The End of the End of History

The world, they say, has changed. Well, yes and no. We are, to be sure, at war. It’s a strange war, but it looks to be an important one, a major turning point. Best to assume that it will be, for war is always dangerous to underestimate.

Shifts that looked to be forever out of reach are already old news. The US, for one thing, has paid its UN dues, and President Bush, in his speech to the United Nations, actually referred to Kofi Anon as “our president,” just as he spoke the word “Palestine.”

That, to be sure, was something new.

But there’s that the old, cynical wisdom-the more things change, the more they stay the same. So watch carefully, as the years grind on, as history plods through the bitter, broken-hearted lands of the Middle East, Russia’s oil takes more and more space in the business pages, the global production of oil peaks and Kyoto-probably-is ratified.

Predictions are dangerous, especially these days, but one thing is clear: the trance of the 1990s has been broken; life is strangely new, and, tragically, more substantial. Whether it is less beclouded, well, that’s another question.

We’re back at work now-if we haven’t been laid off-and there’s nothing new about that. If we work for an NGO, we’re probably having funding problems, but these trace back to before September 11, to the boom/bust cycle of a speculative capitalist economy. Also in the “little has really changed” department, note that the rich are still rich, and the poor still getting poorer, and that the distant thunder of American cluster bombs is nothing new. And note that our leaders neither see nor desire an alternative to imperial America.

Oh, and the Earth is still warming, fast.

Spare a moment to remember Francis Fukuyama, who, back in 1992, catapulted into fame with a strange diatribe called “The End of History and the Last Man.” The book, guised as a scholarly excursion into history, was in fact a vehicle for a sweeping ideological broadside designed to delight the vanities of the Cold War’s victors-the fall of the Soviet Union, you see, marked the inevitable triumphalism of market liberalism. History, in the really dramatic sense, was over. All that remained was the mopping up. And shopping.

Today, Fukuyama’s pretensions look ridiculous, but what does it really matter He’s now a major neo-con pundit, and even though the post-Cold War moment, like the Cold War itself, has vanished into sand, he still has his name, and his speaking fees. As for his theory of historical inevitability, he’s done what he could to help it along, adding his voice to those within the US administration who want to move on to the bombing of Iraq.

And my point Only that the trance is over. The post-Communist daze has been broken, shattered really, by the dogs of war. History is on the move. Futurism is again a serious pursuit, with darker scenarios predominating. The world’s elites withdraw annually to the Global Economic Forum, and often issue anxious pronouncements about global warming. Nobel laureates warn that rising global inequality plows the ground for discord and terrorism. Geopolitics, visibly, has become a game of warring coalitions, and we enviros, most definitely, have a horse in the race.

Welcome, then, to the end of the “End of History.”

It’s a new century, the one in which the South gets to reply to the North. The one in which everything has changed, but changed not at all. The one in which we can clearly see the iron glove under the velvet fist. The one in which we can no longer afford to imagine that we know what’s going to happen.

— Tom Athanasiou