From Futures 25 (5) 493-506 (June 1993).
Does the end of the cold war signifies the triumph of modernity? Is the history of Western civilization, the history of mankind? Has history ended with the cold war? What distinguishes the emerging postmodern world from the modern one? Are there any alternatives to the universalization of modernity and postmodernism? And what is the significance of all this for non-Western cultures-the ‘Other’. This essay attempts to answer these questions by examing four new books: The Consequences of Modernity by Anthony Ciddens1; Modernity on Endless Trial by Leszek Kolakowski2; The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama3; and Images of Postmodern Society by Norman Denzin4.
Three billion lives ended on 29 August 1997.
Survivors of the nuclear fire called the war
judgement Day. They lived to face a new
nightmare-the war against the machines.
The computer which controlled the machines,
SkyNet, sent two Terminators through
time. Their mission to destroy the leader of
the human resistance, John Connor-my son.
The first Terminator was programmed to
strike at me in the year 1984-before John was
born. It failed. The second was sent to strike
at John himself when he was still a child. As
before, the resistance was able to send a lone
warrior, a protector for John. It was just a
question of which one will reach him first.
The Terminator retold the New Testament’s Annunciation story. A rebel from the 21st century (Archangel Gabriel) comes back in time to 1984 to warn a Los Angeles waitress, Sarah Conner (Virgin Mary) that she is going to be the mother of a political Messiah who will bring salvation to the world. But if the Redeemer is to be born, she has to be saved from the Cyborg, also a product of a post-nuclear war future, who is on a mission to kill her. The Archangel falls in love with the Virgin and impregnates her with the Messiah. James Cameron‘s Terminator2: Judgement Day continues the saga: the Messiah, John Conner (Edward Furlong), is now 10 years old and the Virgin (Linda Hamilton) has been transformed into a tough, radical feminist. The ‘lone warrior’ sent back to protect JC is in fact the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) : a cyborg made of ‘cybernetic organism’ over ‘metal interskeleton’, model 107 of the 800 series (T800). On the side of the Devil, with a mission to kill JC, is a more efficient psychopathic cyborg (Robert Patrick): the advance prototype TlOOO model made of ‘mematic polyalioy’ or liquid metal; ‘it can imitate anything it touches, anything it samples by physical contact’. The stage is set for a Biblical battle between Good and Evil machines as the film re-enacts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.
Terminator 2 is a complex film that explores a number of different themes. The religious allegory is an underlying subtext. The ideas of fate and destiny, determinism and free will, the empowerment of the indjvidual and the ability of every person to change the course of the future are analysed on the screen. An overt supertext of the film is that every human being has a compassionate and angelic as well as a violent and beastly side: we can construct a hopeful future for ourselves if we allow our positive component to come to the fore. Terminator 2 is also the ultimate PC (politically correct) movie. Not only does it present its female lead as a tough and resourceful character, but it also shows that even a ‘good ideology’ (feminism), when taken to extreme, can lose sight of humanity: Sarah Connor’s tough-as-Kryptonite attitude alienates her from her son; on a psychological level she becomes a terminator herself. As someone who possesses special knowledge-the destruction of the world on a certain date-she is in a minority of one. She therefore experiences, inside a mental institution, in a world of Anglo-Saxon males in white coats, what it is like to be the Other-human beings who, simply because they do not belong to the dominant culture, are described, controlled and treated as though they were mad! The black character in the film, the brilliant computer expert, Mike Dyson, is presented with all humanity. He is a genius, but unlike his predecessors such as Fu Manchu who are pure Evil, he is capable of both good and evil. He can get excited with the sweetness of discovery as well as sacrifice himself to save mankind.
But the true importance of Terminator 2 does not lie in its religious allegory, its analysis of determinism and free will, its level of ‘political correctness’, not even in the fact that it is a terrific entertainment. It lies in its un-thought, in the suppressed metaphors that reflect what is happening in the world at large. The terminator, as I have noted elsewhere, is a conceptual equivalent of modernity.5 The T800 character played by Schwarzenegger in the earlier film and in Terminator 2 is a monolithic machine devoted to a single goal. In the ‘humanized’ version in Terminator 2 he is a symbol for certainty, strength, truth: he is a metanarrative, he personifies modernity. And what is T800 up against? TIOOO is liquid metal, it can take any shape it desires, absorb anything it wants to absorb, become anything it needs to become: a relativist par excellence, TIOOO is a destroyer of metanarratives-it has all the paraphernalia of postmodernism. ‘Judgement Day’ will be a product not so much of a battle between machines but of a conceptual war between modernism and its components (science, reason, religion, anything that provides us with a sense of certainty and identity-the so-called grand narratives) and postmodernism and its mission to destroy, absorb and relativize all claims to reality and truth. Terminator 2 provides us with a celluloid simulation of the contention between modernism and postmodernism.
A Malay proverb tells us that when two elephants fight it is the grass in between which gets trampled. Both modernism and postmodernism are the creation of Western civilization and in their Biblical struggle the main victims will always be the Others, the ever shrinking patch of green, all that is not Europe or Western civilization. This is particularly so as the success of either modernism or postmodernism as the conceptual ideology of the future depends on the efficient termination of the Other.
Fish and others stink in three days
But, to begin with, what is modernity? And how do we characterize it? According to Anthony Giddens ‘modernity refers to modes of social life or organisation which emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards and which subsequently became more or less worldwide in their influence’. We can, however, trace the roots of modernity much further back. As Leszek Kolakowski notes ‘modernity itself is not modern’ and if its chief characteristic is the perpetual pursuit of the new then we can trail it right back to the Greeks: ‘at the beginning of the fourth century, lamblichos stated that Greeks are by nature lovers of novelty . . and disregard tradition-in contrast to the barbarians’. If one of the ‘absolute propositions’ of modernity is that ‘what is new is good by definition’ then certainty its origins are Greek. But from our perspective modernity emerged on the fateful day Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World. It is from this point that seeing Others as a total reflection of its own darker side, both to understand itself and attack the Other, became the dominant theme in Europe’s foreign policy, scholarship and literary endeavours.
In Its early phase, modernity was associated with direct physical and cultural genocide of the Other: for example, the genocide of the Amerindians, the Australian aborigines, the so-called primitive tribes of West and Central Africa. The colonial period added the extra dimension of intellectual homicide as the ruling powers went about systematically destroying the science, technology, medicine and educational system of non-Western cultures. This period also produced a number of disciplines specifically designed to confirm European
prejudices of the Other in rationalist and scientific terminology: Orientalism, which as Peter Wollen states, ‘was crucial to the emergence of modern art' (fashion, ballet, fiction, travel literature, painting)6; Social Darwinism, which as Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s biography of Darwin shows was central to the rationalization of the Other as inferior being7; and, in the words of Kolakowski, ‘the European science par excellence: anthropology’ which studied ‘savage’ and ‘primitive’ societies, as Marianne Torgovnick tells us, ‘through the lens of Western myths’.8 In its current post-World War II phase, modernity has been used as an all-powerful conceptual category and manifests itself in such catch-terms as ‘development’, ‘Westernization’ and ‘consumerism’: the Others are measured in relation to the West in terms of their ‘development’, the spread of Westernization within their societies and their level of consumption.
‘The most dangerous characteristic of modernity’, Kolakowski tells us, ‘is the disappearance of taboos’, which for him, also implies the banishment of evil. Modernity has evaporated the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taboos. As there is no rational ground for choosing good, the bad is constantly selected in the form of a ‘domino effect’. As a result, laments Kolakowski,
Most sexual taboos have been abolished, and
the remaining few-like the interdiction of
incest and pedophilia are under attack;
groups in various countries openly advocate
their right to engage in sexual intercourse
with children, that is, their right to rape them,
and demand-so far unsuccessfully-the abolition
of corresponding legal sanctions. The
taboo regarding respect for the bodies of the
dead seems to be a candidate for extinction,
and although the technique of transplanting
organs has saved many lives, I find it difficult
not to feel sympathy for people who anticipate
with horror a world in which dead bodies
will be no more than a store of spare parts for
the living or raw material for various industrial
It is not for nothing that a worldwide chain of pornographic film distributors is called ‘Taboo’! The shape of a society that has broken the taboo that ensures respect of human anatomy is well presented in Robin Cook’s novel and the film based on it: Coma. Robocop and
Robocop 2 take the argument to its logical conclusion. Individuals can be constructed from segments of human anatomy and bits of a machine. The creation, as one of the inventors of Robocop explains in Robocop 2 to a sceptical police officer, ‘doesn’t have a name, he has a program. He’s product’. Once the taboo is removed dehumanization is transformed into a positive value.
Giddens provides us with an analysis of how Kolakowski’s ‘domino effect’ actually operates. For him the ‘social order of modernity is capitalistic in both its economic system and its other institutions’. What distinguishes modernity from pre-modern societies, is the shear pace and scope of change. Change, purely and simply for its own sake, is the sine qua non of modernity. Social boundaries must be pushed, taboos must be broken, or the enterprise of modernity will collapse. Moreover, under modernity, change is global and ‘as different areas of the globe are drawn into interconnection with one another, waves of social transformation crash across virtually the whole of earth’s surface’. Modernity also acquires a unique character because of the intrinsic nature of its institutions. The nationstate, ‘the wholesale dependence of production upon inanimate power sources’, the urbanized megalopolis, the total cornmodification of products and wage labour-ail are specific products of modernity. All these institutions work towards aggregating power in fewer and fewer hands. What could be termed despotism in the premodern state is transformed into totalitarianism by modernity where technology ensures that political, military and ideological power come together in hitherto unimaginably concentrated form. When we witness the rise of fascism, the holocaust, Stalinism, the Khmer Rouge, fundamentalist theocracies, and other episodes of 20th century history we become aware of what ‘totalitarian possibilities are contained within the institutional parameters of modernity’. Moreover, when everything carries a market value, than human beings and bits of their body too become subject to market forces. The poor in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines survive by selling their livers and other parts of their anatomy to the rich.
Modernity also changes our notion of space and place. In traditional societies, space and place are localized, spatial aspects of life are governed by physical presence. But modernity, writes Giddens,
tears space away from place by fostering
relations between ‘absent’ others, locationally
distant from any given situation of face-toface
interaction. In conditions of modernity,
place becomes increasingly phantasmagoric:
that is to say, locales are thoroughly penetrated
by and shaped in terms of social
influences quite distant from them. What
structures the locale is not simply that which
is present on the scene; the ‘visible form’ of
the locale conceals the distanciated relations
which determine its nature.10
Apart from separating space from place, modernity also rips space apart from time. This space-time segregation, central to the inner dynamics of modernity, produces three further characteristics of modernity:
(1) Framnenfed individuals and cornmunities:
the divorce between time and
space fragments individual lives by Iifting
social relations from local context
and restructuring them across limitless
tokens’ like money and handed over to
‘expert systems’ like architects, car mechanic,
lawyers, doctors, plumbers who
manage their lives for them.
(2) Rationalized organization: modern
organizations connect the local and the
global with an ease and efficiency unthinkable
in traditional societies; and in
so doing they systematically and routinely
effect the lives of millions of
(3) Appropriation of history: the segregation
of space and time enables modernity
systematically to appropriate the
past to shape the future; this is done by
‘insertion’, that is using today’s convention
to rewrite and reinterpret the past
-the end-product is always a unitary
past, however much history may be
subjected to contrasting interpretations.
Moreover, ‘given the overall mapping of
the globe that is today taken for granted,
the unitary past is one which is worldwide’:
history thus marches to the all-encompassing
tune of modernity, evolving
towards a monolithic future which takes
Western civilization to the apex of
Do these particular characteristics of modernity make it a specifically Western project? Given the fact that most Third World countries have been independent for almost half a century, have they not contributed anything to shaping of modernity? Is it not possible for non-Western
cultures to become modern, or at least, generate their own modernity? Giddens notes that two distinct and complex organizations are of crucial significance in the development of modernity: namely, the nationstate and ‘systematic capitalist production’. Both are a total product of European history, experience and cultural milieu. In so far as these institutions have shaped, and continue to shape, our contemporary lifestyle, modernity is a distinctively Western project. A primary result of modernity is globalization:
this is mote than a diffusion of Western
institutions across the world, in which other
cultures are crushed. Globalisation-which is
a orocess of uneven develoom~nt that fraespan
of time and space; the self-reliance ments as it coordinates--‘introduces new
and self-sufficiency of individuals and forms of world interdependence, in which,
communities is replaced by ‘symbolic once again, there are no ‘others’.11
Giddens argues that in its globalizing tendencies modernity is not unique to Western culture; other cultures, particularly world religions, also have a universalizing mission. We are heading towards an interdependent world, a planetary consciousness and
the ways in which these issues are approached
and coped with, however, will
inevitably involve conceptions and strategies
derived from non-Western settings. For
neither the radicalising of modernity nor the
globalising of social life are processes which
are in any sense complete. Many kind of
cultural responses to such institutions are
possible, given world culture diversity as a
whole. Movements ‘beyond’ modernity occur
in a global system characterized by great
inequalities of wealth and power and cannot
but be affected by them.12
However, Giddens’ argument is inherently self-defeating. If globalization is fundamental to modernity, and if the globalization of Western culture produces an interdependent world where ‘there are no Others’, how then can non-Western cultures contribute to
shaping modernity? Moreover if, as Giddens acknowledges, modernity is ‘inherently future-orientated’ and ‘anticipation of the future becomes part of the present, thereby rebounding on how the future actually develops’, the future is effectively colonized. Modernity not only ensures a firm Western hold on the present, it also has an equally secure grip on the future.
Kolakowski appreciates, though does not actually state, this fact, for he warns:
If our density were to annihilate cultural
variety in the world in the name of a planetary
civilization, it could probably be accomplished
only at the price of so radical a break
in the continuity of tradition that human
civilization as a whole, not merely particular
civilizations, would be in danger of extinction.13
It is this threat to ‘human civilization’ itself that is the principal malaise associated with the experience of modernity. So where does this leave non-Western cultures? In the grip of a civilization that operates on the basis of a simple dictum: I am the Truth, all else is falsehood. Translated into history, organizing principle and cultural products, this means that modernity is used as a yardstick to measure reality: Western culture becomes the culture into which all other cultures must be subsumed; Western history becomes the history, the histories of all other peoples, cultures and civilizations are only a premodern version of European history and therefore only a small segment of the grand history of Western civilization; secularism, the fundamental value of modernity, becomes the value of society to which all other values must refer; and Western art and literature present the apex of human experience in front of which all else pales into insignificance.
Kenneth Clark’s book and the BBC television series based on it summed up the logic of this enterprise: Civilization. It began with the Greeks and ended with modern Britain: nothing else happened in the middle, there has been and is nothing of significance in the world since it began except the European and his Self. J. R. Roberts’ television series for the BBC, consciously made as a successor to Civilization, amplified and brought the theses right up to the eighties. The Triumph of the West demonstrated that the West’s power lies not just in its ability to ‘create change, but its technical ingeniousness and wealth seemed to express some deeper superiority, too’.14 It is this superiority that enables the Western civilization to stand in total contrast to ‘everything else, the uncivilized rest of the world which does not share its dynamism’ [Roberts’ emphasisl. 15 Considering all this, the conclusion of the final programme of the series, and the last sentences of the book based on it, is hardly surprising: ‘Western civilization is humanity’s greatest champion; it is the greatest claim ever made for men’s unique status among living creatures as a change-making animal’; and thus it is ‘clear that the story of western civilization is now the story of mankind’.‘6 Or, put another way, mankind is the West; the non-West, all Other cultures and civilizations, are superfluous, irrelevant.
But this sense of innate superiority, the association of Truth with a single, dominant culture, the appropriation of the history of all Other cultures, still does not provide Western civilization with a sense of inner peace and comfort. While asserting its modernity, the West simultaneously tries to escape from its consequences. Western culture has convinced itself that meaning can be restored, existential angst can be cured in spite of its appetite for cannibalizing Others-perhaps by various intellectual devices, perhaps by science, perhaps by ‘art’, perhaps by giving total reign to the individual. We keep asking, Kolakowski reminds us, what is wrong with God? With democracy? With socialism? With art? With sex?: ‘it seems as though we live with the feeling of an all-encompassing crisis without being able, however, to identify its causes clearly’. Films like Robocop and Terminator provide us with an image of this terminal America of half-repressed but all too present anxieties; an America where, in the words of Baudrillard, ‘the cities are mobile deserts’ with ‘no monument, no history’, only ‘the exaltation of the mobile deserts and simulation’.17
Abandon all hope ye who enter history
The anxieties and nightmares of modernity are frequently recycled as innovative and liberating discourses. The objective,
as in the case of Clark and Roberts, is always to devour the Other by demonstrating their total irrelevance to modernity. In The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama brings the discourse of modernity to its postcold war conclusion. The end of the cold war does not only mean the end of communism, it also signifies the victory of the Truth of Western Civilization and the ‘unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism’. For Fukuyama, ‘liberal democracy’ is the ‘end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’, the ‘final form of human government’ and as such constitutes the ‘end of history’. Since 1760 there has been a trend towards democratic governance-a trend that reached its apex at the end of the cold war:
It is against this background that the remarkable
worldwide character of the current liberal
revolution takes on a special significance.
For it constitutes further evidence that there is
a fundamental process at work that dictates a
common evolutionary pattern for all human
societies-in short, something like a Universal
History of mankind in the direction of
Thus all histories, all cultures, have been evolving towards a single goal: Westernization. For the past 500 years, since the fateful day of 3 August 1492 when Columbus sailed from Spain to discover, enslave, eradicate and colonize the non-West, everyone has been working to prove the innate superiority of Western civilization and secure its ‘universalization’. Fukuyama is aware that he is the latest in a long line of writers who have laboured to appropriate non-Western histories and place Western civilization at the apex of human achievement:
The question of whether there is such a thing
as Universal History of mankind that takes
into account the experiences of all times and
all peoples is not new; it is in fact a very old
one which recent events compel us to raise
anew. From the beginning, the most serious
and systematic attempts to write Universal
Histories saw the central issues in history as
the development of Freedom. History was not
blind concatenation of events, but a meaningful
whole in which human ideas concerning
the nature of a just political and social order
developed and played themselves out. And if
we are now at a point where we cannot
imagine a world substantially different from
our own, in which there is no apparent or
obvious way in which the future will represent
a fundamental improvement over our current
order, then we must also take into consideration
the possibility that History itself might
be at an end.19
All of us are thus as free as we will ever get and the status quo is the best we can ever hope for. But since ‘history’-that is history of non-Western culture which Fukuyama has cannibalized-incorporates the worldviews of all Others, their value systems, their cultures, what we may call their total modes of being, the termination of history also terminates the very being, the very identities, of all Others. The Other, always incidental to ‘Universal History’, can now be truly declared dead and buried: ‘it matters little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso’ as their culture is not part of ‘the common ideological heritage of mankind’.
The triumph of the West, of ‘the Western idea’, argues Fukuyama, is demonstrated by the ‘unquestionable relationship between economic development and liberal democracy’ (colonialism and the global economic structure, of course, has nothing to do with it) and the spread of consumerism around the world. ‘Apart from fast-disappearing tribes in the jungles of Brazil or Papua New Guinea’, the whole of mankind is linked through ‘the universal nexus of modern consumerism’:
Societies which have sought to resist this
unification, from Tokugawa Japan and the
Sublime Porte, to the Soviet Union, the
People’s Republic of China, Burma, and Iran,
have managed to fight rearguard actions that
have lasted only for a generation or two.
Those that were not defeated by superior
military technology were seduced by the
glittering material world that modern natural
science has created. While not every country
is capable of becoming a consumer society in
the near future, there is hardly a society in the
world that does not embrace the goal itself.20
Thus Other cultures have three choices: they can disappear, be subdued by military technology or embrace consumerism! But Fukuyama not only terminates history on the basis of the spread of consumerism, he also measures contributions to world history in terms of a peoples’ participation in consumer society. Japan, for example, is said to make an important contribution to ‘world history by following in the footsteps of the United States to create a truly universal consumer culture, both the symbol and the underpinning of the universal homogeneous state’. Thus a state becomes ‘homogeneous’ not on the basis of a single culture, national aspirations, nationalism, religion or worldview, but on the basis of ‘universal consumer culture’.
Can the triumph of consumerism and liberal democracy be thwarted? Fukuyama suggests that total universalization of the idea of the West is up against two possible 'ideological competitors’: nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Nationalism is dismissed as irrelevant; and fundamentalism is presented only in its ‘Islamic guise’. Even though ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ may be spreading in the Muslim world, argues Fukuyama, its future is rather limited:
Islamic fundamentalism is not only a competitor
to liberalism in the Islamic world; it has
won a clear-cut victory over liberalism in
many countries. And yet fundamentalism has
had virtually no appeal outside of communities
that were not Muslim to begin with. It
threatens the liberalism of the West only
insofar as some countries have to deal with
difficult-to-assimilate immigrant populations,
or when Western countries clash with Islamic
groups on a national or subnational level (ie
terrorism). Islam’s failure to attract adherents
among, say, the young people of the United
States or Japan is suggestive; and a plausible
interpretation of the strength of fundamentalism
is as a reaction to the powerful appeal of
liberalism in its initial encounter with the
Moreover, when it comes to the real crunch, Islam’s history and civilization, worldview and culture, will stand no chance against the VCRs:
The current strength of Islamic fundamentalism
is in many ways directly related to the
appeal, and therefore the threat, of Western
liberal rationalism to traditional Islamic societies.
In terms of the eventual victory of
liberal ideas in this part of the world, we have
to ask what will happen to Middle Eastern
societies when oil runs out and they are
forced to make it ‘on their own’. At that point,
the choice between Islam and modern consumerism
may appear to them much more
This is typical of Fukuyama’s absurd logic. The fact is oil-rich countries are living in the midst of consumer culture and non-oil-rich countries don’t have the choice anyway! Both have already chosen Islam-in its various forms.
In Terminator 2, the young John Connor asks T8OO if he can see anything in the dark. ‘I see everything’, replies the T8OO, focusing its mechanical eye on the road. Fukuyama too sees everything through the eye of modernity first conceived by the Dutch geographer Mercator, who put Columbus’ ‘discoveries’ on the map, and called history Oculus Mundi, the eye of the world. It is the same eye that gave us the 17th and 18th century notion of ‘White Man’s burden’ to civilize the non-West, the same eye cast the shadow of ‘Manifest Destiny’ presented by John O’Sullivan in 1845, and again it led Henry Lute in 1941 to see and proclaim the 20th century as the ‘American Century’, and yet again in BBC’S adoring and self-glorifying series of Clark and Roberts, oculus mundi witnessed the triumph of the West: the desire for moral triumph and vindication, the passion for total domination, the lust for banishing the Other, is a powerful, ever present impulse in the Western consciousness. Fukuyama raises self-congratulation to the status of a theology, a rational philosophy to beat all philosophies, a worldview to live by.
But the final victory is not a happy event. When John Conner asks T800 whether he feel pains, the cyborg replies, ‘I sense injuries; the data could be called pain’. Like the Terminator, Fukuyama senses ‘injuries’, and the data tell us that
The end of history will be a sad time. The
struggle for recognition, the willingness to
risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the
worldwide ideological struggle that called
forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism
will be replaced by economic calculations,
the endless solving of technical problems,
environmental concerns and the
satisfaction of sophisticated consumer
Thus idealism, altruism, diversity, virtue, art, indeed our very humanity, will all be replaced by consumerism. In a rare moment of reflection, Sarah Conners watches her son play with T800 and has a blinding revelation:
Watching John with the machine it was suddenly
so clear. The Terminator would never
stop. It would never leave him. And it would
never hurt him. Never say it was too busy to
spend time with him. Of all the would be
fathers who came and went over the years,
this machine, this thing, was the only one
who measured up. In an insane world, it was
the sanest choice.
Terminator 2 posits that the only good man is a mechanical man. Offering the same choice, Fukuyama asserts that the only good man is the one consumed by consumerism. The End of History and the Last Man brings us a world fathered by America, overseen by benevolent machines and benign consumerism. The whole human enterprise was designed to produce Fukuyama and men like him: the last man of the title. The ‘modern man isthe last man’, Fukuyama announces triumphantly. ‘He has been jaded by the experience of history and disabused of the possibility of direct experience of values’. Therefore, his sole concern is with ‘his own personal health and safety’ and he ‘knows better than to risk his life for a cause’.
Oculus mundi, the eye of the world of Western civilization, is blind. For the past 500 years, it has seen the world only through its own preconceptions and expectations. Not surprisingly, Fukuyama’s gaze, originating from the same history, is also partial. He sees only what
he wants to see. He tells us, for example, that ‘political liberalism developed in parallel with economic liberalism in unexpected places from South Korea to the Philippines’ and that the growth of East Asia ‘demonstrates that latecomers to the process of economic development
are in no way disadvantaged’. Indeed, says Fukuyama, ‘the stunning economic success of Asia in the past few decades as evidence of the viability of the market economics, with the implication that all societies would see similar developments were they simply to allow their populations to pursue their material selfinterest freely.’
That East Asians states like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia-the so-called emergent and emerging Asian Tigers are liberal democracies will certainly come as a shock to their citizens; and that their economic success is based on the ‘material self interests’ of their citizens will be no less of a surprise.24 At best, we can consider them as an autocratic oligarchies. In South Korea, until recently, unions could not be organized without government permission, and the state police has been known to keep the dissident in line. The Philippines is ruled not be democracy but by machete-wielding feudal landlords. Singapore is governed like a police state where citizen behaviour is not just monitored but engineered. And Japan is not a liberal democracy like say the UK or the USA as Fukuyama would have us believe: it is ruled by a neo-conservative oligarchy in alliance with gangsters. The economic success of East Asia is not based on laissez-faire ‘free market competition’ but government-planned, controlled and directed investments; the Tigers have developed largely because of their authoritarianism not their liberalism!
Neither have the most successful industrial economies in the modern world-Japan and West Germany, northern Italy and Sweden-favoured an economic free-for-all, but have pursued controlled strategies of economic coordination and consultation, regional regulation and cooperation between business, labour and the state. As regards those market economies of Latin America and Asia which have failed to develop, Fukuyama places the blame squarely on their shoulders: ‘the habits, customs, religions, and social structure of the peoples of regions like Latin America somehow obstruct the achievement of high levels of economic growth’. In other worlds, it is the innate inferiority of the Others that does not enable them to join the ranks of consumerist societies!
But even in the West liberal democracy is deeply flawed. Its levels of accountability and citizen participation and influence leave much to be desired when measured against democratic ideals, rather than against military dictatorships and authoritarian, despotic regimes. And economic liberalism of the Fukuyama variety itself poses a serious threat to greater democracy. The free market forces hand power not to powerless citizens and ordinary workers but to big, unaccountable corporations that are allowed to grow unchecked. Increasingly,
there are no Italian, French, German or US companies but only supercorporations. The ‘free market’ economies of the newly industrialized countries are in fact free lunches for the super-corporations.
In his defence of the status quo, Fukuyama is not concerned with such issues; indeed, he even dismisses the plight of US blacks as a product of their unsavoury ‘legacy of a pre-liberal past’ (which is his picture has nothing to do with slavery or colonialism). He is totally blind to the intrinsic connection between Western prosperity, including the prosperity of Japan, and the victim economies of the Third World. Yet as the Swiss economist Paul Bairoch has shown, per capital GNP in 1750 was approximately the same in the developed as in the underdeveloped ones. After 180 years of colonization, by 1930, the ratio was about 4:l in favour of the developed. Today, after several decades of ‘development’, it is 8:l .25 Free market economy only seems to work one way: resources flow from the poor to the rich; and
Fukuyama’s liberal economics is deepy rooted in structural oppression of the poor both within as well as outside Western civilization. Fukuyama seems to think that the end of communism also marks the end of the socialist tradition within the West. Marxism and liberalism are not intellectual opposites: Marxism, as Solzhenitsyn has reminded us, belongs to the Western secular liberal tradition; it is a Judaeo Christian heresy. The end of communism simply means that a particularly authoritarian strand of Marxism has reached a cul de sac. But socialist ideals continue, not least in the UK Labour party; indeed, as long as capitalism engenders soup kitchens, mass unemployment, deprivation amongst untold riches and xenophobia, the socialist vision will continue to have relevance for the working classes.26
Fukuyama, however, seems to think that the USA represents the ideal socialist utopia: ‘the egalitarianism of modern America represents the essential achievement of the classless society envisioned by Marx.’ This, too, no doubt, will come as a shock to the vast number of Americans who live on the margins of poverty as well as to the blacks who live in a different economic universe than the rest of America and not least, to card-carrying Marxists themselves!
The crucial point to note here is that the ideological conflict between the superpowers was not the main force that shaped the structure of world events in the cold war era. The essential dynamic was, and still is, capitalism’s appetite for resources. Western civilization cannot survive without resources, cannot exist without continuous expansion, it cannot even learn to scale down its appetite for raw material. That has been its main driving force since Columbus set sail to find gold in the New World. The victory of capitalism, if it can be seen as such, and as Fukuyama demonstrates so strongly,only confirms the socialist thesis that the liberal bourgeois ethic of the West is a force for alienation, a force that brings men and women into conflict, a force that subjugates people in a new form of slavery while claiming to free them. In the insane world of capitalism, there will always be individuals who, inspired by idealism, stand up against the terminator.
Similarly, Fukuyama sees religion in limited terms. There is religion as individual preference, what he calls the ‘less organised religious impulses’, which can be readily accommodated and subsumed within liberal market forces for it is nothing more than a special kind of consumer commodity. Then, there is the fundamentalist variety: here Fukuyama chooses to ignore Christian and Hindu fundamentalism and concentrates only on the Islamic variant. But Islamic fundamentalism is only a very small, if somewhat vocal, segment of Islam: the visible tip of the iceberg. Underneath, there is an entire universe of ideas, idealisms and identities that draw their sustenance from the worldview of Islam. This overwhelming variety of Islam, with its rational base, its egalitarianism, its concern for accountability and diversity, consensus and consultation, cannot be dismissed so easily, not least because of its powerful attraction to Muslims and the overpowering idealism and the sense of sacrifice it engenders. An entire civilization is being reconstructed in the Muslim world-and Fukuyama is oblivious to it.27 However, he is forced to dismiss ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ as Islam is the only Other that has presented a real-intellectual, cultural and military-challenge to the West in history and, as Baudrillard has noted, could yet present a civilizational challenge in the future.
Neither does Fukuyama, nor liberal secularists like him, realize that Islamic fundamentalism is an essential counterpart of their proclamations of the triumph of the West. Islamic fundamentalism is a reaction to the crisis of identity created by modernity, to the excesses of consumerism, to the powerlessness produced by structural injustices and market democracies. Essentially, Islamic fundamentalism is about opposition to Western market capitalism as a world system, or it is nothing. The more Western civilization seeks to repossess the history of the Other, the more it claims to be the repository of Truth, the more it seeks to recast the world in its own mould, the more fundamentalists it will generate. This is the equation: the one goes with the other.
Much of Fukuyama’s argument is derived from his reading of Alexandre Kojeve’s reading of Hegel. ‘Hegel believed’, we are told, ‘that history culminated in an absolute moment-a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state become victorious.’ That final moment came in the Battle of Jena in 1806. But Hegel did not argue that history will end in a literal sense; neither did he see history as a linear process with a beginning, middle and an end, as Fukuyama tells us. For Hegel, history is a continuous process of a thesis, an antithesis and synthesis, with the synthesis of the last stage becoming the thesis of the present stage, an endless dialectical cycle.28 In his famous 1930 interpretation of Hegel, Kojeve presented the dialectic between master and slave as the central tenet of Hegel’s thought. Kojeve’s interpretation of history as master-slave dialectic was the basis of a great deal of Marxist thinking during the 194Os, 1950s and the 1960s. Fukuyama can only terminate history by demonstrating that the master-slave dialectic has become irrelevant. However, in a world where a shrinking minority of one-fifth controls four-fifths of its resources, where four fifths of mankind lives in chronic debt, where famine, poverty, degradation and inhuman hardship are dominant themes, Kojev’s master-slave relationship could hardly be said to have evaporated!
Fukuyama’s attempts to glorify the world as it is serves a double purpose: it establishes the truth of capitalism and consumerism as well as kills the option to triumph over them. Fukuyama wants to create a world straight out of Ridley Scott’s Alien. The crew of Nostromo (‘Nostro homo’, ‘our man’, an illusion to Conrad’s working-class hero, a company man, who dies understanding that he has been betrayed by ‘material interest’) work for a corporation which considers all life to be a commodity and whose orders make all other considerations secondary. The crew, all efficient but totally impersonal, are on a mission to deliver an alien lifeform-which may have use in weapons research-to the corporation and the film evokes how they are made to become company persons. They become simultaneous victims of the corporations agreed and a monumentally evil and powerful creature who wreaks vengeance on the crew for being disturbed. By transforming nature into commodity, the crew themselves become aliens. And the creature itself, mercilessly hostile and a far superior product of competitive evolution, reflects the terrestrial victor of market competition: the multinational corporation. Fukuyama’s vision---if it can be elevated to such a level---furnishes us with a world of implacable capitalistic competition and mindless consumption of junk, where all non-Western cultures are as easily digested as the crew of Nostromo is by the alien creature.
I thought I saw a pussycat
Postmodernists would dispute Fukuyama’s claim that modern man is the ‘last man’ since postmodernism sees itself as a step forward from modernity. The difference between modernity and postmodernism is the difference between T800 and T1000. T800 is a mechanical and
metaphysical device that can be taken apart ideologically and physically; and indeed, just as in Terminator 2, it can be ‘reprogrammed’. Modernity thus provides its dissenters with a solid, monolithic target that can, given appropriate intellectual and cultural firepower, be shot down. But postmodernism is much more difficult to pin down. Since the new model can become anything it samples by touch, it has no metaphysical boundaries: it subscribes to all metaphysics and to none. Its fluid nature means that it has constantly changing parameters; it is as solid as the shape it has chosen to take and as liquid it needs to be poured itself into whatever shape it desires. It is totally mercurial. It is very real as those on the receiving end of its wrath discover, yet it is-in reality! -only a computer-generated image. It is the ultimate consumer-it consumes human beings and has no other function; the last word in masculine ideals-cold, clinical, totally detached and committed to the pursuit of a single goal without concern for any consequences; and it is a transcendent commodity-its efficiency, reliability, indestructibility and lifespan are a spiritual marvel to behold! Postmodernism, then, is modernism taking a quantum leap. Whereas the T800, James Cameron tell us, is a ‘human Panzer tank’, the T1000 is a ‘Porsche’.
There is a great deal of confusion about the formal definition of postmodernism. But Norman Denzin captures most of its features by pinning it down to the following terms:
a nostalgia, conservative longing for the past,
coupled with an erasure of the boundaries
between the past and the present; an intense
preoccupation with the real and its representation;
a pornography of the visible; the
cornmodification of sexuality and desire; a
consumer culture which objectifies a set of
masculine cultural ideals; intense emotional
experiences shaped by anxiety, alienation,
resentment, and a detachment from others.29
The most consistent feature of postmodernism is the infusion of reality with its reflections and images. In postmodernism, the image is the reality: the image not only imitates reality but reality transforms itself into the image. As Baudrillard notes, a postmodern society ‘only knows itself through the reflection that flow from the camera’s eye’. The cinema and television are its reality. Human beings thus become, in the words of Denzin, ‘voyeurs adrift in a sea of symbols’.
Orlando, Florida, provides us with both a distinction between modernity and postmodernism and gives us a good example of postmodernism in action. As is well known, the city is famous for its theme park based on contemporary films. The most celebrated is Disney World, a fantasy land based on Disney cartoons and other films, including The Magic Kingdom (which offers such delights as ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Peter Pan’s Flight’ and ‘The Mad Tea Party’), and Epcot where one can delight in a Star Wars-style 3D version of Michael Jackson as Captain EO and travel on a ‘Journey into Imagination’. Disney-MGM Studios offer, among other delights, ‘the Great Movie Ride’, ‘Star Tours’, ‘Superstar Television’ and ‘The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular’. At the Universal Studios, one can live through ‘Back to the Future’ films and experience ‘ET’s Adventures’. All this, of course, is standard modernity: Mickey Mouse has been pulling the crowds for over 60 years. And Disney World’s expansion into Europe (the Euro-Disney theme park near Paris is one-fifth the size of the city!) and in the not-too-distant future in Asia, signifies modernity in its usual expansionist mode.
But even in Disney World one can now experience rudimentary forms of postmodernism, particularly in the new ‘participation shows’. Thus on the ‘Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular’, visitors pretend to be extras along with actors who pretend to be extras on sets that pretend to be sets. However, for a real postmodern experience, one has to leave the theme parks and go outside into the city where one discovers that the whole city is a theme park. Orlando is developing, in the words of Time magazine, as ‘a community that imitates an imitation of a community’ which itself is a celluloid fantasy!30 Everything in the city, hotels, restaurants, shops, houses, golf courses are theme parks. Disney World’s ‘Main Street-USA’, which is designed deliberately to miniaturize the buildings is being rebuilt in a real community in Orange County. Indeed, Ava-Ion, Orange County, is a real community planning to live in a Disney World. There is also an Epcot inspired new town called Celebration. The trend is established; it will multiply. And that’s postmodernism.
The postmodern society is thus ‘a cinematic, dramaturgical production’. Films, television and advertisements are the agents which shape postmodernity. A fictional book in a fictional advertisement becomes real and ends up at the top of the bestseller list: Fly Fishing by
J. R. Hartley31 from the UK advertisement for Yellow Pages. Representation is everything; it is the stand-in for actual, lived experiences. The end-result is that in postmodernism all reality is staged and the real itself is judged against its counterparts in the cinema and video: all life becomes a theatre. As Denzin notes ‘the dramaturgical metaphors have not “only crept into everyday life” they have taken over it’.
For the non-West postmodernism presents a special challenge. Postmodernism replaces the metaphysics of modernity with the imagination of poetry. In postmodernism, the single binary oppositions such as truth/falsehood, certainty/doubt-which in modernity are used to reduce plurality and complexity of differences and distinguish between vocabularies of astronomy and astrology, chemistry and alchemy, science and religion-are abandoned in favour of a new way of talking, explaining and arguing which does not appeal to any allegedly metaphysical criteria beyond those of its own authorship. Thus postmodernism opens the door for the Other to enter as equal representatives of world cultures. However, postmodernism replaces the classical conceptual categories of modernity with a general and fast moving image of the ‘liberal utopia’-a replacement designed to reintroduce and redescribe pluralism. Whereas modernity marginalizes the Other, postmodernism seeks to hold all Others captive in its metaphors and narratives. Overall, it is much more seductive and powerful way of draining the Other of all its values, throwing back perceived images of Other’s bankruptcy, outmoded tradition, and appropriated history as reality and thus drowning it in a sea of confused imagery and meaninglessness.
We thus see that both modernity and postmodernity are engaged in an epic struggle for the soul of the Other. Their modes of operation may be different; but the goal is the same: universalization of Western liberal utopian thought and lifestyle. Modernity seeks universalization with a spirit identified with the notions of Enlightenment and the ambitions of 19thcentury political theory. Postmodernity hopes to overcome modernity and beat it at its own game with more seductive ideas, with much more potent and protean metaphors, with far more advanced technologies. The modern defines the postmodern; the postmodern defines the modern: as Denzin states, ‘in a constant dialectic, the future informs the present, the past defines the future, and the present reasserts its force over the past and the future’. The contemporary world is a product of this dialectic where the representations of both terminators spell death for all that is not the nonWest: the Other.
The result is a world based, not on a shared humanity, but on marginality and absorption, meaningless pluralism as well as cultural and racial differences. And, as Denzin notes, a new set of cool technologies (satellites, cable TV, teletext, videos and video players, fax machines, electronic mail), controlled by multinational corporations and state corporate structures, have made the universalization of modernity and postmodernism a matter-of-fact enterprise. A satellite communications network and a film, video and book distribution system connects the Western ‘North’ with the non-Western ‘South’; and the traffic is all one-way. Films, TV programmes (sitcoms, crime drama, family melodrama and soap operas), rock videos, fiction (‘serious’ and popular) articulate a set of popular cultural ideologies which value consumption, sexuality, appearance, mimicry, violence, the grotesque and, most important, caricature of the Other. These are marketed, distributed, sold to, and consumed by Third World and other non-Western audiences. The narratives and myths are further strengthened through local press, relying on a handful of Western news agencies and feature services. A very small number of stories are told and retold again and again, and contained and recontained within a handful of genre forms.
However, while modernity and postmodernity, with all their technological might, may manage to displace, fragment and even momentarily occupy Other cultures, the innate and powerful desire for meaning and identity in non-Western societies cannot be eradicated. It is the urge of every culture to be present to itself in a way that makes it self-confirming and self-propagating. It is this unfathomable urge-currently manifesting itself as ‘fundamentalism’, ‘nationalism’ and numerous other discourses of identity-with ‘presence’ as its prime value which forms the matrix of every idealism. The invincible forces of modernity and postmodernity are already beginning to encounter the immovable object of traditional idealism.
Tradition rides a strong will
Terminator 2 resolves the struggle of modernity and postmodernity by krlling both terminators. T1000 falls in molten iron and vaporizes, while pointing towards its head, the T800 announces: ‘there’s one more chip. And it must be destroyed also’. It volunteers to be terminated at the hands of Sarah Conner who, amidst the tears of John Conner, lowers the humanized T800 into the same molten iron. In the end, however, Terminator 2 opts for modernity, and pins its hope on the machine, which the narrative tells us, can be tamed. In the closing frames of the film, the future is presented as a highway at night. Sarah Conner’s voice-over reflects: ‘the unknown future rolls towards us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life maybe we can too!‘. This is, perhaps, all that one can expect Westernized, secular modernity to offer: faith in salvation through machines.
But Other cultures will produce their own forms of modernity simply because the will to survive is stronger than the will to power. As Giddens tell us,
Tradition is not wholly static, because it has to
be reinvented by each new generation as it
takes over its cultural inheritance from those
preceding it. Tradition not so much resists
change as pertain to a context in which there
are few separated temporal and spatial markers
in terms of which change can have any
All non-Western cultures will change and are changing. The issue for them is to change within meaningful boundaries, reformulate traditions into comtemporary configurations, rediscover their heritage in forms that empower and resist the onslaught of modernity and postmodernism. Contrary to popular belief, traditional cultures are not harking to some idealized or mythical past: a past that repackages them either as eco-saints or as extinct varieties. On the contrary, they obviously want to play an active part in history and it is that which makes their thought so contemporary. In its primary phase, the reassertion of traditional identity in the face of modernity and postmodernity appears archaic, unbearably serious, ridden with nostalgia even though it is pregnant with meaning. But that is only natural: when the pendulum swings it swings from one extreme to another. ‘Fundamentalism’, radical traditionalism, inward ethnicity-are all excessive reactions against ruthless modernity and mindless postmodernism, an extreme articulation of the will to distinct identity and survival. But it will be a different story when the pendulum comes to rest and radical reactions have paved the way for considered thought, action, resistance and genuine rediscovery. The immediate future may be an unearthly amalgam of modernity and postmodernism, but the long term outlook is not a function of the West’s enfeebled will to global selfaffirmation.
Notes and references
- Anthony Ciddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1990).
- Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial (Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 1990).
- Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1992).
- Norman Denzin, Images of Postmodern Society (London, Sage Publications, 1991).
- See Ziauddin Sardar, ‘Surviving the Terminator: the postmodern mental condition’, Futures, 22(2), March 1990,203-210.
- Peter Wollen, ‘Cinema/Americanism, The Robot’ in James Naremore and Patrick Brantlinger (editors), Modernity and Mass Culture (Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, 1991).
- Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (London, Michael Joseph, 1991).
- Marianne Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago,IL, University of Chicago Press, 1990).
- Kolakowski, op fit, reference 2, page 13. Giddens, op tit, reference 1, pages 18-19.
- Ibid, page 175.
- Ibid, page 145.
- Kolakowski, on cit, reference 2, page 23.
- J. M. Roberts; The Triumph of the West (London, BBC, 1985), page 9.
- Ibid, page 9.
- Ibid, page 431.
- Jean Baudrillard, America (London, Verso, 1988), page 123.
- Fukuyama, op cit, reference 3, page 48.
- Ibid, page 51.
- Ibid, page 126.
- Francis Fukuyama, ‘The end of history debate’, Dialogue, 89,199O; also National Interest, 18, Winter 1989/90:
- Francis Fukuyama, ‘The world against a family’, The Guardian, 12 September 1990.
- Francis Fukuyama, ‘End of history?‘, The Independent, 20 September 1989.
- For the nature of their ‘democracies’, see Steven Schlosstein, Asia’s New Little Dragons (Chicago, IL, Contemporary Books, 7991).
- See David Morris, ‘Free trade: the great destroyer’, fcoiogist, 20(5), September/October 1990, pages 190-195.
- For a detailed examination of the role of socialism in the contemporary world, see Robin Blackburn (editor), After the fall: The Failure of Communjsm and the Future of Socialism (London, Verso, 1991).
- See Ziauddin Sardar (editor), ‘Islam and the future’, Futures, Special Issue, 23(3), April 1991; and Ziauddin Sardar, lslamic Futures: The Shape of Ideas to Come (London, Mansell, 1985); see also Y. Y. Haddad, Contemporary Islam and the Challenge of History (Albany, NY, SUNY Press, 1982).
- See B. Cooper, The End of History: An Essay on Modern Hegelianism (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1984); see also M. A. Gillespie, Hegel, Heidegger and the Ground of History (Chicago, IL, Universitv of Chicago Press, 1984); and Hayden White, Tro&s of Discourse (Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).
- Denzin, op cit, reference4, page vii. Time, 27 May 1997.
- J. R. Hartley, F/y Fishing (London, Stanley Paul, 1991).
- Giddens, op cit, reference 1, page 37.