28 February 2011 ~ 1 Comentario

Once again, the end of history

By Carlos Alberto Montaner*

(FIRMAS PRESS) Half the Arab world is at loggerheads. Some nations want to change the world in which they live. What for? The most reasonable way would be to approach the successful nations that have achieved a reasonable degree of stability and prosperity to try to find out how they managed to prevail and succeed in history.

In 1783, when Britain recognized the United States, no European power believed that the weak republican structure of the young nation could remain stable amid the jealousies and frictions that strained relations between the former 13 colonies of the Union. Reading the reports of diplomats of that time – an old forerunner of WikiLeaks – demonstrates the pessimism of the experts in the late 18th Century. How could an entity ruled by 13 constitutions and led by a rotating head of government aided by dozens of legislators locally chosen by suffrage possibly last?

But it did. It lasts until today. What happened? It happened that, from the start, the experimental state designed by the founding fathers served the interests of individuals who formed the ruling class, but with two basic characteristics: the state could transfer authority in an organized and peaceful manner through periodic elections, while flexibly accommodating a growing number of people capable of making decisions or influencing them, shaping and absorbing the enormous social levels it gradually generated by the efficient productive apparatus, including African-Americans and women, who were absent in the restricted original project for the American nation.

Why haven’t there been any revolutions in the United States? Because they haven’t been necessary. Because society created and has maintained porous institutions able to absorb changes without violence. It is truly prodigious (and admirable) that the same state that in 1789 elected George Washington as its first president, a surveyor who become a triumphant military man and later a wealthy slave owner, today is led by Barack Obama, a mestizo middle-class lawyer, the son of an African black and an American white who lacked the slightest social or economic relevance.

And what is true in the political and social fields has its equivalent in the economic field. The open market and meritocracy made it possible for a republic in which economic power was in the hands of a small minority of planters and merchants with strong ties to the British colonial authorities to transform itself peacefully into a huge business network, pluralistic and fluctuating, composed of hundreds of thousands of companies, where economic agents are constantly emerging and disappearing, agents that innovate and change the material reality of the country at a surprising speed, with no one planning the production or choosing the winners or the losers, a role left to the sovereign consumer.

This elastic “American model,” consisting of a state defined as liberal democracy and an economic system ruled by the market and the existence of private property, came to be the paradigm that gradually attracted the other leading nations on the planet, until, in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Marxist-Leninist option, Francis Fukuyama said, in an often misunderstood phrase, that we had reached “the end of history.”

Fukuyama did not mean that no dramatic events or setbacks would occur, or that never again would a stubborn fellow insist on reviving communism or any other failed variant of statist collectivism. But it seemed evident that the benefits of peaceful coexistence, peaceful change and institutional stability could be achieved through liberal democracy, with all that that implies, while progress and prosperity could be reached through the market and the existence of private property.

Will this lesson be learned by the nations that are abandoning Arab autocracy left and right? We do not know, because it is very difficult to predict a future incubated in messy street riots. But there are some encouraging precedents: Taiwan and South Korea evolved triumphantly in that direction after enduring heavy-handed governments. Almost all the former European satellites of the Soviet Union, encouraged by the European Union, took up liberal democracy and the market after the end of the communist era and, most importantly, made the right decision.

What will countries like Egypt, Libya or Tunisia do? Insist on the disastrous model of militaristic Arab socialism inaugurated by Nasser in 1954, which has now plunged into crisis? Erect a fundamentalist theocracy like Iran? The smart thing would be to imitate the richest and happiest societies on the planet. Unfortunately, rebels do not always seem to do the right thing when in power. They’re not quite sure of what they want. [“©FIRMAS PRESS]

One Response to “Once again, the end of history”

  1. Channery 20 April 2011 at 11:03 pm Permalink

    Good point. I hadn’t tuhoght about it quite that way. 🙂

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