Monday, 22 September 2014

THE NEVER-ENDING END OF HISTORY AND THE RECURRENCE OF THE LAST MAN

Francis Fukuyama in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

by George Markoff

Recently I had a chance to attend an open lecture of the world renowned political theoretician, Francis Fukuyama, who, as a member of a delegation from Stanford University, gave a number of public lectures in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on the topic of the future of democracy in the 21st century.

Being a citizen of a pro-Western democratic country like Georgia, it was not a surprise to discover that his public lectures were hosted by the country’s Neo-Liberal think-tanks such as Ilia and Free Universities, which promote influential thinkers and activists, who used to back the former ruling National Movement Party’s neoliberal reforms, and which oppose the current Georgian Dream coalition government. Given the fact that the majority of the Georgian, pro-Western intellectual elite support National Movement’s value system, the visit of Fukuyama presented an opportunity for this camp to reaffirm their political influence and once again prove to the Georgian public, which is largely hostile toward them, that their worldview retains credibility and competitiveness.


Ideological controversy


The lecture itself was dedicated to explaining the role of democracy and reforms in developing nations, and the socio-political challenges posed by such changes. Mr. Fukuyama started his speech by unfolding his understanding of a proper bureaucracy for a system of democratic governance. He cited Max Weber’s famous dictum on the importance of meritocracy in a healthy social system as opposed to the nepotism symptomatic of undeveloped states.

He gave examples of how, with the help of this meritocratic approach, the US achieved its current level of functionalism, gradually transforming itself from a partisan, favour-trading style of government, prevalent in the 19th and early 20th century political culture, into a more merit based system.

He also emphasized the importance of the rule of law, and especially the necessity of balancing power in the democratic state system. He stressed that there is no real alternative to the democratic system in a tone familiar to readers of his Magnus Opus, providing such truistic arguments as the universal validity of human rights and the good of economic prosperity as concomitants of his views. He pointed out that autocracies have no future, and said that even successful semi-autocratic states, such as Singapore, China, and Russia, would inevitably fall prey to democratic development.

Throughout the speech, it was remarkable how little his views on the historical development of global social organization had changed. When he argues that democracy, despite suffering "temporary" setbacks, will become increasingly prevalent in the long term, he has in mind the European Union as a model of what he thinks the world will look like at the end of history. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law approximates to his "post-historical" picture of the world.

The imperative of social organization, based on the rule of law, was a central theme of another key-note speaker at the event, Erik G. Jensen, a professor of law at Stanford Law School. However, instead of simply affirming and glorifying the rule of law in all cases, he pointed out that the blind adoption of standard rule of law models for non-Western states en route to democratic development often fails, as shown by the ongoing emergence of failed democracies.

He argued that the adoption of universal standards does not work where such laws oppose local customs, a view that aligns with F.S.C Northrop’s principle of living law, which distinguishes between the positive and living laws of communities. According to Northrop, "positive law" is that body of law enacted by the government and enforced by the administrative apparatus, while "living law" refers to the way people in every community are brought up to do bunch of things in particular ways that has nothing to do with the positive law. This involves a rich mixture of established procedure, custom, habit, mutual expectation, assumption, common language, family ties, folklore, public observances, rituals, religion, and so forth, all woven into complex patterns that pass from generation to generation.

These do not come into existence by a process of rational consideration and they cannot be changed by any individual, and if they change at all it is only slowly. He argued that the attachment of human beings to their living law was always deeper, stronger, and more emotionally felt than their allegiance to the positive law. If the positive law comes into conflict with the living law the result will be serious social disruption and upheaval. If we analyze general outcomes of democratic interventions on a global scale, it is not difficult to find numerous practical demonstrations of the validity of Northrop’s theory.

Collage by Josep Renau Berenguer
It was very symptomatic that at the event the leading Neo-Liberal masterminds recognized the apparent contradiction, which happens during forceful imposition of Western values in non-Western societies. Even though it is not openly recognized by the proponents of Neo-Liberalism, this obvious scepticism regarding the hegemony of the democratic system among the movement’s intellectuals suggests that we have truly entered the decadent phase of Neo-Liberal global dominance.

The existing postmodern crisis currently prevalent in the EU – a direct outcome of the triumph of Neo-Liberalism – is revealed in the shortcomings of the very same institutions of the EU praised by Neo-Liberal thinkers. These institutions serve to undermine the sovereignty and cultural identity of member states through their gradual amalgamation into a Kojèvean type of multicultural meta-state, uprooting the fundamental cultural paradigms of the individual actors and driving towards abstract normative principles of Western universalism.

Democracy vs Archaism


Georgia’s experience of such socio-cultural experiments is revealing, clearly showing the setbacks of neoliberal ideology, the most obvious being the clear dichotomy between an imported liberal, secular value system, supported by the governing elite and a whole cohort of liberal-leaning NGOs, and a traditionalism, shared by the majority of citizens and backed by the Georgian orthodox church.

The former government’s ideology was fully formed by Neo-Liberal and Libertarian values, implanted by organisations like the George Soros Foundation, US institutions, and the Neocon godfathers of the new-born Georgian political elite, who were educated and financially supported in the run-up to the Rose Revolution, which brought them to power. This elite, once they managed to seize power, started to implement their plan of building a "new, open society," excluding all existing traditional value-systems that conflicted with the liberal worldview. These were officially denounced as archaic, pre-modern relicts. Inevitably tensions ensued.

Although this was a society that had passed through an era of Soviet, left-wing universalist values, it had managed to maintain its national cultural identity more or less intact. The reforms soon ran into trouble and opposition, resulting in the subsequent electoral defeat of the National Movement and their radical ideology, despite a massive effort by Western funded non-governmental and educational institutions to support them. Having gained refugee status, this cohort of former government functionaries and intellectuals has moved to the social underground and has begun to attack the new political regime, denouncing the Georgian Dream coalition for its supposedly pro-Russian stance.

The ruling Georgian Dream coalition does not try to defend its position on intellectual grounds. Its political agenda is essentially a pragmatic softening of the harsh policies of its predecessor. So, rather than relying on positive support, its mandate is merely based on high public ratings which stem from the negative feelings created by the former government.

This indecisive and essentially neutral position by the present government enables the opposition to survive, despite legal prosecution of its key members. It even allows them to prepare ideological counter attacks, which play on the failures of the current government and take advantage of events.

One of such example was a pro-gay/ anti-homophobic rally held in Tbilisi last year. This was attacked by thousands of protesters opposed to homosexualism, who were allowed by police to break through a cordon so that they could violently pursue the LGBT activists. The rally was organized by the Georgian LGBT-rights organization, which, of course, exists on Western funding and is an important platform for a typical part of the liberal agenda.

After the violence, the opposition and their intellectual supporters were able to blame the acting government for it passivity and inability to protect human rights, with the criticism being amplified by international organizations and Western diplomats. The government seemed caught between a formal recognition of liberal democratic doctrine, prompted by a desire to encourage investment and economic development, and a populist bias towards tradition. This ambivalence in policy making is prevalent in Georgian politics, and the future of this hybrid type of democracy, which persists in a state of constant juxtaposition, seems volatile and unstable.

Mass protests lead by Georgian Orthodox Church against LGBT rally, Tbilisi, Georgia 2013

Historical crossroads


What conclusion can be drawn from this trajectory of democratic development that we are witnessing nowadays? Does the worldview which posits Neoliberalism as the final harbor for mankind’s social organization maintain any validity? Proponents of liberal hegemony will still argue in its favour and cite numerous historical examples to back up their claim. However, there is an increasing amount of evidence of the obvious failure of this system, making such a thesis less than bulletproof.

Will the crisis deepen, leading to the triumph of its dialectical opponent, namely the ideology based on right-wing, conservative values? Or will we be faced by a society with left-wing social organization and a right-wing value system, something akin to Alain de Benoist’s ideal? Other options on the table might include a Duginian type of Eurasian Imperium, with centralized authoritarian rule and a folkish, pre-modern, poly-religious society, and an archeofuturism of the type proposed by Guillaume Faye that marries archaic values with a technocratic vision of the future. Or perhaps history will manage to maintain its trust in the credence of classical liberalism, perhaps transformed into a radical form of libertarian socialism of the kind that Noam Chomsky talks about.

It is too early to say. However, the signs that are coming from global political developments clearly point to the fact that, for the time being, there is no readiness on the side of the dominant Western powers to question the foundational tenets of liberal democracy, and, on the basis of critical re-evaluation, undertake a radical transformation of the system’s entropic state.

It seems that we are in the process of witnessing the never-ending end of history and the eternal recurrence of the last, Neo-Liberal man. Will this surreal nightmare actually be realized by the Zeitgeist, or will it be overcome by a yet-to-be-realised novel ideology that will synthesize past political experiences into a more coherent and advanced formation? The ultimate rhetorical riddles are waiting for their resolution on the crossroads of history.

Reproductions of Nonexistent Paintings by Vladimir Rankovic: The Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist

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