Get Real I: Clashes of Four Civilizations, Research Time, 14/10/2015

When I’m reading a book that was epically influential on mainstream politics – like Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History – I find the ignored chapters to have some of the more interesting stuff. Today, I want to talk about his less rosy predictions about future politics – his own take on the clash of civilizations.

About two-thirds of the way into The End of History, there are a few chapters on what his theory means for international relations theory. How will states relate to each other in a world that’s inevitably rolling toward universal capitalist liberal democracy? 

It’s a critique of realist IR theory, that war, suspicion, and power games are the inevitable way states relate to each other. International institutions are only really useful as dispute-settling arenas, and diplomacy is the job of working out compromises between great powers to avoid mutually devastating war.

Fukuyama's book never anticipated that China would
become a global power and the leader among Asia's
authoritarian states. He concentrated more on
Singapore as the key example. But China has made
the world bipolar (for now) again
, and its leader Xi
Jinping rules not by straight Confucian principles, but
with ideas from the Legalist schools like Shang Yang's
writings. An innovator in authoritarianism.
Fukuyama thinks that the spread of democracy will change this, because pressure from the people will drive their leaders to peace. It’s the kind of optimism Fukuyama is famous for.

But he also considers a very pessimistic possible future. In this scenario, capitalism successfully spreads throughout the world, but economic freedom doesn’t carry democratic political culture with it. Instead, the world breaks down into three blocs, according to their cultural heritages that resist democracy.

1) There’s the West, with its cultural heritage of liberalism (and the liberatory drive that animated socialist and social democratic movements, though Fukuyama underplays these). This is straight-up liberal democracy.

2) The Islamic world, which Fukuyama describes in simplistic (and borderline racist) terms as fundamentalist. If Fukuyama had any deep knowledge of Muslim cultural heritage, he’d talk about the traditional union of social, political, religious, and state concerns through the concept of the unified community of all Muslims.

Islam’s first wave of expansion was as an empire, and its Prophet Muhammad was the political leader of this empire as well as a religious leader. The legitimacy of contemporary Arab monarchies – especially the most brutal ones like Saudi Arabia – are rooted in their embrace and export of their favoured branch of Islam.

3) Asian authoritarianism. Fukuyama discusses this as East Asia’s Confucian heritage. It’s a political culture that privileges group and community loyalty and deference to established authority over individual assertion and liberties. You can be a business leader, and a powerful one. But a top priority must always be loyalty to your country’s leaders.

It's easy to laugh at Vladimir Putin from a place like
Canada. But he's made Russia one of the most
dangerous and unpredictable states and armies in
the world. And world maps let us forget this, but
Russia is the state along our northern border.
If we want to carry Fukuyama’s analysis into our current world, you can add a fourth great power bloc to the two resisters of democracy.

4) Russia’s Czarist Petty Imperialism, which has been resurrected under Vladimir Putin. He’s returned to the power games of occupying territory along border states to subjugate them into obedience. 

We never stood up to him over the annexation of Georgian territory, and now he’s done the same with Crimea and Donbas in Ukraine. And he’s threatening Sweden and the Baltic states to leave their pro-European stances. Putin hasn’t brought Russia back to communism. He revived the Great Game of the 19th century instead.

In the 21st century, it looked as though Fukuyama’s more pessimistic picture of the future – which he didn’t even endorse in The End of History because he was so certain of democracy’s triumph – came true. 

But there’s one problem in the mix, which I kept coming back to last week.

The Arab Spring happened. Why? To be continued . . . 

No comments:

Post a Comment