History Strikes Back

When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the victors were beyond complacent, for they were certain that their triumph had been inevitable all along. Today, two powerful leaders – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping – are demonstrating just how farfetched this "end of history" view was.

MADRID – When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the victors were beyond complacent, for they were certain that their triumph had been inevitable all along. Many in the West assumed that liberal capitalism’s victory over totalitarian socialism would necessarily bring an end to wars and sanguinary revolutions. Today, two powerful leaders – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping – are demonstrating just how farfetched this view was.

The predominant Western view was exemplified in Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, which presumed that Western liberal democracy was the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. In other words, Christian eschatology was transformed into a secular historical postulate.

That transformation was not new. Hegel and Marx embraced it. In 1842, the historian Thomas Arnold stated, with typical Victorian complacency, that Queen Victoria’s reign contained “clear indications of the fullness of time.” All of these historical prophets – whether heralding the realization of the Absolute Idea or the dictatorship of the proletariat – proved to be miserably wrong.

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