(THE END OF THE "END OF HISTORY" ILLUSION?)
Although I have been writing for decades about apocalyptic dangers,
even I was shocked by the American tragedy of September 11th. It
touched me very personally as well because a part of my family,
including my grandson who was born just three weeks earlier, lives
right on Manhattan.
Here in the U.S. not only the short term but also the long term
"awakening of America" is constantly invoked. Few are those, however,
who take a radical approach and draw radical conclusions.
Prior to that attack, many in the United States and beyond truly
believed in Fukuyama's thesis about the "end of history". As we know,
more than a decade ago he expressed in Hegelian language the
conviction that the triumph of the West over communism secured the
democratic-capitalist culmination of history, which would further
develop, alongside more or less unsuccessful opposition, exclusively
along the lines of that paradigm. Will "Fukuyamists" today
acknowledge the end of that illusion of "post-history"?
Surely, Hiroshima and Nagasaki already heralded the possibility of the
self-annihilation of humanity. By means of a radically new,
self-apocalyptic capability, mankind initiated an absolute about-face
in its history. Today even apocalyptic means are globalized. The
extent of the tragedy in the U.S. can easily mislead: still it was an
attack by conventional and not apocalyptic means. It's surprising that
in the shock of great human and material loss, allegedly without
precedent, few are those who recall the incomparably greater Japanese
tragedy. Why, from the collapse of the Soviet Union until September
11th, was the world lulled into believing that apocalyptic danger had
All our fundamental concepts, institutions and practices were created
and developed before the self-apocalyptic turn. In order for mankind
to be spared, a new, anti-apocalyptic way of thinking, feeling and
acting is called for.
The prevailing negative, competitive understanding and exercise of
power constitutes a good example of this unmet need. At issue is the
"zero sum game," tug-of-war concept and practice of power: one attains
only that degree of power that is lost by others. I do not believe
that humankind has a future if it does not unite in avoiding a
self-apocalypse, but that presupposes a change to a positive,
collaborative conceptualization and application of power.
The U.S. was misled by the notion of a superpower that suggests
invulnerability, almost omnipotence. For that reason, in my opinion,
it is more accurate to speak of the U.S. as a single global power,
since its power possesses planetary reach. Nonetheless, in order to
bear in mind the relativity of even its power, it is useful to
introduce the category of apocalyptic power, be it total or partial.
That would of course include Russia, China, Great Britain, France,
Israel, India, Pakistan. . . However, the greatest innovation now is
that, aside from nation states, apocalyptic power can be accessed as
well by non-governmental groups and organizations. For that reason I
have, since long ago, applied the term of apocalyptic terrorism.
Since, presumably, Americans too have realized that their fate can no
longer be secured in isolation from that of the rest of the world, I
hope that from now on U.S. presidents will link their yearly message
of “The State of the Union" with that of “The State of Humanity."
Another example of the inadequacy of existing conceptions is that of
great religions. I know not a single one of them that could, without
destructive self-contradiction, incorporate the possibility, much less
the likelihood, of the self-annihilation of the human race. Christians
would, say, have to acknowledge that humankind, itself divine creation, can usurp from the hands of the Creator the power of the Final Judgment. That would be the absolute, definitive sin. That is why, twenty years ago in a public discussion with me in Washington DC, the French theologian J.H. Calvez acknowledged that he was unable as a Christian to admit the self-apocalyptic possibility and that, accordingly, what was left to him was solely the firm hope and faith that the Lord would not allow us to do this.
Secular morals and legal systems are no more than religious and theocratic ones capable of confronting that which I call apocalyptic dilemmas. It has long been easy to envision a statesperson who is notified of the threat of a terrorist attack by, say, biological means, from some corner of the world, and can only by means of a preventive apocalyptic attack save tens of millions of lives, although at the cost of numerous no-less-innocent victims. The US president's order to destroy planes that may eventually fall again into suicide-terrorist hands is mere "child's play" in comparison with such apocalyptic situations and decisions.
I have said that all our fundamental institutions and activities as well are not up to the self-apocalyptic potential of humanity. It is common knowledge that there is a growing, global gap between rich and poor, the comfortably populated and over-populated, the centrally positioned and marginalized, the educated and uneducated, those with very long and those with very short life expectancy, the main ecological polluters and their victims…That gap exists as well within many countries. Nevertheless, in terms of power that gap is now largely
relativized since the poor, over-populated, marginalized, uneducated,
those with short life expectancy, ecological victims…can access
apocalyptic means and begin using them e.g. to blackmail others.
Enlightened egoism, if not humanism, should motivate the more
fortunate part of humanity to undertake as soon as possible a
voluntary radical redistribution of goods, benefits, wealth.
The major issue is whether in the final analysis it is in fact
possible to do so without establishing some kind of world
(con)federal government. Without it, how can we successfully resist
the danger of apocalyptic conflicts of nationalisms, chauvinisms,
religionisms, civilizationisms, and other collective identitisms?
It is unfortunate that many in the U.S., at least up until the
September 11 tragedy, disparaged the United Nations, although the
latter probably constitutes the only possible embryo of a "new world
order," whose fundamental goal and task must be the battle for the
survival of humanity. One should wholeheartedly welcome that the Bush
administration has, by launching a "world anti-terrorist coalition,"
begun in practice to abandon its sovereignistic and unilateralistic
The author is Professor Emeritus both in Yugoslavia and the U.S. This text was first published in Serbian in the Belgrade daily “Politika” October 17, 2001 and is included in the forthcoming book by the same author entitled “Democratic Revolution in Serbia in the International Context”, Humanities Books/Prometheus, Amherst NY. (All rights reserved by the author who can be contacted at: STOJANOV@INSTIFDT.BG.AC.YU)