Almost twenty-two years ago, during the roll-back of Soviet Russia, and just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the neo-conservative philosopher, Francis Fukuyama, penned his seminal piece on ‘The End of History?’ Ever since he has been mocked for predicting the end of historical events; of course, this was a silly mis-reading of his thesis, articulated by many who no-doubt had never even bothered to read what he had written. For Fukuyama was not predicting the end of history (with a small ‘h’) but the end of History (with a capital ‘H’), i.e. in the Hegelian sense, that is to say, of mankind’s reaching an ‘Omega Point’ in its social, political and economic evolution. For Fukuyama, the events of 1989 marked our final destination: liberal democracy, not so much actually-existing liberal democracy, although important, but liberal democracy in a philosophical sense.
Fukuyama subsequently recanted part of his own thesis: for him, humanity’s onward technological innovation means that we may one day have the means to alter our own composition, perhaps changing the Platonic way he argues we act and think. Critically, however, while Fukuyama’s Hegelian-Platonic thesis of History has attracted the most attention over the years, it was nevertheless only one component of his work: for a second, perhaps more important, and profoundly pessimistic thesis also manifested itself – one inspired by the German genealogist, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Less so in his original article, but more so in his subsequent book, Fukuyama asks whether societies at the end of History – i.e. those governed by liberal democracy – will come to be populated by what Nietzsche called the ‘Last Men’. These people were very similar to the pitiful creatures John Stuart Mill had so carefully mocked a few decades earlier, when they called on the Union to enter into a cease fire with the Confederate enslavers during the American Civil War:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing is worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature, who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
Like Mill’s ‘miserable creatures’, Nietzsche’s Last Men were people who had closed in on themselves; people concerned only for their own material comfort and personal safety, unwilling to defend themselves or their political and economic interests from numerous external threats; unwilling, even, to use force to help others in distress. Unable to fight to retain their freedom from those who would otherwise try and take it from them, they would themselves inevitably be turned into slaves.
So, where is this all leading? Well, as I read Uli Speck’s insightful new article on German pacifism, I could not help wonder whether Germany has itself now reached the end of History. For as Speck points out, as Germany has become more liberal and democratic, it has also closed in on itself, perpetuating a pacifist security culture and unwilling to countenance the use of military force, either in service of European objectives, or for enlightened purposes (as with the British-French led intervention in Libya). Indeed, Germany seems to have become increasingly comfortable, tucked safely away in the heart of Europe, surrounded on all sides by buffer zones comprised of relatively friendly or weak countries, and ‘consuming’ security provided ultimately by a long-standing guarantee from Britain and France (and, for the time being, behind them, the United States).
However, while Speck’s analysis is excellent, I cannot accept some of his conclusions. He argues that Britain and France must accept – due to Germany’s reservations about the use of force – that the European Union will not become a global power; that Brussels will not be able or willing to use military force in a significant way in service of its interests. Of course, here, he may be right: without German acquiescence, Europeans will not move towards a more robust strategic posture; indeed, their continent risks becoming a ‘Greater Germany’, trapped at the end of History, an old people’s home for the pathetic Last Men – themselves. As Fukuyama points out: ‘The end of history will be a very sad time.’
But fortunately, Germany will not succeed in getting what it wants. Berlin’s Last Men may not be prepared to help develop a ‘harder’ European Union; yet the ‘Super Men’ in London – and particularly Paris – will not accept a ‘soft’ one either. For they know that, in the world beyond the European homeland, the law of the jungle reigns, where the Last Men, if left to their own devices, would almost certainly get snuffed out.
So as American resources are gradually withdrawn from the European peninsula and moved to East Asia in a new age of geopolitics, the British and French – if not through the European Union – will speed up the development of a new platform to guarantee their security and interests in the twenty-first century. Thus, far from getting others to accept ‘soft power’, the Last Men will be faced by an increasingly stark and difficult decision: either ditch the comforting but nevertheless peculiar fantasies, or accept isolation and exclusion; either help Britain and France – who need German technical prowess and industrial might – build a European Union able to protect European interests; or risk setting in motion a period of boredom that will serve to get European history started once again…
• Uli Speck edits the excellent Global Europe news portal.