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Undue influence? Does the ‘End of History’ still have too much say in our policy making?

When released in 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” championed the triumph of Western capitalist liberal democracy over global autarchy with the idea coming to permeate the academic and policy-making class across the West, Australia included. But today, the world is vastly different and it doesn’t really seem like we have adjusted our thinking.

When released in 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” championed the triumph of Western capitalist liberal democracy over global autarchy with the idea coming to permeate the academic and policy-making class across the West, Australia included. But today, the world is vastly different and it doesn’t really seem like we have adjusted our thinking.

As the Soviet flag was lowered from above the Kremlin for the final time on Christmas night of 1991, triumph, optimism, and excitement swept across both the former Soviet world and the victorious Western world alike.

The consolidation of the US-led liberal, democratic, and capitalist world order that emerged in the dying days of the Second World War now extended the promise of truly American values like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the whole world, all backed by economic opportunity and a golden age of peace and prosperity.


Capitalising on this ultimate triumph, US academic and author Francis Fukuyama presented the idea of “The End of History” in the book of the same name, which championed an idea that humanity had reached, “not just ... the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: That is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.

At the same time, as the world was coming to grips with a now monopolar world, dominated by the United States, the global economy was undergoing the most dramatic transformation arguably since the beginning of the industrial revolution, as globalisation rapidly transformed many across the developing world into economic and industrial titans in their own right.

Spearheading this charge was the People’s Republic of China, a newly independent India, Vietnam, and a host of other nations across the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, South America, and parts of Africa eager to reap the benefits of the capitalist world.

Meanwhile, the once great Russia limped along for a period during the Yeltsin years, only to welcome a new tsar under Vladimir Putin who kicked off the new millennium with an ambition to rebuild, reinvigorate, and consolidate Russia, bringing the nation into a new golden age.

All seemed to be travelling pretty well for this new global order, for the most part. Peace and prosperity flourished despite periodic crises across Africa and southern Europe requiring an intervention, luring may leaders, academics, and those across the broader policy-making community into the “End of History” theory and the promise of a “peace dividend”.

This period of optimism was all shattered on the morning of 11 September 2001 as hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, bringing the Western world into direct conflict with radical Islam once again across the Middle East and Central Asia.

All the while, Mao’s revolutionary China – now led by a burgeoning emperor, Xi Jinping – and Putin’s Russia watched the adventurism, hubris, and at certain points, hubris of the US-led Western world while embracing and learning the lessons of the Western world’s approach to modern warfare, influence operations, economics, and industrialising at breakneck speed.

It wasn’t until nearly three decades later that the mask would truly slip as Putin’s Russia began its expansion in central Asia, beginning with Georgia and South Ossetia before turning its attention to Ukraine, first in 2014, and again in 2022.

Meanwhile, China was rapidly expanding its military capabilities and its presence throughout the region, actively posing an ever-increasing threat to the peace, prosperity, and stability that had characterised the preceding decades.

For Australia, a nation that has historically depended upon the benevolence, capacity, and willingness of a “great and powerful friend” for its own security, the shattering of our long holiday from history has been relatively well known, at least as far back as the early-2010s, yet little has appeared to have changed.

Like a frog in slowly boiling water: The land down under is a land of slumber

Against a backdrop of relative peace and tranquility over the last five decades, it is easy to see why Australia has been relatively slow to respond to the emerging challenges of this new era of great power competition.

Yes, we have had the major Defence white papers since 2009, culminating in 2023’s Defence Strategic Review, the 2012 Asian Century White Paper, and a host of other reports seemingly designed to identify the challenges and opportunities Australia faces, chart a path forward, communicate it with the Australian people and, most importantly, implement it.

Yet despite this, Australia and the Australian people have remained largely complacent, happy to rest on the laurels of economic reforms of the late-1980s and early-1990s, China’s voracious appetite for our raw resources and agricultural produce and, of course, the steadily rising property prices all backed by the seemingly endless benevolence and capacity of the United States to guarantee our peace, prosperity, and security.

One can hardly blame the Australian public for being complacent, after all, the last time the nation came under true, direct attack was during the Second World War, well beyond the lived memory of most Australians and, broadly speaking, the economy has been stable, growing (at least for the most part), so what more could we possibly want?

This approach was fine while the world remained benevolent and Australia’s “great and powerful friend”, the United States, remained the undisputed and unchallenged global hegemon.

As previously discussed, we know that was never really the case, and the water is rapidly approaching boiling point, all the while Australia continues to swim around seemingly without noticing the rising temperature.

Nowhere is this clearer than in both Australia’s approach to policy making (across the spectrum of public policy) especially when coupled with the attitude and response of the Australian public towards the rapid deterioration of the global environment.

Whether it comes to repeated reports and studies that reveal the steady and continued decline in our national industrial and manufacturing base, an economy geared towards the easiest and quickest path to wealth, mounting domestic political and intergenerational polarisation and conflict hindering national cohesion, and a willingness to define and defend our interests.

Simply put, it appears as though both our leaders and the Australian people are asleep at the wheel, largely because we wholeheartedly bought into and continue to believe in the myth that is the End of History”.

Breaking the hold of the End of History” paradigm means waking from our long-term slumber which now becomes a matter of paramount importance, lest we find ourselves in a similar position to which we found ourselves at the outbreak of war in 1939.

Final thoughts

Despite the rhetoric and lofty ambition highlighted by both sides of the political debate, this all paints a fairly gloomy picture for the average Australian, no matter the demographic group in which they fall, but especially the younger generations.

Declining economic opportunity, coupled with the rapidly deteriorating global and regional balance of power and the increased politicisation of every aspect of contemporary life, only serves to exacerbate the very reality of disconnection, apathy, and helplessness felt by many Australians.

This attitude is only serving to be compounded and creates a growing sentiment that we are speeding towards a predestined outcome, thus disempowering the Australian people and, to a lesser extent, policymakers as we futilely confront seemingly insurmountable challenges with little to no benefit and at a high-risk/reward calculation.

Taking into account the costs and implications, it is therefore easy to understand why so many Australians, both in the general public and within our decision-making circles, seem to have checked out and are quite happy to allow the nation to continue to limp along in mediocrity because, well, it is easier than having lofty ambitions.

If both Australian policymakers and the Australian public don’t snap out of the comforting security blanket that is the belief in the End of History”, the nation will continue to rapidly face an uncomfortable and increasingly dangerous new reality, where we truly are no longer the masters of our own destiny.

All of this combines to form a rather confronting and disconcerting outcome for our long-term national security and one that requires remedying immediately if Australia is to be positioned to capitalise on the truly epoch-defining industrial, economic, political, and strategic shifts currently underway across the globe.

After all, how can we ask and reasonably expect Australians, particularly young Australians, to put the national interest ahead of their own when the nation doesn’t seem to account for their own interests, particularly when taken to the end of its logical extension, the national interest is at its core, the individual’s interest?

Ultimately, Australia and Australians face these two concurrent yet interconnected challenges, which stand as the greatest challenges of our age, so which way, Australia?

Do we want to be competitive, consequential and thriving, or do we want to be “steady and sturdy” in our managed decline?

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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