Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Good things happening in Taiwan

By David Pendery

Published in 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man had a significant impact on the political and social thinking at the time. Fukuyama’s thesis was that humanity had reached the “end” of its sociopolitical development, due to the then widespread adoption of free, liberal political orders and the fall of the USSR.

Democracy had, seemingly, supplanted any alternative political structures, including monarchical, authoritarian, fascist/totalitarian, communist/socialist, theocratic, aristocratic and absolutist (marginal theories like feminism, communitarianism or libertarianism are given short shrift in the book).

Free, liberal political philosophy was the endpoint of a universal, developmental history in which humanity had for centuries searched for the ideal polity to govern and justify itself.

Such essential ideas about the value of liberal political orders and freedom are relevant to life in Taiwan.

Taiwan is far from the oldest free, liberal democratic order in the world — it is one of the newer — but the essential ideas have become ingrained in the Taiwanese mind.

With the “end of [political] history” and the existence of the “last [political] man,” humans have found self-mastery and true sovereignty in their polities. In such a state, humans “are aware of their own true natures, and are able to fashion a political community that exists in conformity with those natures,” Fukuyama said.

I sense that Taiwanese feel exactly this.

At heart, Fukuyama’s thesis was that the “desire for recognition” — that is, recognition within one’s society of one’s humanity, basic human entitlements, dignity and worth, right to freedom and equality in relations — has led to the adoption of free, liberal politics, and this “motor of history,” would put an end to a “master/slave” mentality that had dominated political history for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Related to this was a given “violent battle” in which a person would be willing to risk their lives, proving “beyond any shadow of a doubt to themselves and to their fellows that they are free.” They were thus truly independent human beings.

The idea was hinted at by major liberal thinkers in the past like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, but was not established until Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel introduced it.

For Hegel, “an individual could not become self-conscious … aware of himself as a separate human being without being recognized,” Fukuyama said.

Taiwanese engaged in a contest like this from the late 1970s, when they launched a drive toward freedom and autonomy. Many Taiwanese indeed gave up their lives during this battle and many others their freedom — and this to say nothing of those who did the same during the long White Terror era.

Taiwanese have proven themselves worthy, and this has resulted in a free and independent polity, which grants each person recognition of their civic selves and self-command.

Related to this is the idea of human thymos, the ancient Greek term for “spiritedness,” the willingness to risk one’s life for better ends, and a given jealousy of one’s own and others’ dignity.

Thymos is the motivator for the search for, and ultimately the granting of, recognition in public life.

Here again we see a Taiwanese reality, and one senses that the people in this land, in a thymotic turn, grant each other recognition as decent human beings and are deferent to many different political beliefs. This might even be at the heart of the legendary genial, welcoming qualities of the Taiwanese.

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