Francis Fukuyama got it spectacularly wrong in 1989 when he wrote that the world was witnessing the end of history. He was writing after Tiananmen Square and at a time when anti-communist protests were spreading across the Soviet Union.
It was a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall declared communism and the Soviet Union effectively dead. From here on, Western liberal democracy was the only game in town. History — as the global battle between big ideologies — was over.
Last Wednesday, November 9 (27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall) as the world waited to hear from the architect of a new wall, it certainly didn’t feel like history had ended.
The main reason history hasn’t ended is because Fukuyama got it right in one major respect. Western liberal democracy did prevail over everything else — but the Reagan-Thatcher version of economic liberalism that came with it has proved to be a really bad winner.
This has been worsened by the fact that the Left has been such an appalling loser.
As journalist Eliane Glaser wrote in the wake of the Occupy protests against post-financial crisis austerity measures, nothing coherent has come from the Left. "Leaderless and programme-light, dissent keeps failing to cohere, fragmenting into online petitions and single-issue campaigns."
In the UK the Labour Party under Tony Blair dressed itself up as New Labour to celebrate the end of history. In the US the Democrats under Bill Clinton embraced the dominance of Western democracy. Under his watch, CEO pay moved into the stratosphere and his repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 2001 ensured the banks could rule the US and then the world.
In 2003 George Bush said his invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was motivated by a desire to introduce democracy to oppressed peoples.
As Western liberal democracy gained a tighter grip across Europe and the US, there was a return to the levels of inequality that prevailed at the turn of the 19th century, long before universal suffrage.
Inequality was at its lowest in the 1960s and 1970s, when there was considered to be a serious threat from the Soviet Union. The removal of that threat saw Western liberal democracy cultivate a form of individualist capitalism that celebrated inequality.
The problem this time around is that Western liberal democracy peddles the notion we’re all equal and that we all have rights.
Today we are all Western liberal democratic consumers.
The politicians peddle their wares, reminding us of all the rights we have. We believe them and re-elect them.
Businesses peddle their wares by advertising their latest product that each of us now has a right to own. We believe them and buy their stuff, which we can’t really afford.
But their profits have to keep increasing. That is what capitalism in a Western liberal democracy demands.
The combination of a sense of entitlement and an ability to vote ensures history has not ended.
It just looks different.