The End of History Comes to Tunisia

PARIS – Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” is still unfolding, but we can already read into it lessons about democracy and democratization that extend far beyond the Maghreb.

To set the Jasmine Revolution in historical perspective, we must recall June 4, 1989 – that pivotal Sunday when the Poles voted the communists out of power and, at the other end of Eurasia, the Communist Party of China crushed a burgeoning democratic movement on Tiananmen Square. In retrospect, that day looks like a fork in the road of human history. One path led to the demise of communism and a new birth of freedom and democracy – at times bloody and painful – in Europe. The other path traced an alternative course, with China remaining under the grip of its ruling party, but delivering prosperity to its impoverished masses through astounding and sustained growth.

As the revolutionary year of 1989 was unfolding, Francis Fukuyama, presciently yet controversially pondered whether the path chosen in Europe heralded the “end of history.” Following Hegel, Fukuyama made the case that history is directional – that it is leading somewhere – for two reasons. First, the ceaseless spread of technology and of the economic liberal order, which has a homogenizing effect. Second, the Hegelian “struggle for recognition” has been a pervasive driving force of mankind, powerful enough to lead countless individuals to the ultimate sacrifice.

But, while a widespread consensus held that communism was nothing but a dead end, China’s economic success, and the authoritarian backlash in Russia following Boris Yeltsin’s departure from the Kremlin a decade ago, prompted a more pessimistic analysis. Theories of “democratic rollback” and of a resurgence of “authoritarian great powers” surfaced to unveil the potential of systems that combined nationalism and state-led growth-yielding capitalism.