In 1992, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc, the American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama announced ‘the end of history’. In his book entitled The End of History and the Last Man, he advocated the thesis that the worldwide spread of liberal democracy, western type of market capitalism and western lifestyles indicates that the socio-cultural development of humanity has reached its endpoint. He thought the combination of these three elements – so to speak, a trinity – is the final form of governance. He backed up this argument with the assertion that after the failure of fascism and communism, there is no alternative to this combination
Despite some criticism of this or that point of his book, Fukuyama's thesis at that time appeared plausible to many people. Some however found the term "end of history" too exaggerated.
Already in 1992 I was sure that the western type of market capitalism could not be the endpoint of the development of the economic order of humanity. For, on the one hand, this type of market capitalism has a growth compulsion, but, on the other hand, there are limits to economic growth. It was also clear to me that the western lifestyle could not be the final one for all humanity, simply because there are limits to economic growth. I was not sure about the future of liberal democracy. I thought, in the future, maybe eco-socialism and a newly conceived democracy could go together.
On this third point, I have now become quite skeptical. At first, back then, it looked like Fukuyama's thesis would gradually come true. Naked dictatorships were gradually replaced both in Africa and in Latin America with some kind of democracy. Long-standing, despotically ruling presidents had to have their legitimacy confirmed through more or less fair elections. In Asia, the military dictatorship in Myanmar recently gave way and initiated a process of democratization. Also the fundamental rights of citizens have been - at least in theory, i.e. on paper - more or less recognized. Left existing are only the dictatorships of the kings and emirs of the Gulf States, the autocracy of the Kim family in North Korea and the power monopoly of the Communist Party in China, Vietnam and Cuba. But several recent events in the world give me reason to have doubts about the future of liberal democracy.
I accept Abraham Lincoln's definition of democracy as the starting point of my reflections. He had said that democracy is governance of the people by the people and for the people. Till now, this definition has been concretized only by representative democracy (with the partial exception of Switzerland) – with the existence of several competing political parties, which participate in periodic elections. The people are represented by the deputies, the majority of whom form the government. In the presidential system the people elect the reigning president. In principle, the minority accepts the decisions of the majority, as long as they do not violate the constitution or any laws. Or the minority swallows them against their will. If the aversion is too strong, the minority may protest and demonstrate. Ultimately, however, they must bow to the will of the majority.
But in the meantime, in many places, democracy is not working smoothly according to these noble principles. Think of Egypt, where an elected president was ousted and arrested by the military, with the support of a few hundred thousand protesting demonstrators. In Greece, Prime Minister Giorgos Papandreou wanted to hold a referendum in order to ask the people whether he should accept the terms of an aid package offered by the leaders of the Eurozone. He was then summoned to Brussels and reprimanded by Merkel and Sarkozy, whereupon he dropped the referendum idea. In the Ukraine, the opposition parties and thousands of their supporters are trying to force the elected government and the elected president to step down before their term is over. In Thailand, the minority of the population – the rich and the upper middle class citizens of Bangkok and the tourist centers of the South – are trying to overthrow the elected government and replace it with one made up of experts nominated by the king or the military. They are not even trying, unlike in the Ukraine, to force early elections, because they are sure they would lose. All these malcontents believe that they only need to assemble one hundred thousand demonstrators at the central square of the capital, camp and demonstrate there for two or three months, and get themselves filmed by the international TV stations. Then the elected government or the elected President will resign. Or they simply march, rifles in hand, into the capital and overthrow the incumbent president, as it recently happened in the Central African Republic. Or, as it is currently happening in Turkey, a battered government abolishes the right to demonstrate, arrests critical journalists, or controls the Internet media. The disgruntled governments of foreign countries instigate the opponents of the battered government, as it is currently happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Ukraine. Only in Tunisia the elected government has given in. Elsewhere, chaos reigns, with occasional murders and manslaughters, as in Egypt. In Kenya, the people have elected a president who is accused by the International Court of Justice of instigating mass murder.
These few examples suffice to show that Fukuyama's thesis – that the socio-cultural development of mankind (in other words, "history") has reached its endpoint – was very premature. Liberal democracy is currently suffering one setback after another. We have to ask: why?
It should be repeated here that Fukuyama described the endpoint of history, the final form of governance, as a combination of three elements mentioned above. By doing so he also made the hoped-for global and final victory of liberal democracy dependent on the success of market capitalism. This, however, has now revealed itself to be an idol with feet of clay. Capitalism has not delivered what, in the early 1990s, had been promised to the peoples that dissolved the Communist system in their respective countries or to the peoples that abandoned communism as an alternative perspective – Mandela's South Africa for example. For many nations around the world and for large parts of the population in every country, even in the wealthy United States, Germany, etc., the dream of enjoying the western lifestyle has not materialized. For many, their standard of living has even fallen below what it was before 2008 The people are indeed being governed by the people (i.e., by their representatives), but governance is not being done for the people. What is worse, within a few years after the dissolution of the communist system market capitalism delivered mankind two devastating economic crises – the Asian crisis of 1997-1998 and the bankruptcy of the Argentinean state in 2001. Relatively wealthy nations plunged into destitution.
For now six and a half years, much of the world economy, and thus much of the world's population, has been suffering an economic crisis. The Asian crisis of 1997-1998 ended after only two years and Argentina rallied around the middle of the first decade of this century. But the current crisis is showing no signs of coming to an end. There are reasons for this. This crisis cannot end because it is neither a usual crisis within a business cycle, nor is it a structural crisis. It is a crisis of an entirely different kind. It is the product of growing resource scarcity, rising costs of all kinds of environmental destruction, and continuous population growth, in short, of limits to growth. Most conflicts and unrests of the present are only expressions and symptoms of this fundamental crisis. In addition there are the rising, almost childish demands for prosperity made by all peoples of the world, demands that simply cannot be met, while at the same time the gap between rich and poor is inexorably increasing. I remember reading an interview given to a Western newspaper by a Chinese political refugee who had fled to Europe after the failure of the democracy movement of 1986. He said, very resigned, he thought democracy was only possible in a country where the monthly per capita income amounted to U.S. $ 4000.
We – that is, my political friends and I – are convinced that only an eco-socialist social order can be the solution to the above-mentioned, ever-worsening fundamental crisis of all mankind. But will it also be, can it be, compatible with liberal democracy? In principle, yes. But it is difficult to give a safe answer, because the future is in principle always uncertain. It will depend very much on the way and the circumstance in which such a social order will come into existence. The question could therefore be somewhat narrowed down and concretized: Is there enough reason to hope that we would soon be able to create an eco-socialist society by using the ways and means generally available in representative democracies?
I am afraid not. We cannot ignore the fact that in practice this political system is a pure competitive struggle for power. Ambitious professional politicians organized in parties necessarily have limited horizons. They want to be re-elected every 4 or 5 years. So, prior to each election, they must offer a smart mix of program elements capable of winning a majority. They must promise voters a better and more prosperous future. But, in material-economic terms, eco-socialism cannot promise a better future. On the contrary, eco-socialists will not beat about the bush. They will say openly that a contraction of the world economy and sacrifice of many consumption desires are absolutely necessary.
The most important precondition for the success of the eco-socialist perspective, if only in the long term, is, therefore, that the majority of mankind subjectively accepts the need for the unpleasant measures that eco-socialists propose. Only when this point is reached, in other words, only when the eco-socialist perspective has won cultural-intellectual hegemony in the sense of Gramsci – and that may take a long time – can eco-socialists put up presidential candidates for election, as a start, in some countries. They will probably also be elected. We can only hope that by then it has not already become too late and the collapse inevitable. When the cultural-intellectual hegemony of Eco-socialism has been achieved, it will probably not be so important who rules – just as in Germany today, under the hegemony of neo-liberal globalized capitalism, it does not really matter whether the Christian Democrats are ruling or the Social Democrats. This is because the candidates will then probably offer only slightly different variants of an eco-socialist program. Then surely also the realization of genuine liberal democracy will be possible, even with referenda on questions of detail, in line with Lincoln's definition.
If the above-mentioned precondition is met, it will not be necessary to set up an eco-socialist dictatorship. If not, then also the majority of the soldiers and generals will not support an eco-socialist dictatorship as the solution to the fundamental crisis. For us, therefore, there remains no other option but the long march through the consciousness of our fellow humans, by democratic means. If we do not succeed in this endeavor, then we should prepare ourselves for the collapse and the subsequent barbarism followed by a military dictatorship.
P.S My conception of eco-socialism is presented in detail in my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? (London, Zed Books; 1999) and in the brochure (with Bruno Kern) Eco-socialism or barbarism (in : www.oekosozialismus.net)