[Opinion] Philosophy at the ‘End of History’

Aziz Ali Dad

“The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.”

Martin Heidegger

Socrates defined the vocation of philosopher as shocking people of their mental habits, Plato thinks it as smashing of idols and Nietzsche described it as ‘diagnosis of the modern soul’ and its vivisection. Since everything is mutable, it is natural that institutions, values and ideas also change with the passage of time. On the contrary, our ideas, institutions and values get ossified when the society wallows in unquestionable satisfaction of its perfect order. In such a situation, the vocation of philosopher is to shock people from their amnesia about Being and subject everything to critical scrutiny. That is why Rober Zend says “Being a philosopher, I have problem for every solution.”

Conformism kills philosophical spirit. The dialectics that enables philosophy to push the boundaries of knowledge is the courage to question habits not only of society but of thinking. It is the questioning spirit of philosophers that propels history and societies forward. But this thesis faces serious challenge in our age with the proclamation of ‘The End of History’ by Francis Fukuyama. He is of the opinion that the triumph of liberal democracy over all other political systems is the end of history because there is no alternative ideology to liberalism. In the absence of an alternative ideology history cannot move forward. His pronouncement of the end of history is preceded by proclamations of death of God, author, nature and meta-narratives.

Here the question arises: what is the fate of philosophy in the end of history, in which the world has witnessed the world entering into liberal paradise? In such a situation it is difficult to shock society of its mental torpor. Fukuyama’s theory is buttressed by power of economic liberalization in which nobody is allowed to deviate; otherwise he/she will become pariah in modern system.

Today the global reach of liberal economy is such that it can dictate institutions that claim to promote culture, education and science in the world. Recently, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has withdrawn its support for World Philosophy Day events in Iran on the grounds that Iranian government has reportedly imposed new restrictions on the teaching of social sciences at universities. There is no gainsaying the fact that Iranian action is an attempt to stifle mind. But two wrongs do not make a right. Celebrating the event would have exposed the people to philosophical ideas of the world. It is the Iranian government that has to fear from such event. Unfortunately, UNESCO’s response is not dissimilar to Iranian government and the only persons who have to loss are Iranian people and intelligentsia. Withdrawing support to the event is tantamount to imposing intellectual embargo.

There are cogent reasons to oppose such moves by UNESCO. Commemorating World Philosophy Day in officially certified ‘Open Societies’ is like preaching to the converted. After the Iranian Revolution, famous French philosopher Michel Foucault favored it by declaring it a Dionysian revolt against rationality. Despite this we cannot blame Foucault to be an obscurantist. In fact he never ceased to be critical of the forces that marginalize weaker voices under the duress of structural violence. Unfortunately, there is no dearth of thinkers who justify even wars to fulfill the liberal mission of homogenizing culturally diverse world.

In the fin de siècle Frederick Nietzsche feared that the singularizing instinct of modernity would destroy the heterogeneous ways of life and thinking manifesting in different cultures and ideas. He said ‘Hitherto there have been a thousand goals, for there have been a thousand peoples. Only fetter are still lacking for these thousand necks, the one goal is still lacking.” Now Fukuyama has prepared single fetter in the shape of the End of History to yoke thousands of societies in liberal regime. After more than one hundred years Nietzsche’s fears come true. The new liberal order of the world order is forcing different societies around the world to come out of the dustbin of history and accept its monolithic vision.

If philosophers jump on the bandwagon of liberalism and liberally motivated decisions, then they are signing on the seal of the death of their respected vocation. The world is witnessing war, poverty, terrorism, ecological degradation and social disruption because the current institutions and ideas of liberalism cannot resolve inner contradictions of global capital and world system. The attempt to prescribe single way of life and answer to myriad existential dilemmas faced by individuals and societies is also a non-starter. Only radical questions about basic premises of modern political and economic system can save the world from perils of monolithic world and monomaniac mind at the end of history.

Philosophy’s vocation is to go against the tide and study a particular issue in holistic way. Contentment with existing order of things, shirking basic issues, bad faith and satisfaction with comfortable answers to complex questions heralds death of philosophy. The lovers of wisdom should not allow the dominant liberal ideology to include philosophy in the list of deaths that has been accumulating since the last decades of the 19th century.

Aziz Ali Dad is a social scientist hailing from Gilgit and is associated with a rights based organization in Islamabad. He studied social philosophy and English literature at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He can be reached

Source: ViewPoint

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One Comment

  1. Graduate students at the end of the 19th Century were urged away from careers in Physics. It was felt that after Maxwell’s discovery of the equations describing electromagnetism that our understanding of the physical universe was more or less complete and the tasks which remained better suited to accountants than brilliant theoreticians.

    Of course in hindsight 20th Century Physics was far from a banal accounting of rare phenomena. It was a circus of rudimentary and fantastical discoveries: that light can simultaneously be particle and wave, that the smallest units of existence defy discrete description, that a spherical implosion around fissile material can create a weapon to destroy the world…

    At the turn of this century, Physics remains one of the most active research programs despite 400 years of steady progress. The anointment of the superconducting supercollider in Europe presages yet further opportunities.

    The problem with predicting the ends of things is not that things don’t end. They do. Everything ends. Nothing lasts forever.

    Rather the problem is that something else always takes their place. That something else is never what we expect (for if it was, we would be ready for it).

    How banal to live at the end of history? Or how wonderful to live at the beginning of…?

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