Eric Hobsbawm, the noted Socialist-Communist historian, has a piece in today's Guardian (hat tip: RealClearPolitics) "The Last of the Utopian Projects". He laments how Perestroika hastened the Soviet decline and brought about an aggressive bid by the US for "global domination". Let's break down a couple of his key points and address them:
"Did perestroika herald 'the end of history'? The collapse of the experiment initiated by the October Revolution is certainly the end of a history. That experiment will not be repeated, although the hope it represented, at least initially, will remain a permanent part of human aspirations. And the enormous social injustice which gave communism its historic force in the last century is not diminishing in this one. But was it 'the end of history' as Francis Fukuyama proclaimed in 1989, in a phrase that he no doubt regrets?"
Mr. Fukuyama's book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) asserts that history is directional and that its endpoint is capitalist liberal democracy. Mr. Hobsbawm dreams of the Marxists goals being accomplished now by different means, and is no fan of the "capitalist liberal democracy" that Mr. Fukuyama believed in 1992 was nearby.
"He was doubly wrong. In the literal sense of history as something that makes headlines in newspapers and TV news bulletins, history has continued since 1989, if anything in a more dramatic mode than before. The cold war has been followed neither by a new world order, nor by a period of peace, nor by the prospect of a predictable global progress in civilisation such as intelligent western observers had in the mid-19th century, the last period when liberal capitalism - under British auspices in those days - had no doubts about the future of the world."
It is interesting Mr. Hobsbawm's view of the post Cold War period. Taking the concepts one by one that are in bold:
- "There is no new world order" - I would suggest that there is indeed a new world order, one that is currently being defined and played out in the diplomatic battles between the US and its former allies in Europe, the US and China in Asia, and by the US and the totalitarian regimes in the Middle East that are resisting democracy. The new world order is characterized by US hegemony and its pursuit, post 9/11, of Idealistically spreading democracy for a Realist self preservation from foreign threats such as terrorism.
- "Nor by a period of peace" - Communism didn't prevent the greatest tragic war of the last century. On the contrary, the Cold War created stability among the core superpowers while proxy battles raged during a 50 year period on the Korean Peninsula, Latin and South America, Afghanistan, South East Asia, in the Middle East and the non-Commonwealth African countries. By contrast, the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union and failure of Perestroika is characterized by less conflict and more stability with an increasing number of state actors.
- "Nor by the prospect of a predictable global progress in civilisation" - Interesting choice of words with "predictable". What about what we do have today in history, a non-predictable "global progress in civilisation" as democracy takes root in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq, Palestine, possibly Lebanon and Egypt? Who would have predicted this progress? Certainly not the Left. This is explored in my earlier post on the Left reconsidering the Iraq invasion in "Could Bush be Right?"
It is ironic, though not surprising, that Mr. Hobsbawm cannot find "progress" in the democratic movements in the Middle East and former Soviet Union.
"What we have today is a superpower unrealistically aspiring to a permanent world supremacy for which there is no historical precedent, nor probability, given the limitation of its own resources - especially as today all state power is weakened by the impact of non-state economic agents in a global economy beyond the control of any state, and given the visible tendency of the global centre of gravity to shift from the North Atlantic to the zone of south and east Asia."
There was no history for the rise of Communism or its decline, but that did not preclude the ideology of having a major impact on the fate of the world in the 20th century. We have only two to three centuries of global interaction on an interconnected scale to have "historical precedent". Looking regionally, it is easy to compare China during its height, Rome at is apex, or Britain at its zenith as being superpowers of their time.
I also would like to argue with his second line of reasoning, that "all state power is weakened by the impact of non-state economic agents in a global economy". The power of the US government, especially on the federal and state levels, seems to have increased as symbolized in the creating of the Department of Homeland Security, the passage of the Patriot Act, and the rise of immigration as part of the national debate. It may be true that totalitarian states and some countries in Europe are weakened, but this is not a universal truth.
With respect to the shift of gravity from the North Atlantic to South East Asia, I would argue that the center of gravity in both cases is the United States. The attraction and direction of that gravity is pointing more towards Asia as the US chooses to reinforce its alliances with South Korea, Japan (see this DEL post) and Australia to counter North Korean recklessness and Chinese assertiveness. This is also due in part to the abdication of "hard power" politics from the countries of the European Union and their focus on the only coin remaining, "soft power". Asia is moving towards greater "hard power" and the center of gravity in global power politics will follow it.
I believe, while Mr. Fukuyama's book was poorly timed, in light of the post Cold War history and the developments in the world post 9/11, that it may prove more durable than Mr. Hobsbawm's ideas expressed above.
Your comments are greatly welcomed and appreciated.
UPDATE: Reader T. Hazelwood has an insightful forum discussion from FrontPage Magazine with a former Eastern bloc intelligence Agent here. It makes a good link between Communism encouraging Muslim extremism against the United States. (March 15, 2005)