It must be intensely irritating being Francis Fukuyama. You write one of the great, genuinely prescient works of geopolitical analysis
and yet are forever doomed to be the punchline of jokes made by people who didn’t get further than the title… Nevertheless, it’s worth thinking about why
capital-H History feels so obviously in full swing, after 20 years or so in which things really did seem more settled. Bruno Maçães (see previous coverage
) has a good new essay on this, “A War of World Building
” in which he attempts to explain the re-emergence of History and point to its new battlegrounds.
The core argument goes something like this: the promise of the decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union was that the common goal of prosperity, facilitated by neutral rules and open networks, would bring about the end of History. Competition between states persisted, but (rhetorically at least) it wasn’t zero sum. The dominant narrative was of a journey to abundance, enabled by the new economy of zero marginal costs and ideas shared at internet-scale. What changed? Macaes argues that the (re)fracturing of the global order isn’t some reassertion of the baser elements of human nature; it’s a technological moment with two distinct prongs.
The first is what I’ve called the stubborn persistence of the physical
. From the pandemic to Ukraine, it’s become increasingly obvious that much of what is important cannot be virtualised or pulled into the world of zero marginal cost. Control of the physical therefore becomes (again) the top priority of geopolitics. The second is that increasingly the “rules of the game”, far from being neutral, are embodied in specific communications networks that can be weaponised: “states can now fight one another not by winning in a direct battle but by setting the rules under which other states must operate
” - see, for example, SWIFT (TiB 50
), Huawei (TiB 72
), the semiconductor supply chain (TiB 161
), etc. It’s History, but not quite as we know it.