(Alt. title: “Was the End of History Delayed but not Stopped? (Featuring Dragonlance)”)
Disclaimer: I do not support ISIS. I have consistently called for them to be destroyed, and have advocated the use of chemical and biological weapons against them, and I still do.
Around this time a year ago we were all wondering what would happen if IS wound-up winning on any of its numerous fronts. If they had succeeded in bringing down Assad would Jordan have followed? Would the Libyan insurrection have spread faster? It’s difficult to say, but IS certainly had a good go at it, they seized huge amounts of territory in a short period of time and captured the imagination of a generation of young Muslims.
But now things have turned against the would be global Caliphate. Boko Haram has been decisively strategically defeated in Nigeria; Assad has more or less beaten the other rebel groups and his long term victory seems assured; heavy coalition air bombardment and large numbers of troops from Iran have led to defeat after defeat in Iraq. While there are other fronts the Islamic State is fighting on, namely Libya and Afghanistan, the unwillingness to ally with ideologically similar groups has ensured IS doesn’t have the resources it needs to make much impact. In particular, in Afghanistan the Taliban has more or less crushed any attempt to expand the war to there. As I write this IS’s capital city of Ramada is under siege and there is little hope of relief.
The question is: what happens if IS is defeated? What is next for the world? While on the surface level the destruction of the single most evil organization in human history might appear to be a good thing, the unfortunate truth is that in the long run the destruction of IS may have as radical a change as its victory.
Islamism, like it or not, represents the last large-scale movement of resistance to post-modernity (at this moment at least) — the last force strong enough to challenge Liberal Democracy for the rulership of the earth.
For a time in the aftermath of the Arab Spring it seemed the age of Liberal Democracy had come to an end; Islamist governments were taking power everywhere, secular governments were falling like flies and ancient legal codes and governments were arising. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in particular seemed to signal some dynamism returning to the historical narrative, which has been on a straight line towards secular liberal democracy since the end of the French Revolution.
But the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in a coup, numerous Islamist movements have lost and IS appears to be bogged down and gradually losing ground. The question once again is “if IS loses, who is left to provide an alternative system to liberal democracy? What great world movement is strong enough?
Some might say China, but China is a country with problems of its own. The Communist government will fall someday one way or another and what replaces it will almost surely be another Liberal Democracy, whether that is today or tomorrow it matters not, China isn’t interested in grand ideological spiritual conflicts its only interested in what makes CHINA ECONOMY STRONG!!!
The rest of the third world? Contrary to what many might think the third world is almost as pozzed as the first. Globalism and liberal democracy have destroyed or are in the process of destroying virtually all traditional societies. Countries in Latin America that used to be religious and Conservative are enthusiastically embracing feminism, LGBTBBQ and atheism. This is being driven by the dominant economic, cultural and political position of the chief proponents of Liberal democracy, and all attempts to create rival systems such as Venezuela become dystopian hellholes like all nations run by Commies do.
South America will become just as liberal if not more so then the west in a generation; I see little that can prevent it at the moment. The only country I have any hope for in the third world is India, but it’s too early to see if the BJP is the last gleaming hope of India before it to swallows the kool aid.
The country most people like to LARP with is Russia, and to a lesser extent Poland and Hungary. They certainly represent the largest challenge to post-modernity and liberal democracy in the Western and semi-Western world.
Yet, I am skeptical. While Putin has done a great deal to demographically stabilize Russia and restore traditional values and national identity, Russia’s army is still largely a relic of the Cold War days and attempts to modernize it are bankrupting the country. Russia is almost entirely dependent on oil revenue and changes to the price of oil can devastate the national economy. Even if the birth rate is creeping back up, Russia is facing immense demographic challenges and I personally believe that between demographics, economics and the repeated failure of Putin’s projects to restore the Russian Empire, that Russia will not re-emerge as a super power.
So where does that leave us? ISIS as a last gleam of an old world that is rapidly fading from memory? The last global force that had a chance at opposing liberal democracy vanishing from history? With the death of Islamism, will we at last come to that Liberal Utopia “The End of History?” Perhaps. History is, after all, created and propelled by competing forces. That is one of the great ironies of man; that it is his struggle which ultimately gives him meaning and allows him to grow from a child to an adult.
After all, that was how God choose to let us grow as a species, to let us fall from a state of childlike innocence into a corrupt and depraved world, so that we would be purified in the fires of struggle, and come to a full adult’s faith and understanding instead of the shallow mindless of a child.
With the defeat of IS it appears we are headed for the Garden of Eden once more, but not the sort of perfect world that only God himself can create, no — a human-made one, where we live in eternal present tense separated from both past and future, deprived of any struggle that might make us grow and give our lives meaning.
I leave you with a passage from the Dragonlance book Test of the Twins, the last of the Time of the Twins trilogy. The trilogy details a wizard Raistlin’s dream in his arrogance to become a god himself. In the scene, we are shown a future where he wins, entering the abyss itself and devouring the gods of darkness. He faces the last opponent who can possibly challenge him: Paladine, the god of light. Raistlin, having devoured the darkness, devours the light as well and is left with a world in which history (as recorded by a literal immortal historian) comes to an end. The world’s creative energies are exhausted and anything that might restart them are dead, leaving only a world that will devour an increasingly small amount of energy and dynamism.
Sensing the black-robed figure within the Portal turning its gaze upon him, when he came to the end of a sentence, Astinus raised his eyes to meet the figure’s golden ones.
“As you were first, Astinus,” said the figure, “so shall you be last. When you have recorded my ultimate victory, the book will be closed. I will rule unchallenged.”
“True, you will rule unchallenged. You will rule a dead world. A world your magic destroyed. You will rule alone. And you will be alone, alone in the formless, eternal void,” Astinus replied coolly, writing even as he spoke.
Beside him, Par-Salian moaned and tore at his white hair. Seeing as he saw everything — without seeming to see — Astinus watched the black-robed figure’s hands clench. “That is a lie, old friend! I will create! New worlds will be mine. New peoples I will produce — new races who will worship me!”
“Evil cannot create,” Astinus remarked, “it can only destroy. It turns in upon itself, gnawing itself. Already, you feel it eating away at you. Already, you can feel your soul shrivel. Look into Paladine’s face, Raistlin. Look into it as you looked into it once, back on the Plains of Dergoth, when you lay dying of the dwarf’s sword wound and Lady Crysania laid healing hands upon you. You saw the grief and sorrow of the god then as you see it now, Raistlin. And you knew then, as you know now but refuse to admit, that Paladine grieves, not for himself, but for you.”
“Easy will it be for us to slip back into our dreamless sleep. For you, Raistlin, there will be no sleep. Only an endless waking, endless listening for sounds that will never come, endless staring into a void that holds neither light nor darkness, endless shrieking words that no one will hear, no one will answer, endless plotting and scheming that will bear no fruit as you turn round and round upon yourself. Finally, in your madness and desperation, you will grab the tail of your existence and, like a starving snake, devour yourself whole in an effort to find food for your soul.”
“But you will find nothing but emptiness. And you will continue to exist forever within this emptiness — a tiny spot of nothing, sucking in everything around itself to feed your endless hunger.” …
The Portal shimmered. Astinus quickly looked up from his writing, feeling the will behind those golden eyes waver. Staring past the mirrorlike surface, looking deep into their depths, he saw — for the space of a heartbeat — the very torment and torture he had described. He saw a soul, frightened, alone, caught in its own trap, seeking escape. For the first time in his existence, compassion touched Astinus. His hand marking his place in his book, he half-rose from his seat, his other hand reaching into the Portal…
Then, laughter … eerie, mocking, bitter laughter — laughter not at him, but at the one who laughed. The black-robed figure within the Portal was gone.
With a sigh, Astinus resumed his seat and, almost at the same instant, magical lightning flickered inside the Portal. It was answered by flaring, white light — the final meeting of Paladine and the young man who had defeated the Queen of Darkness and taken her place.
Lighting flickered outside, too, stabbing the eyes of the two men watching with blinding brilliance. Thunder crashed, the stones of the Tower trembled, the foundations of the Tower shook. Wind howled, its wail drowning out Par-Salian’s moaning.
Lifting a drawn, haggard face, the ancient wizard twisted his head to stare out the windows with an expression of horror. “This is the end,” he murmured, his gnarled, wasted hands plucking feebly at the air. “The end of all things.”
“Yes,” said Astinus, frowning in annoyance as a sudden lurching of the Tower caused him to make an error. He gripped his book more firmly, his eyes on the Portal, writing, recording the last battle as it occurred.
Within a matter of moments, all was over. The white light flickered briefly, beautifully, for one instant. Then it died.
Within the Portal, all was darkness.
Par-Salian wept. His tears fell down upon the stone floor and, at their touch, the Tower shook like a living thing, as if it, too, foresaw its doom and was quaking in horror.
Ignoring the falling stones and the heaving of the rocks, Astinus coolly penned the final words.
As of Fourthday, Fifthmonth, Year 358, the world ends.
Then, with a sigh, Astinus started to close the book.