Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fukuyama and Russia

It's hard to decide how seriously to take Russia. Seamus Milne says the Caucasus adventure is not August 1914, neither does it mark the advent of a new Cold War. But he does say it marks the end of the period when one power - America - could 'bestride the world like a colossus'. (Why do people write like that?) This may be true, though I think that moment came some time ago - perhaps with the failure of the original militarily minimalist strategy in Iraq. Or perhaps unipolarity was always an illusion. I seemed to think so in 2002. My argument then was with the Francis Fukuyama view that liberal democracy represented the end of history, which was, essentially, the ideological explanation for the end of the Cold War. I disagreed at once because, historically, dominant orthodoxies always think they are the last word and they are always wrong and because history is not a linear narrative but a succession of tragic contingencies. Some continue to defend the Fukuyama position by saying that the end of history did not mean the end of conflict, it meant merely that the fundamental ideological issue had been settled. Liberal democracy was the only acceptable and efficient way of organising society. This argument can be sustained indefinitely because any sign of resurgent history, however dramatic, can always be classified as a mere speed bump on the one way street down which we are all travelling. Another aspect of dominant orthodoxies is their habit of brandishing of an imagined future point at which the whole world will come to accept the truth of their vision. Such an argument is irrefutable in logic and, therefore, wrong. In practice, I think the surviving Fukuyamists are reading too much into the fact that global rhetoric, including that of Russia, does pay lip service to liberal democracy. The reality is that this is a thin disguise for massive ideological divergence. As Milne says, the example of Georgia will inspire more anti-American manoeuvres around the world - but even these will not be ideologically consistent. Unipolarity was an illusion; beneath its surface, as we now know, were a thousand cantankerous poles waiting for the moment which has now come. Welcome back as I said in 2002, to history as usual.


  1. Seumas Milne? Seumas Milne? You're giving credibilty to this Winchester and Balliol bog-trotskyite hero of the working classes who aligns himself with any quasi-fascist antagonist of the US? I've just coughed up my cornflakes.

  2. 'bestride the world like a colossus'. (Why do people write like that?) is a stereotype that sounds as if it should have originated in the late eighteenth century. Try this:

    “Their generals stride like colossi from one quarter of the Globe to another, and bear the fate of nations in their prompt and powerful hands. Thrones are overturned by their foot as they pass, and they determine the life or death of myriads with a word. Perilous height, on which they stand! Ruinous game, where crowns are at stake, and where the wealth of nations, and the lives of millions, are played away...” etc.!

    Herder, Johann Gottfried von, Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1968 p 253

  3. The Welsh JacobiteAugust 28, 2008 11:06 am

    The key problem is that Sarajevo 1914 wouldn't have been Sarajevo 1914 had people not reacted in a particular way. Ditto Sudetenland 1938.

    In the first case a it was a robust response that produced disaster, in the latter an eirenic one.

    Georgia 2008 could turn out to be cataclysmic if we make the wrong call, but who knows which is the right one? (And if we make the right one, everyone will wonder what the fuss was about.)

  4. Eirenic. Now that's a cool word.

  5. Dreamy, you're brainy too. I admire you.

  6. I think this is non debate... That's the problem with taking Fukyouover seriously.

    The idea that history could end, that one ideology replaces conflict blah blah - is so much bollocks that it's not even worth discussing.

  7. I agree. The Empire Strikes Back. It is mere hubris and folly to believe that history, in the guise of liberal democracy, has reached its zenith. Our freedoms are but a thin veneer. As citizens of democracies, we are lazy and complacent and take freedom for granted. The contigencies and exigencies of global economics is causing a significant shift in geopolitics and power relations. We can safely say this is having at least one effect: the end of American dominance. Ideology, on the other hand, is alive and well. And, as we all know, whoever has the biggest stick shall wield the power.

    Perhaps it has always been thus but it seems the future is more uncertain now than it has ever been. Eternal vigilance is the name of the game.

  8. You got his Christian name correct, something that the G missed.
    As to Fran Fukuyama, you have to hand it to him for the book sales. But I suspect that he knew what happened to the big figure at the gate of the harbour on Rhodes, colossus tend to keep their legs closed since.

  9. The correct response is to deploy a forward naval battle group to the black sea... we are going to need a decentish carrier as well

  10. corky:
    "bog-trotskyite hero of the working classes "

    "I've just coughed up my cornflakes."

    Milne wouldn't know working class if it came up and bit him on the arse. Also, i've always thought Bryan was left leaning, though Milne is a totalitarian c**t he has some useful insight.

  11. Are the choices for history only a cycle or a line? Can't there be the possibility of something else? A spiral perhaps: having a direction but to our perception apparently not - if we can only see the cyclical motion? Or perhaps some other shape we might not even imagine.