Writing in TNR, Mark Lilla informs that intellectuals in China seem genuinely interested in the theories of Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss. I know more about Strauss than Schmitt. My admiration for the Straussians must be strange. I don’t agree with the Straussian neo-conservatism that wants war abroad and religious conservatism at home. Yet, I think they’ve done great work examining the political philosophy of the American Founding (even if I disagree with them there, at times, as well).
Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” thesis is alluded to in Lilla’s article here:
Classical liberalism had little to say about war and international affairs, leaving the impression that, if only human rights were respected and markets kept free, a morally universal and pacified world order would result. For Schmitt, this was liberalism’s greatest and most revealing intellectual abdication: If you have nothing to say about war, you have nothing to say about politics. There is, he wrote, “absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics.”
As you can see Fukuyama didn’t invent the thesis, rather popularized its applicability to the modern world after 11/09/1989. (When I saw Harvey C. Mansfield speak at Princeton a few years ago, he said, after 9/11/2001, “History was back ‘on.’”)
History would not end, the theory goes, with a Marxist state that transcended capitalism, but rather with a classical liberal/liberal democratic system that embraced capitalism. The neo-Marxist Left pejoratively terms such a system “neo-liberalism.”
I should note too, that the dominant form of capitalism, the one that, if any has a chance of “Ending History” in the foreseeable future is not laissez-faire, but the “third way” capitalism (that term coined by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair). It’s a heavily regulated bureaucratic form of capitalism that provides a safety net not just to people, but corporations. It’s a capitalism that both Democrats and Republicans in America seem to endorse.
There’s debate as to whether the Straussians think Ending History with liberal democracy a “good” thing. (I think some of them do, some don’t). The End of History is an end to war. Personally I see that as desirable. I also see a universal classical liberal system as desirable as well. The Declaration of Independence, if you read the document carefully, was not meant to be a particularly “American” document. Rather it’s written in universal terms, good for all men at all times. If all governments accepted the basic principles of the DOI, the theory goes, war would end. (I guess I must be a contemptible bourgeois “Last Man.”)
Now, I understand we don’t all interpret the DOI the same way. For instance, I believe in a right to life, but not that a fertilized egg has that right, though some do. I also believe in a right to political liberty and that includes voluntary homosexual behavior and drug use, though many who purport to believe in the DOI do not. However, simply embracing the principles of the DOI in a general sense — that we have these rights that are antecedent to majority rule but that majorities have to “consent” (regularly) in order to validate the legitimacy of the system — seems enough to prevent liberal democracies from going to war with one another.
But Marx wasn’t the first to predict an End to History either. While I can’t speak for the other religious traditions in which I am less learned, the Bible speaks of an End to History in the Book of Revelation.
Yet, the Bible is not a book of modern politics. Whatever the Christian Americanists may tell you, the Founding Fathers’ idea of republicanism did NOT originate in the Bible, just as Marxism did not originate there either. Yet, the Bible did influence both systems. Certain tales in the Bible resonate with both Marxism and the American Founding.
Interestingly, the idea of “Ending History” with liberal democracy traces to America’s Founding era. Liberal democracy as originally articulated by America’s Founders and the philosophers who influenced them was “settled” as the final form of government with a top down, God given metaphysics. Yet, the God of the Bible is not an apparent liberal democrat.
When one therefore mixes biblical revelation with Founding era democratic-republican theory, one gets results that are “interesting” to say the least. This is what the original “history enders” (most notable among them Enlightenment unitarian Christians Joseph Priestley and Richard Price) believed: Jesus would return at the success of the French Revolution to usher in a millennial republic of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” This was part and parcel of the same line of thought that argued the Bible established a “republic” as opposed to a “Kingdom” of Heaven, that the Ancient Israelites had a “republic” instead of a theocracy and that the Romans 13 really did teach revolution was permitted, indeed demanded, to secure liberal democratic ends.