On the eve of the second great financial crisis, with western democracies driving the international neoliberal paradigm into a full ontological retreat and great power politics back in the Hobbesian dialectical camp, it is hardly controversial to claim that history´s affair with the zeitgeist of the 1990s is officially over. The techno-utopian negative freedom-driven ideological spirit of the new millennium not only has spectacularly crashed against a wall of inescapable cumulative, distributional and geopolitical realities, but also stumbled upon an increasingly kaleidoscopical interpretive scenario from which it can no longer escape nor recover.
At the core of this civilizational rupture lies the hubristic conceptual architecture of neoliberal internationalism as the political, productive and cultural apex of human development. The end of history cosmovision which has since the early 1990s underpinned the epistemological foundations of modern macroeconomics, western foreign policy and mainstream mass-marketing shaped cultural and political discourse. A concept which surged in our political markets as the interpretive cornerstone upon which the disruptive capabilities of every traditional vector of social change would be driven into an eternal halt.
The end of history paradigm promised to bury class warfare by creating the conditions under which any legitimate concern within the labour domain would be mechanically addressed by a never ending upward prosperity slope. It claimed to be able to transform the gloomiest geopolitical stand-offs into Kantian transnational outcomes through unfettered economic integration and trusted technocratic market fundamentalism to guard the dynamism of this self-reinforcing driver of systemic hyper-stability. Democratic peace theory, Schumpeterian theses and Pinker-style aggregate data driven optimism would be brought together to engineer a web of irrefutable causality. The necessary theoretical armour for a jupiterian governance structure who in the name of reason will admit no critique.
Today, as the cumulative and social realm brace for the next wave of financial panic, distributional pillage and economic malaise, it is hardly controversial to claim that blind faith in those hypotheses may well have been behind our civilizational misfortune. Yet, despite the fact that our socio-political and macroeconomic orography has long decoupled from the end of history advertised reality, self-criticism has been scarce.
The manufactured culprits of the irreproducibility crisis of the neoliberal social and international structure of accumulation are as politically convenient as causally distant to the real epicentre of the implosion. Forced -and overwhelmed- by recent political developments, Fukuyama himself has recently claimed that the collapse of the interpretive geography of our recent past is a direct derivative of both the nihilist bias of the Berlin-Arendt socio-political paradigm and the Marxian dynamics of tech. The abolition of social binding beyond the sphere of consumption and the disarticulation of the necessary extra-market pools of legitimacy for an inclusive management of productivity have ultimately produced monsters. A tragedy of civilizational vacuum which, in the absence of any alternative societal rationale, has generated a cascade of national and transnational political friction in the form of identity warfare and Wesphalian cumulative retrenchment. Yet, according to this thesis, this development is nothing a rightward adjustment of the neoliberal political frame or a mild wave of progressive taxation can not expediently accommodate to keep moving forward.
What end of history apologists systematically fail to bring to the analytical table is that, beyond the polarizing dynamics of contemporary identity archipelagos and the uneven distribution of rent from transnational productive scale, the predatory dimension of this scenario if far wider and structural than the “elite excesses” thesis would ever admit. The post-industrial western geography not only has experienced a complete political takeover disguised as market justice, it has also entered a cumulative phase where secular stagnation, innovative impotency and a general collapse of productivity growth have completely halted the developmental trajectory of our societies. The imaginary of enlightened progress that neoliberal gurus have repeatedly brought to bear when legitimizing distributional sacrifices is nowhere to be found. The realm of change has been completely overridden by purposely manufactured artificial financial constraints and the societal mechanisms that once engineered prosperity and social purpose have now become cold and impregnable political bastions. Is this how history was – truly- meant to end?
To fully comprehend this critical juncture and expose the flawed theoretical foundations of traditional accounts on the trajectory of neoliberal internationalism, both mainstream (neo)liberal dialectics and the mode-of-production framed interpretive window of critical political economy must be discarded in favour of wider anthropological and scalar considerations. Beyond its aspirational and quasi-religious nature, the neoliberal end of history thesis is in fact grounded in real political and spatial phenomenology. A hyper-modern and ideological interpretive construct which stands at the visible top of an enormous systematically neglected iceberg of human historical structuralism. Theoretical depths where societal analysis gravitates around the relationship between the tandem of productive and distributional developments and the geography and logic of the realm of violence. Where the scale of power projection and its structural relation to the phenomena of political centralization are the true driver of human change.
Through human history, geopolitical engagement between competing polities has operated as the selection mechanism responsible for skimming through different modes of production based on their ability to manufacture sustainable labour productivity to finance war. Antiquity was shaped by the progressive industrialization and mobilization of slave labour. A source of immense wealth which required from a costly repressive apparatus to function and which could not withstand technological updating without wrecking its own political order and committing societal suicide. Consequently, once the scale of political centralization of European late Antiquity collapsed with the fall of Rome, this system became structurally inoperable.
Western civilization was then forced to embrace the decentralized and low-maintenance tax-centric feudal Germanic societal design which, in conjuncture with the polyarchic medieval geopolitical context, created the conditions for an unprecedented European sustained developmental thrust. The imperative of kinetic readiness led to a self-reinforcing spiral of state capacity building and national tax base development. Merchant activity, urbanisation and continental interconnectivity thrived and, by the 18th century, the once castle-centric political ecosystem of the post-Roman era had reached the political scale of modern Westphalian neorealism. The macroeconomic and geopolitical platform upon which the large military contingents of antiquity could re-emerge.
Eventually, the foundational link between national productive development and the systemic rise of the merchant class derived in the bourgeois takeover of the state and the institutionalisation of the capitalist mode of production. The masses were forcefully dispossessed from their customary rights, the division of labour broke free and the law of value imposed a pro-productivity bias across the whole economy. The industrial revolution brought transnational –imperial- relations of production, vertical aggregate productivity gains and mass mechanised and long range instruments of war. By the beginning of the 20th century, the scale of violence had broken with its pre-industrial peak and the democratisation of warfare through nationalism and modern power projection assets soon rendered the “chivalrous” elite-governed limited war politically unfeasible. This, together with the growing strategic relevance of national productive structures, meant that the nature of conflict would gradually gravitate from Napoleonic decisive engagement tactical set-ups to the realm of total and deep military strategic confrontations.
The Great War (1914-45) illustrated the extent to which the strategic turn of conflict – epitomised by the advent of the nuclear age- would alter the formula of inter-elite competition-based prosperity. War not only became unbearable for the masses who waged it, it also became extremely risky for any elite who dared to test their theory of victory. Modern war disrupted transnational scale of economic productivity, efficiently targeted elite´s political powerbase –the means of production- and, if mutual assured destruction was not in play, often left little room for an inter-elite negotiated exit whenever the fog of war became too thick.
However, the collapse of inter-state conflict between developed nations in the late 20th century is not fully explained by the de facto impossibility of manufacturing viable or popular theories of victory. During this period, the aggregate number of inter-elite competition vectors, the political basis for geopolitical confrontation, fell too. The driver behind this plutocratic peace theory is the spatial nature of productivity, the scalar component of prosperity which fuels political centralisation through expanding frames of macroeconomic management. The inevitable functional annihilation of the national-Fordist cumulative platform.
Due to its pro-productivity bias, geopolitical competition constitutes the institutional driver behind the pursuit of economic ecosystems characterised by highly specialised productive nodes. Specialisation leads to a greater level of aggregate economic complexity and interconnectivity and this, in turn, to a gradual spatial expansion of the cumulative ecosystem. As a consequence of its high productivity plateau, 20th century industrial relations of production soon opened the door for a new frame of macroeconomic governance by out-scaling the political architecture of the Westphalian system. The birth of an orphan functional space which was rapidly occupied by the managerial spheres of financial globalisation and international supply chains. The advent of a semi-global governance body ruled by a hyper-concentrated club of transnational actors which, through the effective control of global productive scale and investment, has effectively abolished sovereignty and turned contemporary state structures into mere colonial outposts of surplus value collection.
Despite its foundational western centre of gravity, this transnational polity now rules over a vast economic and social space increasingly foreign to the logic of Westphalian allegiances and centuries ahead of any democratic threat. With the political exception of the Sino-Russian plateau, the spatial dimension of this global clique´s powerbase has ultimately led to the near abolition of the geopolitical friction without which human societal development impulse stalls. Consequently, for the first time in history, the instrument of war has entered a social geography of political scale where it is spatially improbable to encounter any form of –human- competition. It is possible to argue then that contemporary scale of violence not only has rendered geopolitical stand-offs functionally useless, but also politically orphan.
In the absence of competing political interests embedded in an inter-polity theatre, there are no real existential threats to the political equilibrium of existing class set-ups. A quasi-planetary elite which holds quasi-planetary interests and which is not subject to the geopolitical imperative is able to reify its distributional ambitions with relative impunity. As such, the world faces a 21st century re-enactment of Rome´s post Second Punic War regressive turn. The predatory chapter which took off once the city´s elite had secured its spatial imperial buffer and believed itself to be physically and politically immune to the dynamics of geopolitical strife.
Consequently, with the spectre of the great leveller being a matter of the past, western macroeconomic and distributional geography soon abandoned the restrained realm of embedded liberalism to enthusiastically embrace the unrestricted societal blueprint of ultra-capitalism. Since then, public share of wealth and labour share of national income have plummeted, inequality has sky-rocketed and rentier productive and social relations have colonised our civilizational rationale. Capital bias in the field of production and in the sphere of payload delivery systems has completely abolished the political and social-capital foundations of Piketty´s mid-20th century distributional “U” and the Beveridgian prism is nowhere to be found. With systemic reproduction no longer articulated around labour intensive processes, the emerging leverage asymmetry has wrecked the political equilibrium of Fordism and plutocratic hubris now reigns completely unopposed.
In today´s perfectly managed state of permanent depression, gloomy GDP forecasts live together with the discourse dominance of the ultra-rich, welfare dismantlement and the financial instrument of cumulative pillage. In this context, aggregate productivity growth not only is left to the stagnating dynamics of the law of value, but also deliberately repressed through central bank action following political risk considerations. The chains of debt run rampant and real-realm accumulation is no longer investment-centric, but monopsonistic and market power-driven. Our contemporary scalar and geopolitical end of history has ultimately transformed the traditional pie-growing developmental impulse into a predatory zero-sum distributional safari which no political force has been in a position to contain.
Despite the structural stability of the full spectrum elite dominance behind the neoliberal revolution, recent political developments have revealed that the capitalist end-game of human scalar history is far more volatile than its hubristic masters first thought. At the core of this systemic fragility lies the inescapable relationship between the ideological defence of the elite´s property powerbase and the functional imperative to subject themselves and their distributional ambitions to the internal mechanisms and spaces of the capitalist mode of production. Yet, despite the historic record of past modes of production, the political limits associated to this anthropological reality were never taken seriously. After all, the global plutocratic clique emerged at a time when the cumulative thrust of capitalism not only was thought unlimited, but also positive-sum and virtuous for societal development. Corporate greed was praised as the moral and cumulative driver behind western geopolitical supremacy and, even if the neoliberal zeitgeist was wrong and these risks did materialize, what could possibly replace their creed?
The result of this deliberate miscalculation has produced a societal Minsky moment of civilizational proportions. A macroeconomic and distributional endgame for which contemporary elites have not yet been able to engineer a sustainable systemic fix. By pushing its hubristic distributional ambitions through the mechanical rigidities of capital accumulation –to which it is anthropologically tied-, the neoliberal plutocratic clique not only has brought to life the forgotten ontology and theoretical instruments of Marxism – as noted by Fukuyama-, it has also manufactured the spatial, cumulative and identity divides which have, for the first time, brought the “liberal international order” to its political knees.
The absolute empowerment of capital accumulation as the societal distributional Gosplan of our time has unleashed an unprecedented wave of –unmitigated- distributional regression via financialisation and productive centralisation across the entire economic geography. Finance has become the purposely manufactured profitability safe heaven of the wealthy while the real realm faces the destructive power of its bursts. At multiple levels, the concentration of realisation and technological advancements have delivered a function of production increasingly shaped by firm heterogeneity and a heavy conglomerate-urban bias. A cumulative orography which not only has wrecked the Fordist orography of labour, but also destroyed the inter-capitalist distributional and political harmony which once underpinned capitalism´s golden age.
The socio-political result of this process of cumulative restructuring is a de facto class divide between two perception-mediated ontologies. Between the “meritocratic” moral high-ground dominating transnational liberal class and those who, being foreign to the Kantian realm of cosmopolitan social and employment relations, face the systemic pressure to “restructure” their social self to hope to overcome their deteriorating socio-economic condition. Ultimately, the system´s efforts to politically re-frame those who are structurally foreign to this realm of stability and abundance have been met by an impenetrable wall of ontological resistance and a deadly political counterattack. A reactionary movement which now threatens to metastasize and strangle multiple systemic sources of cumulative thrust.
In the field of international relations, the neoliberal turn of the capitalist mode of production has also proven unstable. Global cumulative dynamics not only have empowered the geopolitical weight of the only political faction which stands sovereign before the transnational plutocratic clique in Eurasia, but also disrupted the harmonic political architecture of the leading trade regime. Behind this systemic vector of instability lies the accession of neoliberal capitalism as the interpretive paradigm of our time. The free-trade focus which, through consolidating global relations of production, has traded diminishing international inequality for a destabilising transnational wave of rising Marxian pro-capital bias.
At the top of the development ladder, forced by the domestic effects of unfettered capital accumulation and hoping to push their luck against an increasingly zero-sum international cumulative space, Western conservative parties have become the first major disruptive force within the neoliberal ideological ecosystem. Politically propelled by the ontological divide of late capitalism economic geographies, the political shells of former Wesphalian elites have gradually turned their backs on the transnational market agenda of their global counterparts. They have pledged allegiance to the “nation-first” interpretive prism and are actively engaged in the outright rejection of the global Kantian macroeconomic ideal. The last battle cry of those who have already been out-scaled.
As a derivative of this phenomenon, the macroeconomic consensus upon which the neoliberal transnational governance structure is able to operate and project its systemic power is increasingly reliant on the peripheral and developing provinces of its transnational empire to stand its ontological ground. A position of considerable peril which, if western societal trajectory reproduced with the development of the forces of production overseas, could disrupt the global cumulative ecosystem behind contemporary productivity and capital reproduction. The dawn of self-reinforcing mercantilist international spiral which, in an effort to salvage domestic class relations, could ignite the flames of international distributional strife.
With relation to this, it is highly probable that the political economy of this self-manufactured power vacuum has also undermined the great power competitive end-game without which any global governance apparatus can not possibly consolidate its systemic reign. The distributional assault taken place behind the curtains of the end of history narrative has left the interpretive and moral dominance of the West vulnerable to ontological raiding and dangerous domestic scapegoating. Since the advent of the great “populist” tide, claims about international political meddling have surged and success in western political ecosystems has increasingly been tied to the political exploitation of raw gemeinschaft schemes. Beyond the real magnitude of its inter-polity dimension, support for liberal democracy within alienated electorates has plummeted and the escalation of political polarisation constitutes an interpretive revolt which the totalizing neoliberal negative-freedom prism has not yet been able to silence. Consequently, western internal civilizational strife not only has mortally wounded the universal focus of the Washington consensus dogma, but also sabotaged the transnational coordination apparatus upon which its own political advancement relies.
The hubristic and accidental resumption of history in the West has ultimately produced unnecessary vectors of national political vulnerability which increasingly capable foreign powers can easily –and cheaply- exploit. This new theatre of neoliberal extractivism-generated strategic space has created the dialectical conditions upon which political scapegoating, media wars and interpretive chaos can effectively render coherent geopolitical planning and diplomatic action an operational nightmare. A phenomenon which hinders transnational empire-building and which has proven to be extremely hard to prevent and counter. As the underlying distributional and political realities of this conundrum expand beyond the realm of western socio-political spaces, the flames of geopolitical strife not only might reignite and acquire a non-violent –and therefore unlimited- dimension, but also develop unpredictable non-Westphalian rationales. The rise of a volatile and fatal scenario of accelerated multipolarity.
Overall, the anthropological class, scale of violence and nature of productivity based theoretical construct has proven superior to mainstream and critical accounts when producing comprehensive material on the rise and fall of the neoliberal end of history enterprise. Thanks to its level of causal abstraction, depth and scale, it is now possible to frame Fukuyama´s ontology as an ideological initiative which gained its theoretical shape from an unprecedented critical juncture in human history. An interpretive shift which, ironically, achieved its contemporary political centrality from a critical misinterpretation of the role of productivity in deciding the ideological and geopolitical outcome of the Cold War.
The neoliberal end of history zeitgeist was built upon the idea that liberal democracy constituted the optimal societal stop to which every human developmental trajectory would ultimately gravitate. A prophecy which gained its academic, political and interpretive thrust during the Eurasian political revolution of the 1990s. However, contrary to conventional “wisdom”, what Russia and China experienced during this period was not a sudden democratic embracement of “the Enlightment project”, 1989 was the strategic recognition of a scalar defeat. Operationally cut from the global spatial flows of economic complexity, both polities could not possibly manufacture development beyond a certain productivity threshold in the age of seafaring super-containers. Highjacked by global capitalism, the geography of global productivity constituted an inaccessible law of value governed scalar sphere, totally incompatible with the societal design Moscow and Beijing had chosen to pursue. As a consequence of this cumulative marginalisation, the USSR inevitably stagnated and, in response, China soon went for the Japanese political economy to manufacture macroeconomic traction. Embracing the law of value was not then derived from the political recognition of the supremacy of the market ontology, it was their elite´s only long term developmental –and therefore geopolitical- card.
Following this event, the global systemic triumph of the merchant class was complete. Their societal rationale became hegemonic, their political reach transnational and their systemic leverage almost unopposable. With geopolitics abolished and inter-elite competition becoming obsolete by the planetary scale of productivity, the predatory turn of global capitalism was anthropologically inevitable. Through its transnational governance apparatus, the neoliberal societal project incapacitated the Westphalian state, stalled macroeconomic thrust and institutionalised an economic geography where unrestricted cumulative cannibalism rapidly became the norm. Neoliberalism had reached a structural position from which it could effectively abolish civilizational movement.
Under this interpretive prism, Fukuyama´s end of history paradigm can not be appraised as a capitalist endsieg derived from a global collective embracement of the neoliberal project and its societal agenda. The neoliberal global reign must be interpreted as the reflection of the distributional and political utilisation of a unique geopolitical critical juncture by an increasingly global merchant class. An end of history event which would have granted any social class fortunate enough to be at the right anthropological and scalar time unparalleled systemic leverage.
Unfortunately for the global elite, the jupiterian reign they dreamed of has not been eternal, but rather short lived. At the core of this abrupt societal halt lies yet another theoretical misconception of spatial dynamics and the nature of productivity, the limited political sustainability of the reproductive lifespan of the capitalist mode of production. The false promise of a perpetual positive sum distributional relation between capital and the realm of labour.
According to conventional theory, the field of realisation constitutes an unlimited source of cumulative propellant. A feature which ultimately renders class conflict a matter of political choice by assuming an infinite space of profitable –and unprofitable- utility. Unfortunately for this view, the opposite is true and capital-bias in production constitutes an empirical truth which can not be overridden. Consequently, by channelling their hubris through the internal mechanisms of capitalism and forcing its distributional truth to surface, contemporary elites have painfully discovered that the mode of production which made their enthronement possible can also constitute a formidable systemic liability to the consecution of a sustainable global empire.
The result of this civilizational Minsky moment is the potential recognition of capitalism as the only real balancing systemic constraint to the distributional appetite of merchant elites. The predatory scale of the neoliberal assault might have succeeded in manufacturing an unprecedented social landscape in human history, but, under contemporary relations of production, this has also threatened to create enough political fallout to stall the system beyond the point of no -scalar- recovery. An accidental barrier derived from the dynamic and independent nature of capitalist accumulation and a societal feature which now renders a highly paradoxical anthropological scenario.
In the past, even if the slave and the feudal mode of production actively repressed productivity to prevent societal suicide, the reproductive centrality of the geopolitical imperative ultimately prevailed. Today, with inter-elite competition at historic lows and kinetic confrontation out of the political formula, productivity can not be effectively repressed. Despite overaccumulation and monetary anaesthesia, productivity enhancement remains a structural feature of a system designed to maximise profitable production. A built-in mechanism which not even the architects of modern macroeconomics can exclude without wrecking the operational and ideological foundations of our social and political normal. What Marx first predicted to be the mechanic driver of the collapse of capitalism is, to the global elite´s regret, inherently tied to the interpretive construct upon which contemporary elites have entrenched their global distributional reign.
Therefore, by accelerating the predatory turn of capital accumulation, the neoliberal offensive not only has contributed to the –premature- exposure of the inherent contradictions of capitalism, it has also revealed the grim anthropological conundrum that contemporary elites must solve in order to manufacture a sustainable governance model. With the neoliberal social structure of accumulation having lost most of its legitimate ground, the global transnational clique now faces the prospects of permanent volatility if no structural countermeasures are successfully implemented. The arrival of a causal geography where the risk vectors which managed to bring down the zeitgeist of the 1990´s could intensify and deliver a killing blow to an already weakened capitalist reproductive scene.
Yet, if global elites successfully manage to transition to a macroeconomic orography partially detached from the law of value while retaining a tight control over transnational scale, history could develop –very- differently. If Eurasian elites are peacefully integrated and decommodification efforts succeed in converting low intensity insurgency, the end of history –as envisioned by Fukuyama- might well become a very real prospect. This scenario would potentially lead to the gradual consolidation of a global class driven sub-optimal productivity scheme able to repress rebel provinces via the spatial control of prosperity. The dawn of a societal path which would ultimately mimic the socio-political trajectory of Imperial China, a socio-productively stagnant geopolitical sleep which was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of western man-o-wars to its seas. However, while China enjoyed the strategic luxury to reform and fight back, it is highly unlikely that the galaxy surfing entity that resets our geopolitical consciousness would be so kind.