Francis Fukuyama was wrong, and 2011 proves it.

By John Arquilla

A young couple wakes up to the morning sunshine after another night of camping at Sol Square on May 21, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. A growing number of angry Spaniards have, encouraged by youth groups and social media campaigns, taken possession of the Sol square setting it up with tents and kitchens ahead of Sundays regional and municipal elections held in Spain.

Where have all the leaders gone? So much has happened in 2011, but there is precious little evidence of world events being guided by a few great men and women. From the social revolution in Egypt’s Tahrir Square to the impact of the Tea Party on American politics, and on to the Occupy movement, loose-knit, largely leaderless networks are exercising great influence on social and political affairs.

Networks draw their strength in two ways: from the information technologies that connect everybody to everybody else, and from the power of the narratives that draw supporters in and keep them in, sometimes even in the face of brutal repression such as practiced by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Aside from civil society uprisings, this is true of terrorist networks as well. The very best example is al Qaeda, which has survived the death of Osama bin Laden and is right now surging fighters into Iraq — where they are already making mischief and will declare victory in the wake of the departure of U.S. forces.

The kind of “people power” now being exercised, which is the big story of the past year, is opening a whole new chapter in human history — an epic that was supposed to have reached its end with the ultimate triumph of democracy and free market capitalism, according to leading scholar and sometime policymaker Francis Fukuyama. When he first advanced his notion about the “end of history” in 1989, world events seemed to be confirming his insight. The Soviet Union was unraveling, soon to dissolve. Freedom was advancing nearly everywhere. Fukuyama knew there would still be occasional unrest but saw no competing ideas emerging. We would live in an age of mop-up operations, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq — for which he had initially plumped — and this year’s war to overthrow Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi. As Fukuyama noted in his famous essay, “the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world.” Read more…

John Arquilla is professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and a contributor to Foreign Policy. His latest book is Insurgents, Raiders and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on December 27, 2011.


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