As communism seemingly disappeared from view at the end of the 1980s, in a sudden and unexpected blow-out, there was plenty of triumphalism around in the west. The most infamous was perhaps that of Francis Fukuyama, a US state department career man turned historian. He got his publishing break with a book called “The End of History and the Last Man”. The end of communism, he suggested, meant that man’s ideological evolution, the very stuff of history, was over. Western liberalism had won. Nothing seemed to appear on the horizon to challenge its by then unquestioned dominance.
Francis Fukuyama has continued to publish books on the history he thought had ended but his original thesis looks more and more messy the further away we get from the 1990s.
Here we are in March 2018 and the retreat of liberalism is pretty much full-on. The authoritarian march of Putin and Xi is matched by their less consequential peers and puppets, men such as Erdogan in Turkey, Assad in Syria, Maduro in Venezuelas. Meanwhile, the challenge from within continues, as liberalism is broadsided in its own realms by such as President Donald Trump, Hungary’s Victor Orban, Poland’s Morawiecki and the onslaught of populist parties like Five Star in Italy or AFD in Germany.
The problem of liberalism is further exacerbated by the feebleness of its defending leaders. Angela Merkel has been holed beneath the political waterline by her poor election showing last November, and the 5 months it has taken since to establish a workable government. Britain’s Theresa May is wholly occupied in withdrawing her country from the last great international liberal project, the European Union. As she does so, her supporters attack both the courts and those elected MPs who disagree with their hard Brexit ideology. Only President Macron of France and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada seem to be charismatically manning the bridges in defence of liberalism, and Trudeau suffered a set-back with a ludicrous recent tour of India that exposed him more to ridicule than respect.
As liberalism struggles to assert itself, the vacuum it is leaving becomes all too readily apparent. Nothing this week has been so redolent of the enfeebled nature of a liberal state than Britain’s position as the recipient of a chemical attack by Russia. You can hear the suppressed, gleeful laughter in the Kremlin even as Putin and his acolytes seek to po-facedly deny any links to the attack by nerve agents on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Over in Syria the misery of Eastern Ghouta is testament to the consequences of America’s abandonment of its role as liberal guardian.
The wanton destruction of Yemen stands as witness to the removal of restraint by any liberal leadership over the one time client states of the middle east.
In Italy the people vote for parties led by clowns, one a former artist of the genre and another the corrupt, criminal buffoon who brought clowning into the prime minister’s office; the rise of both a stunning rebuff to liberalism and its leaders.
While liberalism retreats the dictators stand triumphant, and the laughter of Donald Trump as he admires the right to rule for life acquired by China’s Xi Jinping is the maniacal noise of the inmate who has finally stolen the keys to the asylum.
If as Fukuyama suggested the triumph of liberalism represented the evolutionary end point of mankind’s ideological and political journey, then the species has apparently managed to find a post-evolutionary slope to speed down afterwards.