Abstract: What verdict for the ‘End of History’ announced 30 years ago by Francis Fukuyama? Far from having come to a standstill, political regimes continue their cycle, including democracy with a shift towards anarchy, renamed ‘peoplecracy’. Basically, it is a steady pendulum swing between individualism and collectivism that ends up undermining any type of regime from the inside.
Famous for having published in 1992 ‘The end of history’, Francis Fukuyama has this week the honors of a great interview in L’Express (in french). In the euphoria that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Fukuyama made liberal democracy the ultimate political system: it could only continue to universalize over the years. This idea was ridiculed as new radical regimes began to emerge, conflicts continued, and even took unprecedented turns with Islamic terrorism. But Fukuyama does not waver: for him the last great dictators, Putin and Jinping, have made monumental mistakes (Ukraine for one, confinement for the other), with the prospect of the end of authoritarian regimes.
A year after ‘The End of History’, Samuel Huntington responded to Fukuyama with ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, which better predicted the global crusade of Islamism. But don’t the Arab, Ukrainian and Taiwanese democratic outbursts prove Fukuyama right in the end?
Generally speaking, “terminalists” tend to cover themselves with ridicule. Is it not a foolish fatuity to announce the end of a process when its dynamic has not been denied so far? When the Laplacians in 1800 and the Maxwellians in 1900 announced the end of physics, it started again on beautiful revolutions. Stephen Hawking reannounced this termination, after that of philosophy. It is not the brightest memory he leaves us. So what about an end of history, when we have no model in sociology that can compete with the precision of physics?
Fukuyama’s thesis falters on unstable ground, agitated by frequent catastrophes: it is humanity itself, to which contexts undergo radical transformations. Today hyperconnected, it is no longer the same as in the last century. The very meaning of “democracy” has changed profoundly. The hierarchy, firmly anchored in institutions when Fukuyama’s book was published, is collapsing, replaced by anarchy mediated by social media —Ilvo Diamanti and Marc Lazar called it ‘peoplecracy’ in a 2021 essay.
Certainly Fukuyama is not soft on left-wing Wokism, which he sees as an opponent of democracy. While all citizens are entitled to the same importance, they cannot claim more because of their membership in a group. Wokism has also become synonymous with intolerance, and therefore anti-liberal. Fukuyama is aware of the dangers of wokism, but does not see that this is what undermines his theory.
A system of human atoms?
To predict the end of history, we would already have to have a social “system” with constant elements, human “atoms” with stable properties. Illusory hope. Fukuyama is a reductionist sociologist. He thinks society entirely generated by individual characteristics. Exclusive bottom-up causality. That is not what we are seeing. Political organization influences individual mentalities. It is an emergence with independent, unpredictable, top-down causality. Not simultaneous with the bottom-up but chained. Their different time scales make them even less comparable. The installation of a political mode immediately creates the conditions for its future destabilization. The real engine of the world is conflict. The balance is just passing through.
Democracy is a system based on the egalitarianism of citizens. Is this already a fundamental principle dubbed by the said citizens? Doesn’t Fukuyama put the cart before the horse by assuming that his human atoms are all impregnated with it? Obviously, their involvement differs. Egalitarianism is a principle of the collective and not of individuals. Citizens are equal from the point of view of society and not from the point of view of the citizens themselves. Fukuyama himself would not sincerely declare himself equal to any other citizen in his personal opinion, different from the public.
Democracy therefore presupposes humans who are different from what they are, basically. An idealistic and non-ontological model, it cannot be eternal. Huntington, observing a perpetual conflict, is less wrong than Fukuyama who predicts balance. Both, however, lock themselves into the context, into recent history. They had 2,400 years longer than Plato to model the subject, and yet their predictions fall less accurate than those of the ancient philosopher.
The regimes cycle
In ‘The Republic’, in fact, Plato describes the cycle of political regimes. Aristocracy > Timocracy > Oligarchy > Democracy > Tyranny. Plato’s Aristocracy is not that of birth but of individual performance: government of the best. Timocracy is that of honor (courage, self-sacrifice etc.). The oligarchy that of money. The Democracy of equality. The Tyranny of the strongest desire. The ideal regime for Plato is the Aristocracy; the others are degraded forms.
Each regime privileges its specific human value: knowledge, honor, money, equality, desire. It is here that I introduce a universal principle, much more interesting to understand these regimes: the individual versus the collective. Principle T<>D, our soliTary share opposing our soliDary share. The mimicry of the soliDary share(s) merges the collective, this collective which imposes itself on each of our soliTary share(s) but which exists only by individuals, only by the fact that they agree to contribute.
A black swan
The T<>D principle reveals a black swan in the middle of the 5 values founding Plato’s diets. All are individualistic values except one: equality. Equality is the foundation of the only truly collectivist regime, which is in fact not democracy but communism. This does not make it a better ideal than the other 4. A law accompanies the T<>D principle, which it would be too long to detail here, but which is quite intuitive: any regime excessively focused on the T or D (the individual or the collective) lacks flexibility and is not intended to last. The other part of the self will eventually rebel among the citizens.
This law naturally explains the revolutions ejecting one regime in favor of another. A cycle appears, not exactly the order cited by Plato. It is rather a question of pendulum swings, collectivist regimes succeeding the excesses of every man for himself and vice versa. Too much T favors D; a suffocating D awakens the T. Other factors are involved, such as the size of human groups. Small communities are less supportive of radical and atypical soliTary(s) than large ones.
I then replace Plato’s 5-phase cycle with a 2-phase engine: anarchy and communism, each being the caricature form of individualism and collectivism. The individual is entirely autarkic or society decides entirely for individuals. None of these extreme regimes can last, so society spends more time in intermediate, more pragmatic regimes. Aristocracy and oligarchy are on the individualist side, Socialism and Tribalism are on the collectivist side. Tyranny addresses both, depending on whether it is the dictatorship of an individual or institutions.
What about Democracy? It is a difficult potpourri to classify. Very flexible in appearance, it hides its stiffness in the electoral rules. There are many institutions and voting systems. The options chosen can make a democracy conservative or reforming. It should be noted that many so-called totalitarian regimes, first and foremost Russian, claim democratic legitimacy. Democracy may thus lose its virtues from within, because its functioning is perverted, but it continues to be called that.
The changeover has resumed
Belying the End of History, Western democracies are sliding into anarchy. After the triumph of authentically social democracy in the ruins of the abominable last world war, our societies are now moving towards the individualistic pole. Institutions are wavering, are at the mercy of the slightest populist. Hope for a unified global society has vanished. The West is plagued by Putinism. Putin’s real mistake is not to have invaded Ukraine but to have done so at the wrong time. He would have decided under the Trump presidency, Ukraine would already be re-Sovietized.
A mistake with serious consequences for his megalomania. Instead of letting the West collapse under the weight of fake news and wokism, Putin has awakened the collectivist fiber in our democracies. Brutal brake to their dismantling from the inside. However, is it a brake or stop? Will the pendulum swing back in the other direction? Pessimism is in order. The war in Ukraine drags on and despite the desperate efforts of journalists, Western opinion is growing weary and returning to its petty individual concerns. The French are mobilizing en masse for the age of their retirement and nothing to save Ukrainian democracy.
A planet of children
We are well on our way to anarchy. The regimes cycle continues. We still call ours ‘democracy’ but it is no longer egalitarian. The egalitarian principle, let us remember, belongs to the collective. However, it must be there to exercise it. Groupism is not a substitute. It represents only associated egotistic interests. Its members refuse any interest superior to them.
Let wars recede or appear improbable and our individual desires immediately take over. The fact that citizens are more closely connected does not favour a particular regime. The emergence of digital networks has not stalled the pendulum. It accelerates it. It may limit its extreme amplitudes. Not sure, because the means of destruction of humanity have grown. What can trigger today a megalomaniac dictator with whom even a minority part of humanity identifies? The destruction of the planet, without a doubt. We are unconscious children, and we elect children who look like us to satisfy our desires. Forgetting that to succeed you have to know how to reconcile those of others.
“End of story”: what if Fukuyama was right? L’Express
Peoplecracy, the metamorphosis of our democracies – Ilvo Diamanti, Marc Lazar, 2021