Francis Fukuyama argued in 1989, that, “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” Therefore, per Fukuyama, the end point of history had been reached with “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
The problem is that the hold of reason in human affairs is always tenuous.
Far more lasting have been the eras of infallible sovereignty, absolute power derived from God, domination and serfdom, and subjection to what Isaiah Berlin called “the forces of anti-rational mystical bigotry.”
Berlin, well before Fukuyama, identified a potential weakness of liberalism. In “The Crooked Timber of Humanity,” he wrote: “A liberal sermon which recommends machinery designed to prevent people from doing each other too much harm, giving each human group sufficient room to realize its own idiosyncratic, unique, particular ends without too much interference with the ends of others, is not a passionate battle-cry to inspire men to sacrifice and martyrdom and heroic feats.”
Liberty, however, requires certain things. Liberalism demands acceptance of our human differences and the ability to mediate them through democratic institutions. It demands acceptance of multiple, perhaps incompatible truths. In an age of declamation and shouting, of polarization and vilification, of politics-for-sale and the insidious submersion of politics in fact-lite entertainment, the emergence of Trump is as unsurprising as it is menacing.
Berlin noted there was “some truth” to the conservative writer Joseph de Maistre’s view that “the desire to immolate oneself, to suffer, to prostrate oneself before authority, indeed before superior power, no matter whence it comes, and the desire to dominate, to exert authority, to pursue power for its own sake” are forces that are “historically at least as strong as desire for peace, prosperity, liberty, justice, happiness, equality.”
The broad failure of the Arab Awakening — the greatest liberation movement since 1989, an attempt by Arab peoples to empower themselves — had many causes, but a central one was the absence of any liberal constituency in societies from Egypt to Libya. Even a country with a large middle class like Egypt was not ready to accept the mediation of multiple truths through democratic institutions. So power went back to the generals, and the Islamists — even the moderates among them — were condemned to prison or worse.
from Hungary to Poland
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