What Comes After the End of History?

February 14, 1993|By HAL PIPER

Amilestone in ethnic cleansing was proposed this month when the Latvian Parliament decided that it could no longer abide the pollution of its sacred soil by the buried bones of Soviet Red Army soldiers who died fighting Hitler. The parliament voted to open the graves and expel the bones. If it actually follows through, Russian chauvinism will be inflamed, and the New World Order will have one more crisis.

It seemed so promising that evening three years ago when the Berlin Wall was breached. Rarely has any event so cleanly demarcated events into "before" and "after." Before was the post-World War II world, the Cold War, the nuclear balance of terror. After . . . well, the possibilities seemed wondrous.

The night The Wall opened, November 8, 1989, was not just the end of the Cold War, but the end of the 20th century, argues John Lukacs in a new book. It was a short century, having begun in 1914, and its dominating events were the two World Wars. Everything else -- the Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler, the break-up of the colonial empires, the atomic bomb, the Cold War -- was cause or effect of those cataclysms.

The new century, the one we are newly embarked on, may be turbulent, too, Mr. Lukacs thinks. While the era of domination by superstates may be over, he sees no abatement in the madness of warring tribalisms -- exemplified by the resurgent hatreds in the former Soviet and Yugoslav territories, but not limited to those regions.

Much more optimistic is another big-thinker, Francis Fukuyama. The end of the Cold War, he argues, marks not only the close of the 20th century, but "The End of History" itself. He means that for 200 years history has been a ceaseless dispute about the best way to organize a society. The opening skirmishes in this dispute were the struggles of the embryo United States and revolutionary France for liberty and democratic government against the entrenched hierarchies of crown, church and aristocracy. A great war in the last century established that an economy founded on slavery was incompatible with our developing ideas of individual rights. Then came the challenges of the great totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

This long-running dispute has now been settled, Mr. Fukuyama arguee, in favor of liberal values and democratic institutions. All parties -- Democratic, Republican and Ross Perot -- agree on private property, economic competition, equality before the law, separation of powers, competitive elections, freedom of the press, religious toleration and so on.

The big issues now are shrinking the deficit, reforming health care -- important issues, but not the kind that start wars. No one is going to look back 200 years from now and say, "Wow, President Bill Clinton worked out the compromise on health-care reform; those must have been stirring times to be an American."

Moreover, Mr. Fukuyama says, the consensus in favor of democratic liberalism is spreading throughout the world -- to Tiananmen Square, to the emerging democracies in the former Soviet empire, even to much of what we used to call the Third World. It's the End of History because we are no longer actors in a titanic world drama. With the big issues settled at last, we can get on with cultivating our gardens, or making money, or falling in love and having babies -- whatever makes life worth living.

The Germans have a word for it -- Magenpolitik, "belly politics." West Germany and Japan were forced into the liberal democratic consensus by wartime defeat. Their constitutions and the restrictions on their military establishments were imposed by conquerors. While the rest of us had to keep on waging history in the Cold War, West Germany and Japan were freed to concentrate on their bellies. Could the rest of the world be equally lucky in the next century, now that history has ended everywhere?

There is support for such optimism. Much of the world is getting richer. Recession in the United States masks our awareness that other countries are booming as they liberalize their political and economic institutions. The aggregate growth rate for so-called Third World countries last year was 6 percent -- three times the growth rate of the developed world. Thailand has joined the East Asian "tiger" economies of South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Chile's growth rate was 10 percent, Mexico's 5 percent. China's southeastern Guangdong province is exploding with economic activity as overseas Chinese return to the homeland, bringing fortunes they have earned abroad.

The world is getting more peaceful, too. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that the number of active wars in the world has declined from 36 five years ago to 27 today, most of them small, local conflicts. It's the End of History; there's nothing to fight about any more.

Sure. Tell it to the Bosnians.

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