Back in the 1990s, there was debate over our future as a species. One writer, Francis Fukuyama, opined that since all other systems had failed, liberal democracy would be the pattern of human dwelling from that point onward. Another, Samuel Huntington, wrote that humans were motivated by existential need more than compromise, and so our future would be one of clashing tribalism.
Naturally, there was nuance. Fukuyama is perceptive, and basing his argument in Nietzsche’s concept of “the end of history,” he immediately revealed his reluctance to embrace this future as wholly positive. Huntington, for his part, suggested that each tribe would find a political system which matched its cultural needs. And so the complexity deepens.
Almost everyone paying attention realizes that we are right now in the midst of a massive shift of history. The old way has fallen apart; the new way has not yet become clear, but the many failures of the old path suggest that we need to go in an entirely different direction. This resurrects the debate over which of these writers was more correct.
Fukuyama gives us an insight into human decision-making that endures, even if liberal democracy does not:
But whether Fukuyama’s neo-Hegelianism is plausible is not the most interesting aspect of his thesis. For throughout his analysis, Fukuyama insisted on the centrality of thymos (the Greek for “spiritedness”), or recognition, to human psychology: what Thomas Hobbes called pride, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau labelled amour propre. This denotes the need to be liked and respected by other people, and to have that recognition outwardly affirmed — if necessary, extracting it by force. Some human beings, Fukuyama thought, are always going to be inherently competitive and greedy for recognition. Some will therefore always vie to be thought of as the best — and others will resent them for that, and vie back. This has the potential to cause a lot of trouble. Human beings demand respect, and if they don’t feel that they are getting it, they break things — and people — in response.
It was this psychological feature of people, Fukuyama claimed, that guaranteed that although we might have reached the end of History, there was nothing to be triumphalist about. Just because humans could do no better than liberal capitalist democracy — could progress to no form of society that contained fewer inherent conflicts and contradictions — it didn’t mean that the unruly and competitive populations of such societies would sit still and be content with that. Late capitalist modernity might be the highest civilisational point we could achieve, because it contained the fewest contradictions. But there was strong reason to suspect that we’d slide off the top, back into History, down into something worse.
In other words, Fukuyama rejected the Hegelian notion of dialectical materialism that saw the zigs and zags of history as converging on an ideal, and instead saw a pattern of reduction to compromise, by which we retained that which was least likely to cause chaos. In this view, the indecisiveness of liberal democracy is its saving grace.
What hovers in the wings is the idea, common to all conservatives, that history is cyclic or composed of repeating patterns which have an apex, then deviation, and finally a return to order. Any theory of golden ages and dark ages bears out this concept, which is that we stumble into bad times by denying what we know of the good, and then must fight to recover that lost wisdom.
This presents an interesting dilemma, which is that by the cyclic view of history, “compromise” is an artifact of the death cycle and not the resurrection of life (think of winter turning to spring). Compromise is what one does when losing and trying to minimize further loss. Fukuyama’s skepticism is well-merited in that context.
On the other hand, Huntington argued that a spiritual and cultural revolution based in the need for meaning would drive humanity to a new dark age leading to the resurrection of classical orders of civilization:
The political scientist Samuel Huntington predicted that the post-Cold War world would be dominated by a â€œclash of civilizations,â€ and even the most sanguine observer will admit that recent years have seen more than a few chaotic civilizational clashes. The shifting and fragile alliances between the scores of nations and organizations active in the Middle East, for example, show chaos at its â€œbestâ€ (or worst). War has brought its own chaos and, by displacing millions, has brought the chaos of a refugee crisis to even the most comfortable and complacent nations of the West. Nor is the rest of world immune from international chaos, which seems to constantly take on new forms and create new problems.
…Confucianism and Taoism represent two opposite paradigms of responses to personal and social chaos. Confucius saw chaos and tried to approach it, to master and control it, to tame and pacify it. Laozi (the founder of Taoism) saw chaos and tried to avoid it, to flee from and ignore it, and even sometimes to surrender to its inevitability. Psychologists and physiologists who have studied behavioral responses to threats would identify the well-known â€œfight or flightâ€ reactions embodied in these philosophical traditions. Confucianism is the philosophy of fighting chaos, and Taoism is the philosophy of flight from chaos.
In these two extremes we see echoes of Nietzsche’s analysis of the Apollonian and Dionysian approaches. Apollo strives for order; Dionysius revels in chaos and indefinable impulses like hedonism and aesthetics. What seems lost is the recognition that chaos is a part of order.
When one desires an effect, it is necessary to look through history to discover its cause, which often does not resemble the effect at all. In Huntington, the desire to escape rigid human order and assert the need for meaning — a property of the individual in interaction with civilization and world, not of the individual alone — shows us chaos leading to order, guided only by logical analysis which realizes that what humans consider “order” is most often a cause of chaos.
In this view, liberal democracy is the last effort of a dying trend to replace what makes human life meaningful with laws guided by our intentions and the presumption of equality. We want good effects, but cannot look into the causes for them, such as tribalism or natural selection. This leads to us creating the chaos of the death cycle, but at some point, that chaos reverses.
The human spirit bounces back, once enough of us see the decay, to want to thrive again instead of merely trying to hold back the ruin. We admit that failure happened, that we have hit rock bottom, and recognize that we have to rebuild. At that point, we start working to overthrow the “order” that has oppressed us, leading to revolution.
Some would say that civil war is upon us but this misses the broader context that Huntington illustrates:
There is no form of legal authority that the left accepts as a permanent institution. It only utilizes forms of authority selectively when it controls them. But when government officials refuse the orders of the duly elected government because their allegiance is to an ideology whose agenda is in conflict with the President and Congress, that’s not activism, protest, politics or civil disobedience; it’s treason.
…Our system of government was designed to allow different groups to negotiate their differences. But those differences were supposed to be based around finding shared interests. The most profound of these shared interests was that of a common country based around certain civilizational values. The left has replaced these Founding ideas with radically different notions and principles. It has rejected the primary importance of the country. As a result it shares little in the way of interests or values.
In the Huntingtonian view, therein lies the problem: we are trying to make different groups equal. They cannot be; they desire different types of societies. Those on the Left desire a third-world style anarchy, and those on the Right want a civilization that thrives and moves qualitatively toward greatness. Those views are incompatible.
Human intentions lead us to try to force life to produce good outcomes on the level of effect, but because we deny causes because they are beyond the level of intention, we then create enduring conflict. Leftists and Rightists cannot coexist in the same society. We have been doing so because the Right has been in retreat because Leftism is always more popular, until it collapses.
Now as the collapse begins to filter in through many different angles, we see that coexistence cannot occur. There is no equality, least of all between those who want civilization and those who want subsistence living. The two must separate. And in doing so, we will restart the cycle at a point shortly before its golden age.
In this new history, those who want civilization will separate from the rest and send those others to dwell among those of like mind in the third world. Tribal groupings will reform, and the old alliances will be restored such that related groups act together for mutual benefit. Caste, hierarchy and strong cultural rule instead of the police state will return.
To the modern mind, this will be a new dark age born of chaos because there will not be rules reflecting human intent such as equality, pluralism, tolerance, socializing and individualism in this new age. Instead there will be only realism, stark and yet providing the best results because it understands reality instead of denying it, and an impulse toward goodness that defines the start of a cycle.