Sustainability and the post-bloc world

As Francis Fukuyama famously prophesized, the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent collapse of the USSR in 1991 meant that there was, from that moment on, only one remaining socio-economic model out there, and that was Western-styled liberal democracy. He formalized his theory back in 1992, before dust had even had time to settle on the new world order, looking into the future while most people — especially in the former Eastern bloc — were still very much focused on the present.

The end of communism

Indeed, the end of the Soviet era, however it may have distanced itself from the original canon of Marxist communism, showed the inherent limitations of that ideology. Marx had predicted that capitalistic ownership would gradually concentrate into fewer and fewer hands — it didn’t: the advent of the stock market changed all that — while more and more workers became impoverished — they didn’t: the gradual rise of the middle class (in the West) forever transformed the social balance of power. Moreover, no self-proclaimed communist revolution actually followed the principle the theory was based on: that workers would spontaneously gather to overthrow their capitalistic overlords. Instead, all Marx-inspired coups originated from small groups of people, usually with some degree of military expertise, therefore undermining the very idea of (true) communist upheaval.

In other words, Fukuyama seemed to be quite right in the assumption that communism was no longer (if it ever had been) a contender when it came to lasting forms of human government. And his predictions remain somewhat unchallenged to this day: no new socio-economic model has truly come to light to challenge the domination of liberal democracy. That being said, the world is not a peaceful place either: Kant’s notion of a world-state that would unify all populations under one global, harmonious entity is (still) very far from reality.

 

The end of history?

Although there are no true blocs to speak of (Communist China has managed to gradually infuse capitalistic principles within its society), tensions between the Western world and non-democratic countries (such as religion-based autocracies in the Middle-East or traditional dictatorships in various parts of the world) continue to regularly rise to the surface. Not to mention that Western countries themselves also occasionally fight each other, although usually not militarily: the current US administration has been blatantly threatening the European Union in a nationalistic move that clearly proves that sharing the same overarching societal values doesn’t guarantee brotherhood between countries in any way, shape or form.

What this boils down to is this: even though Western democratic principles don’t have a credible challenger today, it neither means that they are fully adopted by every society on earth nor that it is synonymous with the end of history insofar as they are no fights, ideological of physical, left to be had among humans. The earth is still a tension-filled place, with many countries, communities and populations going at it for reasons of varying pertinence. This is where Fukuyama’s thinking lacks a certain degree of finesse: the fact that an idea is currently unchallenged doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with it — or that it won’t eventually find a new contender, for that matter. The end of communism predictably doesn’t mean the end of history, as humanity keeps changing, evolving, transforming, triggering a few shocks and waves in the process.

Let us however be clear: our mono-ideological world as it stands in 2019, although not inherently peaceful, is arguably still the most peaceful it’s ever been throughout human history. Granted, we are witnessing wars in Syria, violent military operations in the Ukraine and grave tensions in Venezuela, to name but a few. Yet these conflicts grossly pale in comparison to the Cold war era, with its multiple explosions in Latin America, Eastern Europe or Africa, not to mention the two global conflicts that came to define the first half of the 20th century… and about every century before that, that saw most countries being at war with most others at some point or another. The notion that our world today is showing critical levels of violence is very wrong and very misleading: it’s actually never been that peaceful, even though there are still people dying for absurd causes all around the world. One unfortunately does not exclude the other.

 

The end of isolation

So this is where we are: in a world that has essentially managed to get out of the previous century’s bitter ideological wars, thus becoming eminently more peaceful, although social, political and/or military unrest keeps flaring up. Understanding that this is not effectively the end of history but merely the end of one of its chapters, what should be the next one? In other words, what can we do today to keep progressing towards world peace and societies in which every individual has access to equal opportunities and the chance for a fulfilling life?

In my humble opinion, the answer comes in the form of one word: sustainability. I traveled to China a few years ago and was somewhat surprised to hear officials from the Ministry of the Economy spontaneously talk about the problem that pollution causes to the Chinese population, quite far from the State’s idyllic messages of unbridled growth and prosperity. No matter if your country claims to follow a communist ideology or if you are personally wealthy enough to own a private island in the Pacific, there is one thing we all face the consequences of — climate change. It is no surprise that a few of the world’s most prominent billionaires are currently hard at work on space travel projects: they are looking for a backup plan in the event that life on earth becomes truly threatened. But that is arguably a shot in the dark (no pun intended) as, even if we can settle on Mars, finding the resources necessary to our modern lifestyles there is another story — even only for a handful of billionaires and their loved ones. In short, until proven otherwise, we need earth.

All of us. And that is the true equalizer: all humans now share the same goal, and that is to protect the very ground we walk on. It may take a while and a few more Trump-style deniers to come to the conclusion an overwhelming majority of scientists have long been shouting from the rooftops: global warming is the challenge of our times, and it will take all of us to solve it. But there is little doubt that it will eventually happen, because there’s only so much ideology can do against ever increasing amounts of facts. And that may very well be history’s next chapter, one that implies an unprecedented level of — universal — human cooperation. 

This is why there is hope.