Authoritarianism, Cave Dwelling and the Contemporary Escape from Freedom
Just over a decade ago, Francis Fukuyama (2006), an astute observer of contemporary political systems and ideology, declared that we have arrived at “the end of history” – or at least the end of competing political ideologies. According to Fukuyama, liberal democracy had won the day. The new world is one in which the cold war has been replaced by competition between scientific progress, enlightened government and new ethical codes, on the one hand, and fundamentalist terrorism on the other hand.
I would suggest that Fukuyama was right in some ways but wrong in other ways. Today, we find many competing political ideologies in full flower around the world. And many of these ideologies are not only “trumping” liberal democracy but also throwing us back into an era of authoritarian rule. While the competition between rationality and irrational terrorism is clearly evident, it is not clear that the rational order is winning the day. Fundamentalist terrorism certainly continues to play a major role on the world stage. It exists alongside a new form of “terrorism”: the pandemic. The history of competing ideologies is clearly not at an end and challenges associated with terrorism and spreading viruses further complicate the picture.
The challenge to Fukuyama’s analysis was certainly evident in Eastern Europe during the early 1990s. The lingering ghost of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe that Berne Weiss and I identified during the early 1990s (Bergquist and Weiss, 1994) was tragically prescient. This ghost is still haunting many 21st Century countries throughout the world. We are finding the strains and often the profound, tangible presence of authoritarianism operating in Africa, the Mid-East, Asia, South America and even the United States. It has certainly not been confined just to Eastern Europe following the 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union.