In 1989, American political scientist Francis Fukayama published a landmark essay, “The End of History”. The Soviet Union was in collapse and the United States was the undisputed single world Super Power. The Cold War was over. Fukayama observed this outcome and concluded that because people were naturally attracted to value creation and classical liberal values such as property rights and freedom of speech, authoritarian regimes would pull towards liberalization. This was the historical inevitability he perceived that was so much different than the one articulated by Marx and Engels in the 19th century.
Fast forward to the coronavirus. This is how I believe that this pandemic started, and how it came to spread around the world. I believe that COVID-19 was man-made. I believe that it originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. I believe that it escaped by accident. Once that occurred, the Communist Chinese government did everything in its power to contain the virus’ spread within its own borders, while it was indifferent to the contagion being released to the rest of the world. This seems to me to be the explanation that best conforms to the objective facts that most of us agree with. Yes, it is a harsh interpretation, but life itself is harsh.
The question is then: Why would a sovereign state act that way? Why wouldn’t the Chinese government do everything in its power to stamp out the virus? Perhaps the ruling elite in that country never bought into the “end of history” thesis.
Twenty-five years ago, it was virtually impossible to go into a Walmart store and find something that had been manufactured in China. Walk up and down the aisles today: It’s virtually impossible to find something that is not manufactured in China. And the West profoundly misinterpreted this economic development.
The belief was that as China grew, it would become more and more like us in every way. China had embraced free enterprise and championed private property rights. On the coat-tails of those economic developments other liberal values would flourish: Freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the right to protest. What we would see would be akin to the relationship between the United States and the European Union countries. Yes, there would be conflicts – this is part of the human condition – but ultimately there would be broad agreement around classic Western liberal values.
However, what this overlooked was that there is a third path between the Soviet Union model of a centrally planned economy and a strict authoritarian regime, and the United States free enterprise model coupled with strong individual rights. The third path is a quasi-free enterprise model combined with a strict authoritarian regime. This seems to be the path that China is following. And when I see the political and social chaos that is roiling the United States right now, it could well be that one generation from now, a new “End of History” essay could proclaim that the Chinese model is the one of the future.