The end of ‘Endism’
The early 1990s supposedly marked the end of many things: The end of communism, nation states, ideology and even the end of history and politics. Communism was assumed an absurd aspiration in the name of equality and only ended in the combination of authoritarian politics and poor economics.
The nation-state was thought to be an anachronism in the age of globalism, which dismissed cultural variety. Secular ideologies were viewed as grand narratives that failed to comprehend social complexity and aspects of individuality. According to the idea of endism, finally, “history” was the grand narrative that culminated to its own fall by the discovery of the final purposelessness of human action. In this view, politics could not be based on all those assumptions that had been proved wrong.
The early 90s witnessed the celebration of the emancipation from all sorts of “the false consciousness” of modernity. The great expectation was that “freedom from mistaken aspirations” would bring an end to social and political conflicts. First and foremost, the fall of Soviet power and socialism was assumed to be the end of a false dichotomy. Accordingly, it was thought that economics would no longer be a matter of political ideology and debate, but rather a matter of management, as politics could only be judged by good governance. The complexity of social life would lead to the celebration of variety. Besides, in the absence of grand narratives, conflict-free politics would be possible, since then, the “differences” would translate into politics as a subject of arbitration and negotiation, rather than of confrontation and conflict.
The end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the peace deal in Northern Ireland were the showcases of the post-war “conflict resolution” discourse. Beforehand, it was the smooth transition from communism to free market countries in Eastern Europe that was thought to prove how bloody modern revolutions had been replaced by “negotiated change” in the post-conflict era. The military intervention in Bosnia was credited as humanitarian punishment of those, Serbs in this case, who could not adjust to the spirit of the time.
The first serious blow against this new paradigm of endism, or “ambitious optimism,” came with the 9/11 attacks. Nevertheless, even then, this was defined by non-political terms such as “atrocity” and “terror,” and it was condemned as an “ahistorical” evil to be fought against in the name of humanity.
Now, after only two decades of the rise of global optimism, we see the rise of confrontation and conflict everywhere, from tourist havens like Thailand, to a post-nation-state arrangement called Bosnia. The color revolutions, which were thought to be happy transitions from hardcore to carnival politics, did not only fail soon, but turned into political disasters, with the worst case being Ukraine. The list is long enough to realize that the world has not become more conflict-free.
It is time to recall some basic truths: The economy is not only a matter of management, but needs to be guided by “policies,” and indeed by the “politics” of social justice. Equality matters, even if communism failed to bring social justice. It is the case that religious, ethnic and sectarian politics arise where secular ideologies fail and they prove no less conflict ridden. It is the case that even if nation states lose relevance, communities of faith and ethnicity cannot replace them as safe havens from oppression. It is the case that if history is not destined to follow a pre-ordained path, there must be some sense of direction.
Finally, the so-called Arab Spring ended the idea of “the end of Islamism.” The idea of “moderate Muslims,” as the new capitalists and democrats in Muslim countries were dubbed, worked neither in the Arab Middle East nor in Turkey. It is time to recall the simple truth that secularism is, universally, an inseparable aspect of democracy, rather than a cursed concept.