Not only was Francis Fukuyama wrong about China, but it’s beginning to appear that he was wrong about us as well. The obvious fact that China is not becoming more Madisonian is only half of the story. The other half is that the United States is threatening to become less Madisonian and much more like China.
We may be approaching a historical time of great irony and equally great troubles, troubles which themselves will not be without its own irony. It’s now been nearly thirty years since we were informed that the “end of history” had arrived. That was the lesson that political philosopher Francis Fukuyama sought to teach us after the Cold War had ended and Western values seemed to reign supreme.
The Soviet Union had fallen without a shot being fired; communist China had opened itself to the West and to capitalism; and the world seemed to be on the verge of this general agreement: some version of liberal, capitalist democracy was not just the best way to organize countries, but it represented the wave of a new future, which heralded permanent peace and prosperity.
The consensus seemed to be that the American model, or some reasonably close approximation of it, was the answer to the world’s problems. Apparently, America really was John Winthrop’s “city on the hill.” Better yet, from this point forward America as redeemer nation meant redemption by American example and not by the American sword. More than that, as former enemies went about the gradual process of becoming more like us those same old enemies might even become new friends—or at least peaceful competitors.
Amidst all this optimism there certainly would be no need to advance democracy at the point of a gun any longer. World Wars I and II were permanently in the rearview mirror. Wilsonian calls to “make the world safe for democracy” would no longer have to be central to any presidential declaration of war.
Truly, there was a case to be made that end of history had finally arrived. And to add to the American-ness of this historical moment its arrival had roughly coincided with the 200th anniversary of the birth of the United States. Therefore, some thanks could be given to the American framers whose founding documents presumed that political freedom and economic freedom were best assured if they were bound together. More than that, the framers believed that you really couldn’t have one without the other for any length of time.
The United States has benefited from that understanding for better than two centuries now. As of the early 1990s and the “end of history,” America’s rivals were suddenly poised to benefit as well. And if they did, what next? The whole world stood to benefit, too. The “end of history” would soon be small talk; heaven on earth was at hand.
And why not? After all, commercial republics, or at least some version thereof, don’t fight against one another; they trade with one another.
Now let’s fast forward three decades. Neither Russia nor China is anywhere close to becoming, much less being, either a commercial republic or some version thereof. History is no closer to its end in 2021 than it was in 1992. Putin’s Russia has settled in to one-man rule, minus perhaps the worst of the Gulag. And Xi Jinping’s China is sticking to an alternate model based on highly controlled economic “openness,” minus any hint of political freedom.
China seems to be saying to the world that both James Madison and Francis Fukuyama were wrong. Economic and political freedom are not requirements for successful and powerful nations. In fact, such nations can have elements of the former and none of the latter.
OK, you say, Mr. Fukuyama was wrong. History hasn’t exactly ended. But where’s the irony in any of this?
Well, not only was Mr. Fukuyama wrong about China, but it’s beginning to appear that he was wrong about us as well. The obvious fact that China is not becoming more Madisonian is only half of the story. The other half is that the United States is threatening to become less Madisonian and much more like China.
Actually, this threat has been growing for a good while now. But at this historical moment the United States seems poised to make, shall we say, its own great leap forward. That would be a leap in the direction of Chinese-style centralized government and one-party rule.
At least that seems to be what a unified Democratic party is poised to attempt. The margin of power is close, but the will to act is there. And many other pieces are in place.
Donald Trump may be gone, but that will not be enough. Much will be done to make sure that there will never be either another Trump presidency or another presidency with Trump-like policies.
The most important of these pieces is Big Tech, whose power dwarfs that of the robber barons of the late 19th century—and whose intent is much more malevolent. Expect what’s been called surveillance capitalism and the “cancel culture” to be put on steroids.
The entertainment industry and the education establishment march right along with Big Tech. The same goes for the mainstream media, which now functions essentially as an arm of the Democratic party.
In sum, the end of history that was supposed to have occurred with the end of the Cold War and the opening of China has hit a snag. Worse than that, thanks to the clout of the left within the Democratic party and its auxiliary henchpersons, that “snag” includes a powerful effort to close the United States.
All of this portends a coming time of troubles and anything but the end of history. After all, a concerted attempt to end the American experiment in limited government, coupled with the stifling of the First Amendment, will provoke a whole lot of contentious new history. At least it should. If not, there might well be a fresh spate of Fukuyama-like books predicting a very different “end of history.”
Now for the final note of irony. The shock troops for this effort are also in place. Think of the BLM movement and Antifa (as in anti-fascist). In the 1930s with fascism on the rise in Europe, the Louisiana “Kingfish” Huey Long was asked if fascism would ever come to America. “Sure,” he replied, “but they’ll call it anti-fascism.”
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The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.