Sunday, June 15, 2014

The End of Historical Progress

The past two Saturdays, the WSJ included pieces by well-known political thinkers discussing the course of history as revealed by recent events that seem to be erasing borders around the world.

In the June 7th paper, Francis Fukuyama took a second look at an essay he wrote 25 years prior that focused on the idea that "History... appeared to culminate in liberty."  Fukuyama proposes that democracies fail because they are formed with too great a focus on protecting the nation from tyranny and too little focus on ensuring effective government.

This weekend's Journal includes an essay by Walter Russell Mead that considers how "history doesn't follow America's optimistic script."  Mead presents the idea that "Americans tend to think that history doesn't matter much, that win-win solutions are easily found and that world history is moving inexorably toward a better and more peaceful place."  He supports this by describing our nation's path to greatness as relatively pain-free in comparison to other nations.

Both pieces are excellent reads, but both also seem to miss the key of America's success: A well-educated, God-fearing populace that believes their government only exists as an extension of the people and that understands the success of the nation will be built on the successes of the individuals living within it who are able to reach out and seize the opportunity available to them through liberty.

To Fukuyama's discussion: The inability to govern effectively is a feature, not a bug.  The bumbling government is likely the best way to allow individuals to govern their own affairs.

To Mead's discussion: America's rosy view of history is based on the not naive belief but the intense knowledge that the concepts of freedom and independence foundational to our nation are equally true and available to any other population on the planet... and thus we hope that is what we are seeing develop as news reports flash across our screens.

These thoughts merge in considering the recent turmoil in Iraq, with cities falling to the ISIS terrorist army.  Americans in large numbers supported President Bush's effort to democratize Iraq because of our rosy outlook.  We hoped our military would give space for the Iraqi people to discover the truth of liberty and how to step up and seize it for themselves.  In the end they were left with an ineffective government because the culture does not have the theological, social, and academic traditions that developed in the West and allowed for the rise of individual liberty as the paramount virtue.

It leaves me thinking that my own support of the Iraqi invasion back in 2003 was mistaken... that we would have been much better served educating and evangelizing Iraqis (and many others) on what liberty looks like and how to take it for yourselves, rather than sending our military in to impose it.

I also am left pondering another idea that Mead includes, "the path of historical progress."  What does this mean?  Does history progress?  Are we getting nearer each year to some sort of utopia, some new Eden?  What would that look like if so, and how would we know when we get there?

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