The end is not yet

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Way back in 1989, an article appeared which caused a great deal of commotion worldwide. It was called “The End of History?”and was written by Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist. He postulated (which is a fancy word for what theorists do) that the development of liberal democracy and the end of the Soviet Union meant that: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar 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.”

Almost thirty years later, we can smile indulgently on this idea, having experienced the rise of Islamist extremism, globalisation, and the threatened overshadowing of democratic government by international corporate influences. History did not end in 1989, as it has a disturbing habit of throwing up new, and unexpected, curve balls at the human race. Just when you think it’s safe to predict the future, a different future starts to emerge.

We, that is, western society in general, like to believe that history is under control, in a manner of speaking. That we can decide what is to happen through our political, social, and particularly, our economic actions and decisions. Underlying these assumptions is the belief that the decisions we make, and the actions we take, are for the best, made by intelligent and knowledgeable experts. This, as Wilde said of second marriages, represents “the triumph of hope over experience.” We really ought to know better by now.

Remember the Crash of 2008? A hot housing market, sub-prime mortgages, and all of that? Then the politicians in Europe and the United States let the banks and their investors off the hook, while taxpayers in some countries carried the cost. We are repeatedly hit by surprises in democracy. The success of the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency, both left people shaking their heads and wondering what had happened. Liberal democracy was starting to live up to Winston Churchill’s description: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”, and “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Then, just as people started to wonder where democracy was taking us next, Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France, defeating the Front national’s Marine LePen. UK Prime Minister, Theresa May launched a completely unnecessary general election because she had a 20-point lead in the polls and looked forward to the destruction of the Labour Party and its much-maligned leader, Jeremy Corbyn. To the amazement of just about everybody, she almost lost the election, lost her majority, gave Corbyn an incredible public relations victory, and is now dependant on the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. This is not how she saw her future.

What has all this got to do with the price of eggs in Russia? Ah, yes, Russia. Another unexpected political delight is the on-going story of Russia’s interference with the American election last November. How much did they affect the outcome, if at all? How many associates of Trump will be caught up in the investigations? Is there anything that could possibly be said or done to make Trump question his own genius, integrity, or sanity in the way in which much of the world now does? The so-called Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”, seems rather to be a pious hope for those of us intrigued by current political fun and games.

How, if at all, does this affect North Grenville? Well, next year, in November, 2018, we will be holding both a provincial and a municipal election. As it stands today, it is extremely hard to imagine that Steve Clark would not be re-elected as MPP. But, of course, few imagined the Americans would throw logic, caution and sense to the wind last November. As for the municipality: it is recognised that incumbents are very hard to dislodge, if only because people often vote for the familiar name on the ballot. Often, the people vote in complete ignorance of the record, or lack thereof, of the candidates. [See Churchill’s quotes again]. Some Councillors may be getting away with minimal effort and achievements. The record of others may not be as well known as they should. And who knows what names will appear on the ballot next year.

No, Francis Fukuyama got it wrong. 1989 was not the end of history. It was, perhaps, merely the start of another chapter in the story, one that introduced a whole new cast of characters to the show. As an historian, I really love the fact that history throws us these curve balls on a fairly regular basis. No-one, least of all politicians, should assume anything. Otherwise, history may well end for them.

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