History restarts, as American brand fails

I enjoy reading scholars defending their theories after they have been proven wrong. In 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote a provocative essay entitled “The End of History.” Written at a time when communism was collapsing, Fukuyama argued that democracy and free market economics have won. There are no alternatives. That means that the conflicts that have defined history are over. We will now live happily ever after.

In this column, Fukuyama (who is a real scholar with a conservative bent) revisits his thesis in light of the new Russian aggression, the persistance of anti-democratic rule in places like China, and the new host of international conflicts. He insists that his point is still valid in that there are no IDEOLOGICAL competitors to democracy and capitalism.

He does mention Islam and nationalism, but I think he underestimates the former as an all-encompassing totalitarian ideology. And I think he misses what China may be creating: A synthesis of totalitarianism and capitalism that may well crystalize into a new ideology. (It will be similar to National Socialism, which we have seen before.)

But in his latest column, Fukuyama goes further and perhaps changes his tune. Writing after the meltdown and the bailout in the financial market, he says that the “American brand” is damaged. The financial crisis has made American-style capitalism look bad. And American-style democracy has taken a hit because of the way it is being used to justify the war in Iraq. As an alternative, he says, nations around the world might consider the “Russian model” or the “Chinese model.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • Bruce

    “Reports of my death have been grossly exxagerated.”
    -Mark Twain

    Neither socialism nor capitalism in their many manifestations are going anywhere soon. Societies and peoples will continue to tinker with the two extremes in the vain hope of finding heaven on earth. Or, at least, power and riches.

  • WebMonk

    One of the things that I think should get a bit of notice is that “American”-style economics and liberal democracy of the type we’ve had starting with Clinton and heavily accelerated with President GW Bush isn’t anything much like the style of Reagan and Bush Sr. While they had their problems and inconsistencies, they seemed to adhere more closely to the “American” style of things which Fukuyama talks about.

    I’m really not completely convinced that it really started with Reagan either. I’d put the liberal democracy roots starting back in WWII. The financial aspects I will give MOST of the “credit” to Reagan, but even that is a mixed bag. There are more than enough exceptions, caveats and nuances to make the picture a bit muddled. Looking back, we tend to gloss over those things.

    I think the Clinton and current Bush presidencies just took the same game and removed a lot of the ‘idealism’. It’s hard to find a hard and fast line of change from Reagan stuff to the current Bush stuff, instead I see mostly incremental shifts, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but rarely a single major break.

    That makes me think the “American” model of bygone years wasn’t fundamentally different from today’s model – it just had some more principled players (comparatively) which made it look better.

  • Anon

    I think that the America that appealed to people all over the world was the America of the Founders. A land of the free, minimal government, a generally moral people helping their neighbors voluntarily.

    The America of today as has been noted above, is a different thing. A government constantly growing, bundling with chosen industry groups. Right and wrong denied as politically incorrect, and a Wilsonian foreign policy. That doesn’t appeal so much to the peoples of the world – they have their own versions of the same thing, at home.

  • Bruce

    Anon, I notice you omit…”a generally moral people helping their neighbors voluntarily…” from your eval of the current situation. Without that, none of the rest of you eval holds, eh?

    We’re a couple generations into a widely held view that people can rightly look to government to be a major player in solving their social and economic problems. We now have voters who weren’t born when Ronald Reagan was president (and using the bully pulpit to encourage the very moral scope you refer to). I am not at all sure we have all three legs (capitalism, democracy, and faith) under us anymore.

  • Anon

    Bruce, yes. And my post is not remotely the quality of a paper, let alone a thesis.

    Where I come from, neighbors still help neighbors (and even strangers) voluntarily, and without any internal debate about doing so. But when when ‘people from furrin parts’ as a hobbit might put it, visit – even in such highly degraded situations as St. Paul for the GOP convention – they are astounded.

    You are so right, some of the founders, I think in particular Jefferson, noted that our institutions were for a moral and religious people (which meant Christianity in those days), and would not otherwise work.

    A recent historian on the Puritans noted that it was as if they had internal moral gyroscopes, so that they didn’t -need- external governmental moral controls over the minutiae of life.

    In God’s Law which He gave to order the commonwealth of Israel, you notice that the laws given to the civil authorities to enforce concerned *public* morality, not private morality. Governing private morality would, in the opinion of many thinkers over the course of history, involve giving the government so much power that it would be seriously corrupted and tyrannical.

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  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Of course American capitalism has been damaged. We’ve been running headlong to replace it with socialism for years. Duh. :^)

  • Neb

    How much has America’s desire to accept, accomodate and change for everyone contributed to this mess? If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.

    It’s sad when “American” visions and ideals are now being labeled as politically incorrect.

    businesses have to spend so much extra on making sure everything is politically correct, appeasing to everyone, etc that there’s less room for error.

    What about the housing market? Carter and Clinton both wanted (demanded) more people should have houses. Increased demand, fear of being labeled as a discriminator, and the chase for a piece of the almighty dollar led to millions of loans being made to people who couldn’t make car payment much less a house payment.

    capitalism + Pol Correctness = American today


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