Democracy and Autocracy

The New Republic ran an article by John McCain’s foreign policy adviser Robert Kagan titled ‘The End of the End of History.’ Reading through it, it is interesting to see how much (or little) the neocon views of foreign affairs have changed since the days of Fukuyama.

While ‘the end of history’ proponents previously thought that the ideological struggle between liberalism and communism had come to an end for good after the Cold War, and that liberal democracy was the best government available was the new worldwide consensus, Kagan claims this was too optimistic and all wrong. The rise of economically and politically powerful autocratic governments in Russia and China, as well as in Iran, Burma, and Central Asia, has now created a new contestation for global influence between democracy and autocracy. The more Russia and China succeed in establishing themselves as forces not to be pushed around, the more this will influence smaller countries to follow in their path and become their allies, rather than with the U.S. or Western Europe.

One has to wonder whether this view, while more realpolitik in nature, is still making the same mistakes and overgeneralizations that Fukuyama did almost twenty years ago. To claim that there is now a worldwide autocratic movement opposite to democracy still paints the picture from a very western point of view, in which alternatives are lumped together while their differences are overlooked.

This is made all the more clearer when Kagan talks about radical Islamism, claiming that “radical Islamists are the last holdout against these powerful forces of modernity,” for they want to purge their societies of everything Western and turn back the clock to the glory days of a purified Islam. He even quotes Bernard Lewis, one of the best known but also most traditionally ‘orientalist’ scholars of Islam, as evidence of the backward tendencies of Islamism. This is a case in which the ideological claims of people like Qutb, Khomeini, and Bin Laden, are taken for granted with no critical reflection on how they are using traditional Islamic discourse to justify ulterior motives. To think that radical Islamism wants to abolish technology and go back to a ‘pre-modern’ state of living is utterly inane. How does this account for places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, two of the most religious and conservative states in the Middle East, which also happen to have the most developed state apparatuses – the idea of a state being something very much Western and ‘modern’?

In the end, not much seems to have changed in the neocon outlook on foreign matters. Never the most sensitive people to cultural and ideological differences, they are starting to reach a new level.

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