Lecture 5: The Return of Inequality
In his 1989 essay The End of History? American thinker Francis Fukuyama suggested that Western liberal democracy was the endpoint of our political evolution, the best and final system to emerge after thousands of years of trial and error. Fukuyama seems to have been wrong: our recent history -- filled with terrorism and war, rising inequity and the mass flight of populations -- suggests that we've failed to create any sort of global formula for lasting peace and social equity. In the 2016 CBC Massey Lectures, Jennifer Welsh explores how pronouncements about the "end of history" may have been premature. **This episode originally aired November 4, 2016.
"George Kennan, a key architect of the West's strategy for containing the old Soviet Union, was equally concerned about domestic policy, and the condition of American democracy. The 'greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism', he wrote 'is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.' ... Liberal democracy endured and eventually triumphed over communism, much as Kennan hoped. But seventy years on ... there are strong reasons to believe that Kennan would be alarmed at the current state of the American polity, and with the condition of democracy in the West more generally."
There's a myth that great wealth enables our economies to grow, but wealth can actually stand in the way of economic development; inequity can slow us down. Fairness lies at the heart of liberal democracy, and in the face of unfairness, we rebel. Unfairness makes us work less hard to create a good society- why should I work hard, what's in it for me? Economic inequality inevitably translates into political inequality, which is not what we thought we were working towards.
**Please note: The 2016 CBC Massey Lectures are available to stream online until Tuesday, August 29. After this date they will be available for purchase on iTunes only.
- Read more about the 2016 CBC Massey Lectures
- The Return of History by Jennifer Welsh is published by House of Anansi