Didn’t Democracy Conquer the World in 1991? Research Time, 15/09/2015

As you can probably tell from a lot of my other posts, some of what I discuss on social media, and the fact that I’m a member of the NDP and I volunteer with my district’s candidate this election, I’m generally a left-leaning person. 

And I think it’s important for every left-leaning person to read influential and interesting works of political philosophy from the right-wing, from conservative points of view. Much of this is about getting outside the bubble of social agreement that too many of us insulate ourselves with. 

One of my favourite sets of horrifyingly offensive
comments from the Conservative Party of Canada's
Facebook page.
A hilarious Twitter account that’s sprung up this election is called Conservatives of Facebook, which tweets screenshots of actual member comments from the Facebook page of the Conservative Party of Canada. It’s a wonderful display of ignorance and insularity. 

A lot of this comes down to social insularity. People who only listen to voices that agree with them, that share their own perspective, will never learn to understand why people think differently. They’ll only think different people are evil or stupid. 

The most hilarious and terrifying examples (my favourites are the ones that are both at once) are from the right wing of politics. People who can’t understand why anyone thinks we should help the homeless, refugees, or allow Muslims into the country. 

People who think it’s perfectly common sense and an entirely popular opinion that the homeless are dirty drug addicts who don’t want to work, that all refugees are just lazy bums who want to coast on our generous social services (like the family of seven my current boss knows who survive on a $1600/month stipend in Toronto), and that all Muslims are dangerous radicals who want to enslave and constantly rape all women.

There are people who believe that anyone who thinks differently than this is either stupid or a fascist. 

The same insularity of ideas happens on the left. I know plenty of people who can’t understand why anyone would support Stephen Harper. But that kind of attitude doesn’t actually equal political success, because you don’t know how to deal with opponents as people worthy of respect, and you aren’t able to convince those opponents to change their views. Doing that requires understanding why other people believe as they do.

So I read right-wing, conservative political philosophy. It’s important for my Utopias manuscript too, because part of what that book will engage is the failure of the liberal democratic ideal over the last 25 years. 

This is why I started reading The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama. It’s a famous book, a popular success that massively and comprehensively influenced Western (esp. American) political culture, and whose effects are still reverberating today. It’s up with Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Robert Nozick’s Anarchy State and Utopia as one of the books that define modern conservative philosophy.

For people of Fukuyama's generation, the long tenures
of Soviet leaders like Leonid Brezhnev (1964-82) was
an expected part of international politics. The Cold
War confrontation of democratic and communist
powers was, best case scenario, supposed to last for
centuries. Instead, the entire Soviet Union fell
within a decade of Brezhnev's death.
Its starting idea is that, as we examine the recently fallen corpse of the Soviet Union, we’ve proven that liberal capitalist democracy is univocally the best possible form of human government and the universal desire of all people. This actually was a vibrant, original, and compelling idea in the early 1990s.

Part of the Utopias manuscript will involve getting inside the perspective of generations very alien to my own, because the conclusions that make perfect sense to someone who came of age during the Bush Administration and sees the Eternal War of the Middle East as he matures, weren’t even conceivable to someone who came of age and matured during the Cold War.

Fukuyama describes this clearly. The popular attitude in the West about the Communist world was that totalitarian government had successfully changed the morality, ethics, and character of their entire population, at least in the Soviet Union. Any desire for freedom had been squashed by the all-pervasive state.

It was taken for granted in the West that no one inside the Soviet Union wanted it to fall, aside from the occasional dissident and defector. Then 1991 happened, and a popular movement overthrew the Communist government and broke up the entire Soviet system. Boris Yeltsin seemed to be leading Russia into democracy.

To someone who grew up under the constant spectre of nuclear annihilation in a war with a Soviet enemy that felt more like a population of Dr Dooms than a human society, this literally was a new era of history. God granted us relief from the nuclear death of Earth.

So Fukuyama’s notion that the world had begun a new, immeasurably fast, unstoppable progress toward democracy and freedom made a lot of sense, given how quickly and radically the world really did change in those two years from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the dissolution of the USSR.

Then look what happened.

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