The most influential thinker of modern history
If wisdom after an event (demise of socialism as political system) can lead us anywhere, we are in a unique situation to say something definitive on the Marxist idea of History. Once cracks in the communist system began to show in Soviet Russia, the most terrible fissure in the Russian society appeared not as much in the desire of states to be free from a monolithic state system, as in the ethnic disturbances that threatened to escalate into local wars.
Marxism, in its desire to apply the material theory over the whole humanity, omitted to take into account the ethnic identity of the people. So complete was the neglect of this aspect of human life that Stalin thought nothing of transferring millions of people belonging to one ethnic group to another area dominated by another community. The first impact of the fall of Soviet Union therefore appeared in the shape of ethnic battles all over the country. Since identity did not form a part of the Marxist theory of History, the later work on nationalities by eminent Russian scholars did little to repair the damage.
In the concluding decade of the 20th century, we witnessed a revival of what was so glibly termed "fundamentalism". It was simply the revival of the elements of human life that were completely thrown out of consideration by Marx. The old adage that man does not live by bread alone struck the Marxist theory with a vengeance. Here again, all attempt at replacing the idealistic side of man with a huge stress on cultural activity failed to fill in the breach caused by total rejection of religion.
The causes of socialism’s collapse were numerous. Still I reckon, we are too near the circumstance to see the wood for the tree. Much has been written on the subject but much more will be churned out in future about socialism’s eventual cracking up. With the emergence of Socialism in tandem with the rise of Mussolini in Italy, with his Fascism and that of National Socialism with Hitler in Germany during the post first world war era, Europe gave rise to a despotic vision to many sensitive souls.
The most pessimistic was Oswald Spengler, a historian, who in a state of despair pronounced Europe’s (Faustian civilization’s) failure and decline. Obviously, the apparent failure of liberalism that resided in the Christian ethos of charity and non-violence led him to such conclusion. He was lucky to have been spared to see the devastation of the Second World War as he died in 1936. But there were others who had a more saddening vision of our world.
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) the novelist and essayist was quick to realise the pervading impact of the state control on the masses through media and genetic engineering. Thus, he was the precursor of Michel Foucault in at least some ways who cited the concept of panopticon which also draws similar conclusions about the state as a controlling mechanism. Huxley’s vision was bleak in the extreme; he thought it would take years after his death that such a world would come into being. His book The Brave New World was written in 1932 but he was soon to realise that his worst fears have been translated into reality in his lifetime and before his death he wrote a sequel, The Brave New World Revisited. The pace of circumstances had caught up with his dark vision and he was bereft of the remaining shred of optimism that he could lay claim to.
Huxley’s younger contemporary George Orwell (1903-1950)[Eric Blair was his real name] who served as an officer of the Imperial Police Service in Burma was disgusted with himself as he saw himself as an instrument of British Imperialistic work. Eventually he left his job and moved to Paris to write. In his immensely successful books Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty Four (1949), he expressed his disillusionment with the totalitarian authority. The latter was an influential book that described the struggle of an individual against the monolithic state that intruded in the homes of the people through electronic devices. In the unequal battle the individual is made to give up his will and accept the supremacy of the state.
Along with its popularity and contribution of introducing phrases like Big Brother and Double Speak, Orwell’s foreboding was proven right. Huxley and Orwell both could foresee the marginality that the individual was destined to be consigned to.
By the end of the 1980s, it was history that triumphed over the historian and the analyst. Everyone was caught unawares by the circumstances at the end of 1989. The events took place so fast that even the political leaders who had unconsciously unleashed the forces that worked beyond their wildest fears, were left looking aghast as the people of Germany hammered away at the Berlin Wall, the East Europeans broke free from the Soviet control.
At this very juncture Francis Fukuyama startled the academic world by publishing his article ‘End of History?’ in summer 1989 issue of The National Interest. The phenomenal success of the article led Fukuyama to expand it into a book form with the title The End of History and the Last Man. The central thesis which he presented was, "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war History, but the End of History as such, that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
Fukuyama was quick to point out that the idea of The End of History was not new. The idea in fact was propounded by Marx himself though he was preceded in this by his precursor Hegel who had predicted the mastery and transformation of man’s natural environment through the application of science and technology. The Hegelian Concept of History as a dialectical process with a beginning, middle and an end was adopted by Karl Marx when he said that historical development was a purposeful one, determined by the interplay of material forces, and would come to an end only with the achievement of a Communist Utopia that would finally resolve all prior contradictions.
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Such an end to history was once considered to be linked with the triumph of the French Revolution through which ideals of equality and fraternity emerged triumphant. With the collapse of Communism in Russia and China, and with a prospect that precludes any revival of Communism as a state policy in the foreseeable future of a few centuries ahead prompts Fukuyama to conclude his argument in the following words: "Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feeling for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its North Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again."
Despite that critique, I earnestly believe unlike Will Durant that Marx was the most influential among all thinkers of modern history. Durant was of the opinion that Darwin was most important but I think quite otherwise. (Concluded)