Science and medicine were the twin drivers of progress for the Enlightenment: science, due to its cumulative effect upon knowledge, and medicine due to its promise to extend life. This optimistic vision was cruelly destroyed by the Great War of 1914. The combatants thought their sides would win an easy victory. In history's most egregious example of unintended consequences, the war ended only with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.


In 1992, the political economist Francis Fukuyama published a well-argued book called The End of History. Written within the Judeo-Christian tradition, which posits that history is directional, this controversial book contends that liberal democracy lay at the end of history, because there is now no plausible alternative to the ideal of a system based upon popular sovereignty and market economics.


To persist, all political orders must be seen as legitimate by at least some. In contrast to political orders legitimated by kinship or divine selection, Plato chose as the model for a just and therefore legitimate government the human soul, under the plausible assumption that "the elements and traits that belong to a state must also exist in the individuals that compose it." He was the first to base the foundation of the state upon the psychology of its citizens. In The Republic, he posited a tripartite division of the soul into reason, desire, and thymos (spiritedness, assertion, or self-regard), with reason ascendant over the passions. For Fukuyama, who then departs from Plato's functional authoritarianism, the popular sovereignty of liberal democracy gives the fullest expression to these psychological constituents. In the modern world, political legitimacy results only from persuading an increasingly sophisticated electorate.          


How will the process of history bring about liberal democracy?  In a course at Stanford, we were assigned to read the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831). After plowing through a few pages of muddy metaphysics, we turned towards some more pressing math problems. In retrospect, this was perhaps too hasty. For Hegel proposed nothing less than the End of History, as all of human history progressed along a determined path ending in freedom. The impelling mechanism that Hegel proposed was his famous dialectic where, in the clash of passions, systems of thought and political systems collided and disintegrated from their own internal contradictions-to be succeeded by systems containing fewer contradictions. This winnowing process continued as human history progressed towards freedom and (as Fukuyama interprets) the modern liberal state. 


Fukuyama writes, "...the historical process rests on the twin pillars of rational (economic) desire and rational (personal) recognition ...modern liberal democracy is the political system that best satisfies the two in some kind of balance...." In his vision, opposites co-exist and are tied together in a vital balance by the reasoning citizen. At the level of society, reason emerges from laws enacted within the checks and balances provided by the constitutional process (Madison, 1788). Laws hold at bay the winds of chaos; they are the source of the social stability that modern industrial economies require.


The development of civil societies and liberal democracies, however, is a slow process. Although liberalism, defined by the universal principle of "liberty under the law," is consistent at all scales from the person to the international system, progress is often very uneven within societies. The political systems of the 19th century failed to cope well with extreme nationalisms. Many societies have yet to resolve the conflict between political authoritarianism and free markets.


What are the likely consequences of the political differences among societies? Fukuyama makes this analogy:


             "...mankind will come to seem like a long wagon train strung out along

              a road. Some wagons will be pulling into town sharply and crisply,

              while others will be bivouacked back in the desert...But the great

              majority of wagons will be making the slow journey into town, and most

              will eventually arrive there...The apparent differences in the situations

              of the wagons will not be seen as reflecting permanent and necessary 

              differences between the people riding in the wagons, but simply a

              product of their different positions along the road (to freedom). "


The international political system is not yet liberal in all its aspects. The United States must provide the necessary balances.

         What is the principal notion of the eighteenth century?
         That society is founded upon recognition of reciprocal
         interests by people who want to live together as happily
         and as freely as possible. 
                                           Isaiah Berlin