"This is the end, beautiful friend — the end."I don't know if The Doors' lead singer, Jim Morrison, was a devotee of Hegel — I suspect his influences were more psychedelic — but he was onto something with that famous song that marked the end of a generation of parties.
Georg Hegel of course got there more than a century earlier. The German philosopher had his vision of the end in 1806 when he glimpsed the emperor Napoleon riding past after defeating the Prussians in the Battle of Jena.
To Hegel, Napoleon was the "world-spirit", his world domination marked the end of history.
Here was the golden age, humanity had reached its absolute.Of course, history did not end. But it does not mean we don't continue to seek it.
After the end of the Cold War, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously penned an essay (later a book) called The End of History.
Dr Fukuyama believed the absolute moment was the triumph of the West and liberal democracy over Communism in the late 1980s.
This was history's zenith; the superior power had won.
Dr Fukuyama's thesis was torn from the pages of Hegel.
It was rooted in the idea, as Hegel maintained, that "all human consciousness was limited by the particular social and cultural conditions of man's surrounding environment" — or as we say, by "the times".
History repeating itself with headlines of warWhat are our conditions today? What are these times we are living in?
Our headlines are of war or the threat of war. Our politics is divided. Inequality is rising. Terrorism is global. The climate is changing. Economic growth is anaemic or uncertain.
There is suspicion and fear in the air and demagogues only too willing to exploit it.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists — comprising some of the world's great minds — has moved the doomsday clock 30 seconds closer to midnight.
I have spent much of the year contemplating these "end times".
Just this day I pulled from my bookshelf a collection of tomes— written by respectable, intelligent, authors and thinkers — all forecasting doom.
Here are just some of the titles: Grave New World — The End of Globalisation and the Return of History; The End of the Asian Century; The Strange Death of Europe; After Europe; and How Will Capitalism End?
Are we living through our own apocalypse?Certainly, the world looks very different from the one Dr Fukuyama rushed to exalt three decades ago.
History did not end — it is back with a vengeance.
The post-Cold War world has been marked by a return of tribalism and nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism and a hankering for nostalgia.
Photo: Russia and China are exerting their influence in the space created by US uncertainty. (Reuters: Carlos Barria)
Globalisation — the free movement of goods and people — has created its own blowback: reimposed borders, suspicion of immigration, weakening faith in multilateralism.
These are the hallmarks of the new populism, exemplified in the Brexit vote or the election of Donald Trump.
Indeed the Trump presidency, with its slogan to "make America great again", raises questions about the role of United States as the ballast of the post-World War II global order.
It is still too soon, and the President himself too erratic, to draw any hard conclusions.Mr Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate accords and the Trans Pacific Partnership (which promised to be the world's biggest free trade agreement), yet he has also intervened in foreign issues; a military strike on Assad's Syria and threats to strike North Korea's nuclear program.
In the space created by US uncertainty, Vladimir Putin's Russia has exerted its influence and China's President Xi Jinping at the Davos conference in Switzerland earlier this year anointed himself the champion of a globalised world.
There are many spot fires that could so easily flare dangerously out of control.
North Korea is quickly developing the capacity to deliver a nuclear strike on countries as far away as the United States or Australia.
The South China Sea — the world's most crucial trade route — is heavily contested and a potential tinder box that could pit the world's biggest powers against each other.
The consequences of a war of this magnitude are frightening.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about this in an article that asked: "Are we sleepwalking to world war III?"
I quoted former Australian deference chief Admiral Chris Barrie, who said he feared for the future of his grandchildren.
A former Defence Force chief says in our lifetimes, our economy will be devastated, our land seized, our system of government upended.
He warned that Australia could be invaded in our lifetimes and it may already be too late to avoid it.
Others have described our own Asia region — the most heavily militarised in the world — as a tinderbox poised to explode.
To some strategists this is 1914 redux, when the "unthinkable" became the reality and a shot heard around the world — the assassination of the Habsburg heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand — sparked a global conflict.
Add to the trip wires of Asia, Middle East conflicts, terrorism, economic uncertainty and a lack of leadership, and the flashpoint appears closer than we might like to imagine.
Let's turn to those books on my bedside table.
How does Capitalism end? Scholar Wolfgang Streek surveys the arguments for and against capitalism's demise.
Contemporary capitalism, he writes, has "entered a period of deep indeterminancy".
We see this around us: growing inequality, sluggish growth, deindustrialisation; jobs are gone and they are not coming back.
Streek looks at the old safeguards that have protected capitalism from itself — creation of new jobs, expansion of markets, growth of finance, government employment, education — and fears those escape hatches may now be closed.
Capitalism's death, Streek writes, "can be imagined as death from a thousand cuts".
What may prolong capitalism, he argues, is that it "is not exposed to pressure from an alternative political-economic model".
What we are left with is a "long and indecisive transition, a time of crisis as the new normal".
Photo: North London neighbours Tony and Frank with their rival EU referendum banners before the Brexit vote in 2016. (Reuters: Neil Hall)
What about the end of Europe? The decision by British voters to leave the European Union (Brexit) for some foreshadows a death knell.
James Kirchick from the Foreign Policy Initiative describes it as "a slow unravelling".
Nationalist forces, he writes, are emboldened; the continent is gripped by economic crisis, hard-liners are on the rise.
Kirchick writes: "We are witnessing the end of Europe as we have known it … a place of peace, prosperity, cooperation, democracy, and social harmony."
He calls it the "European nightmare" and says the US is "looking the other way".
And yet, as an American, he says, his continent and Europe are linked in values and interests and in this there is a glimmer of hope: more young people are identifying as "Europeans" rather than their own nations.
What Europe needs, he says, is a revival of a "muscular liberal centre" — not turning away from a common Europe but turning towards it.
LiberalismThe crisis of liberalism lies at the heart of much of the contemporary angst.
In his book The Fate of the West, journalist Bill Emmott identifies a fracturing of trust and social cohesion that has traditionally been the source of the West's "evolutionary power and openness".
As he says, we now have "doubt about the rightness and sustainability of the open society itself".
Another journalist, Edward Luce, continues the theme in his book The Retreat of Western Liberalism.
Luce focuses on the backlash of the middle classes, the big losers — as he sees it — of globalisation.
These disaffected people, he argues, fuel Trump-style populism.
What does an obscure opera and a 19th century German philosopher tell us about the North Korean nuclear crisis? Everything.
But political scientist and commentator Fareed Zakaria has replied to Luce's book in an article in the New York Times.
Zakaria cautions us not to count liberalism out too soon, pointing to election victories by progressives in Europe and Canada and the historical resilience and ingenuity of the West.
He says we should focus on the success of individual countries in meeting their challenges rather than a sweeping, pessimistic view of history.
Zakaria himself, though, has been given to "end time" predictions.
He once wrote a book called The Post-American World, and concludes his latest article by saying we may now be living in a "post-American West".
The death of Europe, War in Asia, crumbling capitalism, retreating liberalism — this is the temper of the times.
The apocalyptic publishing boom means we cannot say we have not been warned.
There is another book, Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari.
Harari is an Israeli scholar who teaches a course on the history of everything.
His previous book Homo Sapiens was a sweeping take on the course of human progress.
Now he fears that progress is at an end.
Homo Sapiens, he warns, will go the way of the Neanderthals.
It will happen swiftly, we could be redundant as a species within 100 years.
Technology, he says, will spawn a new species — smarter, stronger and indestructible.
This is the synthesis of humans and robots.
We are poised to create an intelligence far greater than our own; a lose-lose scenario: Sapiens disappear.
The end of times, indeed.
When Hegel looked at Napoleon that is not at all what he could have imagined.