The End of Progressivism
Eisuke Sakakibara is Director-General of the International Finance Bureau, the Japanese Ministry of Finance. The views expressed here are strictly personal and do not represent those of the Ministry of Finance or Japanese government.See more by this author
The Cold War was nothing but a conflict between two extreme versions of progressivism--socialism and neoclassical capitalism. Both ideologies set a rapid increase and fair distribution of material welfare as their goal. According to socialists, the way to achieve such a goal is state planning; according to neoclassicists, the market.
In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, RAND analyst Francis Fukuyama and economic historian Robert L. Heilbroner separately pronounced the end of history and the victory of capitalism. But history has not quite ended. With the demise of socialism and the end of the Cold War, this rosy neoclassical dream has been tarnished. The reasons are primarily twofold: globalization and environmental constraints. Instead, what we seem to be witnessing today is the end not of history, but progressivism, the belief that there is only one ideal end, the unique path to which human beings can recognize.
The former Soviet Union and the United States could be classified together as experimental states, which provided the world with clear-cut alternative ideologies for progress. The dominance and severe military confrontation of these ideologies during the Cold War relegated cultural and historical diversities in all countries to a relatively secondary position and transformed almost all major political problems of the world into ideological confrontations. As political scientist Samuel Huntington appropriately pointed out in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, "The conflicts between princes, nation-states and ideologies were primarily conflicts within Western civilization, 'Western civil wars' as William Lind has labeled them. This was as true of the Cold War as it was of the world wars and the earlier wars of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries." The Cold War was nothing but another civil war within the West or, more precisely, within the Western ideology of progressivism. The demise of socialism and the end of the Cold War released the world from a Western civil war over differing versions of progressivism to confront the more fundamental issues of environmental pollution and the peaceful coexistence of different civilizations.