Paul Poast

Paul Poast



Does the 🇷🇺-🇺🇦 war mean the "End of History" is over? Let's revisit Francis Fukuyama's famous thesis. [THREAD]

Questions about the war's relevance for the "End of History" thesis were being asked from almost the start of the war, such as by @adam_tooze in @NewStatesman...

Why was the question being asked? Let's fist review Fukuyama's argument, then see what the war in Ukraine has to do with it.

Fukuyama, then a Soviet analyst with the State Department, gave an address at @UChicago in February of 1989. The title of the address? "The End of History?"

A few months later, that address was published in @TheNatlInterest.

His argument was clear.

The "End of History" claim is about the post-Cold War triumph of liberal democracy (keep in mind, the Cold War hadn't yet ended). None of democracy's competitors were viable.

It's an alternative way of stating Churchill's famous quip about democracy: "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

A few months later, the Berlin Wall fell. Fukuyama seemed right!

Of course, not everyone agreed with his thesis. Notably, John Mearsheimer, who attended the original talk & debated Fukuyama about it at dinner afterwards, wrote a rejoinder for @Journal_IS -- with a direct play off of Fukuyama's title.

Despite of (or probably because of) the critiques, Fukuyama went on to write a 1992 book that expanded on the "End of History" thesis. Notice how the "?" is now gone from the title.

While the book is about the triumph of democracy as a system of government, Fukuyama offers caveats. Notably, he predicted that *if* democracy was to succeed in the former Soviet space, it would likely be painful, if not outright bloody.

Does this mean the Ukraine war validates Fukuyama's thesis? Sort of. The War in Ukraine is a relevant test for that claim *if* you view it as a conflict over governance systems, pitting democracy against non-democracy.

See, for example, @POTUS. As Biden remarked: "But we emerged anew in the great battle for freedom: a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force."

Also, Tooze points out in his piece that victory by Ukraine could vindicate Fukuyama: "if Putin were to be brought down...and were his regime to be replaced by one that was pro-Western ...all those who have leveled cheap criticism at Fukuyama ...would owe him a giant apology."

But others, like @ka_grieco & @MarieJourdain10, argue that placing the defense of democracy at the center of this conflict is simply the wrong way to think about the war.

So is it a democracy-v-autocracy war? On the one hand, it is indeed the case that the war has deepened economic ties (to the point of Russia being the junior partner) between the world's two large non-democracies, Russia and China.

And it is clear that the vast majority of states imposing sanctions on Russia are democracies.

And the "democraticness" of Ukraine itself was not all that clear before the war. For example, @freedomhouse only labeled Ukraine as "partly free".

So rather than a democracy-v-autocracy conflict, we should just think of the war as @JananGanesh describes in @FT: "The enemy is not an abstraction called `autocracy'. It is a specific aggressor in a defined territorial conflict."

Of course, all of this -- Fukuyama's thesis included -- presumes that the Cold War actually ended in 1990.

But as Stephen Kotkin wrote recently in @ForeignAffairs, it might be more accurate to say that the Cold War transformed, rather than ended, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. History continued.

In short, liberal democracy might still prove to be "better than the alternative" systems of government. If that is the case, then Fukuyama's thesis will be validated. But it is far from clear that the War in Ukraine is itself a valid test of that claim. [END]

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