In the last decade of the twentieth century a well-known American Professor wrote an historical survey in which he made a startling comment that we had reached “the end of history”. On the face of it the statement was absurd, but what he was seemingly trying to convey was that we had reached a stage of development in the Western world and in America in particular in which the democratic process had come to fulfilment and that there was little more to develope except for America to export it across the world – in other words the historical period for the development of the state of democracy was at an end. He was, of course, writing at a time when American hubris was at a very high level. The USA was the undisputed leading power in the world, both in military terms and in economic terms; it was the intellectual and business leader; politically it was dominant, with the United Nations and the World Trade Centre both centred in New York. It was a fitting climax to the twentieth century which had historically really been the “American Century”; the USA had come from out of its isolationist background, had been involved in two World Wars and had been pre-eminent in re-settling the nations after those wars. It had prevailed in the highly dangerous “Cold War” with the USSR, and the Soviet Union had, it seems, turned a corner and was heading for a democratic renewal.  China, it is true, was making an increasingly loud noise but was still largely “off stage” internationally.

All this hubris received a chilling rebuff as the twenty-first century turned. The huge event which marked this rebuff was the 9/11 terrorist event in New York itself. This was an appalling blow to pride – a handful of terrorists hitting the epi-centre of power! The response betrayed the prevailing hubris. The strategic thinking in the White House was the neo-conservative concept of “regime” change by means of the vastly superior military power of the USA. Democracy would be exported but, if necessary, by force. It would be essentially a simple process – the ruling arbitrary powers of nations that colluded with terrorism would be deposed by a quick superior military strike, and opportunity would be given for the people to have a democratic resurgence. It was unbelievably naïve, but it went ahead in the Middle East and has left a legacy of devastating chaos out of which anything but “democracy” has emerged. Along with the economic debacle of 2008, it has also left a legacy of appalling national debt in the USA.

Rather than the growth of the democratic process that this well-known historian had predicted the present century has seen instead a development of arbitrary and ruthless autocratic power which has brought much uncertainty. When the “Arab Spring” began there was much hope that this might bring real “democratic” progress. Sadly hopes have been disappointed and have withered in the disillusionment of seeing arbitrary, military-style rule and violent rule take over, even in a country such as Egypt. As the twentieth century finished Russia had seemed to be far less malign than it had been, but nearly two decades into the present century its resurgent malignity is evident for all to see; it is flexing its muscles throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East and has reverted very much toward its totalitarian past. The Kremlin has chosen to sponsor the Syrian autocratic ruler and has established virtual control over that nation. Most recently Turkey has come under a President who is clearly bent on establishing autocratic power, using a referendum as his opportunity, and his relationship with the Kremlin is growing stronger. Europe itself has seen strong surges of discontent with government behaviour and presents real political strain. The times in which we live are times of “shaking”. They are times when we need to be alert.

Trying to “read” history and its probable outcome is a very dangerous business no matter how intellectually gifted we may be. One thing only remains certain: the biblical lesson from history is that God rules it, he raises up nations and takes them down, he blesses the righteous and judges the ungodly. The nations that boast in their own achievement are always in danger of being humiliated. And God has his own end indeed for history, and that is when he has gathered a full measure of redeemed people for his new creation and is ready to launch the next.


Bob Dunnett

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