It’s 25 years since Francis Fukuyama’s essay The End of History was published. Inspired by the fall of the Soviet Union and its evil empire, he argued that we were approaching the final, permanent victory of liberal democracy.
It proved controversial, both at the time and during the years since. I agree with Fukuyama that freedom and democracy are more effective, as well as morally preferable, social systems. However, I’ve always feared that his almost Marxist faith in the inevitability of history was too complacent.
We are only free today because of our willingness to fight to remain so – yes, the better economic performance of free nations and the morale benefits of not purging millions of innocent people both gave us a headstart on our totalitarian enemies, but a decent dose of luck was also required to come through the Second World War and the Cold War victorious and just about intact.
No-one would suggest relying on life-saving luck forever. And unfortunately for all of us, Fukuyama’s faith in innate historical forces working in favour of free nations is looking a bit rickety.
Look around at the world this week and assess whether the End of History is upon us, with freedom advancing, or not.
Vladimir Putin is tearing Ukraine to shreds with his “little green men” (as the Ukrainians call the Kremlin’s tooled-up representatives).
Bashar al-Assad is in his fourth year of massacring the Syrian people, unchecked by the democracies who tut at him from afar.
Now ISIS, the hand-chopping, infidel-crucifying, militant Islamists who seized momentum when Syria’s secularists were abandoned to their fate, have surged across North Western Iraq and are threatening Baghdad. In doing so, they have gained possession of untold quantities of American-funded hardware from the Iraqi Army and became the richest terrorist group in the world by seizing $425m dollars from a Mosul bank.
In response to each of these events, the West has been immobile – worn out and disillusioned by the disastrous aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, bruised by the financial crash and apparently filled with self-doubt about the validity and purpose of our most fundamental values. Blunders have discredited intervention in the eyes of many voters, while isolationism is proving a bloody disaster.
No-one wants to talk about how we ought to respond to these events. Unless you really, genuinely believe that mass slaughter, rape, torture and oppression abroad are none of our business, and that allowing totalitarians to grow in power poses no threat whatsoever to the United Kingdom, then it would be wise to prepare.
The options are quite straightforward: we can work out how to intervene more smartly and more effectively; we can rely on our luck and armed forces in the British Isles to protect us indefinitely; or we can prepare to give up freedom and democracy, the fruit of centuries of hard work and sacrifice.
Fukuyama may have been wrong about the End of History, but he was right to look at events in a grand scale. If the world today looks less encouraging than it did in 1989, that is all the more reason to devote the same grand consideration to our response.