It has been nearly 30 years since we were informed that the "end of history" had arrived. Yet we may be approaching a time of historic trouble and great irony.
"The end of history" was the lesson political philosopher Francis Fukuyama sought to teach (in a noted book by that name) after the Cold War had ended and Western values seemed to reign supreme.
The Soviet Union had fallen without a shot being fired. Communist China had opened itself to the West and to capitalism. The world seemed to be on the verge of a general agreement that some version of liberal, free market democracy was not just the best way to organize countries, but the irresistible wave of a new future, heralding permanent peace and prosperity.
The consensus seemed to be that the American model, or some approximation of it, was the answer to the world's problems. America really was John Winthrop's "city on a hill." And America as redeemer nation would bring redemption by American example and not by the American sword. As former enemies went about the gradual process of becoming more like us they might even become new friends — or at least peaceful competitors.
World Wars I and II were permanently in the rear view mirror. There would be no further need to "make the world safe for democracy," as Woodrow Wilson had vowed, at the point of a gun. An "arsenal of democracy," as FDR had dubbed America, would no longer be needed.
Adding to the American-ness of that "end of history" moment, its arrival had roughly coincided with the 200th anniversary of the birth of the United States. Thanks could be given to the American framers, whose founding documents presumed that political freedom and economic freedom were best assured if bound together — that you really couldn't preserve one without the other for any length of time.
The United States has benefited from that understanding for better than two centuries now. As of the early 1990s and the "end of history," America's rivals seemed suddenly poised to benefit as well. And the whole world, too. After all, it was said, commercial republics don't fight against one another; they trade with one another.
Fast forward three decades. Neither Russia nor China is anywhere close to becoming either a commercial republic, or even an approximation of one. History is no closer to its end in 2021 than it was in 1992.
Vladimir Putin's Russia has settled into one-man rule, minus perhaps the worst of the Soviet gulag state. And Xi Jinping's China is sticking to its alternate model based on highly controlled economic "openness," minus any hint of political freedom.
China seems to be saying to the world that both Fukuyama and founding father James Madison were wrong. Combined economic and political freedom are not requirements for successful and powerful nations. Some elements of the former and none of the latter will do.
The deeper irony, however, is that Fukuyama was wrong not only about China but, it's beginning to appear, he was wrong about us as well. Instead of China becoming more Madisonian, more like America, the United States is threatening to become more like China.
This threat has been growing for a good while now. But at this historical moment the United States seems poised to make, shall we say, its own "great leap forward." That would be a leap in the direction of Chinese-style centralized government and one-party rule.
At least, that seems to be what a victorious Democratic Party is poised to attempt. The margin of control in Washington is slim, but the will to act is there. And other pieces are in place.
Donald Trump may be gone, but that will not be enough. Much will be done to ensure there will never be either another Trump presidency or another presidency with Trump-like policies.
The most important of the instruments may be Big Tech, economic entities whose powers dwarf those of the robber barons of the late 19th century — and whose intent is much more ideological. Expect "surveillance capitalism" and "cancel culture" to be put on steroids.
The entertainment industry and the education establishment march right along with Big Tech. The same goes for the mainstream news media, which now functions essentially as an arm of the Democratic Party.
The shock troops for this effort are also in place, and often on our streets. Some are known as Antifa (as in anti-fascist). It reminds one that in the 1930s, with fascism on the rise in Europe, the Louisiana "Kingfish" Huey Long was asked if fascism would ever come to America.
"Sure," he replied, "but they'll call it anti-fascism."
All of this portends a coming time of troubles and anything but the end of history. A concerted attempt to end the American experiment in limited government, coupled with the stifling of the First Amendment, will provoke a whole lot of contentious new history. At least it should.
John C. "Chuck" Chalberg writes from Bloomington.