is a great opportunity to build a "capitalist utopia" - but his prophecy is misleading. Capitalism is more a vague label attached to our current economic system, but it technically does not exist. Capitalism is an economic system characterised by the existence of the free-market, which has never existed in countries like America and Britain. Fukuyama's "capitalist utopia" emerged, in former "communist" states, in the form of corporatist states working in collusion with a new elite.

Afterthoughts on Ideology & History.

In declaring the end of history, Fukuyama was referring to Hegel's philosophy of history. For Hegel, history was constantly moving forward through a dialectical process - the move from a thesis to an antithesis and ending with a synthesis. Theoretically, the synthesis is at least partly a combination of elements important to the thesis and antithesis. The synthesis may be a form of conclusion to the preceding stages, but it will inevitably become another thesis and the process continues. Thus, this so-called "post-historical" and "post-ideological" era may be doomed to change, even if it is a synthesis which seems doubtful. Hegel thought that the direction of this dialectical process is geared toward the greater development of mind in relation to freedom. As a civilisation we are moving through this process towards consciousness of freedom, towards realising human freedom and understanding freedom.

However, the argument that this dialectical process is driving humanity towards a liberal democratic social order, predicated upon a capitalist economic system, seems ineffectual. Why? Because many Dialectical Materialists, better known as Marxists, claim that Hegelian thought was flawed until Marx turned it on it's head in formulating historical materialism. For Marxists, the fact that capitalism remains a dominant system would be evidence of the continuation of history. The end of history for Marxists would be the achievement of true communism, which would be a classless society which is so well organised that the state has dissolved. Marxists consistently disagree with Fukuyama, that the end of history will be capitalist in nature. But Marxists would agree with Fukuyama that the end of history will consist of the triumph of democracy - because true communism is the triumph of democracy extended to the economy.

As for this so-called "end of ideology" and the fall of communism as the beginning of a "post-ideological" era, there are monuments everywhere that contradict this view. Ideology, not in the sense of a utopian vision imposed on society, in the sense of a complex array of socio-political and ethical prejudices which have a tremendous impact on our everyday lives. Slavoj Zizek points out that ideology is still present today, even in our most private moments - even on the toilet. Zizek drew an analogy between the "European Trinity" - Germany, France and England - and the three main kinds of toilets - which are French, German or English in origin.
In a traditional German toilet, the hole into which excrement "disappears" after a flush is right at the front, so that excrement is first laid out for us to sniff and inspect for traces of worms, illness etc. Whereas, in the French system, the hole is at the back to ensure that the excrement "disappears" as soon as possible. But the English, or Anglo-Saxon, toilet is structured so that the basin is filled with water to catch "falling objects" which remain in view while not smelled as "easily" as in Germany. This is ideological because the Germans, the French and the Anglo-Saxons all assume that their system works best.

Though, each works fine and the difference is mostly an ideological perception - how the subject is "meant" to interact with excrement.
Hegel was the first to point out the quite distinct tendencies flowing through German, French and English society. In Germany, this disposition could be summarised as politically conservative, thorough reflection through poetry and metaphysics. For Germans, a sort of "reflection" takes place in inspecting one's excrement for worms. The tendency amongst the French is one of revolutionary haste and radicalism, as well as a focus on politics. To the French there is not much difference in disposing of aristocrats and visiting the lavatory, in both scenarios the "filth" must disappear as quickly as possible. Whereas, in England, there is this disposition towards pragmatic utilitarianism, liberalism and economics. The Anglo-Saxon way is to approach things pragmatically, water used to reduce smell while the hole remains at the back of the structure to ensure an easy "disappearance". As Slavoj Zizek emphasises the point: "
It is easy for an academic at a round table to claim that we live in a post-ideological universe, but the moment he visits the lavatory after the heated discussion, he is again knee-deep in ideology."

The Reactions to the Reaction.

In the years since the "death of communism" through the actual democratic revolutions sweeping across Europe in the late 1980s and early 90s, a liberal democratic "new world order" has failed to emerge. Instead, the post-communist Eastern Bloc states, Russia and others became the unfortunate subject of free-market experiments in the 1990s. The people of such countries did not ask for such experiments, they were asking for liberty.
But not just negative liberty, a lack of restraints, but also positive liberty, the capacity to fulfill one's self without such restraints, which Western civilisation lacks so severely. It was Westerners like Jeffrey Sachs, not to mention Fukuyama, who "reacted" to immediately foster capitalism in these countries. But the people of the former socialist states had a reaction for this Western reaction. It was not a reaction favourable to the utopian capitalist vision - a new kind of democracy, in which the free-market gave the masses what they wanted. The reaction came in three common forms: nationalist populism, anti-communist paranoia or a bizarre nostalgia for socialism.
After the fall of the "Evil Empire", post-Soviet Russian society underwent a radical program of "shock therapy" initiated by a group of free-marketeers working under Boris Yeltsin. This "shock therapy" was characterised by massive cuts in state subsidies, privatisation and deregulation of the market over a short amount of time and at a fast pace. This process drove the Russian economy into the ground, turning a Second World country into a Third World country. All that emerged from this was an array of powerful oligarchs and an even stronger current of populist nationalism, which empowered Vladimir Putin. At the expense of freedom and democracy, Putin restored not just political and economic stability to the Russian Federation, but also the dignity that had disappeared like so much vodka during the Yeltsin years. The "order" and dignity that Putin brought to Russian political world was welcomed by the Russian people.

In the Republic of Poland, the optimistic masses that rushed Lech Walesa into office, which was viewed with an almost masturbatory tone of glee in the Western media, were the first people to replace Walesa - who had become even less popular than Jaruzelski - with Aleksander Kwasniewski, a "post-communist" socialist. Though, once in power the Polish socialists did not turn their back on capitalism. Instead, once in power, the socialists served to slow down the process of privatisation and deregulation that had begun in the early 1990s. But once the socialists left office in 2005, having not returned Poland to socialism, and succeeded by conservatives, anti-communist paranoia led to the strengthening of the "lustration law" - which made it illegal for individuals previously involved in the past communist regime or the secret police to hold office. This excludes most of the "post-communist" types like Kwasniewski, possibly a punishment for the failure of socialists to bring about a "utopian vision" in Poland democratically. But it is more likely to be a typical reaction from the Right, opportunistically hitting the Left as hard as possible.
Similarly, during the economic crisis of 2006 in Hungary, there were mass demonstrations against the ruling Socialist Party. The protestors believed that the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989 had to be repeated. The reason? Hungarian society had yet to experience "true capitalism" or "true democracy" and was still under a covert version of the past communist regime. For the protestors, the only way to a democratic and capitalist existence is to "purge" Hungarian society of all ex-communists who were posing as managers and owners. Ironically, this paranoid anti-communism is strikingly similar to how the communist regimes used to explain away their own failures, as a sign of the lingering influence of the capitalist past. The method of choice, in dealing with the ex-communists holding back Hungary, a "purge" is also particularly ironic in the context of bringing about a "democratic capitalist utopia". In the quest for a utopia, the Hungarians have reverted back to the ideology of which they fled 20 years ago.

It is now 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the advent of the "end of history", and it looks like 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008 have effectively signaled the end of Fukuyama's utopia. Just as 9/11 delivered the "shock" necessary for governments around the world to pursue an increasingly authoritarian agenda. The Bush administration practically flushed Magna Carta down the toilet during their years in office. The National Security Agency is now constructing a mammoth building in Utah, where information gathered on American civilians - phone calls, emails and data trails - can be stored. From this information the NSA hopes to determine who is and who may become a "terrorist". In the UK we've seem a similar attempt to establish a National Database, the government is still pushing for ID cards - but at least they've given up on installing recording devices in lampposts to deter "terrorism". The financial crisis of 2008, appears to have resulted in a rise of right-wing populism. It's too early to say where this could lead, some have claimed it may lead us into further wars, inequality and racism. What is clear is that Fukuyama's dream never materialised and new walls are now emerging all over the world, along the American-Mexican border, around the European Union, between Israel and the West Bank.

Panorama - The War Party
Peter Singer on Hegel and Marx (Part 1)
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce by Slavoj Zizek
George Bush's Philosophers by Benjamin Ross
Post-Wall by Slavoj Zizek
Knee-Deep by Slavoj Zizek

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