Wars Around the World Prove there is No End of History
Postliberals must lead a movement towards the end of liberal interventionism and Fukuyama's "end of history."
Jared Gould is Managing Editor of Minding the Campus at the National Association of Scholars, a research fellow at Speech First, and serves as a consultant for the Faith & Politics Institute. You can read his published works here and you can find him on Twitter (or X) @j_gould_ and Instagram @jar_gou.
Since political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History and the Last Man in 1992, the United States continues to believe that liberal democracy and freedom are the final states of human development and government. Yet, the 2023 Israel-Gaza War makes it abundantly clear — there is no end of history.
Fukuyama’s thesis — that the civilizational clashes characterizing human history had given way to liberal, democratic norms — was already challenged after September 11, 2001, the authoritarian backsliding of Russia, and the United State’s military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
However, after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, the world received a harrowing reminder that civilizational clashes are here to stay. Now, we see yet another example of war that liberalism will be hopeless to solve. No amount of democracy or emphasis on toleration will solve a conflict spanning thousands of years.
The Israel-Gaza War, along with the ongoing war in the Ukraine, have presented American leaders with tough choices about who to support, where to send arms, and when to put boots on the ground. If recent events show that the spread of liberalism does not necessarily yield peace, then American foreign policy must become more principled. It must follow a model that is distinctly postliberal.
America has attempted to bring democracy to Middle Eastern nations, whether it was elections in Iraq or establishing Western schools in Afghanistan. These exports of liberalism, however, are rife with contradiction, particularly as the United States not only relies on methods that are illiberal to achieve its goals, but often selects the wrong goals in the first place.
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Take, for example, the American relationship with Saudi Arabia: American reform efforts have a liberal veneer but ultimately prioritize consumption over democracy or “human rights.” America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia exists to maintain a reliable oil supply, and in turn, America has enriched a nation that did not even let women drive until 2018.
Liberalism’s supporters will claim that their norms work in breaking up the clash between the “West and the rest,” to borrow a phrase from historian Niall Ferguson. Qatar, which is arguably better on the human rights front after a dose of American influence, still holds ties to Hamas. Yet, American public and private universities still conduct business in Qatar by maintaining campuses in its “Education City.”
One of these universities is Texas A&M, which justified its ties with Qatar to The Free Press, issuing the following statement:
Texas A&M’s relationship with Qatar is focused on educational and research activities, which contribute to the academic and intellectual development of both countries. That, in turn, hopefully will one day lead to peaceful resolutions rather than conflict.”
Qatar, according to reporter Eli Lake, has donated around $700 million to Texas A&M. What is clear from Lake’s reporting, however, is that the American footprint in Qatar warms Americans to the Qatari way, not the other way around. Qatar, for instance, censors books from its campuses’ professors, professors self-censor, and schools form relationships with organizations like Al Jazeera, described by Lake as “the Qatari-funded news channel that has provided a sympathetic platform for Hamas and other Islamist groups.” Since Qatar platforms as well as funds Hamas, Americans should consider whether, for all its hostage negotiations, Qatar has done more harm than good during the Israel-Gaza War.
American foreign policy is inconsistent with its stated liberal norms. The United States funds, trades with, and builds military bases in nations that only superficially resemble the West because they have adopted liberalism. Qatar may host a World Cup, Beyoncé may perform in the UAE, and the Saudi Arabian crown prince may get really into cosplay, but these are ultimately superficial and do not resemble the real culture of any of these nations. The United States, in turn, benefits from exporting its arms and culture. When these nations support terrorism or commit human rights violations and possible war crimes, the United States must reexamine the nature of its support.
For too long, American neoconservatives have joined hawkish Democrats to prop up history’s conclusion and the liberal world order. The political upheaval since the 2016 election presents an opportunity for a new, postliberal approach to foreign policy, or one that prioritizes foreign policy realism over liberal economic incentives.
Discussions around Israel and Ukraine show this postliberal policy and realism in action. With the Senate vote on aid for the two nations, Ohio Senator J.D. Vance is one lawmaker insistent on splitting support between the two nations, writing:
In the case of Israel, U.S. assistance would be exclusively military, provided with the clear end goals in mind of defeating terrorists, weakening Iran’s influence in the region, and rescuing hostages, including American citizens. In contrast, the U.S. has already sent $113 billion in aid to Ukraine, much of it economic aid. And despite having spent the equivalent of $900 for every U.S. household on Ukraine, the Biden administration still has not articulated a clearly defined strategic case or an end goal.
Democrats should not be able to give unlimited aid to Ukraine under the pretense of helping Israel. They must be treated as two separate issues. If the United States adopts this principle, its intervention in the Israel-Gaza War would look a lot like Vance’s vision, where “U.S. assistance would be exclusively military, provided with the clear end goal in mind of defeating terrorists.” Meanwhile, American interests and end goal in Ukraine are murkier, as is the war’s main tension: Ukraine’s right to defend itself versus Ukraine’s civilian death toll, along with the nation’s internal battle with corruption and, well, “illiberalism.”
If Fukuyama’s end of history and the clash of civilizations are two competing historical narratives, then perhaps a third one would describe the worldview of postliberals like Vance. In the present clash within civilizations, Americans no longer form a united front that advances national sovereignty. Postliberals must lead a movement away from a world order that emphasizes individual interests (or, as is often the case, the interests of weapons manufacturers) and towards the end of liberal interventionism and the beginning of a world order that stresses the common good.
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