colin f lane

Fukuyama: WSJ

Fukuyama, Francis. 'The Long Arc of Historical Progress'. The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, April 30 - May 1, 2022.

Mr. Putin's attack on Ukraine demonstrates that many people in the West had grown complacent about the peace and prosperity brought about by the liberal order that has prevailed in recent decades.

It is not at all clear that there is no arc of history or that this arc does not bend toward some form of justice. Social scientists and historians have addressed this question for years under the rubric of 'structure' versus 'agency' as the source of historical change. Structure refers to broad forces like technology, social classes, climate and geography, as determinants of political and economic outcomes. Agency, by contrast, refers to the decisions and actions taken by individual human beings, whether leaders at the top or actors at the grass roots. The idea of an 'arc of history' does not deny the importance of individual agency; it just sees those actions within conditions set by larger structural forces.

Law thus became not simply an instrument of power but a constraint on power

A doctrine that limited political power with laws and constitutional checks quickly became associated with rapid economic growth.

Modernization is a coherent process involving capital accumulation, investment and increasing economies of scale. It produces similar social results regardless of the cultural starting points of the society in which it occurs. Agrarian societies see peasants leaving the countryside for cities or sometimes being forcibly driven off the land. Cities grow in size and importance, and levels of education begin to rise as requirements for literacy and an increasing range of skill expands. Social classes emerge: One group owns capital, another works for them, and in between there emerges a middle class of professionals, merchants, middle-men and those who provide services, for an increasingly complex society.

The second question is where is it pointing, and in particular, whether it is pointing toward 'justice'.

In earlier historical periods, the arc of history bent away from justice.

The liberal narrative of historical progress was closely tied to the belief that people were rational and that better education and access to information would make them more critical of unjust authority and open to diverse ideas. This scenario is not playing out in today's China, where an increasingly well-educated population seems content living under a dictatorship. Nor did this narrative anticipate the impact of technology, which has allowed governments to control information in novel ways and malign actors to weaponize it in ways that undermine democratic self-confidence.

History is not a linear process in which we make slow but steady improvements every year. Rather, it is marked by huge discontinuities, with periods of peace and spreading freedom interrupted by giant wars and setbacks.