The End of History and Its Discontents

The End of History and Its Discontents

Latin America at the End of Politics by Forrest D. Colburn

Latin America at the End of Politics
by Forrest D. Colburn
Princeton University Press, 2002 142 pp
$35 cloth $14.95 paper

Francis Fukuyama introduced his notion of “The End of History” in the National Interest in 1989 and added a few lively elaborations in The End of History and the Last Man in 1992; and though people all over the world snickered at the naiveté of his idea in 1989, and snickered again in 1992, and have kept on snickering, Fukuyama’s marvelous provocation has never entirely faded into the past, as provocations usually do. And there is good reason for this. In presenting his theory about the capital-letter End of History, Fukuyama made three related points. He argued that challenges to liberal democracy from other ideological and social systems had failed, and any new such challenge in the foreseeable future was likewise bound to fail. He argued that liberal democratic societies were therefore destined to dominate the world. And he argued that liberal democracy’s triumph was going to be, all in all, a disappointment-a triumph of the gray, the ignoble, and the mediocre. Such was his three-pronged provocation. It was a stimulating idea, if only because it challenged us to tally up the ways in which he was wrong-and right. So let us draw up a tally. How does the End of History look today, fourteen years after Fukuyama first broached his theme?

In Europe today-Fukuyama’s End of History was, I think, mostly a theory about Europe-his three points seem to me, in retrospect, all too accurate. Totalitarian movements have pretty much disappeared from the European landscape. Nor does any other kind of social system, something different from liberal democracy, seem to be in the offing, even as a remote possibility. A specter is not haunting Europe. Everyone knows that, in Russia and other Slavic zones far to the east, Europe’s transition to liberal democracy has turned out to be, at best, slow and shaky; in Belarus and a few other places, non-existent. Still, Fukuyama’s argument never promised liberal democracy for everyone. The argument predicted, instead, liberal democracy’s domination over other systems, and that is the case in Europe. Mafias and tyrants may have kept their hold on power, here and there; but mafias and tyrants do not seem to be the wave of the European future.

ON THE OTHER hand, nobody could argue today that Europe’s liberal democracy has turned out to be especially noble or inspiring. The European democrats have shown themselves to be admirably gifted at securing the good life for themselves, and often they have been generous to other people, too. But not when it comes to taking a risk. Europe’s democrats have proved to be noticeably reluctant to put up a fight on behalf of anyone else, or even on behalf of their own European civilization. No soone...


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