By Tozara Ayomikun
You may not know it, but you’re living in one of the most unstable periods in recent history. The world has not seen this level of disturbance, chaos and uncertainty since the collapse of communism in 1989. The trajectory of the human future that seemed so certain to many of the world’s leading political theorists 30 years ago is now muddled up and confused. You and I may be living through a transformation in the world order, and it shouldn’t be any surprise if it doesn’t seem like it to many, because the people living through a revolution almost never realize it, and individuals experiencing a historic moment almost never notice its significance. It usually takes the hindsight of future generations, who, having a more comprehensive and an outside view of events, are able to fully appreciate the true extent of the process.
In 1992, following the fall of the Berlin Wall which marked the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the world’s preeminent nation, Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man. As you can already infer from the title, it was an acknowledgement of a perceived finality, a statement of Fukuyama’s conviction—even certainty—that human political evolution had come to an end. Whether this conclusion was justified based on the evidence of the time is contestable, but there can be little doubt that it was totally understandable. The victory of democracy over despotism, capitalism over communism, and liberal democracy over fascism, and the institution of a new and unipolar world order under the aegis of American hegemony did give the impression that a final answer had been reached, that the End of History had indeed arrived.
Fukuyama’s analysis was made from a theoretical perspective that finds its origins in Whiggish notions of history. Whiggish history views history as a linear process, always going from a more primitive stage to a more advanced one, from lower development to higher development, from an inferior stage to a superior stage. In this view, history has an end point towards which it is always progressing, and the present is always better than the past and the future always better than the present. It is the antithesis of age-old notions of “Golden Ages.” It automatically antagonizes theories of degeneration, decadence and regression. Instead of looking to a once Golden era from which the human race had fallen, it anticipates a glorious future towards which humanity is accelerating. Fukuyama, seeing the victory of “freedom” in 1989 and the rise of a liberal world order that he was totally convinced would no doubt be the ultimate desire of all humans all over the world, concluded that this future “Golden Age” had been reached. A total error, as we shall see.
Of course, it wasn’t only Fukuyama and his Whig predecessors who promoted this view of history. His more immediate influences, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx, built their entire philosophical edifices on this theory. Hegel believed that history was a process moving towards a specific direction—human freedom was its ultimate end, although he meant “freedom” in a metaphysical, idealist and “spiritual” sense that we do not have the time and space to elaborate on here. He wrote, “history is the process whereby the spirit discovers itself and its own concept.” We can oversimplify that as “history is the culmination of consciousness,” if that would help (I doubt it would, but we can’t dwell on Hegel).
Marx turned Hegel’s theory into a tool for economic analysis, and thus came up with his theory of historical and dialectical materialism, which got rid of the metaphysical connotations of Hegel’s system while retaining its “arrow of history”—except that this time around the arrow was not about the progress and ascent of “the spirit” (whatever that is), but the evolution of man’s material condition and its ultimate endpoint. In this Marxist history, material and economic forces are the driving engines, and progress is expressed in five stages. History begins as primitive communism, develops into slave society which eventually gives way to feudalism, feudalism then gives way to capitalism, which in turn evolves into socialism, and socialism culminates in a global, stateless communism. Stateless communism is therefore Marx’s own End of History.
In 1989, the USSR collapsed, the capitalist West won the Cold War, thus denying global communism its expected take off. Socialism has been a massive failure wherever it has been tried, and in nations where socialist policies are partially implemented (such as the welfare state, free education, and free healthcare), it is always as an appendage of successful market capitalism, not its replacement. Marx’s End of History is therefore nowhere in sight, and his prediction that capitalism would destroy itself with its internal contradictions and that the first Proletariat Revolutions would take place in the world’s most capitalist countries (America) have been utterly smashed into smithereens by the events of the 20th century. Rather, it was the USSR that was destroyed by its internal contradictions. What we have now is global capitalism. It was the liberal world order that triumphed, after all.
But does that mean the liberal world order was the actual end of history as Fukuyama believed? Does that mean America’s unipolar world (an aberration of history) was a permanent feature—-a final conclusion? Does that mean liberal democracy is the ultimate system of them all? One only needs to look around oneself and wonder what Fukuyama must be saying now. China and Russia have resisted the absorption of liberal democracy. The Islamic world remains antagonistic to the values of liberal democracy. All American attempts to bring “freedom and democracy” to the Middle East have been utter failures and embarrassments. Every single experiment has proven itself to be totally different from Germany and Japan. In Europe, Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations is ongoing. Xenophobic sentiments are on the rise among the majority of American conservatives. Nationalism, Fascism, and Traditionalism are on the rise among some American and European youths.
America’s unipolar world order is collapsing as it explodes abroad and implodes at home. The empire is tired and its dying ember is all we can see. And it looks like it will be dying with a whimper, not a bang. Sectarianism is tearing it apart. Its people have become so politically polarized that the rule of law is increasingly disrespected whenever it threatens ideological solidarity. Policy debates are becoming impossible to resolve with civility. Love for the nation is at an all time low. The Governor of California, the world’s fifth largest economy and the biggest section of the American union, is giving secessionist signals. The Southern States want back segregation. Love for the Confederacy is resurfacing. Hispanics in Texas are pumped up for a breakaway. There is a full blown culture war where both sides feel deep hatred for the other and are intent on obliterating one another. The European front of the Empire is in chaos and the war in Ukraine has exposed the fragility of the EU. The Pacific front is also unstable, and there’s a threat of a hyperpower on the horizon. The President of the Empire has been put in a position where he is forced to speak of World War III so casually.
What we’re seeing before us is the victory of liberal democracy gradually receding, America’s unipolar world slowly crumbling with a group of neocons in the Pentagon and the White House (who never believed that their unipolar victory was a guarantee that didn’t need desperate measures to be preserved as Fukuyama theorised) talking about potential armed conflicts with Russia and China, refusing to fully accept that Fukuyama was completely wrong, that history never ended, that a multipolar world is inevitable, and that the last thirty years in the whole of human history have been just as fragile as they were unique.
The United States wants to maintain its hegemony at all costs, but it’s already clear that this is impossible. It has two options: it starts an armed conflict with China and Russia and wreaks utter devastation on the world, or realizes that its near-peers are becoming actual peers and accepts the relegation of its hegemony to the Western Hemisphere, as was the case before the terrain-changing global wars of the last century. Either way, this would have significant transformative consequences for the world. It would see the end of some old alliances and the creation of some new ones. It would see the creation of new economic power blocs and the dissolution of some old ones. The end of America’s world policing will definitely see the resumption of major wars in certain parts of the world, where conflicts have been quietly smoldering for decades but kept under wraps by the deterring posture of the United States. It would be a sweeping change that would have many unforeseen ripple effects as well. A consequential rearrangement that would no doubt have huge impacts that can only be fully appreciated decades after the fact.
It is important to state explicitly that all theories of human history that put impersonal forces at the center of the process of historical change are completely and utterly wrong. There are indeed forces that shape history, but these forces are not impersonal, nor do they act on passive human agents to bring about inevitable results. History is a product of interactions between human agents and their environments, because human agents are both active and reactive. The phenomenon of history finds explanation in man’s responses to external stimuli and circumstances, as dictated by his biological nature. Greed, arrogance, quest for survival, quest for glory, security, respect for the sacred (in the form of religion and ancestral tradition, and so on). It is also important to keep in mind that the causal forces behind historical events can also originate entirely from the internal imagination of human agents, totally uninfluenced by external circumstances or considerations. We see this in the triumph of insane ideas that had no connection with reality—because they originated in the minds of individuals with typically psychiatric symptoms—but went on to significantly impact the evolution of society and change history anyway.
Political revolutions are often the result of the actions of a group of humans devoting themselves religiously to some random ideal and striving towards its realization, or human groups reacting to some external accident or circumstance. History is a chaotic mess. Nazism was an aberrant movement whose incubation and temporary triumph altered the trajectory of Western history, and Christianity and Islam have changed the character and histories of entire continents or sub-continents. Both were neither products of economic forces nor material conditions. They originated in the minds of fanatical and motivated schizophrenics who had the ability to convince masses of people to buy into their ideas, and individuals with the power to change the laws, rules, and customs of a society became members of these idealist creeds and decided to impose them on their societies, thus introducing them as causal factors in the unfolding of history. No impersonal forces to see here.
This, however, is not to say that there’s no pattern to history. Rather, it is emphasizing the fact that linear history is a false theory. The past can be better than the present and the present can be better than the future. The Arab World during the Islamic Golden Age was a scientific capital of the world, but now it is nothing but a skidmark on the planet. It has had its Renaissance, but it is now intellectually degenerate, and without oil and the expertise of Western expatriates, no Arab nation would be economically and technologically advanced. Europe during the Middle Ages was inferior to the Hellinistic World in many respects, and it took the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment to attain the same level of development again. History is like a wave. It is cyclical, not linear. It rises and falls. Ages of progress give way to ages of regression. The ascent of Empires opens the door to their descent. This pattern of crest and trough, high and low, is a proven constant of the human condition. It has been the lot of all human societies.
The United States seems to be going through its own age of decadence. It has peaked and is now declining. This should be no shock or surprise to anyone who’s familiar with the history of empires. Civilizations, after initial periods of vibrancy, eventually become bogged down in fatigue and inefficiency. They inevitably self-destruct. It has happened to every single one of them.
The question of how to make Golden Ages sustainable—how to make progress durable, how to make highs, ascents, crests, consistent and enduring—is the same the question of how to extend the natural lifespan of human beings, because nations and empires are born, they grow, they die, and permanently stay dead or become reborn. They follow the same pattern as organisms, because they’re not driven by impersonal forces but by the appetites, characters and idiosyncrasies of the people that compose them.
In order to know how to stop people from aging and dying and make them immortal, it is necessary to know why people age and die. Similarly, in order to know how to bring about the meteoric rise of nations and avoid their degeneration and decline, it is important to know why nations and empires rise and fall. This is exactly what John Bagot Glubb tried to do in his book The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival. He studied the major empires of history and noticed that they all followed the same pattern: (I) Pioneers (II) Conquest (III) Commerce (IV) Affluence (V) Intellect and (VI) Decadence, and this usually happened within a period of 250 years. America itself has followed exactly this pattern and is now trending towards decadence as it approaches its 250th year, which tallies well with Glubb’s observations. This is why I consider Glubb worth reading for anyone who wants to understand why Empires rise and fall.
Other books to read for those who want to understand why Empires or nations experience fatigue are: The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler, The Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee (or you can read up on his Challenge and Response Theory for a brief overview), Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun, and Why Civilizations Self-destruct by Elmer Pendell.
If you want to read some interesting answers on how to avoid the fall and decline of nations and empires, you can read the following: Imperium by Francis Parker Yockey, Revolt Against the Modern World and Ride the Tiger, both by Julius Evola, and The Fate of Empires: Being an Enquiry into the Stability of Civilizations by Arthur J. Hubbard.
I don’t necessarily agree with the authors, but I find them interesting. And the first two authors are especially exotic.
As for my own answer to the question, that would be a subject of an elaborately researched thesis in a future time.
If you’re interested in having a better understanding of what’s happening in the world on the geopolitical scale, you should read these two books at least: The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington and The End of the World is Just Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalisation by Peter Zeihan.
This essay was included in Volume I of The Dissident Review, available in paperback on Amazon.
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