The End of History? Or, Maybe Fukuyama was Right After All?

August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have always thought Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man to have been an elaborate joke Fukuyama pulled on all of us. How else to explain that Fukuyama still has a career and is still taken seriously? But, maybe he was right, in a sense anyway. I recently read Doug Saunders’ Arrival City back-to-back with Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums. Both books are instructive and informative, both have fundamental problems. Saunders is way too optimistic and Pollyana-ish, and Davis is far too much of a Debbie Downer.

Saunders thinks cities are just about the greatest things ever and that they’ll lead to the liberation of humanity across the globe, the poor will rise out of their ghettos and slums, they will become middle class, and we’ll all live happily ever after. I exaggerate his argument, of course. But one thing about the book that really annoyed me was this on-going sense that slum-dwellers should have expected to have been consulted about the construction of housing projects in Western Europe and North America. It’s a fine sentiment, but it’s so ahistorical it made me spit out my coffee when I read it (and I do not spit out my coffee lightly!).

The reason why Saunders could honestly think this hit me while reading a review of Leif Jerram’s fascinating-sounding new book, Streetlife: The Untold Story of Europe’s Twentieth Century: we have reached the end of history in the West.  I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out, given the rhetoric that has emerged from the mouths of Barrack Obama, Stephen Harper, Angela Merkel, and David Cameron during the Arab Spring and Summer, or what Dubya had to say about Iraq and Afghanistan, and what our politicians say about pretty much every tinpot dictator the world over.

We are all liberals (even the conservatives), we believe in democracy, free markets, and capitalism. We have so deeply internalised these ideas we can no longer see outside of them, or even around them. We are losing out historical consciousness. And so Saunders, who is an intelligent, thoughtful columnist for the Globe & Mail can, in all seriousness, write the phrase that made me spit out my coffee. He can’t see around liberalism. And no surprise.

So maybe we have indeed reached the end of history after all, despite the last decade of terrorism and jihadism. Maybe Fukuyama was right after all.

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