The End of History: Creating the Good Society

Both Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings. Both thinkers thus posited an “end of history”: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society. Francis Fukuyama discussed this in an essay he wrote in 1989, titled, The End of History. He proposes that human history be viewed in terms of the battle of ideologies which have reached an end, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and with no alternative challengers at hand. However, the US has not become the ‘classless society’ that Fukuyama described in his essay. The existing neoliberal globalization creates an increasing economic gap between the wealthy and the rest of society, as well as a shrinking middle class. History now cries out for change.

Thomas Cromwell, a great English statesman, permanently changed the course of English history. He was a lawyer determined to impose his own character – methodical, detached, and calculating – upon government. Cromwell wanted government to be effective and efficient; to achieve this, he had to end the chaos of feudal privilege and ill-defined jurisdictions. He was blessed with a logical mind in an age sadly devoid of them. He built a bureaucracy of professionals outside the royal household. He began the first era of parliamentary control of England, using the institution to dissolve the monasteries which made up a quarter of all arable land and validate his other decisions. Cromwell’s rise to power was directly connected to the fall of Catholicism. As the king’s main adviser, he exercised tremendous influence in the English court and is credited to have played a vital role in English Reformation.

Divine right of kings, a political doctrine in defense of monarchical absolutism, asserted that kings derived their authority from God and could not therefore be held accountable for their actions by any earthly authority such as a parliament. The divine-right theory can be traced to the medieval conception of God’s award of temporal power to the political ruler, paralleling the award of spiritual power to the church. Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653) believed that the state was a family, that the first king was a father, and that submission to patriarchal authority was the key to political obligation. Making a strained interpretation of scripture, his writings supported Charles I. John Locke ridiculed these claims and argued that the legitimacy of government depended not upon the divine right of the monarch to rule but upon the natural rights of man and the consent of the governed. The Glorious Revolution of 1689 resolved this issue.

In a 1989 essay when Fukuyama declared the ‘end of history’ he was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed the rapidly expanding ideology – neoliberalism – appeared to be providing a balance of liberty and equality post Cold War, that could not be bettered. He claimed that ideological evolution led to universalization of western liberal democracy, and all others should end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society. Rather than playing out Fukuyama’s final chapter in history, the application of neoconservative ideology has caused a crisis of legitimacy of the global system. There is now increasing anxiety over what appears to be the rapidly disappearing ability of the neoliberal global economic system to turn around the deteriorating economic situation of the middle class in the West.

The legacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been to dare to challenge the system, identifying extreme inequality as the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, and highlight the failure of the legislators to protect 99% of the people. The neoliberal policies are increasing anxiety in the community from increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism. The apparent failure of globalization seems to have energized the right to a greater degree than it has the left. With the failure of the neoliberal paradigm to deliver for most, the most powerful political force in the world one could tap into is nationalism. As Orwell said, “A nationalist can justify anything in the cause of ‘protecting’ his construct of the state.”

Donald Trump uses anti-globalization message as a powerful tool to unite disparate parts of the right from mainstream to the extreme. Globalists have become a convenient boogeyman to explain various declines that the US has been perceived to be in. To counter the destruction of US sovereignty Steve Bannon persuaded Trump to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord and the trans-Pacific Partnership. These actions are ushering in a new economic nationalism based on a warped nostalgia for an era around the 1950s. Steve Bannon claims, “…the globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia … If we deliver … we will get 50% of the white vote, and 40% of the black and Hispanic vote and we will govern for 50 years. Like Andrew Jackson we are going to build an entirely new political movement…”1 Bannon has likened himself to Thomas Cromwell.

Thomas Cromwell was born around 1485, in Putney, Surrey, the son of Walter Cromwell, a blacksmith, fuller and cloth merchant, and owner of both a hostelry and a brewery. Cromwell claimed to have worked as a banker in Italy, clerk in the Netherlands, and a lawyer in London. Diarmaid MacCulloch notes, that Cromwell “thrived on indeterminacy in government”. His genius was in his capacity to orchestrate a wide variety of instruments of government and control, concentrating effectiveness here, neutralizing or deflecting there. After growing up in a working-class Irish Catholic Democratic family in Virginia, Steve Bannon served in the U.S. Navy, worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, produced movies and ran the conservative website Breitbart News before becoming an advisor for Trump’s campaign. Following the election win, for a period Bannon became Trump’s chief strategist and senior counsellor and the driving force behind some of Trump’s most controversial policy moves.2

In 1532 Henry VIII confirmed Cromwell as his principal secretary and chief minister. Cromwell responds with a reformist’s zeal responding to the King’s financial needs, presiding over the dissolution of 800 religious houses in four years. The Crown seizes their property, hugely swelling the King’s coffers. The philosopher John Locke praised the Glorious Revolution in his Two Treatises on Government (1689), arguing that if a government does not protect the natural rights of its people, namely life, liberty and property, it can rightly and lawfully be overthrown. Voters in US elected Trump in 2016 believed their political apparatus was corrupt and Trump was the only one who reliably affirmed that belief and promised to fix it. Donald Trump won the votes of whites without a college degree by a bigger margin than any Republican presidential candidate since 1980. And there is reason for that. He gave voice to a group of people who have felt left behind.

Newtonian science would lay bare the workings of nature and lead to important technological advances. Lockean philosophy would lay bare the workings of men’s minds and led to important reform in law and government. Voltaire played an instrumental role in shaping the legacy of Locke and worked hard to publicize Locke’s view on reason, toleration and limited government. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The world of fact was chaotic and evil – an affront to man’s senses of order and good. The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought. Donald Trump’s appearance on the world stage is accelerating our understanding of the scope of failure of the neoliberal version of globalization and the risks associated with not addressing it.

With the middle class under attack from the existing economic system, opportunities once available to the previous generation have disappeared, thus voters are turning to populists promising change. To counter this, we need an action plan to create John Kenneth Galbraith’s ‘good society’. The process includes addressing the value gap – introduce the living wage, and support the formation of unions. The income gap can be addressed through changes to the tax code rather than incremental changes to minimum wages. To address the common goods gap – make housing (the greatest drain on the income of the poor) more affordable. In addition, provide a high-quality child care system, and improve public education and access to higher education to assist social mobility. The key policy that will reduce inequalities in health and provide individuals with the freedom to create opportunities that enable them to reach their potential is the reduction of the inequalities in income and wealth.3

1 Ralph Benko (19 Aug 2017) On Steve Bannon. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2017/08/19/on-steve-bannon/

2 Sarah Pulliam Bailey. (09 January 2018) Why would Bannon compare himself with Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s adviser who was beheaded? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/01/09/why-would-bannon-compare-himself-with-thomas-cromwell-king-henry-viiis-adviser-who-was-beheaded

3 The Good Society: An Alternative Vision of Progress (10 July 2018) http://questioningandskepticism.com/good-society-alternative-vision-of-progress/

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