I wrote this rant a few days after 9/11, and somehow, sadly, it seems appropriate to remind myself (and anybody else who happens to read this) of how history can change one’s perspective. This is an incongruous interruption of my travelogue (which will continue…), but hey, I’m all about the incongruous.
Is history at an end? One asks this in light of momentous, horrible and seemingly (though not definitively) cataclysmic events. Symbols of global capitalism and American financial hegemony are toppled and crumble to dust before our eyes. All this a disastrous manifestation of the supposed struggle for recognition. While Fukuyama’s dream of a historical end (or an end to history) in the triumph of liberal democracy (if ever an empty, hollow shell of an ideology existed, this is its name) may be overstated, Rome is hardly being overrun by barbarians. In a sense the notion of a continued, progressive, positive march of history towards an end remains solvent in the ultimate resilience of the forces of order, and in the mindlessly unsentimental resolve of a technocratic state and its managerial President. His are the words of a scientistic governing force devoid of life or any sign of humanistic humility.
Is history at an end? Not all share in the assumption of victory on the part of the great shambling mass of rotting vagaries that is Western liberalism. There is descent in the global ranks, and in an effort to secure good order and discipline, may not the very reasons for assumed unity be undermined? In order to triumph over the chaos and eternal complexity of history, may not this oversimplification have to be eventually shelved?
Perhaps history is at an end in one sense. Events of such magnitude can provide the framework for a sense of totalistic, holistic understanding. Are these the flowering of dark seeds, planted by years of disruptive turning of the earth for the sake of economic and imperial gain? The dust of which has only now settled on the New York streets. Can we finally hope for an end not to history, but to the tyranny of a narrow, technocratic rationalism completely blind to human difference and any other form of subtlety? It is in this sense that one hopes for an end. Yet a longer, pre-Enlightenment (or perhaps anti-Enlightenment) notion of historical reality presents itself as an alternative.
Thus humanism and even a kind of Catholic scholasticism beckon as possible models. It is perhaps no irony that one of the most “reasonable” responses to recent events was voiced by an archbishop, who called for the need to turn the other cheek, and resist the tendency towards jingoism, racism and ethnic hatred.
If only American institutional power presented such a stern and wise face. Instead, threats to liberty, individuality, and free expression loom on the horizon. Liberal democracy may prevail, but only because this is the name nationalistic, xenophobic and authoritarian expressions of the managed machine state give it. History is a long, ever winding path with many dark valleys and majestic vistas, not a straight, unyielding line to desired ends.
Perhaps it is time that this notion of history come to an end.
Many of these ideas — expressed many years ago — seem relevant to me these days. How times change…