The end of history war at the end of the world

Image: Magda Ehlers
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By JALDES MENESES*

It is perceived that the war in Afghanistan uncovered a serious narcissistic wound in the self-confident “American power”

"Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing” (Bob Dylan, murder most foul).
"Where who makes the curve / The ass of the world, this place of ours” (Caetano Veloso, the ass of the world).

In 1989, under the impact of the events of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an obscure senior researcher at the US State Department, Francis Fukuyama, a card-carrying neoconservative (he later sought other avenues), decreed – in a lecture at the University of Chicago – and published in The National Interest – the end of the story. The political scientist was inspired by texts that had been handed over for decades to benevolent gnawing criticism and specialized rats in the fine antiques of Hegel, Kójeve and Weber. Fukuyama claimed that liberal democracy culminated the political development of human history. The “end of communism” did not mean the “end of an ideology”, but the end of the immensity of “history as such”. It was apparently a celebratory theory. Nothing more false.

Few noticed another layer of dismal uncertainty in his theory. There was in it a subtext of universalism, paradoxically relative and limited, to be taken into account: the liberal victory over socialism in the Soviet version resolved the question of history. However, the issue of the margin persisted, the strangeness in recognizing the other, the scum that inhabits the world, peoples not integrated into the superb historical political culture dominant in the West. Rousseau wrote that Machiavelli was an ironist (or a satyr) – pretending to give lessons to the political practice of absolutist kings, he gave them, big ones, to the people. I've always suspected – I'm not sure – that Fukuyama is more of an ironist. In any case, if his intention was not ironic, an ironist has been the story itself.

Shortly after the “end of history” the United States undertook – to the surprise of many and subservient support of the UN Security Council –, the first Iraq War, aiming to overthrow the regional power of Saddam Hussein, a former ally in Iraq. Iran War. Aside from the raw theater of war in the desert, that war was sold, in US propaganda, as a clean, aseptic war of absolute technological supremacy, matching in elective affinity with the theory of the end of history. But the question remained: why was Saddam Hussein not dethroned, even though Allied troops were at the gates of Baghdad? A surprising new character has entered the picture: the Shiite people of southern Iraq. They massacred the Shiites without mercy. To the gal's frustration. Schwarzkopf, eager to commemorate the greatest military achievement of his career, George Bush Sr. halted the final offensive. Saddam Hussein survived ten years. Strategy became the key: from the “end of history” to the “clash of civilizations”, whose intellectual password was the famous article published by another organic intellectual, Samuel Huntington, in 1993.

The clash of civilizations became credible in the attack on the Twin Towers, on September 11, 2001. Eric Hobsbawm wrote, announcing the trumpets of a “new century”: “A drastic and undeniable break in the history of the world. Probably no other unexpected event in the history of the world has been directly felt by more human beings.” Fukuyama himself clarified the question of the “margin”, of “peoples without history”, formulating – he and a plethora of other authors –, the question of the existence of the so-called “failed States”, in which three countries stood out: Somalia and… Afghanistan.

The 20-year war in Afghanistan – the longest foreign intervention by the United States at the “end of the world” –, as well as the recent humiliating episodes of demobilization of occupation troops in Kabul, were fulfilled as the war of the “end of history in the end of the world". Deducing from President Joe Biden's dismayed countenance in recent public appearances, it is clear that the event uncovered a serious narcissistic wound in the self-confident "American power".

In the past, learned authorities – the last time in the economic crisis of 2008 – predicted the decline of the Empire. Did not happen. Now, apart from the humiliation of Afghanistan, the situation imposes the combined challenges of the three great horsemen of the apocalypse: 1) the continuity of the effects of the 2008 crisis; 2) the rise of China and; 3) the Coronavirus pandemic. In any case, if the empire survives, full-spectrum geopolitical domination on the scale of the entire planet, from the seas of the Atlantic to the heartland eurasian (a strategic region in which Afghanistan is inserted), which is predominant today, seems, finally, to enter an irremediable zone of shadows.

Once again, the ghosts of the Vietnam War recurred, the arrogance of power was defeated by a heroic and asymmetrical war between peasants, the Viet Cong and the Taliban. Whatever the outcome of the struggle (national-theocratic Taliban rule and allied forces or runaway civil war), events in Kabul – thousands of desperate people at the airport, looking for a seat on the liferaft floor of an overcrowded plane – are already extraordinary. They denote a process of geopolitical reconfiguration from top to bottom in Central Asia and the Middle East, a pebble in the pond with resonances across the planet.

Last year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, historian and anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz resumed Hobsbawm's periodization and, based on it, enunciated a rectification. After the end of the old century and the beginning of the new one, enunciated by Hobsbawm (USSR and Twin Towers), she paints a third new beginning in this fresco: “The XNUMXst century only starts after the pandemic”. According to the intellectual, the self-image of the XNUMXth century, as a rule, has been painted as that of “a world without barriers that works in a network” – a time of high technology… but… suddenly… a microorganism… managed to stop great empires like the United States, Europe, China and even small villages”. In support of other considerations by Hobsbawm, this time about the “long XNUMXth century”, Lilia states that the century before last (XNUMXth century) “thought that every kind of invention, by itself, would free people”. For this reason, the century before last ended only with the trauma of the carnage of the First World War. The grimness of war tore to pieces the XNUMXth century's main representation of itself – the bourgeois ideal of progress.

It is worth taking advantage of Lilia's insight and thinking about questions. Interestingly, the short video by the anthropologist – perhaps due to time pressure or the tyranny of montage – unfortunately fails to deepen why the self-image of the contemporary world as “a world without barriers that works in a network” is little or nothing different from the self-image nineteenth-century optimist. This self-image is insistently equal in fact because it is based on the unique parameter of technical evolution. Deep down, the self-image described by the anthropologist, less than that of the forgotten 1990th century, in fact reflects that of the recent 1990s, that is, the golden times of the disparate but convergent schools of “globalization”, “neoliberalism”, clintonism, “obamism”, “tucanism”, liberal “neoconservatism”, the “third way” of Tony Blair and Anthony Giddens, the “network society” of Manuel Castells, the “postmodern” etc. It is no wonder that the XNUMXs made painting, for the second time, as at the dawn of the XNUMXth century: a smiling and extemporaneous Belle Époque.

In passing, and continuing to expose the issue of milestones in history in time, the pandemic amalgamates the distinct issues of the “margin”, and the age of the Anthropocene, to history. The great historian Fernand Braudel, in the first volume of Material Civilization (the structures of everyday life), postulates the existence, in the 30th-XNUMXth centuries, of an “ancient biological regime”, which died between mercantilism and large-scale industry. Perhaps it is time to postulate more explicitly in historical terms the emergence of a “new biological regime”, which has been tragic or beneficial, depending on the course of human action. To a certain extent, the great global pandemic of the XNUMXth century, the Spanish flu, was forgotten by memory (although, evidently, it has never been forgotten by specialists in Social Medicine), so much so that it did not become a landmark for the historiographical periodization of the last century. . One of the possible definitions is that the XNUMXth century was the century of the forgotten pandemic. One of the reasons for forgetting, perhaps is – not to change – that the Spanish mowed down much more people on the margins than in the centre. At that time, more than XNUMX million people died in India alone. Thus, the transfer of history from the center to the margin, from the end of history to the end of the world, from the center to the margin, perhaps allows (this is just a glimpse on my part) that historiographical time frames are more integrated, in terms of absolute historicism, society and nature.

Images don't fall from apple trees by gravity. They mean construction. Both dominant self-images of both the “long XNUMXth century” and the “new XNUMXst century” are tied to celebratory iron balls of rosy technological determinisms, shims of theories like the “end of history” and the fear of the “clash of civilizations”. ”. The background of the ideological narrative is the praise of a leap of blind capitalist evolution – therefore, driven by the market and a Spencerian night watchman state –, leading to an unplanned and planned evolution of the productive forces. In the XNUMXth century, the power of imagination came from the train winding roads; in contemporary times, until recently, the dominant imagination came from exchanges “in the global village of network societies”. Everything rosy and false. “Thousands were watching and nobody saw anything”, sang the brilliant bard Bob Dylan.

*Jaldes Meneses He is a professor at the Department of History at UFPB..

 

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