Moving beyond The End of History
The West didn't get to where it is today because of its supremacy. Far from it. It was the West's military superiority that allowed it to subjugate the rest of the world, deluding itself in the process that it was the superior civilization. This ideological delusion will not survive for long.
"What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war 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."
Granted, Francis Fukuyama said this in 1992 (so more than 30 years ago), and a lot’s happened since then, but you can’t help but notice that a man of his academic caliber was so invested in his own vision of the world so as to actually confuse the US’ military supremacy with ideological supremacy.
But this wasn’t really unique to Fukuyama, who was just following a long line of ideologues that suffered from the same fatal error (perhaps it wasn’t an error so much as a case of moral failure for some).
For hundreds of years, and since the beginnings of modernity and Western colonialism, the West has confounded its victories in campaigns against other peoples and civilizations with its own supremacy. From missionaries, expeditions, trade missions, and invasions, up to the slaughtering of entire populations, these have all been presented by Western intellectuals throughout the colonial era as a victory of their own values. (Sarcasm follows, tread lightly)
This was the product of their intelligence, their mastery of the ways of life, and it thus rested upon them to take upon themselves the mantle, nay, the responsibility and duty… the arduous task of taking humanity by the hand and guiding it toward the light.
This wasn’t at all because of Western ambitions to control global trade and acquire cheap labor (also, how dare you insinuate that?), not at all. It was something they didn’t want to do. This wasn’t about convincing their peoples (and themselves perhaps), that they were claiming the moral high ground; not at all. For just as the great men of history guided people away from darkness, so it rested upon the collective West to take their hand - ironically, sometimes literally - (perhaps sometimes a bit forcefully), so that they could reach enlightenment and escape the deplorable life of wretchedness they had been leading.
And even when they slaughtered entire populations like the Hereros were slaughtered by the Germans in 1904, this wasn’t because of German barbarism, God forbid, it was quite simply because by then, social Darwinism had fully engrained itself in the European mind. The Germans weren’t actually killing people, why that would be a crime against nature! No, they were just hurrying evolution along, just like certain species of animals ceased to exist.
They were lesser peoples, and lesser peoples who do not abide by the necessities of biological development and human evolution are not worthy of life. They barely have any intelligence as it is.
Don’t take my word for it, that’s exactly what colonialist powers in the 19th and early 20th century had come to believe, something Paul Rohrbach had carefully put into word in his German Thought in the World (1912) when he said, “Existencies, be they peoples or individuals who do not produce anything of value, cannot make any claim to the right to exist.”
Although, you have to give credit where it’s due. The Germans were latecomers to the colonial game, and only learned (both in culture and in military practice) from their earlier colonial partners, meaning mainly Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, the UK, and the US (did I leave anyone out?)
But I digress.
Culture and Imperialism
This superiority and higher status that Europe was able to claim was not due to their actual cultural superiority, far from it. It was military superiority that allowed these powers to subjugate other peoples, and thus establish themselves as their de facto subjugators.
It was Europe’s military victories against other civilizations and the pillaging of their resources that allowed them to assume that they had reached a higher status. One small example we can go back to is the defeat of the Sudanese Army by British forces in 1898.
At the Battle of Omdurman, the Sudanese army was annihilated because of the British Empire’s advanced weapons, meaning that British soldiers were not even within the Sudanese army’s firing range. How can you fight against an enemy you can’t even hit?
And so it was that the West came to believe (ironically, following the mass murder of millions around the world) that it can claim the moral high ground. That belief firmly took root in the West’s collective unconscious because of the works of public intellectuals, philosophers, and novelists, who either shrugged off the genocide of millions or perpetuated the myth of Western moral superiority.
Reaching the end of history
Looking at this, it’s not very surprising to hear Fukuyama (and the Fukuyama-ites) talking of the end of mankind’s ideological progression. I mean, you can understand where he’s coming from, seeing as the US stood victorious as the world’s sole hegemon, across all of the globe’s continents. But that hegemony too was brought on by the US’ military might.
Granted, the culture war waged by the US and its use of soft and smart power across the world helped this along to a large extent, but Western culture had only gotten this far because the US’ military might was there to prove that it stood seemingly victorious above all others. Culture was just another tool used to cement the idea of American ideological supremacy; it was the tool, not the result.
So it was that liberal values were presented as the be-all and end-all of advanced human existence and development. This would have probably been the case today as well, were it not for the fact that globalization (perhaps best understood as the Americanization of the world) was met with a pushback around the world.
It didn’t take long before voices became heard around the world demanding dignity, and local identities refusing Western values gained ground. From Latin America to West and Central Asia, Africa, and East Asia, and more recently with Russia, traditional, conservative, and religious values had become a way for the peoples once subjugated by the West to express themselves.
Perhaps it is some form of poetic justice that the act of armed resistance itself, as Frantz Fanon once said, became the originator of a shared identity among the subaltern. Whereas once military might had been used to subjugate the world, armed resistance allowed the oppressed to both express their identity and carve out new levels of a shared identity among them.
Clearly, this outlook should be taken into account when considering what could bring Iran, Russia, and China together. Putting aside the Western perspective that is fixated on market-like views of interests and cost/benefit analyses, another rather telling element that explains the common ground between them comes to light.
Iran, Russia, China, not to mention Latin America, all of Africa, and West, Central, East Asia, and South Asia, have all suffered (though to varying degrees) because of the West’s onslaught, that much has already been established. But the one common feature that has brought most of the world’s population together in refusal of the West wasn’t 'interest', but rather their common suffering.
Suffering, and the ability we humans possess to empathize with one another, is what can take someone like Fanon from his native Martinique to the fight in Algeria, or someone like Fusako Shigenobu to Palestine, or someone like Che Guevara to Cuba, Africa, and Bolivia. Suffering, for all the havoc it can wreak upon the world, can be considered one of the building blocks of identity when coupled with basic human empathy, preceding even such basic elements as language and geography.
Taken to the state level, it is this common suffering at the hands of the West that can bring two countries like Iran and China together. The economic rapprochement and regional economic integration we’re witnessing around the world wasn’t simply borne out of the need that all these countries have to subvert the Western domination of the world for the sheer want to create a multipolar world order. These countries, these peoples, have identified with one another on the most basic level of their identities, and this rapprochement was nothing but the result of the West’s centuries-long campaign of misery upon the world.
That isn’t to say that this rapprochement will necessarily lead to full integration or harmony, but it does mean that at the very least, most of the world’s population are in agreement that the West cannot be allowed to continue to force its decisions upon the world.
Come what may, we’re moving beyond The End of History.