In an era of unrelenting bad news, where the most visible current scientific advance had to do primarily with a black hole, let me offer a hopeful report. Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor, makes the point that one man can make a serious difference. Without Churchill taking a stand in 1940 against almost all his British government colleagues, who wanted to cut a deal with Hitler so they could hopefully stay out of a war, Johnson shows us why at the end of the conflict, western Europe would have been in Nazi hands. Note that FDR had promised not to let the U.S. get dragged into the war. Without Churchill, it doesn’t look as if that would have happened either.
Beyond that, Anthony Pagden in The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters and Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man both argue that history seems to be taking a promising direction: authoritarian and dictatorial governments are failing around the world and being replaced by liberal democratic systems. It still has a way to go, but it’s clearly happening.
Fukuyama presents a chart showing that, in 1790, only three democratic governments existed in the world, Switzerland, France, and the United States. Fukuyama’s book was published in 1992, and his chart indicates that by 1990, the numbers of democracies had increased to 61. Today, that number has risen to 123 out of 192 countries on the planet. That means better lives not only for the people living in those countries but also, if the experts are right in maintaining that democratic nations are far less likely to go to war against each other, we may be headed into a brighter future than we’d expected.
In case anyone’s wondering, that’s the significance of Fukuyama’s title. The end of history effectively arrives when wars stop.