Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
Alas, history did not end


Does anyone remember the end of history? Or perhaps I should say The End of History? The essay by the American scholar, Frances Fukuyama in 1989 was expanded into a book three years later.

Famously, he argued that all countries and societies were marching, inevitably, towards a form of liberal democracy, propelled by free market capitalism both local and global. His article came as Communist governments of eastern Europe were collapsing and democracy was spreading across Africa and Asia, not least Nepal, in 1990-91.

His arguments, dense and over-scholarly at times, were compelling because it was what most of us wanted to read. After all, we wealthy, liberal-minded westerners raised in an atmosphere of privilege wanted to look outwards at the world and see mirror images everywhere. And why not? We were well educated, healthy and had the means to realise our potential. We could make money in business or trade, and use democratic politics to put our ideas in the political agenda. Why shouldn't everyone else in the world have the same privileges?

Alas, history was not over. Events soon proved that Fukuyama was a trifle premature, if not downright wrong. Militant Islam-harnessed to American capitalism in the fight against communism in Afghanistan when the Fukuyama thesis first appeared-soon surged forth from the slums and seminaries of the Muslim world to express righteous wrath at the state of things. Corruption and endemic poverty persisted even as democratic faces were inducted around the elite in former authoritarians states. Environmental degradation continued unchecked, even though the minister of environment was now accountable. Arms trading boomed and wars broke out-for the first time-between ostensibly democratic countries.

Now where do we stand? In Iraq and Afghanistan, valiant and perhaps doomed attempts are being made to establish Fukuyama's double whammy of democracy and capitalism. Both places resisted the tide of democratic revolution fifteen years ago and it took American bombs and soldiers to crush that resistance.

China is much, much richer and more economically open than ever. But it continues to oppress opposition movements, dissidents, minority groups and any other barrier to Communist Party-lead capitalism. Africa is in a dreadful state, wracked by civil war, HIV/AIDS and a creeping return to authoritarian rule. Africans are poorer and less healthy now than they were when history was supposed to have 'ended'. Latin America remains largely democratic but troubled by the slow pace of economic change. The rich remain so, the poor too.

And what about the liberal democratic west, the beacons of hope for all the rest? Voter apathy is the biggest problem in those countries that allow their citizens to vote. Only the Australians, with their mandatory ballot, have this problem licked. America's next president will be chosen by around 50 million of its 280 million people! Tony Blair will be re-elected next year in Britain by what is certain to be a record low turnout.

Nepal, sadly, limps and wallows along, neither democratic nor authoritarian enough to matter. It's people are poorer, the elite prosper or flee and once proud political parties are discredited by their own failings and ravaged by militant Maoism and a royalist elite that never wanted democracy in the first place.

History hasn't ended, Mr Fukuyama. It's here, and in our faces.

If only you'd been right...

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)