At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama celebrated the conclusion of ideological divides between east and west in his essay The End of History? “What we are witnessing,” it read, “is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
Socialism, suggested Fukuyama, had failed to provide a workable alternative to free-market capitalism — the dominant global ideology from the 1980s onwards — the rebellion of soviet citizens against their state was the ultimate testament to this. capitalism, he argued, had already achieved many of socialism’s goals.
“The class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the west,” he wrote, “the egalitarianism of modern America represents the essential achievement of the classless society envisioned by Marx.”
Perhaps in the immediate wake of the Cold War, Fukuyama’s arguments proved convincing from an ideological, if not practical, standpoint. But after 26 years in thrall to a neoliberal agenda that’s seen the global financial system obliterated and rebuilt without modification, one starts to wonder just how egalitarian and classless modern society is.
Globalisation shows cracks, and in some cases great yawning fissures, in its outward expression of benevolence and unity. The side effect of western liberal democracy’s proliferation that few wish to address is that, although it creates winners, they are far outnumbered by losers. On the one hand it has lifted many millions out of poverty, and created a fledgling middle class in the developing world. On the other, it has overlooked the traditional working classes in its ideological homelands, stripping them of employment and welfare in service to the exorbitant paycheques of a tiny elite.
Weapons of Reason is a publishing project to understand & articulate the global challenges shaping our world. The latest issue (#5 Food) is out now.weaponsofreason.com
This has been achieved by the mass migration of cheap labour, an outsourcing of manufacturing industries to nations with less robust economies, and the increased investment in technology that renders many traditionally skilled jobs superfluous. For the honest, hard worker that politicians love to lionise, things have become pretty tough, and now we’re watching the consequences play out in the UK, Europe, and the USA.
“While it’s important to acknowledge that Brexit and the Trump administration are not exactly the same thing, the circumstances surrounding these phenomena are almost identical.”
Both point to a populous of ordinary citizens disenfranchised with the power structures of globalisation; losing jobs, stability, and personal autonomy at the hands of the state, and the private interests they now protect.
In response, a growing number of voters have exercised their democratic rights en masse, to usher in a perceived alternative to the systems under which they are neglected. Ironically the saviours they have chosen are poised to exploit them further. Worse still, they play on the fears and insecurities of those most vulnerable, to mobilise them for personal gains. The ongoing migrant crisis has provided an ingenious piece of subterfuge, distracting from the widespread corruption of our political representatives. The new class of career politicians are in cahoots with corporations or, in the case of Donald Trump, the two are now one and the same.
These new power players stoke fierce nationalist sentiment, advocating for the protection of borders in the same breath that they insist on the necessity of global trade. The former, they say, is essential to just governance and job stability, the latter to continued economic growth. But the global economy has been in a state of atrophy since 2008. Obliterated by the banking crisis, it has never fully recovered, repeatedly failing to maintain the growth necessary to sustain our ever-increasing demands.
Sign-up for The Reason Review for a monthly digest of world-shaping stories curated by the same team behind Weapons of Reason magazine.mailchi.mp
While tighter restrictions are applied to borders and the movement of people, many western governments seek to shrink the role of the state. Transport, healthcare, and the basic systems of welfare have slowly transitioned from public to private hands, whose actions go unregulated at an international level. These corporations have begun to assume the traditional roles of government, superseding our elected representatives as the dominant form of power. Unlike government, they don’t have to pretend to serve the needs of the people, putting profit and private gain above all else.
The traditional course of action in these circumstances is to take to the streets and protest. But in recent years, that tradition has changed. In 2003 some 36 million people marched globally to protest the US-led invasion of Iraq, an action that did nothing to prevent a conflict still causing major repercussions today. Since then numerous protest movements have risen up and been swept aside by increasingly authoritarian governments, failing to coalesce and galvanise into movements that offer real change.
There are of course alternative models to this state of affairs, but without sacrifice and sufficient appetite for change, they may remain forever out of reach.