"What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." - Francis Fukuyama The End of History and the Last Man
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the U.S.S.R the world rejoiced as liberal democracy triumphed over those damn communists. Americans in their trademark hubris proclaimed that it was ‘The End of History’. Francis Fukuyama, a liberal scholar, stated that liberal democracy is the logical end point and most effective form of political governance, and no longer restrained by the spectre of communism, it would triumph and flourish all over the world. His argument wasn’t necessarily that history had ended, at least in the way we understand history, but rather that the history of governments had ended and we would all be ushered into a world dominated entirely by liberal democracies. Freedom would ring from the hills of Georgia to the rice paddies of Jiangsu as the world would be united by blue jeans and rock and roll.
Fukuyama made a fatal error in his assumption that liberal democracies were the pinnacle of human governance. He assumed that capitalism, no longer restrained by having to compete with communism, would sustain liberal democratic traditions instead of consuming them.
This is because democracy is a remarkably fragile political system – it requires that there is a large liberal middle class to absorb the political and economic shocks and to serve as a centre to balance radical political ideas. It requires an educated and politically conscious citizenry, supported by a strong independent media reporting on the excesses of power, able to mobilise to vigorously defend their rights and keep the ruling class in check. It requires social mobility through meritocratic institutions to ensure the promise of a better life that drives productivity and placates the population. It requires strong trust in the rule of law (that justice is fair, impartial, universal, and governments are accountable), property rights, and the belief in liberal human rights (political association, free expression, etc).
These are the checks that protect liberal democracy from the excesses of its leaders – that a government exists by the consent of the governed. That they respect the rule of law, ensure policies are undertaken to provide infrastructure, defence, education and public health. In exchange they are voted into power by the majority of the voting population and given the ability to govern.
In the West under Hobbes it is referred to it as a social contract – a set of unspoken rules that we all agree with in order to love together peacefully. That governments exist to protect the weak from the strong and a failure to abide by the social contract provides just grounds for the people to rise up and revolt – hence the term “A government of the people for the people” and Jefferson’s line about the tree of liberty needing to be fertilised by the blood of tyrants and patriots.
In the East under the Zhou Dynasty this is the mandate of heaven. That the emperor, the son of heaven, rules under accordance to Confucian principles of knowledge, benevolence, justice, propriety, and integrity – so long as he rules by these virtues the citizenry are to place unwavering obedience and loyalty in him as he rules with heaven’s approval. Of course inevitably, as with any system that concentrates absolute power in an individual, a few generations down the line the dynasty would fall into the hands of an inept despot.
Power would be siphoned off into the court and his ministers, who often appointed by nepotism, were rank with corruption and out of touch with ordinary people. A disaster would occur – generally a famine resulting from poor bureaucratic leadership – and the people would interpret it as a sign from heaven that their emperor, having disgraced the Confucian virtues he is honour bound to live by, has lost the mandate of heaven and is now a usurper to be overthrown by any means necessary. A new emperor is then chosen from the nobility – distinguished by his Confucian virtues – and the cycle repeats a few generations down the line.
Both systems – eastern and western – have an inbuilt check to curb the excesses of power and its corrupting influence, a sword of Damocles that hangs over the rulers. Play nice, or else. The removal of these checks and balances, or the failure of the citizenry to maintain them, inevitably leads toward authoritarianism as the ruling class is able to gain more power and rewrite the rules.
We have seen this play out in every single empire with the most vivid example of Rome. Initially starting out as a republic, with power equally divided amongst the two rotating consuls and the senate, gradually degenerating toward the oligarchy of the triumvirate (ruled by Caesar, Pompeii and Crassus), and ending with the empire of Augustus (who claimed he was the princeps or the ‘first citizen’.
Under the hands of highly competent and skilled statesmen the system of absolute power worked incredibly effectively – Augustus turned Rome from a city of stone to a city of marble. Justinian expanded the Eastern Roman Empire to its greatest size. But any system that concentrates power into a few hands is betting against the house, and sooner or later the house always wins.
Capitalism is a fundamentally unstable system because it is dependent on continually expanding and growing. It is this insatiable desire for growth that fuelled colonial ambitions – to find new markets to dump excess goods and to acquire new resource deposits to keep producing more goods. It is not governed by ethics or morality – everything is a commodity and every commodity has a price to be sold on the grand market.
Its incentive structure leads to unsustainable growth because it demands immediate growth at any cost, spiralling in a desperate arms race between firms to ensure that they stay relevant today or risk closure tomorrow. The agriculture industry is the greatest example of this – even though they understand the environmental science of monocultures and intensive farming eventually destroying the capacity of the soil to grow things, they are compelled onward by the drive for profits and unable to change course by fear of financial ruin. The larger the firm the more inertia it has in changing course because it is weighed down by its sheer size.
Overproduction is the norm, depleting resources faster than they can be replenished, and around every decade this inherent instability rears its head in recessions that crash the market until the cycle of boom and bust begins again. Considering we live on a finite planet with finite supplies of many crucial resources that are being depleted, it is obvious that such a system would inevitably collapse.
This isn’t doomsday prophesizing; this is simple logic that is being demonstrated by climate change. An increase of one degree Celsius in global temperatures means a 3-7% drop in farming output (depending on crop). Rising sea levels will displace millions, creating a new class of refugees, and destroy valuable farmland. Fish stocks have been depleted to the point of extinction. Freshwater supplies are being contaminated, depleted and privatised at an alarming rate. The capacity of the planet to sustain human life (life will still go on without us despite our egotistical insistence otherwise) is rapidly shrinking because we labour under the tragedy of the commons in the relentless drive of individual profit at collective expense.
In the optimism of Fukuyama, there was the belief that liberal democracies, in the spirit of the New Deal, would save capitalism from itself through regulations and reform. That the rising tide would lift all boats and ensure a large enough middle class to keep the flame of democracy alive. But from the perspective of the owners: the venture capitalists, the CEOs, the bankers and business elite, all these regulations and reforms – these unions and price controls – restrict their ability to grow and that is what their hungry god demands.
In 1971 the Powell Memorandum was issued to all high ranking CEOs in America. Shaped by the civil unrest of the 60s and the growing anger toward capitalism for its excesses, it outlined an explicit strategy to wage and win the war of public opinion.
Like any war it relied on three key concepts: logistics, manoeuvre, and discipline. Businesses began massively funding lobbyists to outnumber the interests of private citizens at a ratio of 4:1. Businesses became more and more involved in campaign finance and in the political system, allowing them to choose their candidates and guarantee concessions when they win. Businesses formed a unified front: the pharmaceutical industry, the arms industry, the media industry, the finance industry, the education industry – allowing them to collectively pool their resources to outspend private citizens and influence intellectual discussions.
Right wing think tanks, pro-business media outlets, and paid off academics joined the swelling ranks of the neoliberal army to launch a crusade over the hearts and minds of the people across the world.
We live with the consequences of the Powell Memorandum today. An American congressman spends 40% of their day fundraising by contacting private donors who will demand more subsidies, more deregulation, more tax cuts. A corporation is able to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign finance creating a democracy of dollars. Private cartels emerge from bidding on extremely lucrative government contracts paid lavishly by the taxpayer while public services atrophy from lack of funding.
This information is publicly available to everyone, exactly how much each senator and congressmen gets paid by which corporation or lobby to advance which agenda, but no one pays any attention in the overwhelming deluge of media information. It’s become too difficult and too depressing to keep up when every day there is another scandal, another tweet, another airstrike.
Unions and government have been thoroughly demonised in media as corrupt, inept, and grossly inefficient while the private sector (casting stones in a glass house) is able to sweep under the rug their excesses by controlling the majority of news that we see. 6 media corporations control 90% of all media outlets in America. Journalism has become a carnival of gossip mongering and celebrity worship, obsessed on the allure of individuals and narcissistic self-deification.
Deregulation and regulatory capture, where an agency designed to oversee an industry is corrupted and explicitly works for the interests of that industry (e.g. Ajit Pai and net neutrality), have become the norm. A globalised world, and a globalised economy, allow for trans-national corporations to shift their industrial bases (and the jobs that come with them) to the developing world where they can pay cents to the dollar for labour in the quest for profits. This deindustrialisation destroys entire communities, now left to the mercies of a service economy where they are paid as little as possible under the guise of constant competition and austerity.
Overseas the American war machine cries out for more bodies to feed into its grinding gears as Americans live under a state of perpetual war that would make Orwell blush. Wars that cost an estimated 5.6 trillion since 9/11, an estimate deemed to be on the conservative side due to not being able to audit government agencies (and not accounting for the spike in Vietnam veteran care) with a projected 8 trillion in interest payments over the coming decades. The cost of caring for the broken bodies of returning servicemen and repairing the psychologically deranged are only in their early stages – they will peak 30-40 years after the war – as 970,000 veterans in need of care create a crushing debt burden for the American public, already squeezed by so many demands.
Without new frontiers and colonies to pillage the rapaciousness of capitalism turns inward toward the state as services once provided by the government are steadily defunded, eroded, and privatised in fire sales. Crassus, the richest man in Rome, pioneered this technique. Owning the only fire service in the city he would wait for someone’s house to catch on fire (at times hiring slaves and poor freemen to start fires for him) at which point he would swiftly appear and offer a Faustian bargain: sell your property to me at a fraction of its original price, or let it burn. 
Education, the foundational pillar of democratic societies, becomes another racket to extort as much money as possible in a burgeoning test industry and charter school system. Everyone understands its importance but only those rich enough to afford its services are given the most opportunities to succeed. This insulates the upper classes by creating the illusion of meritocracy while simultaneously co-opting the few who do rise up from the ranks.
All of these factors create and exacerbate inequality as the middle is squeezed by the top, and the bottom falls further and further behind competing on a world stage without the credentials. We have the creation of a permanent criminal underclass who exist for no reason other than to fill prisons and create a demonic other. Recessions empower the already wealthy, who can afford to take a hit and then recoup their losses by buying when everyone else panic sells, while destroying the futures of those who are forced to sell to survive.
This progresses capitalism from its innovative stage toward its rentier stage – the wealthy are not the innovators, they are disproportionately the ones who already own what everyone else is forced to rent – and eventually heads toward casino capitalism where wealth continually grows through speculation in stock markets instead of industrial creation. The majority of wealth created post Great Financial Crash has been due to companies and banks, using bailout money, to purchase more shares in their own companies – driving up stock prices that are almost entirely owned by the wealthy (the richest 10% own 84% of all stocks). This is an artificial distortion that will not last, and it will leave a more devastating legacy in its wake as we are long overdue for the next recession.
This uncertainty, this insecurity, and the ever widening gulf of inequality erode democracy from within. People do not care about political rights and freedoms when they are desperate. Entire demographics of former industrial workers, once able to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle through union protected jobs, are discovering that they were sold a rotten bill of goods by their leaders.
Their ignited fury and anger, carefully and meticulously fanned by conservative pundits and media, is directed by populists toward the other – the immigrant taking their jobs, the refugees competing for their welfare programs, the ethnic minorities outpacing them in living conditions, and the hypocritical liberal class – having abandoned these segments as surplus and deplorable populations of the ignorant and stupid – is no longer able to weather the political and economic shocks and gives way to radicalism.
We are witnessing the end of history, not as Fukuyama predicted with the triumph of liberal democracy but with its gradual decline from the world stage. Fascism is the logical conclusion of neoliberalism as the widening inequality hits a critical point – forcing the business elites and the political elite to form an alliance, merging corporate power with state power, in a desperate bid to violently suppress the growing agitation of the workers. We see the growth of a proto-fascist state emerging in America, a nation already primed toward Fascism with its ugly history of genocide, slavery and right wing terrorism, as the desperate and disenfranchised call on a demagogue to save them and will be driven to extreme measures when they realise that they have been betrayed again.
The conditions necessary for liberal democracy to sustain itself have been gradually eroded, corrupted, and destroyed from within by our apathy in not noticing the warning signs. There is no way to sugar coat this, no cheerful optimism that she’ll be right and things will magically fix themselves. We are at a crisis point where we are witnessing the end of history as we know it.
We cannot rely on a few lonely individuals to fix this while we go on twiddling our thumbs; the concentration of power in the hands of a few is what has led us to this point. The great arbiter of governance has always been the people and it will be up to us to remember the sword we hold over their heads.
In the dying light of the American empire it will be up to us to decide what comes next. Will we strive for a better world, freed from the economic shackles of greed, where the fruits of civilisation belong to all her children? Where our societies reflect the noble ideals we have so long professed. Or will the end of history come with the same mistakes that repeat the cycle, a few hundred years from now.
None of us asked for this responsibility but it is ours whether we like it or not. We are the ones who will live with the consequences if we fail. We who have been given so much have done so little, yet we expect those with nothing to lead the charge.
The first and most important step is to see the world, not as how we want it to be, but how it is because knowledge is power, and it belongs to all of us.
 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
 Steve J Stern, The American Historical Review, “Feudalism, Capitalism, and the World-System in the Perspective of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
 https://worldoceanreview.com/en/wor-2/ecosystems-and-species/endangered-species/ - outlines genetic degradation from fisheries triggering artificial evolution by enabling fish that breed at younger ages to be more successful, despite their genetic weaknesses.
 https://www.imf.org/EXTERNAL/PUBS/FT/ISSUES10/INDEX.HTM - note given the destructive role the IMF plays in developing countries, trapping them in cycles of perpetual debt and poverty, bear their analysis with a grain of salt. Important factor in this is pointing out that IF the service sector absorbs the transition of industrial workers to service workers it is a net positive for the economy (given the current state of affairs we can conclude the service sector did not successfully absorb these workers).
 http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/ - comprehensive breakdown of every factor.
 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine – breaks down and analyses the last 40 years of economic and political history in regard to what she calls ‘disaster capitalism’ using real world examples.
http://www.nber.org/papers/w24085 - economics paper outlining this.
Born somewhere between the old world of Korea and the new world of New Zealand Isaac is an award winning writer, teacher of literature and nomad currently residing in Nanjing.