A break from Saddam Hussein this weekend, and back to the future. A couple of excellent reads here (a couple of which, if you get the same BTL google-prompts as I do, you may have already seen, if not opened). They feed into all manner of those frivolous themes we often visit hereabouts: the future of capitalism, the rise of China, the decline of liberal democracy ...
A. Why Fukuyama was right all along: an essay by someone called Aris Roussinos
Everyone remembers The End of History, right? Well -
nearly thirty years later, reading what Fukuyama actually wrote as opposed to the dismissive précis of his ideas, we see that he was right all along. Where Huntington and Kaplan predicted the threat to the Western liberal order coming from outside its cultural borders, Fukuyama discerned the weak points from within, predicting, with startling accuracy, our current moment. In The Last Man, the under-discussed addendum to The End of History, Fukuyama took his intellectual cues from Nietzsche rather than Hegel ... With all his demands met and material wants assuaged, will the last man be content at last, pausing the endless revolving wheel of history? “Left to themselves,” Fukuyama asks, “can those stable, long-standing liberal democracies of Europe and America be indefinitely self-sustaining, or will they one day collapse from some kind of internal rot, much as communism has done?” Beyond the demands for absolute equality, freedom from want and overarching authority which underlie the politics of liberalism, Fukuyama contends, “lies the question of whether there are other deeper sources of discontent within liberal democracy - whether life there is truly satisfying...
Anyone leveraging intelligently off the penetrating analyses of Nietzsche is going to get attention from me. Having thus far only read this essay, and not the book, I'm lazily depending on secondary stuff. But it's certainly interesting, including some points that Chairman Xi may wish to ponder.
Fukuyama's Nietzsche-prompted ideas include, on the one hand - vis-à-vis external threats - “perhaps most critically, [liberal democracy] would be unable to defend itself from civilizations that were infused with a greater spirit of megalothymia, [the need to be recognized as superior to others - a Fukuyama coinage] whose citizens were ready to forsake comfort and safety and who were not afraid to risk their lives for the sake of dominion”.
On the other - threats from within - “modern thought raises no barriers to a future nihilistic war against liberal democracy on the part of those brought up in its bosom.” Fukuyama predicts, “if men cannot struggle on behalf of a just cause because that just cause was victorious in an earlier generation, then they will struggle against the just cause. They will struggle for the sake of struggle. They will struggle, in other words, out of a certain boredom: for they cannot imagine living in a world without struggle. And if the greater part of the world in which they live is characterized by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy.”
Heavy stuff. And no less weighty is
B. Why Growth Will Fail: another book review
The book, Rise and Fall, is by Robert Gordon ("handsomely produced, at nearly eight hundred pages it weighs as much as a small dog"): the sub-heading of the review reads:
For most of human history, economic progress moved at a crawl. Then, according to standard calculations, the world economy took off.
The centrepiece is a review of the “special century” from 1870 to 1970—in which living standards increased more rapidly than at any time before or after - "unrepeatable because so many of its achievements could happen only once ... A central aspect of Gordon’s thesis is that the conventional measures of economic growth omit some of the largest gains in living standards and therefore underestimate economic progress. A point that is little appreciated is that the standard measures of economic progress do not include gains in health and life expectancy. Nor do they include the impact of revolutionary technological improvements such as the introduction of electricity or telephones or automobiles".
We do all need to understand the detail behind these points, and the review usefully does that for us. Why do we need to understand? Because, as many a green will say, we have become utterly addicted to growth as the basic remedy for all ills: whatever's wrong, we expect eventually to grow our way past it, as we've become accustomed to. You don't need to be Malthus to find that in need of revisiting. History doesn't move, Whiggishly, only in one direction, as the thousand-year hiatus in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire shows us.
Oh, and apparently Gordon has no time for the thesis that super-intelligent computers will just take off into the distance and leave us quite differently situated (though the reviewer thinks we ought to be a bit more open-minded on that). Finally:
C. Meritocracy Has Betrayed The Working Classes; a book-related interview
The third book is The Tyranny of Merit by philosopher Michael Sandel. I found it rather easier going than the two reviews and I reckon many will enjoy his insights on corrosive leftwing individualism.
By championing an “age of merit” as the solution to the challenges of globalisation, inequality and deindustrialisation, the Democratic party and its European equivalents, Sandel argues, hung the western working-class and its values out to dry … “Tawney argued that equality of opportunity was at best a partial ideal. His alternative was not an oppressive equality of results. It was a broad, democratic ‘equality of condition’ that enables citizens of all walks of life to hold their heads up high and to consider themselves participants in a common venture. My book comes out of that tradition.”
(So, incidentally, does the British Army.)
* * * * *
There you go, that's social-distancing Sunday fixed for you.