#1 National Bestseller
Part of the CBC Massey Lectures Series
In 1989, as the Berlin Wall crumbled and the Cold War dissipated, the American political commentator Francis Fukuyama wrote a famous essay, entitled “The End of History.” Fukuyama argued that the demise of confrontation between Communism and capitalism, and the expansion of Western liberal democracy, signalled the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural and political evolution, the waning of traditional power politics, and the path toward a more peaceful world. At the heart of his thesis was the audaciously optimistic idea of “progress” in history.
But a quarter of a century after Fukuyama’s bold prediction about transcending the struggles of the past, history has returned. The twenty-first century has not seen unfettered progress toward peace and a single form of government, but the reappearance of trends and practices many believed had been erased: arbitrary executions, attempts to annihilate ethnic and religious minorities, the starvation of besieged populations, invasion and annexation of territory, and the mass movement of refugees and displaced persons. It has also witnessed cracks and cleavages within Western liberal democracies, particularly as a result of deepening economic inequality — at levels not seen since the end of the nineteenth century.
The Return of History both illustrates and explains this return of history. But it also demonstrates how the reappearance of acts deemed “barbaric” or “medieval” has a modern twist. Above all, it argues that the return of history should encourage us all to remember that our own liberal democratic society was not inevitable and that we must all, as individual citizens, take a more active role in its preservation and growth.
Welsh's book, part of the CBC's erudite Massey Lecture Series, is insightful, frighteningly timely, and highly accessible. With four broad, well-examined analyses of the rise of ISIS, global displacement and refugee crises, the resurgence of the Cold War, and growing institutional inequality in the West Welsh (At Home in the World) refutes political scientist Francis Fukuyama's premature 1989 declaration of the triumph of Western liberal democracy and advent of global peace. Welsh's impressive body of published geopolitical and international relations commentary and work as an adviser to the U.N. Secretary General make her the ideal writer to do so. Her astute, concise observations and wealth of knowledge in her field let her frame an argument for eschewing complacency and a cogent, extremely well annotated call to arms. Her central thesis can, perhaps, best be espoused by this line from "The Return of Mass Flight" section: "Narratives of fear are crowding out our humanitarian obligations." But despite the dire, and apt, nature of her warnings, Welsh recommends hope and action: "Draw attention to injustice... demand greater equality... stand up for fairness." She skillfully answers realpolitik questions with a seamless, finely honed argument deserving of broad readership and study.