Reports of the End of History Are Grossly Exaggerated

By Richman, Sheldon | Freeman, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Reports of the End of History Are Grossly Exaggerated


Richman, Sheldon, Freeman


The disintegrating Russian economy has emboldened the Bolshevik remnant. There's been talk in the duma of re-nationalizing industry. Could Francis Fukuyama have been wrong when he declared that, with the fall of communism, history had reached its end?

I think so. But I thought he had erred even before the Russian communists began their latest agitation. Contrary to the "end of history" school, the fall of communism at the turn of the decade did not end a great ideological debate. It began one. Or should have.

The debate we need is between individualism and statism. It should have taken place much earlier in this century, but communism distracted us. The opponents of communism were a disparate lot who agreed on little else but that total state control of economic affairs, and its attendant political terror, were bad things. When communism disappeared, the disagreements within the opposing coalition revealed themselves. Before, the contest was between communists and anti-communists (including a variety of "mild" socialists); today, the contest is between mild socialists and libertarians, or true liberals-between those who would use organized force for something other than simply defending individual rights (including, of course, property rights) and those who oppose all such nondefensive use.

The terms "left" and "right" are not helpful here. It is too easy to find people who embrace those labels advocating coercion against those who themselves do not violate rights. The left wants to stop people from smoking tobacco. The right wants to stop people from smoking marijuana. The left wants to stop so-called hate speech. The right wants to stop so-called obscene speech. The left wants to regulate what people can do with their land. The right wants to regulate what people can do with their persons. Sometimes, as in the Microsoft antitrust case, they agree to unite in their persecution of peaceful conduct.

In contrast, the libertarian proposes to let people go about their peaceful business unmolested. He doesn't do so in a fog of moral agnosticism. On the contrary, freedom properly conceived, is grounded in a moral certainty: that each individual owns himself and therefore should be free to think and act peacefully-and even to err-without shifting the consequences to others.

It's time to get on with the real debate. You can't open a newspaper without reading about the economic woes of the Asian countries. Predictably, much of the commentary blames those woes on an excess of capitalism. …

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