Much was heard lately about the emergence of a new Cold War between the United States and China. There is something both reassuring and disturbing about this confrontation: reassuring because we find in it something familiar and what we have overcome in the past in the case of the Soviet Union. And worrying of course because everyone is aware of the destructive potential that a Sino American conflict could bear.
Yet it is not this violence that should worry us most, but something more subtle that is hidden behind the looming wars of our times and which enlightens their true and dramatic meaning: that the history of humanity is starting to go round in circles. In other words, history may have ended for good. One may consider that this concept, popularized by Francis Fukuyama’s thesis, was definitely proved wrong. Remember: in summer 1989, on the cusp of the fall of Communism, Fukuyama asserted that liberal democracy had become the inevitable horizon for political regimes. His professor Samuel Huntington retorted to him in 1993 that history was rather continuing in the form of a Clash of Civilizations, especially between the West and the Rest, and September 11 seemed to prove him right.
Despite appearances, Fukuyama’s intuition was right. The end of history has indeed taken place, but not in the sense that he had imagined. The end of history is not the moment when liberal democracy becomes the political regime towards which all countries around the world would lean. The end of history comes with the realization that history has exhausted all forms of political governance. Whatever political regime is adopted by a State or a group of States and whatever relationships they wish to entertain, they must necessarily be connected to something which has already been tried in in the past. All possible forms of political regimes and associations have been explored, including the very worst. In light of this, the apparent opposition between Fukuyama and Huntington ceases to exist, for the clashes of all kinds, as obvious regressions to ancient forms of political violence, herald the beginning of a cycle of historical repetition. Whether they take the form of a clash of civilizations or a new Cold War, those geopolitical realities are proof that we have reached the end of political history, and thus the late master and his pupil may be reconciled once again.
This end of history, however, is not the only end that humanity is currently experiencing. Thinking lucidly and globally about our human condition today, one has to admit that man’s potential on Earth has been largely exhausted. We also have discovered every piece of land, tried all the forms of the arts and committed ourselves to all kinds of religious beliefs. Up until now, the haunting prospect of a finite world was nothing more than another concept. We are slowly realizing that this moment is indeed upon us, resulting in an embarrassing interrogation: if everything has been tested and explored, what on earth are we going to do now? Upon which goal will we focus our thirst for conquest, our need for the novel, our desire to learn and experiment? Will we head off to conquer space? And if we can’t, will we recreate the clean slate we so yearn for by destroying our world and start over anew, as after the Great Flood? Or will we die of boredom, when the Earth will have become the biggest open-air zoo in the universe? Knowing that the world can offer us no more is not merely a piece of information, it is a shattering reality to which our bodies and minds will react wildly, and, to my view, the biggest existential challenge humanity will have to face in the near future.