Thursday, August 28, 2008
It's hard to decide how seriously to take Russia. Seamus Milne says the Caucasus adventure is not August 1914, neither does it mark the advent of a new Cold War. But he does say it marks the end of the period when one power - America - could 'bestride the world like a colossus'. (Why do people write like that?) This may be true, though I think that moment came some time ago - perhaps with the failure of the original militarily minimalist strategy in Iraq. Or perhaps unipolarity was always an illusion. I seemed to think so in 2002. My argument then was with the Francis Fukuyama view that liberal democracy represented the end of history, which was, essentially, the ideological explanation for the end of the Cold War. I disagreed at once because, historically, dominant orthodoxies always think they are the last word and they are always wrong and because history is not a linear narrative but a succession of tragic contingencies. Some continue to defend the Fukuyama position by saying that the end of history did not mean the end of conflict, it meant merely that the fundamental ideological issue had been settled. Liberal democracy was the only acceptable and efficient way of organising society. This argument can be sustained indefinitely because any sign of resurgent history, however dramatic, can always be classified as a mere speed bump on the one way street down which we are all travelling. Another aspect of dominant orthodoxies is their habit of brandishing of an imagined future point at which the whole world will come to accept the truth of their vision. Such an argument is irrefutable in logic and, therefore, wrong. In practice, I think the surviving Fukuyamists are reading too much into the fact that global rhetoric, including that of Russia, does pay lip service to liberal democracy. The reality is that this is a thin disguise for massive ideological divergence. As Milne says, the example of Georgia will inspire more anti-American manoeuvres around the world - but even these will not be ideologically consistent. Unipolarity was an illusion; beneath its surface, as we now know, were a thousand cantankerous poles waiting for the moment which has now come. Welcome back as I said in 2002, to history as usual.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:49 am