Stewart Brand, the creator of the iconic Whole Earth Catalog, heads up the The Long Now Foundation, an organization committed to cultivating “slower/better” thinking and fostering greater responsibility over “the next 10,000 years.” (Yes, they’re ambitious.) To help bring this about, Brand hosts a monthly speaking series that you can download as a podcast (iTunes – Feed – MP3s), and, in late June, he brought in Francis Fukuyama to speak. Fukuyama, a professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins, first made a name for himself in 1989 when, during the waning days of the Cold War, he published an essay called “The End of History?” (Later, he would turn it into a bestselling book, The End of History and the Last Man.) Stealing a page from Karl Marx, Fukuyama maintained that history had a direction to it. It flowed with purpose, always bringing progress. But the end point wasn’t communist utopia. It was liberal democracy mixed with free market economics. That’s where humanity was collectively heading, with a victorious America leading the way. (In his original essay, he wrote, “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.”)
In the intervening years, the world’s movement toward western democracy hasn’t exactly followed a straight line, and the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing “War on Terror” have seemingly lent credence to a dimmer worldview, one outlined by Samuel Huntington in the controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Speaking 18 years after the publication of his original essay (iTunes – Feed – MP3 – Blog), Fukuyama revisits, clarifies and largely defends his thesis that liberal democracy is still on track to prevail. And that’s because, in his mind, there are deep economic, scientific and technological trends in motion that drive almost inexorably toward these political ends. Whether he is right or wrong, it’s impossible to say. Regardless, his talk is smart, hardly dogmatic, and worth your time.