At the end of the Cold War, when Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History and the Last Man, the belief among the Western elites was that the great debates were over and liberal democracy was the winner. The days of nations competing for resources and ideologies competing for adherents were gone. Instead, liberal democracy would spread to the rest of the world and capitalism would be the universal economic model. If there was to be a debate at all, it would be over how best to distribute the great surplus.
Thirty years later, it seems a bit ridiculous, but in the context of the age, it was not an unreasonable prediction. The Cold War suppressed economic development in both the East and West, for close to seventy years. The West spending lavishly on armaments meant not spending on other things. The East having embraced communism meant three generations lost to pointless social experimentation. Stripped of the burden of war, the world could rapidly develop, unleashing an enormous supply of human capital.
It did not really turn out that way, of course. The West is noticeably less free today than it was thirty years ago. The ruling class is rushing to close off political debate and free expression. In the name of democracy elites are sending gangs of thugs to harass and assault people exercising their democratic rights. In the name of capitalism, a narrowing group of oligarchs are exercising control over large swaths of the economy. The surveillance state is reaching levels unimaginable thirty years ago.
In the shadow of this growing authoritarianism sits the political and cognitive elite, unable to come to terms with what is happening. What is remarkable about the current age is the public debate, the officially permitted one, at least, is irrelevant to what is actually happening in the world. Three years on and the American media is still talking about invisible gremlins supposedly hypnotizing voters in the 2016 elections. Meanwhile, millions of barbarians pour over the southern border and the public space collapses.
This summer, various types of patriotic groups will come to Washington to demonstrate and proselytize for their constitutional rights. It is a feature of life in the Imperial Capital that used to go unnoticed. People demanding free speech by speaking freely in front of the White House was always a bit amusing. Now, however, those speakers will be attacked by black clad militants, calling the speakers fascists. The media will hiss at the speakers, claiming their demands for free speech are a threat to democracy.
Meanwhile, the supposed conservative opposition will be having name tag parties where they will talk about the threat of socialism. Nowhere is the absurdity of the age more obvious than in the so-called conservative movement. They have coordinated, with the Republican Party, a campaign to fight socialism. The stunning inability to come to terms with present reality is breathtaking. Their campaign against socialism is every bit as ridiculous as seeing people walking around dressed in leisure suits.
It is not just right-wing Progressives trapped in the past. What passes for serious thinking on the Left side is just as vacuous. This is a journal published by a Harvard graduate student that’s popular with the “serious” Progressive. It is every bit as retrograde and irrelevant as the nonsense belched out by so-called conservatives. The midget wrestling of this age is two young intellectuals, like Nathan Robinson and Ben Shapiro, debating socialism, using language that fell out of fashion a generation ago.
In all candor, many on the dissident right suffer from the same problem. Look around the intellectual space – and it is quite vibrant – and you cannot help but notice that a lot of it is backward looking. A big part of it is “rediscovering” thinkers from the last century, who were on the losing side of the great debates of their age. There’s that haunting, familiar to every southerner, that the wrong side won. If only we could go back and re-fight those old fights, maybe things would be different. It’s a longing for an unrealized present.
This antiquarianism is most obvious in the street fights between the radical Left and radical Right. One side imagines themselves as the Rotfrontkämpferbund while the other side is the Sturmabteilung. The silliness of either side thinking they are part of some radical tradition is obvious. More important, it reveals the lack of original thinking. Old dead ideas like fascism, anarchism and radical socialism have little to tell us about politics in the post-industrial, technological age. It’s nothing more than play acting to no end.
Fukuyama was a bit grandiose in pronouncing the end of history, but he was not wrong about the Cold War marking the end of something. It turns out that it was the end of the Enlightenment. All of the debates important to the intellectuals who emerged from the middle ages have been addressed. There’s nothing left to be said on those topics. It turns out that much of it was just a dead end. Perhaps all of it. The resulting conclusions don’t seem to have much value in this post-Enlightenment age.
Meanwhile, noises coming from the cognitive elites fill the air, but they mean nothing to any man standing in the current age looking forward down the timeline. Instead, the noises from these people are like the wailing of animals trapped in the tar pits. They are sad, mournful and a bit terrifying, but the only reason to pay any attention to them is to listen for signs of their waning. Their time is done and once they are gone, the world can move forward with whatever comes next and stop thinking about a now dead past.
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