January 20, 2019

The End of History

“Debate over the health of democracy and the liberal world order is all the rage these days, sparked by President Trump’s brand of “America First” nationalism, similar movements in Europe, the emergence of a revanchist Russia, and the rise of China.

In 1989 Francis Fukuyama published an essay heralding the “end of history,” by which he meant the triumph of representative democracy over all other forms of government. For a decade he appeared prescient, as democracy swept through Central and Southeastern Europe, Latin America and much of Asia. More recently some of those democracies have faltered. Although few have definitively collapsed, the democratic wave seems to have begun ebbing.

Yet in a larger sense, the “end of history” came in 1945. Since then there have been no wars between major powers and few between smaller states. The business cycle has been moderated if not eliminated. The subsequent seven decades saw almost continuous economic growth, lifting nearly half the world’s population into the middle class.

These accomplishments are based on two basic, widely accepted norms of international behavior: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s territory, and thou shall open thy markets to all equally. The norms were buttressed by numerous postwar institutions—the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, now the World Trade Organization. Equally important, the norms were backed by U.S. military and economic power and the attractiveness of the American political and economic model.”

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