In 1989 the American Academic, Francis Fukuyama, proclaimed that the “end of history” had arrived:
“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 point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
That was quite a claim.
Fukuyama was saying that it was simply not possible to improve on the system of free market liberal democracy that had emerged victorious after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s. After thousands of years of political development mankind had finally aced it.
If there was any point to the long and tragic story of war and conflict it may have been to illustrate which approach to government worked best in advancing the wellbeing of humanity.
This is a question that historians should explore. Aristotle dealt with it 2 400 years ago. For him:
- the best form of government was a monarchy ruled by single enlightened ruler: however, the worst form of government was its counterpart – a tyranny dominated by a single corrupt and unenlightened despot;
- the second best was an aristocracy, rule by an enlightened elite – but it could morph into an oligarchy under the control of a corrupt and despotic clique.
- the third best – but the safest option – was a polity in which power was in the hands of an educated and uncorrupt electorate; but a polity could degrade into a democracy – the fourth best system – if the people were unenlightened and corrupt.
Perhaps the greatest exponent of democracy in the century before Aristotle was the Athenian leader Pericles.
Speech by Dave Steward, Chairman of the FW de Klerk Foundation Board, to the Libsem, Velddrif
18 October 2019