Millenial predictions: return of totalitarianisms

Fernandez-Armesto’s second prediction was that rival totalitarianisms would return. This prediction was bravely conservative or pessimistic, when drafted a few short years after Fukuyama’s rush of hegelianism to the head in The end of history. Fernandez-Armesto by contrast saw the apparent worldwide installation of liberal democracy as a false dawn. His prediction rested on a belief that people like endless change rather less than technophiles, innovators and reformers might believe, and that liberal democrats were too pusillanimous to defend political and cultural authority to nihilist or fascist or religious challenge. The nub of his argument was “In increasingly complex societies struggling to cope with rising expectations, gigantic collective projects, baffling demographic imbalance and terrifying external threats, order and social control will come to be more highly valued than freedom.” (Millennium, p 700)

He saw new totalitarianisms on the rise in the populist right, law and order appeals, a new fundamentalist Christian movement, a faith in Marxism only inured by failure, and Islamic fundamentalism, if with qualifications that it seemed on the wane as he wrote. We have seen all of these totalitarianisms return, but with the exception of Islamic fundamentalism, not quite with the longing for order that he anticipated. Authority as a whole is fragmented in the new society of the spectacle, and even its death cults rarely seek to assume total power, but compete for cultish passion on the fringes. Western liberal societies have warded off law and order totalitarianism because security has become central to defeating the greatest cultural threat of all – Islamic fundamentalism – and the emerging geo-political threat of post-communist democratic authoritarianism – China and Russia.

Western liberalism has been hounded less by its moral queasiness, as Fernandez-Armesto feared, and more by its unleashed shadow, market totalitarianism. In a long elite driven civil war of market against society the new class of “there is no alternative” market ideologues has terrified society. Freedom has become compromised as the freedom to sell to the market, and human dignity terrorised by fear of loss of wealth. In this way, Vaclav Havel saw more clearly into the spiritual disease in Western societies when he compared the existential dilemma of living a lie in both communist and capitalist societies.

So I mark this prediction of Fernandez-Armesto as wrong since it misses the mark on both phenomenon and causes.

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