Category: Tim Colvin

Was 2016 the End of History?


Drawing on a tradition that goes back to Hegel via Marx and through Alexandre Kojève in the 20th century, Francis Fukuyama is famous for his assertion that we are approaching the end of history – that human progress and civilization end with the spread of liberal democracy and market economics across the globe.  With the end of history also comes the end of conflict: we are living in a much more peaceful world than our grandparents’ generation and the generations that preceded them.

While the case can plausibly be made that there is less death and human conflict than in the past, the end of history theory seems entirely hubristic; universalist; and, in a way, messianic.  To suppose that the history of humanity will end one way or another is a vain attempt at prophesying.  Time and time again, those who advance the end of history theory always end up flat on their faces.  Hegel first proposed the theory when he saw Napoleon’s conquests across Europe, and with the French general came the ideas of the French Revolution, and it seemed as though the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity would hold sway over Europe.

Karl Marx was also a proponent of the end of history, believing that human government would result in a cataclysmic revolt on the part of the proletariat and the establishment of a communist, egalitarian paradise.  But as history has come to show, the experiment in communism has ended, with only death and misery to show for it.

And the end of the Cold War brought on the new wave of end of history theorists.  Led by Francis Fukuyama, this new wave promises that liberal democracy and market economics have triumphed over the forces of old world aristocracy and totalitarianism. And with this new sense that liberal democracy is the be-all-end-all of human government, there is a sense that we must foster its growth around the world.  Often this has meant imposing liberal democracy by force, as demonstrated by our wars in Iraq and Libya.  There is an American universalist belief that liberal democracy is good for all peoples at all times.  There seems to be no acknowledgment of historical context.

I do not mean to criticize liberal democracy.  As far as I can see, it is the form of government that has delivered enormous prosperity to millions of people.  It is the greatest safeguard of human rights and has shown the most respect for the dignity of the individual.  But it is also important to recognize that liberal democracy is a fragile thing, and it often rests upon illiberal foundations.

This brings me to 2016 and the lessons we can learn from such a tumultuous year.  The year brought a near political revolution throughout the Western world, from Brexit to the rise and election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe, and the potential unraveling of global institutions such as the European Union and NATO.  Europe and North America (and the world itself) have been rocked.  What sort of lessons can we learn?  How are we to interpret the meaning of this shift?

One lesson is that liberal democracy rests on illiberal foundations, or, to put it another way, pre-liberal conditions must be maintained for liberal democracy to work.  There must be certain assumptions agreed upon by a people before a liberal democracy is to be formed.  Common traditions, religion, language, and civic principles provide the foundations on which classical liberalism can thrive.  In the absence of such commonalities, trust between people frays, and the only thing that can hold together a fractured society is an ever more powerful state.  Nations have a culture, and that geographic proximity does not create solidarity among different peoples and cultures.  People have desires, both spiritual and cultural, that cosmopolitan globalism simply does not meet.  An agreed upon moral framework cannot exist within a “multicultural” society; and in the absence of cultural institutions and traditions, the only thing that will hold a society together is the force of the state.

The “end of history” is a foolhardy theory.  Human history has a funny way of throwing curveballs and making things unpredictable.  It is true that we live in a time of unprecedented peace, that we have less internal strife and crime and fewer wars among nations.  But we cannot take this for granted.  History shows that major conflicts usually create periods of long-lasting peace, but this peace never lasts.  The Thirty Years War, regarding the population lost, is still the bloodiest war ever fought.  Once the war ended in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia, peace reigned in Europe, relatively speaking, until the start of the Seven Years War a century later.  The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the Congress of Vienna brought peace to Europe for a century until the start of the First World War, which was then followed shortly after by the Second.  Since the end of that conflict, we have been in a state of mostly global tranquility.  But if the pattern of history continues, it seems that peace cannot last forever.

If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that democratic institutions must be vigilantly protected.  They should never be assumed to be impervious to outside forces and should never be taken for granted.

Tim Colvin is a political science/classical civilization double major with a minor in philosophy at Fordham University.  He is from Kings Park on Long Island.

Drawing on a tradition that goes back to Hegel via Marx and through Alexandre Kojève in the 20th century, Francis Fukuyama is famous for his assertion that we are approaching the end of history – that human progress and civilization end with the spread of liberal democracy and market economics across the globe.  With the end of history also comes the end of conflict: we are living in a much more peaceful world than our grandparents’ generation and the generations that preceded them.

While the case can plausibly be made that there is less death and human conflict than in the past, the end of history theory seems entirely hubristic; universalist; and, in a way, messianic.  To suppose that the history of humanity will end one way or another is a vain attempt at prophesying.  Time and time again, those who advance the end of history theory always end up flat on their faces.  Hegel first proposed the theory when he saw Napoleon’s conquests across Europe, and with the French general came the ideas of the French Revolution, and it seemed as though the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity would hold sway over Europe.

Karl Marx was also a proponent of the end of history, believing that human government would result in a cataclysmic revolt on the part of the proletariat and the establishment of a communist, egalitarian paradise.  But as history has come to show, the experiment in communism has ended, with only death and misery to show for it.

And the end of the Cold War brought on the new wave of end of history theorists.  Led by Francis Fukuyama, this new wave promises that liberal democracy and market economics have triumphed over the forces of old world aristocracy and totalitarianism. And with this new sense that liberal democracy is the be-all-end-all of human government, there is a sense that we must foster its growth around the world.  Often this has meant imposing liberal democracy by force, as demonstrated by our wars in Iraq and Libya.  There is an American universalist belief that liberal democracy is good for all peoples at all times.  There seems to be no acknowledgment of historical context.

I do not mean to criticize liberal democracy.  As far as I can see, it is the form of government that has delivered enormous prosperity to millions of people.  It is the greatest safeguard of human rights and has shown the most respect for the dignity of the individual.  But it is also important to recognize that liberal democracy is a fragile thing, and it often rests upon illiberal foundations.

This brings me to 2016 and the lessons we can learn from such a tumultuous year.  The year brought a near political revolution throughout the Western world, from Brexit to the rise and election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe, and the potential unraveling of global institutions such as the European Union and NATO.  Europe and North America (and the world itself) have been rocked.  What sort of lessons can we learn?  How are we to interpret the meaning of this shift?

One lesson is that liberal democracy rests on illiberal foundations, or, to put it another way, pre-liberal conditions must be maintained for liberal democracy to work.  There must be certain assumptions agreed upon by a people before a liberal democracy is to be formed.  Common traditions, religion, language, and civic principles provide the foundations on which classical liberalism can thrive.  In the absence of such commonalities, trust between people frays, and the only thing that can hold together a fractured society is an ever more powerful state.  Nations have a culture, and that geographic proximity does not create solidarity among different peoples and cultures.  People have desires, both spiritual and cultural, that cosmopolitan globalism simply does not meet.  An agreed upon moral framework cannot exist within a “multicultural” society; and in the absence of cultural institutions and traditions, the only thing that will hold a society together is the force of the state.

The “end of history” is a foolhardy theory.  Human history has a funny way of throwing curveballs and making things unpredictable.  It is true that we live in a time of unprecedented peace, that we have less internal strife and crime and fewer wars among nations.  But we cannot take this for granted.  History shows that major conflicts usually create periods of long-lasting peace, but this peace never lasts.  The Thirty Years War, regarding the population lost, is still the bloodiest war ever fought.  Once the war ended in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia, peace reigned in Europe, relatively speaking, until the start of the Seven Years War a century later.  The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the Congress of Vienna brought peace to Europe for a century until the start of the First World War, which was then followed shortly after by the Second.  Since the end of that conflict, we have been in a state of mostly global tranquility.  But if the pattern of history continues, it seems that peace cannot last forever.

If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that democratic institutions must be vigilantly protected.  They should never be assumed to be impervious to outside forces and should never be taken for granted.

Tim Colvin is a political science/classical civilization double major with a minor in philosophy at Fordham University.  He is from Kings Park on Long Island.



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Trump’s Incomprehensible Strategy in Syria


Over the course of April 5th through the 7th, the Trump administration achieved one of the strangest turnabouts in modern political history, doing a complete reversal with its policy towards Syria. Not too long ago, Press Secretary Sean Spicer promised that the United States would accept the “political reality” in Syria, meaning that we would not seek to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. And on April 7, the U.S. Navy fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets controlled by the Syrian government, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to forge an international coalition to remove Syrian president Assad from power. If the Trump administration does not wish to sacrifice its principles any further, it should halt any new involvement in Syria. There are several reasons why Trump’s intervention in the region would be a huge mistake.

What supposedly prompted this rapid change in position by the Trump administration was the horrendous murder of civilians by chemical weapons, allegedly perpetrated by the Assad regime. While these actions must of course be condemned, we must not rush to judgment and allow rampant emotionalism to cloud our rational judgment. Some key questions must be asked before we proceed with another policy of failed regime change in the Middle East.

The first question that must be addressed is what will happen to these chemical weapons once we remove Assad from power? Judging from our past interventions in Libya, it does not seem too out of the question that radical Islamic jihadists could get their hands on these weapons; a prospect far worse than their being in the hands of the Assad regime. There is already evidence that ISIS has used chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq, and would not hesitate to use them again. Once the Assad regime is removed from power, can we be sure that these chemical weapons would not fall into the wrong hands? Chemical weapons cannot be disposed of by bombing them out of existence; they need to be dismantled under supervision. Are we going to trust the Syrian rebels, also accused by the UN of using chemical weapons, of disposing of these weapons? There would need to be some monitors in place to make sure these weapons are properly decommissioned or destroyed. There was already a deal in place, orchestrated under former Secretary of State John Kerry, for Syria to have disposed of these odious weapons. The possibility of these horrific weapons falling into unknown hands is perhaps the gravest threat of Trump’s intervention in Syria. It seems unlikely that a UN delegation would able to supervise the destruction of the chemical weapons in the middle of a war zone.  

A second question that most be considered is who will control Syria once the Assad government falls? From our experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, you would think we would have learned by now that removing these regimes creates power vacuums that invite civil war and terrorism. Already within the opposition there are splinter groups vying for control of the rebellion, with some factions having links to terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. Does the administration think that the removal of Assad is worth the risk of Syria falling into the hands of terrorists? This president campaigned on obliterating ISIS, yet his very actions in Syria stand to potentially strengthen Islamic terrorist groups in the region. We have seen how radical Islamic groups have filled the voids left behind by American military intervention in these nations. We cannot be certain which group, or if any group, will emerge from the ashes of the civil war to lead a united Syria, if a united Syria is even possible.

Thirdly, we must look at how our intervention will affect our relationship with other international actors, such as Russia. We have a real chance for a rapprochement with the Russian Federation, and the civil war in Syria should not stand between this easing of tensions. Assad is a Russian ally and Russia would not tolerate the fall of the Assad government. Within twenty-four hours of the start of U.S. operations in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin had already described the American military action as a “significant blow” to U.S.-Russia relations and Russian warships then moved into the vicinity of the U.S. Naval vessels that launched the attack on the Syrian government. Is the destruction of the Assad government worth the price of escalating hostilities between the United States and Russia? It seems totally incomprehensible to me why we should provoke the Russian Federation when we have a real chance of repairing relations with that nation. I hope that in these wider diplomatic crises that cooler heads will prevail, but I do not understand why we need provoke the Russians in the first place.

And finally, with the escalation of right-wing populism across Europe and an increasing hostility to Muslim immigration at home, does the administration want to take actions that will only exacerbate the refugee crisis? Removing Assad will only make the civil war much worse and will only lead to more civilians seeking to leave Syria. Assimilating Syrians into European life is already difficult enough, and removing Assad will only open the floodgates for more refugees to enter Europe and other Western nations. Western nations play the humanitarian intervention card selectively. While Assad gasses his people, the United States has directly aided the Saudi government in its brutal war in Yemen, yet that conflict hardly receives the same amount of media attention as the civil war in Syria. Whenever the premier of China, itself a brutal totalitarian regime, comes for a state visit we do not chastise him with the same fervor as we do Assad. 

This article is not to be read as an apology for the Assad government’s actions; any civilized person must now recognize that decisions made by his government before and during the Syrian civil war are barbaric. He will go down as one of the 21th century’s most brutal dictators. Yet this does not mean that the United States has to imprudently rush into the conflict; reflexively acting without thinking about the consequences of its actions.

This president ran on promises of limiting United States military intervention in foreign nations, and this action is a serious breach of trust with those who cast their ballots for President Trump. Many supporters of the President are, rightfully, shocked at how quick the president was to renege on his promises. Past experience has shown that these interventions are rarely limited in scope and this time seems to be no different. The people of this country are tired of seeing our blood and tax dollars lost on foreign wars with less-than-fruitful outcomes. I would strongly urge the President to reconsider his approach and to seek new counsel.

Tim Colvin is a political science/ classical civilization double major with a minor in philosophy. He is from Kings Park on Long Island.

     

Over the course of April 5th through the 7th, the Trump administration achieved one of the strangest turnabouts in modern political history, doing a complete reversal with its policy towards Syria. Not too long ago, Press Secretary Sean Spicer promised that the United States would accept the “political reality” in Syria, meaning that we would not seek to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. And on April 7, the U.S. Navy fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets controlled by the Syrian government, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to forge an international coalition to remove Syrian president Assad from power. If the Trump administration does not wish to sacrifice its principles any further, it should halt any new involvement in Syria. There are several reasons why Trump’s intervention in the region would be a huge mistake.

What supposedly prompted this rapid change in position by the Trump administration was the horrendous murder of civilians by chemical weapons, allegedly perpetrated by the Assad regime. While these actions must of course be condemned, we must not rush to judgment and allow rampant emotionalism to cloud our rational judgment. Some key questions must be asked before we proceed with another policy of failed regime change in the Middle East.

The first question that must be addressed is what will happen to these chemical weapons once we remove Assad from power? Judging from our past interventions in Libya, it does not seem too out of the question that radical Islamic jihadists could get their hands on these weapons; a prospect far worse than their being in the hands of the Assad regime. There is already evidence that ISIS has used chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq, and would not hesitate to use them again. Once the Assad regime is removed from power, can we be sure that these chemical weapons would not fall into the wrong hands? Chemical weapons cannot be disposed of by bombing them out of existence; they need to be dismantled under supervision. Are we going to trust the Syrian rebels, also accused by the UN of using chemical weapons, of disposing of these weapons? There would need to be some monitors in place to make sure these weapons are properly decommissioned or destroyed. There was already a deal in place, orchestrated under former Secretary of State John Kerry, for Syria to have disposed of these odious weapons. The possibility of these horrific weapons falling into unknown hands is perhaps the gravest threat of Trump’s intervention in Syria. It seems unlikely that a UN delegation would able to supervise the destruction of the chemical weapons in the middle of a war zone.  

A second question that most be considered is who will control Syria once the Assad government falls? From our experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, you would think we would have learned by now that removing these regimes creates power vacuums that invite civil war and terrorism. Already within the opposition there are splinter groups vying for control of the rebellion, with some factions having links to terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. Does the administration think that the removal of Assad is worth the risk of Syria falling into the hands of terrorists? This president campaigned on obliterating ISIS, yet his very actions in Syria stand to potentially strengthen Islamic terrorist groups in the region. We have seen how radical Islamic groups have filled the voids left behind by American military intervention in these nations. We cannot be certain which group, or if any group, will emerge from the ashes of the civil war to lead a united Syria, if a united Syria is even possible.

Thirdly, we must look at how our intervention will affect our relationship with other international actors, such as Russia. We have a real chance for a rapprochement with the Russian Federation, and the civil war in Syria should not stand between this easing of tensions. Assad is a Russian ally and Russia would not tolerate the fall of the Assad government. Within twenty-four hours of the start of U.S. operations in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin had already described the American military action as a “significant blow” to U.S.-Russia relations and Russian warships then moved into the vicinity of the U.S. Naval vessels that launched the attack on the Syrian government. Is the destruction of the Assad government worth the price of escalating hostilities between the United States and Russia? It seems totally incomprehensible to me why we should provoke the Russian Federation when we have a real chance of repairing relations with that nation. I hope that in these wider diplomatic crises that cooler heads will prevail, but I do not understand why we need provoke the Russians in the first place.

And finally, with the escalation of right-wing populism across Europe and an increasing hostility to Muslim immigration at home, does the administration want to take actions that will only exacerbate the refugee crisis? Removing Assad will only make the civil war much worse and will only lead to more civilians seeking to leave Syria. Assimilating Syrians into European life is already difficult enough, and removing Assad will only open the floodgates for more refugees to enter Europe and other Western nations. Western nations play the humanitarian intervention card selectively. While Assad gasses his people, the United States has directly aided the Saudi government in its brutal war in Yemen, yet that conflict hardly receives the same amount of media attention as the civil war in Syria. Whenever the premier of China, itself a brutal totalitarian regime, comes for a state visit we do not chastise him with the same fervor as we do Assad. 

This article is not to be read as an apology for the Assad government’s actions; any civilized person must now recognize that decisions made by his government before and during the Syrian civil war are barbaric. He will go down as one of the 21th century’s most brutal dictators. Yet this does not mean that the United States has to imprudently rush into the conflict; reflexively acting without thinking about the consequences of its actions.

This president ran on promises of limiting United States military intervention in foreign nations, and this action is a serious breach of trust with those who cast their ballots for President Trump. Many supporters of the President are, rightfully, shocked at how quick the president was to renege on his promises. Past experience has shown that these interventions are rarely limited in scope and this time seems to be no different. The people of this country are tired of seeing our blood and tax dollars lost on foreign wars with less-than-fruitful outcomes. I would strongly urge the President to reconsider his approach and to seek new counsel.

Tim Colvin is a political science/ classical civilization double major with a minor in philosophy. He is from Kings Park on Long Island.

     



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