Friday, April 19, 2019

MAXIMILLIAN ALVAREZ: The End of the End of History

What does it mean to live in a world in which history has rusted under the monstrous weight of the permanent now? It is no coincidence that the Trump-led right has harnessed this history-resistant style of politics to launch an all-out assault on history as we know it. From Trump’s never-ending lies and attacks on the media to the GOP’s ramped-up war on academia, from white supremacist rallies defending Confederate monuments to conservative pundits discounting the role of slavery in the Civil War, there is, indeed, a war going on over the terrain of remembrance..

Among the prizes at stake in the endless war of politics is history itself. The battle for power is always a battle to determine who gets remembered, how they will be recalled, where and in what forms their memories will be preserved. In this battle, there is no room for neutral parties: every history and counter-history must fight and scrap and claw and spread and lodge itself in the world, lest it be forgotten or forcibly erased. All history, in this sense, is the history of empire - a bid for control of that greatest expanse of territory, the past.

All history is the history of empire - a bid for control of that greatest expanse of territory, the past. 
The greatest act of empire, of course, is to declare the whole messy, brutal process finished, to climb to the top of the trash heap and trumpet one’s reign as the culmination of all history. The greatest act of history, on the other hand, is to reveal such declarations to be always premature. Seneca’s Pax Romana announced a history stilled by the glorious rise of Augustus, the “sun that never set” shone on the image of time frozen at the height of the British Empire—and the world spun madly on. 

Nearly thirty years ago, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously called the ball game once more. In a 1989 essay, which he expanded into the 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama prophesied that the fall of communism signaled “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.” 

Of course, the “end of history” didn’t mean the end of military conflicts, social upheavals, or economic booms and busts. It did mean, however, that all boats were ultimately heading to the same shore; with no more serious contenders on the world stage, all things were trending toward a global order in which the marriage of market capitalism and liberal democracy would enjoy eternal dominance. Thus, in Fukuyama’s view, the endless roil of intra- and international conflicts that have continually punctured our world during the past three decades has nothing to do with any world-historical battle between competing social orders. Rather, it merely represents the thrashing of those parts of the world that are still mired “in history” as they are compelled down the inevitable path to joining the “posthistorical” world. 

There is a quasi-religious overtone to all of this - everything in the past has been moving toward a telos, a predestined end... read more:

see also

Articles on ideology in East Europe