In Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay “The End of History”, he expounded that history ended in 1806 with the defeat of the Holy Roman Empire by Napoleon at the Battle of Jena. His reasoning was that this was the moment Enlightenment ideas in politics had crossed the point of no return and would remain the foundation of Western politics thenceforward. After that, it was merely a matter of resolving the contradictions with the liberal ideal. In other words, extending liberalism to the non-propertied, non-male, non-white, and so on.
The end of history is untrue for a number reasons in so being an end of history, per se. Fukuyama was eerily accurate as to many things in the near future in that essay and, as far as political predictions go, I count it as among the best although political predictions are famously inaccurate so that’s not a high bar to surpass. My question is not whether history is going to end and major conflict will be no more. That’s not happening. Yet, when does liberalsm resolve its final contradiction? What is the last rights movement in liberalism before liberalism is finished evolving?
Liberalism may be declining but shall remain a major ideology for generations to come and perhaps as long as human society persists. So whether or not liberalism conquers all competitors or is the final stop on the journey to social progress is beside the point. And macro politics is not a dichotomy between liberalism and illiberalism because one can have a fully realized liberalism in tandum with other political philosophies such as an Aristotelian civism with Rawls’s “theory of justice” (minus Rawls’s “thin-good”). Just not a philosophy that is illiberal.
What is the final rights movement before questions of rights are settled and progressives can move on to other questions of political philosophy? I would argue that the mental health and neurodiversity movements are the final in the series of rights movements. It is the final extension needed to complete liberalism. Naturally, it would be the last since it is the least superficial and is invisible. It is also the last Hegelian synthesis of liberalism.
Its immediate predecessors in the rights movements were third-wave feminism, anti-racism, and LGBT acceptance. With them came vigilantism and harsh retribution for any slight. Cancel culture and the excesses of the #metoo movement. For all they gained in their years of dominance, they present a contradiction with the liberal ideal and that is tolerance of behavioral deviance. One cannot have vigilantism against minor trangressions and be an ally of mental health conditions.
So, it will force a degree of forgiveness and the finding of other means than punitive measures and vengeance to accomplish their social justice goals. That synthesis, I believe, is the final evolution of liberalism. The COVID pandemic has sped up that process and I believe that it is not too long before liberalism has finished evolving. When that happens, liberalism will look fairly different. Very different. It no longer will have the same fire and brimstone it had since it will be forced to help people that offend it. For example, if you’re working with homeless veterans then you can’t rage about sexual harassment. The progressives are going to use positive reinforcement and medical treatments and mostly abandon the rage tactics they’ve been using. With that and every other issue.
In the prior paragraph, I conflate the political left with classical liberalism but in the contemporary context, they are synonamous since the political right is fundamentally and nearly universally illiberal, right now. So, classical liberalism will be a political faction divided between social democrats and neo-Keynesians opposed to illiberal ideologies and it will look very different once the mental health movement has won most of its victories. That will be COVID’s effect on the development of liberalism.