by Max Moosburger
“At the end of history, there are no serious ideological competitors left to liberal democracy.” When American political scientist Francis Fukuyama established this fundamental yet sophisticatedly argued premise in 1992, the world has just gone through what Fukuyama’s late fellow scholar Samuel Huntington had called the “third wave of democratization”: since 1970, some 75 countries had undergone democratic transition, the most profound of which being the fall of the Iron Curtain and the ensuing collapse of the Soviet Union. Fukuyama’s seminal work “The End of History,” therefore, very much reflected the predominant Western zeitgeist of the early 1990s. America had just won a seemingly effortless victory against Saddam Hussein, thought to be one of the few remaining menaces to what would eventually be called the “Washington Consensus” or the “Pax Americana,” and with the downfall of communist ideology, there was no immediate competitor left to the United States and thus the liberal democratic system of political and social organization it embodied. At the turn of the millennia, following a century, paved by all-out wars, atrocities and oppression, Hegel’s “progress” in history finally seemed to have led human socio-political development into a stage that could make (in the words of another great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant) “Perpetual Peace” possible. According to Fukuyama, both economic reasons and the deeply rooted human “struggle for recognition” (another Hegelian concept, closely connected to his view of a directional and coherent history) have resulted in liberal democracy being the superior form of political organization due to its inherent nature of granting its subjects rights (thereby establishing a system of reciprocal recognition of their equal worth as humans). Therefore, it could be reasoned that all nations would at some point or another give up whatever form of government they have, in favor of liberal democracy. This would eventually make international — especially interstate — conflict obsolete and would replace realist zero-sum power politics with an international liberal system of cooperation and peace. This, in the end, would constitute the end of history, as its driving forces (dialectic in nature), i.e., competition, conflict and war, would simply be no more. Indeed, 22 years later, there is still broad consensus that liberal democracy is “the worst form of government except all the others,” to use the words of Winston Churchill (at least in nations already governed by this system). However, we are now seemingly further away from the end of history than we were two decades ago: China is rising, both economically and politically, whilst continuing to be an authoritarian regime, cracking down on whatever opposition exists and simultaneously entering a vicious circle of geostrategic competition in the Pacific; Russia tries to reassert itself as an imperial great power by means of territorial expansion and disregard for international law; in the Islamic world, popular upheaval bore little fruit, instead resulting in incomprehensible atrocities and instability throughout the region, constituting fertile ground for the reemergence of gruesome and dangerous terrorist organizations. Even though the post-historical world (as Fukuyama dubbed the part of the world already holding on to said ideals) stably prospers and experiences only few disruptions — most of which are caused not by the ideas themselves but rather by their suboptimal implementation — the remaining part of the world, still stuck in the torments of history, if anything, seems to drift away from its final stage, back into times deemed passed, acting in ways deemed archaic. In a world so conflict-prone and stagnant for liberal democratic ideals, we might therefore very well ask ourselves, if the idea of the end of history was premature or even entirely misguided. Or more precisely: Are overarching, global-political trends following the end of the Cold War indicating the realization of the end of history, or can the appeal of liberal democracy never overcome more underlying factors driving international relations? This question also leads us to ask whether current conflicts are solely occasional irregularities in the international system or more fundamental challenges to world order. In order to answer those questions based on Fukuyama’s work as accurately as its is possible when dealing with such profound issues, we will first have to dwell deeper on the principles governing the development socio-political organization and broadly outline liberal democracy’s history in order to understand its principles and specifically regard how regime-types evolved after the end of the Cold War. We must go on to investigate the modern world order that was established after the end of the Cold War and the progress it has entailed before examining the motivations, means and achievements of the forces that try to undermine it. Hopefully, a satisfactory answer can be reached in the conclusion, intended not just to answer the specific question posed above, but as well touching upon a more fundamental one: Is a lastingly free, peaceful and prosperous world ever possible?
Socio-political organization and the spread of liberal democracy
Recognition and legitimacy: origins and success of liberal democracy
Throughout the greater part of human history, social and political organization was based upon a systems of subjection of the many by the few. However, even though this configuration has been predominant throughout human existence, it is ultimately not a satisfactory one, as it fails to appease men’s basic longing for recognition, i.e., the acceptance of the fundamental equality of all human beings, everywhere and at all times. According to Hegel, liberal democracies are thus the destined objective of humanity’s “struggle for recognition,” as it is the only socio-political constitution that both precludes subjection and grants rights, thereby expressing universal recognition.
When the first modern revolutions in the late 18th century in America and France strived to establish a liberal (“recognizing”) order and thereby undermined the age-old logic of unequal subjection, an inexorable process set in: the following two centuries would be decisively marked by the gradual assertion of liberal democracy as the only legitimate form of government. It was by no means a linear or even constant development, but a short historical detour will show that it was indeed directional.
During the 19th century, ideas of liberalism and democracy were driving forces behind history. Even though at the end of the century, they were prevailing and institutionalizing chiefly in western Europe, they had faced ferocious opposition throughout the entire period and old structures of subjection were still surviving in most places, all reformist ambitions and revolutions notwithstanding. The rise of nationalism and the First World War were only heralds of the abomination of totalitarian ideologies and the new form of regimes they brought forth. Even though gruesome tyrannies were no novelty, the rise of totalitarianism (i,e. fascism and communism) was made possible by new, more sophisticated and increasingly destructive technologies, as well as resultant modern forms of political organization, allowing both the complete control of a people and the annihilation of civil society. But after the inception of “recognizing” systems in the 19th century, how can the appeal and the ensuing realization of totalitarianism at the beginning of the 20th century be explained? Isaiah Berlin argues that the universality as well as the claim of absolute truth epitomized by those ideologies made them so attractive and, in fact, initially legitimate, as the universality of totalitarianism was more powerful than the more elemental “struggle for recognition”.
In the case of fascism, the “total war” unleashed by the ideology, has turned on itself, even before it could suffer from the consequences of absent recognition (i.e., legitimacy). Communism, in its mothership of the Soviet Union and its disciples in Eastern Europe and Asia, had initially also achieved legitimacy, bolstered by the likes of Stalin and Mao. However, as opposed to fascism, nearly a century of rule revealed the shortcomings of this kind of totalitarian regime from within. The Soviet Union and its satellite states collapsed, whereas surviving communist regimes were forced to abandon total control over their populations and to allow both private business and the resulting establishment of a civil society, therefore ceasing to qualify as totalitarian states.
Thus, whereas the 19th century had witnessed the inception of liberal democracy, history in the 20th century — including above all the Second World War and the Cold War — largely evolved around the defeat of its worst external enemy and threat: the “totalitarian twins” (Furet). When investigating the origins of the modern political order, this is striking, as with the collapse of totalitarian regimes, liberal democracy proved to be the only legitimate form of political organization, though not the only one existing. Authoritarian systems (including but not limited to military [right-wing] juntas, socialist one-party systems, or despotic presidential republics) have reigned in countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and even parts of Europe throughout the 20th century (and partially continue to do so today). Authoritarianism however stays behind totalitarianism in its ambition for controlling population and crushing civil society, as they “leave in place existing allocations of wealth, power, status [and] worship traditional gods and observe traditional taboos”. This has two contrary effects: due to the limited ideological aspirations of authoritarian regimes, minor dissonances do not lead to such monumental and complete failure as in the case of totalitarianism. On the other hand, the absence of a systematic ideology and universalist claims leads to an inherent crisis of legitimacy, which can only be circumvented if regimes either have explicitly temporary self-conceptions, imitate democracy or “bribe” their people in order to compensate for the lack of legitimacy.
At least in concept, therefore, with the final and undisputed collapse of totalitarian ideology, liberal democracy seems to having emerged as the logical form of socio-political organization, as it meets both the Hegelian condition of recognition and (as a result) the necessity of legitimacy.
The spread of liberal democracy and the deficiency of authoritarianism
The implosion of the Soviet Union and other remnants of totalitarianism has a direct and profound consequence for global freedom: throughout the 1990s, some 40 countries went through democratic transitions. By the year 2000, 144 nations were either entirely or partly free, whereas 48 countries were still authoritarian regimes. Especially the early 1990s saw a surging spread of liberal-democratic ideas, chiefly in Eastern Europe, parts of Asia and Latin America.
Throughout the 2000s, however, data indicates that the global democratic development was stagnant (see figure 1). Most of those authoritarian regimes, which had survived the initial wave of transformation continued to rule over their countries largely uninterrupted. Besides military regimes, autocratic monarchies (frequently in conjunction with theologic doctrine), one-party systems (the heirs of post-totalitarianism) and personal dictatorships, so called hybrid regime-forms (multi-party authoritarian regimes, “illiberal democracies”) have consolidated or extended their grip over countries in different regions of the world. In the Western hemisphere and Europe, the dark days of despotism are largely over (with some exception, e.g. the sad example of the black hole of Belarus, where the security service has not even bothered to change its Soviet name, “KGB”) — even in problematic regions, such as the ethnically conflicted Balkans. Russia has experienced a democratic backlash under the tightening rule of Vladimir Putin. In Asia, despite massive economic growth, democratic progress, where it exists, is slow and limited. China continues to oppress 1.3 billion people, its neighbor North Korea is a completely isolated relict of 20th century totalitarianism and Myanmar as well as Vietnam are making only slow liberal advances, if any. In the Middle East, neoconservative hopes for a reversed domino-effect following the 2003 Iraq invasion have proven illusive: the Ayatollahs in Iran have consolidated their power vis-a-vis the people by rigging elections and vigorously cracking down on protests, the Gulf monarchies continue their largely undisputed reign and what had seemed to be the final upheaval of the Arab peoples in 2011 has resulted either in even more authoritarian governments (e.g. Egypt), failed states (e.g. Libya) or, most notably, a brutal civil war in Syria, not only indiscriminately killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, but also paving the way for the single most atrocious terrorist organization yet, destabilizing the whole region, including Iraq itself. Africa has a similarly sad democratic performance, with only the southernmost countries displaying liberal performance (albeit riveting corruption), whereas complex conflicts (stemming mostly out of the DRC) render large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa either ungovernable or oppressed.
This paints a very different picture to the positive outlook under which Fukuyama devised the theory of an ultimate victory of liberal democracy on a global scale. When confronted with the governance trends of the past decade, it is tempting to refute the concept of an end of history and many would agree.
However, three important points should be mentioned before a premature verdict is sought.
First of all, the aspect of democracy that has kept despots awake at night has always been its appeal. This is why many autocratic regimes went to great lengths to isolate their peoples. After 2008 and the financial and ensuing economic crisis, democracy itself experienced pressure: though it is safe to say that popular protests in debt-ridden European countries as well as dysfunction in America (“the shining city upon a hill”) did not come anywhere near threatening democracy itself, it did indeed suffer a crisis from within. This in return battened on the credibility of the liberal state itself. When unemployment, increased poverty, debt, distrust and discontent rocked the West, its form of government suddenly did not seem all that worthwhile anymore in other places. However, with the European Union having largely consolidated the debt crisis and steady recovery and economic growth reviving America, democracy is likely to win back its attraction abroad.
Secondly, the profound impact globalization and international economic liberalization has on societies all over the world is likely to play out in favor of democracy. A more economically intertwined world leads to — or at least aids — the creation of middle classes — a prerequisite for democratization since the 19th century. Market economies and competitive business further lead to stronger civil societies (based on their demand for education), which also gradually undermine authoritarian grip. Especially in Asia, the combination of liberal economy and despotic politics is common, but rulers in Beijing know that capitalism will not be compatible with a communist rule for eternity. Technological advances, also heirs of globalization, bolster democratic transition in two distinct ways: first, they are the medium for communicating the aforementioned democratic appeal. And secondly, even though they have failed to materialize, the 2011 demonstrations in Cairo, Tunis and Misrata have shown that modern media is capable of both amplifying and organizing the popular will.
The third and most striking reason underpinning the likelihood of an eventual democratic success refers back to legitimacy. As broached above, modern authoritarian regimes compensate their lack of popular legitimacy (i.e. liberal democracy) either by declaring only to be temporarily necessary in order to prepare a country for ultimate democracy (thereby accepting its basic premise, idea and legitimacy), by imitating the very source of democratic legitimacy — elections — or by “bribing” their peoples into conceding their rule by promising and maintaining a certain degree of social satisfaction and economic prosperity. Others, such as China, are a menage of all three.
All of these compensations are fragile and ultimately prone to fail. The first one is explicitly maintained upon that premise; the second one, by imitating legitimacy, also accepts the basic notion of logic of liberal democracy, simultaneously however fails to appease the “struggle for recognition”. The third one ignores the fact that recognition, throughout history, has always been a more profound and lasting aspiration than other desiderata and due to the fact that those regime types mostly rely on oil revenues, they are — as are the other two — limited, both in space and, more importantly even, in time.
Despite the stagnant expansion of the practice of democracy, the liberal idea and logic advances inexorably and by now is accepted not just by the people but also by most autocratic rulers. The unique characteristic of liberal democracy is the balance it is able to strike between collective interests (security, order, economic growth, etc.) on the one hand and individual interests (recognition, peace, freedom, dignity, etc.) on the other. This simple revelation, bolstered by favorable tenets, some of which are inherent to liberal democracy, others are caused by a progressing world, will ultimately spill over the borders of the “post-historic” West and terminate history in the places where it still rages.
International society and the end of history
A new world order: the end of traditional conflict and the beginning of cooperation
With the end of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the international systems entered hitherto uncharted land. During the “unipolar moment” the world went through profound changes, as the economy — already having been internationalized in many regions during the Cold War — truly globalized and the free market system conquered the world. Nuclear weapons were not so much the issue anymore, as trade agreements became political pivots. With the ideological justification for dire confrontation with the West abolished, the nations that had gone through democratic transitions in the early 1990s integrated into the system, albeit to different degrees and with different successes. The ensuing interdependence, as well as unchallenged US preeminence and the general satisfaction with the liberal international order it provided, led to a sharp decline in armed engagements (defined by the UCDP as conflicts with a minimum of 25 battle-related deaths per year) between nations. By 1988, there were 5 interstate conflicts, by 2000 only 2 and by 2013, there was not a single one anymore. Has war between nations been finally rendered obsolete, thereby fulfilling one central premise of the “end of history” hypothesis?
The end of the Cold War certainly spelled a new era for international cooperation, as the insuperable walls of ideology, which have so far been a major obstacle for global collaboration and at the same time the most frequent driving force for war, had been torn down. The end of liberal democracy’s worst enemy, totalitarianism, has therefore also tamed the clash’s worst offspring. Today, nuclear inventories have been slashed to around 30% of what they used to be only 30 years ago. A generation’s worst fear has therefore been more or less abolished, and today, hardly anyone shivers over the possibility of a nuclear confrontation between two superpowers. In the meantime, international law has been extendedly negotiated and codified, now even transcending its original state-centrism, as a sense of global justice has led to the growing consent that individuals, who commit atrocities should be brought to justice, if necessary under international jurisdiction. The same sentiment of border-crossing responsibility has led to new concepts of just wars in order to ensure human security. Communication technology and the collapse of distance have made it harder for wrong-doing, on whatever scale, to pass by unnoted, resulting in public and governmental outcries over human rights abuses or crimes against humanity. International institutions were strengthened and international regimes extended.
All those listed developments are examples of what was made possible by the end of ideological competition and the establishment of a liberal world order: the international society suddenly started to be in the luxurious position of being concerned with (and indeed cooperating on) issues, which would have either seemed impossible, impracticable or unnecessary just a couple of years prior. Globalization, cooperation and the absence of great power struggle had remarkably positive consequences for the world: the annual average of 200,000 conflict related deaths during the Cold War was cut in half during the 1990s and again so in the 2000s. Global poverty was reduced from 43% in 1990 to 21% in 2010. Globalization has intertwined nations so far that wars indeed had become Norman Angell’s “great illusion”. In more theoretical terms, absolute gains have been so enormous that relative gains concerns were largely relicts of the past. Especially Europe, the pivot of ever more destructive and deadly confrontation throughout the ages, has experienced a period of unprecedented unified peace and relaxation, integrating to such an extent that national borders were literally rendered obsolete.
In brief, it is safe to say that the world has become a less hostile, less deadly place to be, due to the fundamentally different nature of the state interaction. The mutual interest to maintaining the core principles of the liberal world order (above all in economic terms) has motivated states to refrain from direct violent confrontation. Even though the past 25 years have not been peaceful by all means, the global inhibition threshold for the use of direct force between two state actors is at an all time high. From today’s perspective, it seems unlikely that nations will return to all-out warfare to settle disputes or follow interests. Taking into account the premise of a democratic peace, in a world, in which 75% of nations are either free or partly free, the thought of great armed conflict between nations along the lines of major 20th century wars, seems almost absurd, above all due to the fact that the quantity and quality of democracies are likely to increase (as argued before).
Obviously, headlines are still reading “war” at some point or another almost daily. However — as it will become obvious below — those “wars” almost never describe traditional, symmetric armed conflict between two or more nation states. This is a paramount distinction to make, as states have resources (manpower, armament sophistication, geographical access [i.e. strike capabilities]), non-state actors simply do not possess, and traditional, symmetric conflicts provide opportunities to employ those resources, “modern” conflicts just do not grant. This combination elevates traditional war in the 20th century sense of the world to a level at which it can cause such disproportionate destruction, it almost seems incomprehensible in this age.
As this particularly perverse form of mutual human annihilation slowly but steadily fades away, both from the international system and from our minds, a great step towards the “end of history” has been achieved.
The liberal world order and unravelling of the “historical regions”
Yet, despite monumental progress since the end of the Cold War, some regions of the world seem not to being able to rid themselves from the bloodiness of armed conflict. Despite all the aforementioned gains of the post-Cold War world order, the earth is still a place governed by humans, with all their crude ideas and flaws, trapped in a structure that does not necessarily work in the common favor. The above section proved that the post-Cold War international society is a less dangerous, more cooperative and generally more beneficial one than basically any previous modern world order. It will be demonstrated in this section that, though the basic causalities and logics of international relations did not change, the collapse of distance and the interwoven nature of today’s world indeed have profoundly altered global (i.e., transnational) interaction — especially with regard to those few actors, seeking to undermine the modern world order —, as the international blueprint was largely redrawn in the years since the Cold War. As a direct result, the international system became tremendously more complex and elusive.
This is best demonstrated by the rate of internationalization of internal conflicts. Despite the quantity of internal conflicts declining from over 50 in 1991 to 33 in 2013, the number of internationalized armed conflict has doubled to approximately a dozen. Internationalized conflicts involve a most complex array of players, both domestic and foreign, both state and non-state. The roots of those types of conflicts, (which are mostly lower in intensity than tradition interstate wars) are usually harder to understand and their development is diffuse, which renders a categorization of success more difficult and therefore makes ending those conflicts nearly impossible. Yet, increasingly, those confrontations become the common standard: Iraq (which initially began as a traditional, though asymmetrical interstate conflict), Afghanistan, Ukraine, DRC, CAR, Mali, Syria or Libya, all those conflicts involved state and non-state actors, as well as foreign and domestic belligerents.
Much — though not all — of that can be attributed to the rise of islamic fundamentalist terrorism. Referring back to Isaiah Berlin, (without making any equations) militant islamism offers one striking parallel with totalitarianism: it is universalist in nature and makes a claim of absolute truth, covering all aspects of life, and indeed society. Islamic terrorist organizations actively and effectively resist the liberal world order, as it inevitable entails the spread of liberal-democratic ideas, which is regarded as illegitimate by militant islamists, whose only constituent is god. Oddly enough, the rise of terrorism as a transnational phenomenon was aided by the consequences of the very world order they are fighting: free travel, telecommunication and global financial networks. Terrorism and its “cousin,” insurgency, are going to continue to be the chief causes of internal and internationalized armed conflicts, above all in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. The last decade of constant war has shown that it is hardly possible to achieve any ultimate defeat against such an elusive enemy, at least not in the form of direct large-scale military confrontation. Paradoxically, people in the regions least affected by the liberal world order and the consequences of globalization (as poverty, backwardness and a lack of education are amongst the paramount reasons for terrorism in the affected regions) are fighting against its ramifications the most.
Another distinct phenomenon of the developing world, further complicating global conflict patterns, are sub-state groups (rebels, militias), either struggling against a government or amongst each other with different ideological, ethnic or purely opportunistic aspirations. As mentioned above, the lack of great power/ideological confrontations between states has made it possible for the international society to seriously contemplate whether such a thing as trans-border responsibility existed. With the concept of humanitarian interventions, another layer was added to the increasingly interwoven conflict patterns throughout the developing world.
The replacement of nation states with transnational, non-state and sub-state actors as the primary protagonists in global conflict has therefore made war both less “total” (though not necessarily less cruel when looking at Rwanda or Syria) and harder to resolve, frequently resulting in prolonged low intensity conflicts or fragile frozen ones. The impact of globalization and the liberal world order has to be long-lasting and sufficiently severe in order to ultimately evoke the logics of recognition, legitimacy and liberal democracy in those regions where it not has yet done so, which are, not by coincidence, also those regions that are rocked by internal (and internationalized) conflict.
However, non-state actors are not the only ones who contribute to instability and conflict. There are four dozen authoritarian states in the world and despite trying to suppress the idea of liberal democracy, most of them accept the liberal world order and indeed enjoy its positive consequences. However, a small group of three states have made several attempts to undermine this system. In the style of Walter Russel Mead, this group shall be dubbed “the axis of weevils”, consisting of Russia, China and Iran. Those nations, both separately and to a certain degree also in varying conjunctions, have on several occasions sought to reintroduce policy measures to the international society that closely resemble those employed before the end of the Cold War. China acts increasingly assertive in the South and East China Sea and seeks to consolidate what it regards as its own sphere of geopolitical influence; Iran is eager to become the preeminent power in the broader Middle East, and besides exploiting its strategic partnerships with rogue states (e.g. Syria) and non-state (terrorist) organization (e.g. Hisbollah), seems to be willing to acquire a nuclear weapon in order to bolster its claim; and Russia, under the tight rule of Vladimir Putin, is clearly working towards reinstating some kind of sphere of influence that resembles the former Soviet Union and the Ukraine crisis has shown how far Putin is willing to go, in order to realize his ambition.
All three nations are strong regional, and aspiring global actors.They have all profited to some degree from the liberal word order, most of all China. Yet they are trying to undermine it by seeking to establish zones of influence or becoming regional hegemons. In the end, it is not so much the order itself, they seek to abolish, it is the West’s assertiveness that underpins it. However, none of these states is anywhere near being able to take on America directly. This is why they (above all Iran and Russia) take advantage of the changing nature of conflict and utilize it for their own ends, whether that may be in Syria, Georgia, Iraq or Ukraine. China, as the big profiteer of the liberal world order, has so far retained from such drastic measures and rather relies upon the physical establishment of a hegemonic zone through increasingly sophisticated anti-access/area-denial systems and territorial claims, which has led many of its neighbors to call upon the US to rebalance.
But besides geostrategic and regional-hegemonic ambitions, the push-back against the liberal world order has another, more profound reason: rulers in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran know that it inevitably entails the spread of liberal-democratic ideas, as it fosters the growth of middle-classes (and civil-society) and communicates the democratic appeal. All three nations try to evade the necessity of legitimacy by “bribing“ their populations or imitating democracy. With sanctions crippling Russia and Iran and a possible bubble on the horizon in China, as well as the fact that all three regimes have made some kinds of uncomfortable experiences with popular dissent, it becomes increasingly clear that rulers — despite being dependent upon the economic advantages of the liberal world order — fear its entailing force to fuel democratic desires, may it be through technology, the spread of ideas or the creation of more educated masses. This puts them in a position of serious awkwardness, as they are forced to accept the world order due to economic calculations, yet remain anxious about them. All this has forced them into some rather ambivalent policy choices that disturb, however not threaten, the global order.
Can a more complex world be simultaneously a safer one? Even though we tends to fear what we do not understand, we should rest assured: it is indeed possible. The fact that nations have displayed such restraint in their interactions, indicates that the international society is indeed on some directional path of progress. Especially when it comes to classical 20th century interstate warfare, it is not so much the absence of its practice nowadays that incites optimism, but rather the general perception of absurdity and impossibility that is related to it in most of our minds. Those who claim that the world has never been more dangerous than today, should be asked whether they really wish back the days when thousands of nuclear warheads were pointed at each other all around the globe. But enhanced international security is just one positive aspect of post-Cold War history:
In the West, where democracy has institutionalized and material prosperity is widespread, history has in fact already come to an end. It is hard to imagine any lasting, peaceful and stable system other than liberal democracy, able to balance our needs, while it the same time meeting the condition of legitimacy. Despite flaws in its implementation, we can hardly do any better. Democracy, in the post-historic world is unchallenged. It is, indeed, part of the West’s identity.
But unquestioned, it is a divided world as this is also a time of upheaval in those parts of the world, still reigned by history. In the historic world, complex and diffuse conflicts still make and shape history every day and progress seems slow. But at the same time legitimacy and recognition are the profound driving forces behind those very conflicts, therefore directing history in those parts of the world to an end as well. The Ukraine crisis started when people took to the streets to demand being heard. Many crisis in the Middle East date back to the revolution of 2011 that has so monumentally failed. Thus, history — with all its bloody consequences — still reigns in those places, where liberal democracy is not yet established. But patience seems appropriate, as it took Europe 70 years to institutionalize democracy throughout the continent (albeit in most cases only short living ones), after they had first demanded democracy in 1848.
The critical — “accelerating” — advantages of the 21st century, however, are its world order and the blessings of globalization, acting as fertilizers for liberal-democratic ideas, which have already taken root in virtually every corner of the world as the only legitimate form of political organization. It needs only to grow now.
Departing from the question, whether global, political trends are indicating the realization of the end of history, we therefore arrive at a clear and obvious answer: yes, ultimately they are. The constitution of the modern global order will eventually not play out in favor of authoritarianism and as soon as the world as a whole has entered the post-historic age, the international society will be largely transformed for the better. The path that leads there is by no means an easy one, as it is paved with those conflicts that can be witnessed every day in the historical world. They do not, however, pose a fundamental threat to the liberal world order, because even those trying to undermine it, fail to provide any attractive alternatives, therefore only bolstering the irrevocable and incontrovertible nature of the modern global order and the ultimate realization of the end of history.
The best comparison that comes to mind in order to describe the current state of the international society is the final act of a drama. Many actors have already left the stage of history, as the curtains are slowly but inexorably falling. The remaining few are ferociously resisting the inevitable end. And sometimes, a play’s climax is set just in its very last part.
1 Fukuyama, F.: The End of History and the Last Man. Free Press, New York 19922. p. 6
2 cf. Berlin, I.: A Message to the 21st century. (Speech in Toronto 1994). http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/oct/23/message-21st-century/. “The root conviction which underlies this [totalitarian ideologies, note] is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it, are the leaders whose word is law.”
3 cf. Kirkpatrick, J.: Dictatorships & Double Standrds. in Commentary. January 1979: “…[T]hey [totalitarian regimes, note] claim jurisdiction over the whole life of the society and make demands for change that so violate internalized values and habits […].”
4 cf. Singer, D.: The Sound and the Furet, in The Nation, April 1995. “Furet, borrowing from Hannah Arendt, describes Bolsheviks and Nazis as totalitarian twins, conflicting yet united.”
5 Kirkpatrick, J.: Dictatorships & Double Standrds. in Commentary. January 1979.
6 For all governance trends data used, see Freedom House: Country Status and ratings overview, FIW 1973-2014 (Historical Data Set)
7 Zakaria, F.: The Future of Freedom. Norton & Company, New York 2003. p. 91
8 Waham, M. et al.: Authoritarian Regimes Revisited. 2013. http://www.svet.lu.se/ARD/Revisited.pdf
9 For all conflict related data used, see UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset v.2014
10 The center for arms control and non-proliferation (McNiesh, L: 2012)
11 cf. Rifkin, J.: The Empathic Civilization. Penguin, New York 2009. p. 423-600
12 cf. The Economist (oline), Jannuary 2013. “The threshold for dire poverty in developing countries is set […] at $1.25 a day of consumption […].“ http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/06/economist-explains-0
13 Mead, W.R: The Return of Geopolitics. in Foreign Affairs, Volume 93, May/June 2014
14 North Korea is deliberately ignored, as its utter isolation renders it impossible to count the nation as part of the liberal world order.