The End of History 2.0?
Francis Fukuyama argued in the 1990s that the great shift that prompted him to—rather grandly—conceptualize the “End of History” was political, that is to say, the resolution of the Cold War in favor of Liberal Democracy, and not Communism. But the story of history continued, notwithstanding the publication of his book, as the anticipated utopia failed to materialize. But if we take the notion of the End of History to refer to a major sea change, possibly even challenging the entire context of “history” as we have known it, there may be a new candidate for this definition.
What could it be??
…That candidate is the looming environmental crisis in which we currently find ourselves (for some it is no longer looming, as at the time of writing millions of people worldwide have already suffered catastrophic consequences of climate change). The world has been though something like this before. Variations in climate—such as the Medieval Warming Period, or the Little Ice Age—affected people around the globe dramatically (see our full chapter on environment). The Plague of the fourteenth century may have been a consequence of drying climate, which forced disease-carrying rodents out of Inner Asia into more populated areas, killing half of Europe and tens of millions around the world. The Norse settlers (Vikings to you and me) of Greenland may have been victims not only of their own over-farming practices, but of the Little Ice Age that made their short growing season even shorter and filled their communication channels to the outside world with impassable ice.
This time around, however, there are two differentiating factors. The vastly larger world population, and its massively increased ability to move, means that local disasters can have global consequences as refugees migrate, and international trade is disrupted. The second is that, notwithstanding a minority of skeptics who believe otherwise, climate change is human-induced, leading some climate scientists to propose the idea that we are in a new geologic era, the anthropocene, as opposed to the Holocene, that is to say the “Human-generated” era. If this is to be taken seriously, that in itself is cause to consider the End of History thesis, as all of human history to-date has taken place in the Holocene, for the simple reason that the climate (post Ice Age) became amenable to agriculture which led to population growth (or the other way round, we don’t know), which led to what has traditionally been called “civilization,” and with the development of writing we emerged into the era of History.
The scale of the environmental problem is such that not a few scholars have seriously raised the issue of human extinction, space colonization and Armageddon, among other catastrophic and radical scenarios.
But it doesn’t take anything as extreme as extinction to justify talk about the end of history–at least about the kind of history that we have become accustomed to: the struggles between peoples of different tribes, kingdoms, states and empires. If we are to survive and deal with resource and environmental challenges, the human race will need to redefine how it does business in a profound manner. The Biosphere in which we all make our living is threatened…by us. This has created a global crisis, to which a global response is required. “I am by heritage a Jew,” said Albert Einstein, “by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever.”
Einstein, among many others, was passionate about the need for world government, in the wake of World War Two and the Holocaust. As such he tapped into a long debate going back some centuries, to Hobbes, Rousseau and Kant, among others, looking for a solution to the world’s endemic wars.
But now more than any time in history, as humanity faces threats to its biosphere, and global institutions (however flawed) exist to attempt to manage them, the particular disagreements between societies, nations, ethnicities and races, seem increasingly irrelevant and antiquated (not to belittle the differences between say Palestinians and Israelis, or Islamists and secularists in Syria, Hutus and Tutsis, etc, etc,…). The dawning cultural and political unity, which will by necessity play an ever-larger role in human affairs, will draw upon humanity’s basic commonalities for its sustenance, thus representing an epochal change as great as those of the move from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, or from the agrarian age to the industrial.
Note to libertarians: Yes, you might well be freaked out by this idea. I might be too. But try saving the planet without some kind of major dudes presiding. I wouldn’t buy that particular enchilada.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean Peace. All the above-mentioned sectarian struggles will doubtless continue, in the same way that gang warfare might thrive within any one polity or state. cooperation, in other words, will likely prevail at the top, while lower down the pecking order of human society we are all left to protect our particular turf.
Hmm. Maybe its business as usual after all.