Alt-Democracy: The Future of The End of History
For some reason, democracy has always fascinated me. I’m sat in the lobby at the House of Lords waiting for a meeting — a good enough setting to write.
I grew up in the 1990s, in an environment where democracy’s purity wasn’t challenged, but it’s obvious to anyone that a popular decision doesn’t always give us the best results. My dissertation was titled ‘Is Democracy The Best We Can Do?’ The aim was to work out whether there was some sort of truth hidden in the one-person-one-vote process which had more value than an optimum end result. Of course, democracy die-hards would say that the optimum result can only be one that came at the will of the people, but then as Amartya Sen recently pointed out with Brexit — qualitative arguments matter a lot.
One of the most influential schools of thought when it comes to democracy-as-a-right is Francis Fukuyama, who’s book ‘The End of History’ shaped foreign policy globally. In short, with democracy we’ve hit the endgame, it took us a while to evolve to this, but we’re here.
What’s always bothered me about is the arrogance of that argument, and how self-defeating it becomes with application.
Let’s say FF is right and we’ve evolved through feudal, class and socialist systems to understand and embrace democracy as the highest form of political structure, to go around and gleefully share this secret with the rest of the world would be ridiculous (ahem… Iraq) because for democracy to have its real value, citizens would surely need to go through the same evolution themselves?
The ‘endgame’ thesis is also dangerous — there was a guy called Adolf who thought he saw the end of history and the battle with ISIS right now is pretty much about the same thing. The natives of South America probably thought the game was up for their indigenous cultures when the Europeans came to colonise their territories, and the Soviet’s attempted to realise a different reality along the same lines.
I think if anyone can describe a political system in the context of evolution, labelling it ‘the end of history’ sort of misses the point, and falls into the WYSIATI trap.
Earlier this year Finland started to experiment with a Universal Basic Income, which could power a whole new type of society — maybe the (mythical?) post-work economy fits better outside of democracy.
There are a billion things that AI can do to our politics — qualitatively interpreting the real will of the people or offering a completely new and intelligent system. Blockchain could also make a huge impact — either enhancing democracy by an order of magnitude, or ripping it apart completely for the better.
When interviewed about China’s reaction to democracy, Lee Kuan Yew (the statesman who built Singapore and who’s ideas about democracy are worthy of a blog in their own right) was quoted as saying something like:
“the Chinese have a culture that’s 4,000 years old, try convincing them to give that up for one of the flimsy democracies that you have in the West”.
End of history, indeed.