The Future of History: Death of a Class

Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History?’ has come to symbolise the myopic triumphalism of political elites upon the precipice of the twenty-first century. But recent events mean his lesser-known 2012 essay, ‘The Future of History’, has become necessary reading. It poses a single question: can liberal democracy survive the decline of the middle classes?

Fukuyama concludes that ‘some very troubling economic and social trends’ may now ‘threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.’

The seemingly post-ideological was but a democratic ideology all along; and that the post-post-ideological must therefore presuppose the post-liberal. The old adage: history progresses by its bad side.

Viktor Orbán is perhaps the most formidable member of the new reactionary ascendency. Nigel Farage has hailed him as a ‘strong man’ and ‘proper leader. He is a man I have some admiration for.’ His premiership of Fidesz and Hungary has seen a crackdown on freedom of the press and a commitment to fifty-per-cent of the banking system under either domestic or state ownership.

Fukuyama put forward that the ‘single most serious challenge to liberal democracy in the world today comes from China, which has combined authoritarian government with a partially marketized economy.’ But he dismissed the possibility of any so-called ‘China System’ gaining traction outside of its own cultural backyard. Nevertheless, Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad in 2014 is somewhat eerie: he praises China, alongside Russia, India, Russia and Turkey, as ‘not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies, and yet making nations successful’ but also quotes an unnamed American investor warning of the same disappearance of the middle classes.

Not a single British politician of ability has challenged this distinctly negative progression of history

Fidesz is widely thought to rest upon the pillars of nationalism, populism, and authoritarianism. Despite paying lip service to its foundational values, Orbán characterised that the new Hungarian state being built as ‘is an illiberal, a non-liberal state’. Fukuyama presaged that the new ideologies bound to emerge ‘would be populist; the message would begin with a critique of the elites that allowed the benefit of the many to be sacrificed to that of the few and a critique of the money politics, especially in Washington’. He was quick to point out the ‘dangers inherent in such a movement... a pullback by the United States, in particular, from its advocacy of a more global system could set off protectionist responses elsewhere.’ The increasingly antipathetic stance toward globalisation has been one of the hallmarks of both the Brexit and Trump campaigns, or, as the latter put it: ‘Our friends in Britain recently voted to take back control of their economy, politics and borders.’

Orbán lauded Trump’s election as an ‘historic event, in which Western civilisation appears to successfully break free from the confines of an ideology.’ Stephen Lewis has contextualised Donald Tusk’s warning that a vote for Brexit would mean the ‘end of Western civilisation’. This was no mere hyperbole. Rather, it reflected the real discomfort felt by European elites at the inadequacy of their political and economic institutions in the face of growing public disquiet. This has now been incited into a raucous cry by the likes of the Farage, Orbán, Trump, Le Pen, and Kaczyńskis, or the election of Rumen Radev in Bulgaria and Igor Dodon in Moldova as both countries realign toward Russia.

Lewis wrote that ‘the largest effect outside the UK of a vote for Brexit would be seen in the USA. It would confirm that the world was changing in ways they had not previously envisaged.’ Or as Orbán has it: ‘We are living in the days where what we call liberal non-democracy, in which we lived for the past twenty years, ends’.

Not a single British politician of ability has challenged this distinctly negative progression of history. The revelations of Johnson’s unpublished Telegraph article and Theresa May’s Goldman Sachs speech point to the betrayal of the national interest in favour of their own careers.

 ‘the palace of culture is built of dog shit.’

In the face of these trends there is a growing melancholy among more patriotic conservatives - those, steeped in the Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman traditions, whose favourite monarch is Queen Anne; for whom Burke is a dirty secret in comparison to Fox; for whom the appropriation of Disraeli’s ‘one-nation conservatism’ by Cameron, Johnson, and now May, was always tinged with a sadness out of respect for Gladstone. The list goes on.

They are the sort to vote Tory despite nodding along to Tim Farron’s speech at the Liberal Democrat conference: ‘Britain did not become Great Britain on fear, isolation, and division - and there is no country called Little Britain. There is nothing so dangerous and narrow as nationalism and cheap identity politics.’

They are, of course, snobs but it is with great sadness they’re realising, as Adorno quoted Brecht, that ‘the palace of culture is built of dog shit.’

‘So at this moment of change,’ said May at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, ‘We must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that genuinely works for all.’ If George Parker’s article  at the Financial Times is anything to go by, then No. 10 is currently officiating a squabble between the Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for International Trade, which is strange considering the former once said he wouldn’t visit New York for fear of meeting him… Never mind, Farage has gotten round to it first.

May continued, ‘If we believe, as I do, that liberalism and globalisation continue to offer the best future for our world, we must deal with the downsides and show that we can make these twin forces work for everyone.’

These are, to return to Orbán’s speech of 2014, ‘voices, ideas and sentences that would have been unimaginable six or eight years earlier.’ Again, the old adage, history progresses by its bad side.

Daniel Graham

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