The Errors of Endism
FOR A SECOND year serious discussion of international affairs has been dominated by a major theoretical and academic issue. In 1988 the issue was American decline. The theory of declinism, articulated by many thinkers, but most notably by Paul Kennedy, became the focus of extended and intense debate. Was the United States following in the path of Great Britain and declining as a great power? To what extent was its economic base being undermined by spending too much on defense and/or too much on consumption?
The major issue in 1989 is very different. The theory of declinism has been displaced by the theory of endism. Its central element is that bad things are coming to an end. Endism manifests itself in at least three ways. At its most specific level, endism hails the end of the Cold War. In the spring of 1989 the New York Times and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, George Kennan and George Bush, all set forth this proposition in one form or another. The end of the Cold War became the Foreign Policy Establishment's Established Truth.
At a second level, endism manifested itself in the more academic and more general proposition that wars among nation states, or at least among some types of nation states, were coming to an end. Many scholars pointed to the historical absence of wars between democratic countries and saw the multiplication of democratic regimes since 1974 as evidence that the probability of war was declining. In a related but somewhat different version of this proposition, Michael Doyle argued that wars were impossible between liberal states. In a still more sweeping formulation, John Mueller contended that the advance of civilization was making war obsolescent and that it would disappear the same way that slavery and dueling had disappeared in advanced societies. Wars still might occur among backward Third World countries, but among developed countries, communist or capitalist, war was unthinkable.
The third and most extreme formulation of endism was advanced by Francis Fukuyama in a brilliant essay called "The End of History?" in the Summer issue of this journal. Fukuyama celebrates not just the end of the Cold War or the end of wars among developed nation states, but instead "the end of history as such." This results from the "unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism" and the "exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives." Like Mueller, Fukuyama concedes that wars may occur among Third World states still caught up in the historical process. But for the developed countries, the Soviet Union, and China, history is at an end.
Endism - the intellectual fad of 1989 - contrasts rather dramatically with declinism - the intellectual fad of 1988. Declinism is conditionally pessimistic. It is rooted in the study of history and draws on the parallels between the United States in the late twentieth century, Britain in the late nineteenth century, and France, Spain, and other powers in earlier centuries. Its proponents and its critics debate the relevance of these parallels and argue over detailed, historical data concerning economic growth, productivity, defense spending, savings, and investment. Endism, on the other hand, is oriented to the future rather than the past and is unabashedly optimistic. In its most developed form, as with Fukuyama, it is rooted in philosophical speculation rather than historical analysis. It is based not so much on evidence from history as on assumptions about history. In its extreme form, declinism is historically deterministic: nations naturally, and perhaps inevitably, evolve through phases of rise, expansion, and decline. They are caught in the inexorable grip of history. In the extreme form of endism, in contrast, nations escape from history.
The message of declinism for Americans is "We're losing"; the message of endism is "We've won!" Despite or perhaps even because of its deterministic strand, declinism performs a useful historical function. It provides a warning and a goad to action in order to head off and reverse the decline that it says is taking place. It serves that purpose now as it did in its earlier manifestations in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Endism, in contrast, provides not a warning of danger but an illusion of well-being. It invites not corrective action but relaxed complacency. The consequences of its thesis being in error, hence, are far more dangerous and subversive than those that would result if the declinist thesis should be wrong.
The End of the Cold War
"THE COLD WAR is over" was the prevailing cry in the spring of 1989. What does this mean? It typically referred to two related developments: the changes usually referred to as glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union and the improvements that were occurring in Soviet-American relations. "The cold war," as the New York Times put it, "of poisonous Soviet-American feelings, of domestic political hysteria, of events enlarged and distorted by East-West confrontation, of almost perpetual diplomatic deadlock is over." Several questions can be raised about this proposition.
First, is it really true? The easing in Soviet-American relations in the late 1950s was followed by the Berlin and Cuban crises; detente in the early 1970s was followed by Angola and Afghanistan. How do we know that the current relaxation is not simply another swing of the cycle? One answer is that the changes occurring within the Soviet Union are far more fundamental than those that have occurred in the past, and this is certainly the case. The opening up of political debate, limited but real competition in elections, the formation of political groups outside the Party, the virtual abandonment, indeed, of the idea of a monolithic party, the assertion of power by the Supreme Soviet - all these will, if continued, lead to a drastically different Soviet political system. The price of attempting to reverse them increases daily, but it would be rash to conclude that they are as yet irreversible, and the costs of reversing them could decline in the future.
On the international level, the Soviets have cooperated in resolving regional conflicts in the Persian Gulf, southern Africa, and Indochina. They have promised to reduce their overall military forces and their deployments in Eastern Europe. As yet, however, no perceptible changes have taken place in Soviet force structure, Soviet deployments, or Soviet output of military equipment. Even if these do occur, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for influence and power in world affairs will still go on. It has been continuing as President Bush and President Gorbachev attempt to woo Eastern and Western European publics. Europe, it is well to remember, is where the Cold War started. It is the overwhelmingly preeminent stake in the Cold War, and Gorbachev's public relations can be as much a threat to American interests in Europe as were Brezhnev's tanks (which, for the moment at any rate, Gorbachev also has).
Let us, however, concede that in some meaningful and not transitory sense the Cold War is over and that a real change has occurred in Soviet-American relations. How do the proponents of this thesis see the post-Cold War world? The "we-they world" that has existed; the editors of the New York Times assure us, is giving way "to the more traditional struggles of great powers." In a similar vein, George Kennan alleges that the Soviet Union "should now be regarded essentially as another great power, like other great powers." Its interests may differ from ours but these differences can be "adjusted by the normal means of compromise and accommodation."
Russia was, however, just "another great power" for several centuries before it became a communist state. As a great power, Russia frequently deployed its armies into Europe and repeatedly crushed popular uprisings in central Europe. Soviet troops bloodily suppressed the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and trampled the embryonic Czech democracy in 1968. Russian troops bloodily suppressed the Hungarian revolution of 1848-49 and violently put down uprisings in Poland in 1831 and again in 1863-64. Soviet forces occupied Berlin in 1945; Russian troops occupied and burnt Berlin in 1760. In pursuit of Russia's interests as a great power, Russian troops appeared many places where as yet Soviet troops have not. In 1799 Russian troops occupied Milan and Turin and fought a battle on the outskirts of Zurich. The same year, they occupied the Ionian islands off Greece and stayed there until 1807. These excursions preceded Napoleon's invasion of Russia. As a great power, Russia regularly participated in the partitions of Poland. In 1914 Nicholas II directly ruled more of Europe (including most of Poland) than Gorbachev does today.
The past record of Russia as a "normal" great power, therefore, is not reassuring for either the liberty of Eastern Europe or the security of Western Europe. Some suggest that the liberalizing and democratizing trends in the Soviet Union will prevent that country from bludgeoning other countries in the manner of the tsars. One cannot assume, Fukuyama argues, that "the evolution of human consciousness has stood still" and that "the Soviets will return to foreign policy views a century out of date in the rest of Europe." Fukuyama is right: one cannot assume that the Soviets will revert to the bad old ways of the past. One also cannot assume that they will not. Gorbachev may be able to discard communism but he cannot discard geography and the geopolitical imperatives that have shaped Russian and Soviet behavior for centuries. And, as any Latin American will quickly point out, even a truly democratic superpower is capable of intervening militarily in the affairs of its smaller neighbors.
THE ERA OF the Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis reminds us, has also been the era of the Long Peace, the longest period in history without hot war between major powers. Does the end of the Cold War mean the end of the Long Peace? Two central elements of both have been bipolarity and nuclear weapons: they have in considerable measure defined both the Soviet-American rivalry and its limits. The end of the Cold War will mean a loosening of bipolarity even if it does not mean, as some declinists predict, a world of five or more roughly equal major powers. The delegitimation of nuclear weapons and the increasing constraints on their deployment and potential use could increase the probability of conventional war.
Active American involvement in world affairs has been substantially limited to two world wars and one prolonged and ideologically-driven cold war. In the absence of the Kaiser, Hitler, Stalin, and Brezhnev, the American inclination may well be to relax and to assume that peace, goodwill, and international cooperation will prevail: that if the Cold War is over, American relations with the Soviet Union will be similar to its relations with Canada, France, or Japan. Americans tend to see competition and conflict as normal and even desirable features of their domestic economy and politics and yet perversely assume them to be abnormal and undesirable in relations among states. In fact, however, the history of the relations among great powers, when it has not been the history of hot wars, has usually been the history of cold wars.
The end of the Cold War does not mean the end of political, ideological, diplomatic, economic, technological, or even military rivalry among nations. It does not mean the end of the struggle for power and influence. It very probably does mean increased instability, unpredictability, and violence in international affairs. It could mean the end of the Long Peace.
The End of War
A SECOND manifestation of endism postulates the end of war between certain types of nation states. A number of authors, including Dean V. Babst, R.J. Rummel, and Bruce Russett, have pointed to the fact that no significant interstate wars have occurred between democratic regimes since the emergence of such regimes in the early nineteenth century. Michael Doyle has similarly argued that a "pacific union" exists among liberal regimes (which includes and is slightly broader than the class of democratic regimes, as defined by most scholars). "[C]onstitutionally secure liberal states," he says, "have yet to engage in war with each other. Even threats of war have been regarded as illegitimate."
Given the large number of wars between non-democratic regimes and between democratic regimes and non-democratic regimes, the almost total absence of armed conflict between democratic regimes is indeed striking. It is, as Bruce Russett says, "perhaps the strongest non-trivial or non-tautological statement that can be made about international relations." It is also plausible to believe that this absence of war may stem from the nature of the regime. Democracy is a means for the peaceful resolution of disputes, involving negotiation and compromise as well as elections and voting. The leaders of democracies may well expect that they ought to be able to resolve through peaceful means their differences with the leaders of other democracies. In the years since World War II, for instance, several conflicts which could or did lead to war between countries tended to moderate when the countries became democratic. The controversies between Britain and Argentina, Guatemala, and Spain over the remnants of empire (one of which did lead to war and one of which produced significant military deployment) moderated considerably when those three countries became democratic. The conflict between Greece and Turkey similarly seemed to ease in the 1980s after both countries had democratically-elected regimes.
The democratic "zone of peace" is a dramatic historical phenomenon. If that relationship continues to hold and if democracy continues to spread, wars should become less frequent in the future than they have been in the past. This is one endist argument that has a strong empirical base. Three qualifications have to be noted, however, to its implications for the end of war.
First, democracies are still a minority among the world's regimes. The 1989 Freedom House survey classified 60 out of 167 sovereign states as "free" according to its rather generous definition of freedom. Multiple possibilities for war thus continue to exist among the 107 states that are not free, and between those states and the democratic states.
Second, the number of democratic states has been growing, but it tends to grow irregularly in a two-step forward, one-step backward pattern. A major wave of democratization occurred in the nineteenth century, but then significant reversals to authoritarianism took place in the 1920s and 1930s. A second wave of democratization after World War II was followed by several reversals in the 1960s and 1970s. A third wave of democratization began in 1974, with fifteen to twenty countries shifting in a democratic direction since then. If the previous pattern prevails, some of these new democracies are likely to revert to authoritarianism. Hence the possibility of war could increase rather than decrease in the immediate future, although still remaining less than it was prior to 1974.
Finally, peace among democratic states could be related to extraneous accidental factors and not to the nature of democracy. In the nineteenth century, for instance, wars tended to occur between geographical neighbors. Democratic states were few in number and seldom bordered on each other. Hence the absence of war could be caused by the absence of propinquity. Since World War II most democratic countries have been members of the alliance system led by the United States, which has been directed against an alliance of non-democratic regimes and within which the hegemonic position of the U.S. has precluded war between other alliance members (e.g., between Greece and Turkey). If American leadership weakens and the alliance system loosens, the probability of war between its erstwhile members, democratic or otherwise, could well increase.
The "democratic zone of peace" argument is thus valid as far as it goes, but it may not go all that far.
In his book, Retreat from Doomsday, John Mueller argues for the growing obsolescence of war on more general grounds. He sees the Long Peace since 1945 not as the result of bipolarity or nuclear weapons but rather as the result of a learning experience that wars do not pay and that there are few conflicts of interest among countries where it would be reasonable for either side to resort to war to achieve its goals. World War II was an aberration from the twentieth-century trend away from war due largely to the idiosyncratic and irrational personality of Hitler. As countries become more developed and civilized, they will become more peaceful. Denmark is the future model for individual countries, U.S.-Canadian relations the future model for relations between countries.
Mueller makes much of the argument that war will become "obsolete, subrationally unthinkable," and unacceptable in civilized society in the way slavery and dueling have become. Why, however, are those social practices the appropriate parallels to war? Why not murder? Murder has been unacceptable in civilized societies for millennia, and yet it seems unlikely that the murder rate in twentieth-century New York is less than it was in fifth-century Athens. While major wars between developed countries have not occurred since World War II, interstate and intrastate violence has been widespread with the casualties numbering in the tens of millions.
Mueller himself substantially qualifies his case. He agrees that wars will continue among less developed countries. He also concedes that irrational leaders on the Hitler model could involve their countries in future wars. Economic considerations motivate strongly against war, he says, but economic prosperity "is not always an overriding goal even now." Territorial issues exist even in the developed world that "could lead to wars of expansion or territorial readjustment." The Cold War is being resolved peacefully, "but there is no firm guarantee that this trend will continue."
A more general problem may also exist with the end-of-war or even a decline-in-war thesis. As Michimi Muranushi of Yale has pointed out, peace can be self-limiting rather than cumulative. If relations between two countries become more peaceful, this may, in some circumstances, increase the probability that either or both of those countries will go to war with a third country. The Hitler-Stalin pact paves the way for the attacks on Poland; normalization of U.S.-China relations precipitates China's war with Vietnam. If the Soviet threat disappears, so also does an inhibitor of Greek-Turkish war.
In addition, if more countries become like Denmark, forswearing war and committing themselves to material comfort, that in itself may produce a situation which other countries will wish to exploit. History is full of examples of leaner, meaner societies overrunning richer, less martial ones.
The End of History
"THE END of history" is a sweeping, dramatic, and provocative phrase. What does Fukuyama mean by it? The heart of Fukuyama's argument is an alleged change in political , consciousness throughout the principal societies in the world and the emergence of a pervasive consensus on liberal-democratic principles. It posits the triumph of one ideology and the consequent end of ideology and ideological conflict as significant factors in human existence. His choice of language suggests, however, that he may have something more sweeping in mind than simply the obsolescence of war highlighted by Mueller or the end of ideology predicted by Daniel Bell twenty-five years ago.
Insofar as it is focused on war, Fukuyama's argument suffers all the weaknesses that Mueller's does. He admits that "conflict between states still in history, and between those states and those at the end of history, would still be possible." At the same time he includes China and the Soviet Union among those states that are out of history. Current Soviet leaders, he says, have arrived at the "end-of-history view" and "assimilated the consciousness of the universal homogenous state that is post-Hitler Europe"; yet he also admits that the Soviet Union could turn to Slavophile Russian chauvinism and thus remain stuck in history.
Fukuyama ridicules the idea that Germany and France might fight each other again. That is a valid but irrelevant point. A hundred years ago one could have validly made the point that Pennsylvania and Virginia would not fight each other again. That did not prevent the United States, of which each was a part, from engaging in world wars in the subsequent century. One trend in history is the amalgamation of smaller units into larger ones. The probability of war between the smaller units declines but the probability of war between the larger amalgamated units does not necessarily change. A united European community may end the possibility of France-German war; it does not end the possibility of war between that community and other political units.
With respect to China, Fukuyama argues that "Chinese competitiveness and expansionism on the world scene have virtually disappeared" and, he implies strongly, will not reappear. A more persuasive argument, however, could be made for exactly the opposite proposition that Chinese expansionism has yet to appear on the world scene. Britain and France, Germany and Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union, all became expansionist and imperialist powers in the course of industrialization. China is just beginning seriously to develop its industrial strength. Maybe China will be different from all the other major powers and not attempt to expand its influence and control as it industrializes. But how can one be confident that it will pursue this deviant course? And if it follows the more familiar pattern, a billion Chinese engaged in imperial expansion are likely to impose a lot of history on the rest of the world.
FUKUYAMA QUITE appropriately emphasizes the role of consciousness, ideas, and ideology in motivating and shaping the actions of men and nations. He is also right in pointing to the virtual end of the appeal of communism as an ideology. Ideologically, communism has been "the grand failure" that Brzezinski labels it. It is erroneous, however, to jump from the decline of communism to the global triumph of liberalism and the disappearance of ideology as a force in world affairs.
First, revivals are possible. A set of ideas or an ideology may fade from the scene in one generation only to reappear with renewed strength a generation or two later. From the 1940s to the 196Os, dominant currents in economic thinking were Keynesianism, welfare statism, social democracy, and planning. It was hard to find much support for classical economic liberalism. By the late 197Os, however, the latter had staged an amazing comeback: economists and economic institutions were devoted to The Plan in the 1950s; they have been devoted to The Market in the 1980s. Somewhat similarly, social scientists in the decades immediately after World War II argued that religion, ethnic consciousness, and nationalism would all be done in by economic development and modernization. But in the 1980s these have been the dominant bases of political action in most societies. The revival of religion is now a global phenomenon. Communism may be down for the moment, but it is rash to assume that it is out for all time.
Second, the universal acceptance of liberal democracy does not preclude conflicts within liberalism. The history of ideology is the history of schism. Struggles between those who profess different versions of a common ideology are often more intense and vicious than struggles between those espousing entirely different ideologies. To a believer the heretic is worse than the nonbeliever. An ideological consensus on Christianity existed in Europe in 1500 but that did not prevent Protestants and Catholics from slaughtering each other for the next century and a half. Socialists and communists, Trotskyites and Leninists, Shi'ites and Sunnis have treated each other in similar fashion.
Third, the triumph of one ideology does not preclude the emergence of new ideologies. Nations and societies presumably will continue to evolve. New challenges to human well-being will emerge, and people will develop new concepts, theories, and ideologies as to how those challenges should be met. Unless all social, economic, and political distinctions disappear, people will also develop belief systems that legitimate what they have and justify their getting more. Among its other functions, for instance, communism historically legitimized the power of intellectuals and bureaucrats. If it is gone for good, it seems highly likely that intellectuals and bureaucrats will develop new sets of ideas to rationalize their claims to power and wealth.
Fourth, has liberal democracy really triumphed? Fukuyama admits that it has not won out in the Third World. To what extent, however, has it really been accepted in the Soviet Union and China? Between them these societies encompass well over one-quarter of the world's population. If any one trend is operative in the world today it is for societies to turn back toward their traditional cultures, values, and patterns of behavior. This trend is manifest in the revival of traditional identities and characters of Eastern European countries, escaping from the deadly uniformity of Soviet-imposed communism, and also in the increasing differentiation among the republics within the Soviet Union itself. Russia and China do not lack elements of liberalism and democracy in their histories. These are, however, minor chords, and their subordinate importance is underlined by the contemporary problems facing economic liberalism in the Soviet Union and political democracy in communist China.
More generally, Fukuyama's thesis itself reflects not the disappearance of Marxism but its pervasiveness. His image of the end of history is straight from Marx. Fukuyama speaks of the "universal homogeneous state," in which "all prior contradictions are resolved and all human needs are satisfied." What is this but the Marxist image of a society without class conflict or other contradictions organized on the basis of from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs? The struggles of history, Fukuyama says, "will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands." Engels said it even more succinctly: "The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the process of production." Fukuyama says liberalism is the end of history. Marx says communism "is the solution to the riddle of history." They are basically saying the same thing and, most importantly, they are thinking the same way. Marxist ideology is alive and well in Fukuyama's arguments to refute it.
THE SOVIET UNION is increasingly preoccupied with its own problems and a significant political loosening has occurred in that country. The ideological intensity of the early Cold War has virtually disappeared, and the probability of hot war between the two superpowers is as low as it has ever been. War is even more unlikely between any of the advanced industrialized democracies. On these points, endist propositions are accurate. The more extensive formulations of the endist argument, however, suffer from two basic fallacies.
First, endism overemphasizes the predictability of history and the permanence of the moment. Current trends may or may not continue into the future. Past experience certainly suggests that they are unlikely to do so. The record of past predictions by social scientists is not a happy one. Fifteen years ago, just as the democratic wave was beginning, political analysts were elaborating fundamental reasons why authoritarianism had to prevail in the Third World. Ten years ago foreign policy journals were filled with warnings of the rise of Soviet military power and political influence throughout the world. Five years ago what analyst of the Soviet Union predicted the extent of the political changes that have occurred in that country? Given the limitations of human foresight, endist predictions of the end of war and ideological conflict . deserve a heavy dose of skepticism. Indeed, in the benign atmosphere of the moment, it is sobering to speculate on the possible future horrors that social analysts are now failing to predict.
Second, endism tends to ignore the weakness and irrationality of human nature. Endist arguments often assume that because it would be rational for human beings to focus on their economic well-being, they will act in that way, and therefore they will not engage in wars that do not meet the tests of cost-benefit analysis or in ideological conflicts that are much ado about nothing. Human beings are at times rational, generous, creative, and wise, but they are also often stupid, selfish, cruel, and sinful. The struggle that is history began with the eating of the forbidden fruit and is rooted in human nature. In history there may be total defeats, but there are no final solutions. So 'long as human beings exist, there is no exit from the traumas of history.
To hope for the benign end of history is human. To expect it to happen is unrealistic. To plan on it happening is disastrous.
1. Some have raised the question as to what extent endist writers are really serious in their arguments. The time and intellectual effort they have devoted to elaborating those arguments suggest that they are, and I will assume this to be the case. The arguments also deserve to be taken seriously because of their widespread popularity. (back to text)
2. Michael W. Doyle, "Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs," Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 12 (Summer, Fall 1983), pp. 205-235, 323-353, and "Liberalism and World Politics," American Political Science Review, vol. 80 (December 1986), pp. 1151-1169; John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989). Also see Dean V. Babst, "A Force for Peace," Industrial Research, vol. 14 (April 1972), pp. 55-58; R.J. Rummel, "Libertarianism and International Violence," Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 27 (March 1983), pp. 27-71; Ze'ev Maoz and Nasrin Abdolali, "Regime Types and International Conflict, 18161976," Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 33 (March 1989), pp. 3-35; Bruce Russett, "The Politics of an Alternative Security System: Toward a More Democratic and Therefore More Peaceful World," in Burns Weston, ed., Alternatives to Nuclear Deterrence (Boulder: Westview Press, forthcoming 1989). (back to text)
** Fall 1989, The National Interest.
* Samuel P. Huntington is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and director of the John M. Olin Institute of Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
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