September 19, 2010

WHAT INTELLECTUALS DIDN'T UNDERSTAND ABOUT hISTORY WOULD FIT IN A MANIFESTO:

Cuba's Castro learns what most of us already knew (George F. Will, September 19, 2010, Washington Post)

As everyone attuned to the Zeitgeist then was -- college students who owned black turtlenecks; aficionados of foreign films (not "movies," heaven forfend) -- Sartre was an existentialist. A critic called existentialism the belief that because life is absurd, philosophy should be, too. But Sartre's pilgrimage took him, with Castro, into Cuba's countryside. There they stopped at a roadside stand for lemonade and an epiphany.

The lemonade was warm, so Castro got hot, telling the waitress that the inferior drink "reveals a lack of revolutionary consciousness." She said the refrigerator was broken. Castro "growled" (Sartre's approving description) that she should "tell your people in charge that if they don't take care of their problems, they will have problems with me." Instantly Sartre understood "what I called 'direct democracy' ":

"Between the waitress and Castro, an immediate, secret understanding was established. She let it be seen by her tone, by her smiles, by a shrug of the shoulders, that she was without illusion."

Half a century later, Castro seems to be catching up with her. He who proclaimed at his 1953 trial that "History will absolve me" may at last have lost the most destructive illusion of modern politics, the idea that History is a proper noun.

The idea was that History is an autonomous thing with an unfolding logic that, if served by a vanguard of a discerning few who understand its workings, ends in a planned paradise. Hence, as Czeslaw Milosz wrote in "The Captive Mind" in 1953, communists believed that the job of intellectuals was not to think but only to understand.


The End of History? (Francis Fukuyama, Summer 1989, The National Interest)
The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an "end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world's two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants' markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.


Islamicism is just the final coda and the unlucky Arab World the last cafe of the deluded intellectuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2010 7:56 AM
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