"The direction of history here and now, and for the foreseeable future, is neither toward liberalism nor toward any alternative, but rather away from order of any kind. Ours is an age of entropy."

Americans and other westerners have long been accustomed to thinking that history has a clear direction. Sometimes the direction is contested, as it was during the Cold War. The future could have been capitalist or communist, or perhaps a blend of both systems — ‘convergence’ was a trendy notion for a time — but one way or another the alternatives were clear.

After the Cold War, there were no alternatives. Capitalism, democracy and liberalism were here to stay, and soon they would be everywhere else too. All the Islamic world needed if it was to join us at the end of history was a nudge: regime change would speedily bring about social and economic change. In China, on the other hand, economic change would be the catalyst for regime change, as integration into the world market inevitably led to political liberalization.

Now, for the first time in nearly 75 years — if not far longer — history is directionless. Our attempt to force the evolution of the Islamic world toward liberalism failed. Nor has the supposedly natural softening influence of trade brought democracy to China. Formerly communist nations that seemed poised to take up the values of the West after the Cold War have instead moved in directions that enlightened westerners today find profoundly illiberal.

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