The end of history? Today’s politics is eating itself
PUBLISHED: 11:49 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:50 20 September 2018
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After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War the Western World heaved a deep sigh of relief.
Communism had, largely it seemed, been defeated. In Europe and the United States we could happily get on with maxing the credit card, washing the car on the pebble-dash driveway and getting fat on plentiful food and drink.
This was, as political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously claimed, “the end of history”.
What he meant was that of the two major ideologies of the previous century the World now had a winner. The free market, liberal democracies of the West had triumphed.
The terrifying ‘Protect and Survive’ public films and pamphlets could be forgotten – we had made it through the Cold War without a nuclear missile being fired. Mutually assured destruction had been averted.
It was shopping that won the war – among other things obviously. The power of the free market – and the availability of cheap credit that put colour televisions in every home and a Ford Cortina on the drive – had soared in the 1980s as Russians queued for bread in Red Square.
Just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall and a year before Mikhail Gorbachev finally resigned his post, making the role of Soviet president redundant, Moscow’s first McDonald’s opened.
A year earlier they had been queuing for a loaf and now they were in line waiting patiently for a Big Mac. This was, apparently, the end of history.
At the time Mr Fukuyama said: “Both Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings.
“Both thinkers thus posited an ‘end of history’: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society.”
But politics – and the humans who drive it – is not nearly that simple.
The good guys need the bad guys to highlight what top chaps they are – and political leaders need bogeymen to rally against.
This is clearest in the United States where leaders have often scared the public about the dangerous of what is happening overseas – from Vietnam to Iraq.
But for a time it seemed the global community was – generally – getting on. The major powers were apparently working together for peace and prosperity. Even Russia were tacitly onboard.
So what went wrong? Did everything just get too comfortable? Did we miss the drama?
It is almost 30 years since the end of the Cold War and yet Western politics is now riddled with in-fighting and factionalism.
The reputation of liberal democracies began to crumble after the subprime financial crash of 2008 and Eurozone crisis a year later. A public that had for the most part believed it was safe suddenly realised that globalism and the inter-connectivity of international markets meant we were all in trouble.
There was anger – and quite rightly. It was present here in the UK by the end of Gordon Brown’s tenure as prime minister and continued once David Cameron was in office.
A growing underclass emerged bitten hard by the swingeing cuts of a government desperate to get a hold on the purse strings. By 2011 towns and cities across the UK were blighted by violent rioting.
Today in Britain we have two parties trying to fight each other – as is the tradition between Labour and the Tories – but being distracted by even more vicious scraps with each other.
The Tories have more rebel leaders – Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Anna Soubry – than actual leaders. Meanwhile left wingers from Labour’s party within, Momentum, are pushing for centrist MPs to be deselected. All the while hugely important issues are being ignored.
Politics is in a strange, worrying state. The relatively even keel of the years after the Cold War have given way to a new angrier, nasty period.
In his latest book Identity Mr Fukuyama writes: “Twentieth-century politics was organised along a left-right spectrum defined by economic issues. In the second decade of the twenty-first century that spectrum appears to be giving way in many regions to one defined by identity.”
The point he is getting at is increasingly we appear to be returning to our tribes. They didn’t work then and they won’t this time. The war the West won has to be won again – but this time the enemy is largely within.