on June 3, 2003
After 9-11, it became easy to make fun of "The End of History and The Last Man". The book's title suggested to some a triumphant valedictory for liberal democracy, and yet the epitome of liberal democratic values -- the West -- was now mired in another seemingly endless struggle. Especially for those who never read the work, the phrase "the end of history" became something one only said with scorn. Cynics felt obligated to point out that one more philosophy of the world had fallen into the meat grinder of history, never to be seen again.
But this book still has relevance in the post 9-11 world. Despite the vulgarization of its title, Fukuyama did not predict an end to conflict. What's more, he also did not cast the future in an unremittingly optimistic light. In some ways his themes -- particularly in the second half of the book when he focuses on the Nietzschean concept of The Last Man -- are decidedly darker than even keen reviewers of the work have noted. Liberal democracy may have triumphed, but its victory had costs for the collective psyche of its denizens.
"The End of History and The Last Man" came out in the wake of the fall and breakup of the Soviet Union. With the collapse of global communism, Fukuyama claimed the fundamental values of liberal democracy and market capitalism were now unchallenged. What's more, no other ideologies on the horizon appeared attractive or effective enough to usurp them -- ever. Yes, some countries or regions might fall under the sway of an ideology (Islamic fundamentalism) or a cultural conceit (Asian values), but too much of the globe now accepted that societies should be organized under the principles of liberal democracy and market capitalism for there ever to be a major reversal in its fortunes around the world. Thus, ideological conflict on a global scale was over. And so history -- in the Hegelian sense of the clash of competing ideologies -- was over as well.
What kind of man would this post-historical world create? Fukuyama explores this in the second half of the book - a section I feel is neglected by too many readers. Here, Fukuyama shifts his conceptual lens from the philosophy of Hegel and its focus on ideological conflict as the motor of history to the psychological insights of Friedrich Nietzsche. Having used Hegel to show how history might be ending, he now uses Nietzsche to show how empty and meaningless this ending might become. We have reached the end of the history, Fukuyama claims, but Nietzsche shows how unsatisfying that endpoint is. What happens when men are all recognized as equal and the struggle for everything except the accumulation of more material goods is over? What will they value?
"The End of History and The Last Man" and its themes will outlast its critics. 9-11 did not restart history, because Islamic fundamentalism does not represent the same serious ideological competitor that was once represented by communism. (It's highly doubtful that even a majority of Muslims desire it, and whatever the case in the Muslim countries, it's certainly true that its attractiveness is strictly limited to those of the Islamic faith.) This beautifully written book weaves different strands of philosophy, international relations, and political science into a brilliant argument that overwhelms simplistic criticisms of it. There are weak points to Fukuyama's arguments in the book - some of which he addressed himself later in his career - but few recognize them. The book still deserves a careful reading. Serious political and social commentators will be dealing with its arguments for some time.
on September 17, 2002
"The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama has an apocalyptic-looking cover and a title that needs explication. But the book is not a doomsday scenario, quite the contrary, as the explanation of the title will show.
Fukuyama, who is Bernard Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, published this work of political philosophy in 1992, and in it, he explains in a logical, well-considered progression why he believes that liberal democracy is the final resting point of progressive history, but that that very liberal democracy can render humanity as less than what it could be - comfort seeking, self-involved, "men without chests."
The book, which could be subtitled "I Love Hegel and Why You Should, Too," builds on Hegel's idea that there is a Universal, progressive History. This is to what Fukuyama is referring when he says that History has reached its end; he doesn't mean that nothing else will happen, but that the progression of History toward a universally beneficial system of government has culminated in liberal democracy. He defines liberalism - "Political liberalism can be defined simply as a rule of law that recognizes certain individual rights or freedoms from government control" and he defines those rights in three classes, civil rights, religious rights and political rights. He defines democracy as "the right held universally by all citizens to have a share of political power, that is, the right of all citizens to vote and participate in politics."
His concentration on Hegel arises from Fukuyama's contention that we've been very conditioned by Karl Marx's influence to believe that most social and political problems come from economic and class differences. Fukuyama disagrees, saying that conflict comes from Hegel's theory that some people will risk their lives for prestige, or recognition. He writes that the aristocracy was created by such people - people who risked their lives for prestige and were able to enslave others. He writes that liberal democracy resolves the tension between slave and master because it makes the slaves their own masters.
But he cautions that Nietzsche believed in war and conflict as a way for humanity to express its passions, and that without conflict (Fukuyama says that liberal democracies do not attack each other), humans will become soft, meaningless, passionless, "men without chests." Fukuyama does not advocate that people become "last men," even though in this volume, he believes the End of History is being reached.
I read this book because Thomas L. Friedman faulted it for "not going far enough" in "The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization," but I wouldn't agree with that. Friedman clearly owes a lot to Fukuyama, directly or indirectly, and the roots of many of Friedman's ideas are explicated very elegantly here.
I find this book difficult to write about because it contains so many interrelated and complex ideas that are truly fascinating, including Fukuyama's views on the role of science in reaching the End of History. (In fact, in a newer book, "Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution," he writes that the End of History may not have been reached because the End of Science hasn't been reached. So reads a review of this book on the Web.)
I highly recommend this book. It really stretched my mind in new directions and helped me to see the world and our current governmental systems in new ways. His integration of key philosophical work and thought with political history was fascinating and had a ring of truth.
on May 12, 1999
The End Of History And The Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama: A Review
It is seldom that one comes across a book which can hold us spellbound from beginning to end. But this is the case of this masterpiece by Fukuyama. In this book, Fukuyama proposes a return to Hegel's historiosophical concept of a Universal History which has a clear direction, purpose and progress. After having passed through many stages of development, history has finally come to its end. This, of course, does not mean that time has come to an end. Life and death will continue, the season of the year and the passage of the decades go forward. But history is a particular process in which we witness specific changes in the political organization and cultural arrangements of human societies. This process seems to evolve in accordance with specific laws, such as the expansion of the levels of human freedom. The liberal democracies developed in the modern times are the culmination of such a process, because they embody the fullness of the ideal of human freedom. Sure, there are adjustments which can be made to perfect particular democracies, but the concept itself of democracy as the self-determination of peoples cannot be improved upon. Hence, history has reached its end, its goal.
Fukuyama brilliantly developes throughout the book the theme of Plato's tripartite division of the human soul into reason, passion and desire, and its consequences for political science. Political systems are reflections of human yearnings, the attempt of human beings to give full expression to their own humanness. What ultimately matters is how a particular society balances these three elements of human nature. Hegel's thesis is that history begins with the first man who was able to gain mastery over his fellow man and thus achieve a level of recognition as a superior being. Masters come to rule over slaves first and foremost because they are able to face courageously the fear of death, whereas slaves prefer to obey submissively the stronger man than to forfeit their own lives. Fear of death is the primary motivation of the slave. Aristocrats, on the other hand, are driven by the impulse to seek superior recognition through fearless self-sacrifice in battle and war. The element of the human soul which is emphasized in aristocratic societies is passion (thymos).
Modern liberal democracies came into existence as the reslut of a rebellion of the masses of servants who yearned for freedom and recognition of their value as human beings. Theirs too was a search based on thymos, but it is distinguisgable from the thymos of the aristocracy. The masses search for the dignity that comes with the equality of all human beings (isothymia), is contradistinction to the aristocratic dignity which is based on their lordship over other people (megalothymia). A liberal democracy is based on the principle of freedom and equality of all human beings.
But what is the purpose of a liberal democratic system ? Here is where Fukuyama's analysis reaches its peak of subtlety. The end of human life is "the pursuit of happiness", understood as the search for safety, survival, comfort and material well-being. The furtherance of private property to the highest possible degree becomes the ultimate expression of success in a liberal democracy such as the one in the United States. In order to assure the accomplishment of happiness for the largest possible number of people we must restrict the impulse of thymos and allow for the development of the rational side of human nature. Through science, human beings come to subdue nature and are thus capable of fulfilling as well the third part of their souls, "desire". Reason and desire go hand in hand, the former being the means to satisfy the latter. The two of them thrive best in the context of the peaceful coexistence of human beings who show, above all, the virtue of tolerance for the differences of their fellow human beings.
One might think that such an ideal picture would be easily supported by all people. But the nature of thymos is not to be restricted without its devastating consequences. Its elimination carries with it the trivialization of human pursuits. The modern liberal man finds himself suffocated under the weight of unbearably petty pursuits and wants which diminish his sense of meaningfulness in life. He wastes his life away in the meaningless search for comfort and lives constantly with the crippling fear of loosing his security, safety and comfort. He becomes sub-human. He looses all the ideals for which his ancestors were willing to risk their lives.
Democracy may have built into itself a contradiction which may become its nemesis. The last man, having achieved physical security and material well-being under the protection of the peaceful coexistence of liberal democracies, may find a gnawing sense of dis-satisfaction that could drive him, in his pursuit of meaning for himself and the world surrounding him, to renewed conflict with his fellow human beings.
In the wake of an incredible wave of democratization in the world, following the collapse of communism and authoritarianism, we must face the question of whether we are in some sense approaching the end of history. Are we coming to the culmination of a linear process that once fulfilled may usher in a new era a peaceful coexistence, or will we experience a rebellion of the human soul against a system that imposes the imprint of shallow materialism across all borders ? This question is one which remains yet to be answered. Fukuyama has brought us, in an impeccably lucid and compelling way, to the edge of our historical journey, and he provided us with tools to understand and appreciate the ultimate existential dilemma which we now face. His work has unquestionably earned its rightful place as a classic in contemporary political theory.
on October 26, 2011
The Enlightenment view of history is the triumph of the rule of Reason, which operates in the realm of ideas. Hegel produced a dynamic and material version of Enlightenment history by stressing the dialectic between ideas and materiality, whereby each stage in the development of Reason is instantiated and codified in a concrete social formation in which the reigning ideal Zeitgeist is the motive force driving history forward. Marx accepted Hegel's view of history (actually he "turned Hegel on his head," but Hegel upside down is still just Hegel), and located the motive force in class struggle. Many European intellectuals saw clearly that Marx's communism was just one peculiar moment in the general move from autocracy to democracy, by which they meant not a schema of majority rule and political freedom, but rather rule by and for the masses. This was the end of history.
Nietzsche saw and lamented this turn of history in Marx's time, and Heidegger and many others followed in Nietzsche's path in the twentieth century. Others, like the brilliant Russian-French philosopher Alexandre Kojève, saw clearly and triumphantly that Marx was indeed a footnote to Hegel, and in the long run the end of history would culminate in a general emancipation of the masses.
Fukuyama is a student and admirer of Kojève. The collapse of the Soviet Union became for him the occasion for writing this energetic and apocalyptic defense of modern liberal democratic capitalism, as well as some warnings concerning the implication of the `end of history.' The collapse of the Soviet empire, the transformation of Chinese Communism into a capitalist system with an authoritarian state, the withering away of socialist and trade union forces in Europe and America, and the success of Pacific Basin capitalism all solidified liberal democratic capitalism as they only viable emancipatory wealth-generating social form. Fukuyama carries this train of thought deep into the future by claiming that modern technology is uniquely suited for liberal democracy, obviating any possibility of an alternative system arising in the foreseeable future. He recognizes that there will be all sorts of rear-guard actions, such as unstable dictatorships backed by military force and religious ideology, but these must eventually give way to liberal democracy.
The cautionary dimension in Fukuyama's argument is indicated by the "Last Man" notion present in the book's title. Fukuyama is sympathetic to the Nietzsche-Heidegger argument that true individuality and creativity is incompatible with mass democracy. Here Fukuyama expresses a key worry of mid-twentieth century American intellectuals, such as Daniel Bell (The End of Ideology, 1960), Sloan Wilson (The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit), and Herbert Marcuse (One-Dimensional Man), who were reviled by the shallowness and vapidity of popular culture, and longed for a return to the high culture of Voltaire's salon and the Wiener Kreis coffeehouse ruminations.
I often find Fukuyama a pedestrian writer, but this book is inspired, and Fukuyama's energy spills out onto the pages in into the reader's heart. I would love it if his argument about liberal democracy were correct, although I don't believe the one-dimensional man argument at all. However, there is one major and one minor problem with his analysis. The minor problem is that technological change in the future could either destroy civilization altogether or render capitalism anachronistic for one reason or another (e.g., intelligent robots take over the role of innovation and entrepreneurship, or people tire of more and more material goods). This possibility is remote at the present time, of course.
The major problem is simply that Hegel's theory of history is only a half-truth, and a misplaced half-truth at that. History is indeed an interplay between human aspirations and human technology, but human aspirations are not based on Reason but rather upon a human nature that is the product of gene-culture coevolution, and as such, is imbued with certain preternatural values. Most important is that humans desire freedom, dignity, and the capacity to control their social world through association with others as co-equals. To appreciate the centrality of evolved human nature, suppose some termite species (order isoptera) had evolved large brains and complex societies as opposed to Homo sapiens (subtribe Hominina). Termite nature being inherently eusocial and hierarchical, the ideal yearnings of the mass of intelligent termites would include no element of social equality, personal dignity, or self-determination, but would likely center around the sublimely harmonious and completely ordered group mind and flawless bureaucratic structure. "Reason," Hume once famously noted, "is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." It is the human passion for freedom and dignity that determines the thrust of emancipatory history, not the dictates of abstract Reason.
I do not consider this a major problem with Fukuyama's argument. Evolutionary biology gives the truth to Hegel, but this turning of Hegel on his head is no more revolutionary that Marx's, although obviously more descriptive of human reality (E. O. Wilson, when induced to read Marx to help understand the Marxist hostility to sociobiology, wrote in the margin of the Communist Manifesto "terrific theory, wrong species"). Much more important is that human technology, rather than being an unambiguous emancipatory force, is a seriously two-edged sword, in some eras liberating, and others enslaving, the human passions. Let me explain.
It is well known that the hunter-gatherer societies that defined human existence until some 10,000 years ago were extremely egalitarian, involving widespread sharing both communal child rearing (Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species, Ballantine, 2000; and Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, Belknap, 2009) and hunting (Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, Harvard University Press, 2000; and Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution (Princeton University Press, 2011). It is the human nature that emerged from this nexus of social institutions that defines contemporary human passions for emancipatory social institutions, of which liberal democratic capitalism is the contemporary most advanced form.
Why did hominids develop egalitarian societies while the other social primates, especially chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos retained hierarchical political structures based on personal power (bonobos appears to have a less linear hierarchy that the other social primates, but there is still a hierarchy based on physical strength of males and the coalitional capacities of females)? The answer is probably technological. Hominids developed lethal weapons at least 400,000 years ago, in the Middle Pleistocene (Harmut Thieme, "Lower Palaeolithic Hunting Spears from Germany", Nature 385,27 (1997):807-810). Most important were sharpened wooden thrusting and throwing spears developed for hunting, but quite effective in killing or maiming the strongest male while asleep or otherwise inattentive. Because of these lethal weapons, there was no possibility of maintaining a political hierarchy based on physical prowess alone. By contrast, non-human primates never developed weapons capable of controlling a dominant male. Even when sound asleep, an accosted male reacts to hostile onslaughts by awakening and engaging in a physical battle, basically unharmed by surprise attack.
The reaction of hominid political structure to the emergence of lethal weapons was, logically, either to sustain leaderless social coalitions, or to find some other basis for leadership. The superior survival value of groups with leadership doubtless led to the demise of leaderless hominid social formations, and the consolidation of new hominid social relations based on novel forms of leadership. What might these may be? Clearly, if on cannot lead by force, one must lead by persuasion. Thus successful hominid social bands came to value individuals who could command prestige by virtue of their persuasive capacities. Persuasion depends on clear logic, analytical abilities, a high degree of social cognition (knowing how to form coalitions and curry the favor of others), and linguistic facility. For this reason, the social structure of hunter-gatherer life favored progressive encephalization and the evolution of the physical and mental prerequisites of effective linguistic and facial communication. In short, 400,000 years of evolution in the presence of lethal weapons gave rise to Homo sapiens.
If this argument is correct, it explains the huge cognitive and linguistic advantage of humans over other species not as some quirk of sexual selection (the favorite theory through the ages of Charles Darwin, Ronald Fisher, Geoffrey Miller and many others), but rather as directly fitness enhancing, despite the extreme energy costs of the brain: increased cognitive and linguistic ability entailed heightened leadership capacities, which fellow group members were very willing to trade for enhanced mating and provisioning privileges.
With the development of settled trade, agriculture, and private property some 10,000 years ago, it became possible for a Big Man to gather around him a relatively small group of subordinates and consorts that would protect him from the lethal revenge of a dominated populace, whence the slow and virtually inexorable rise of the state both as a instrument for exploiting direct produces and for protecting them against the exploitation of external states and bands of private and semi-state-sanctioned marauders. The hegemonic aspirations of states peaked in the thirteenth century, only be driven back by the serious of European population-decimating plagues of the fourteenth century. The period of state consolidation resumed in the fifteenth century, based on a new technology: the heavily armed cavalry. In this case, as in some other prominent cases, technology becomes the handmaiden to oppression rather than emancipation.
In Politics VII, Aristotle writes "there are four kinds of military forces---the cavalry, the heavy infantry, the light armed troops, the navy. When the country is adapted for cavalry, then a strong oligarchy is likely to be established [because] only rich men can afford to keep horses. The second form of oligarchy prevails when the country is adapted to heavy infantry; for this service is better suited to the rich than to the poor. But the light-armed and the naval elements are wholly democratic...An oligarchy which raises such a force out of the lower classes raises a power against itself."
The use of cavalry became dominant in Europe through the success of the Parthians in the Roman-Persian wars that lasted from the late Hellenistic period until the Middle Ages. The Romans armored infantry could not stand up to the Parthian cavalry and the Romans adjusted by adopting the practices of their enemies. The increased strategic role of cavalry was enhanced by the emergence of new breeds of horses engineered for the battlefield, and deployed adeptly by the Germanic invaders and the Islamic warriors. From this, enhanced by the development of the wraparound saddle, stirrup, and spurs, the preeminence of cavalry in the Middle Ages was assured, whence the oligarchic character of European feudalism, which centered around a knightly cavalry.
The history of warfare from the Late Middle Ages to the First World War was the saga of the gradual increase in the strategic military value of infantry armed with longbow, crossbow, hand cannon, and pike, which marked the recurring victories of the English and Swiss over French and Spanish cavalry in the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. Cavalries responded by developing dismounted tactics when encountering infantry, using heavy hand weapons such as two-handed swords and poleaxes. These practices extended the viability of cavalry to the sixteenth century in the French and Spanish armies, but gradually through the Renaissance, and with the rise of Atlantic trade, the feudal knightly warlords gave way to the urban landed aristocracy and warfare turned to the interplay of mercenary armies consisting of unskilled foot soldiers wielding cannon and other weapons based on gunpowder. Cavalry remained important in this era, but even in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, cavalry was used to execute the coup de grace on seriously weakened infantry.
The true hegemony of the foot soldier, and hence the origins of modern democracy, began with the perfection of the hand gun, with its improved accuracy and greater firing rate than the pistols of a previous era. Until that point, infantry was highly vulnerable to attack from heavy artillery. By the early twentieth century, the superiority of unskilled foot soldiers armed with rifles was assured. World War I opened in 1914 with substantial cavalry on all sides, but mounted troops were soundly defeated by men with rifles and machine guns, and thus were abandoned in later stages of the war. As Samuel Bowles and I showed in Democracy and Capitalism (Basic Books, 1985), the strength of the political forces agitating for political democracy in Twentieth Century Europe was predicated on the strategic role of the foot soldier in waging war and defending the peace.
It is clear today that the material basis for liberal democracy is no longer the armed infantry but rather a combination of the willingness of ordinary people to rise up, fight, and die for freedom, together with modern communications and transport technologies that are virtually impossible to suppress, especially if authoritarian states have an interest in promoting economic development. Fukuyama is wholly correct on this point. An oil-rich outlier state like Saudi Arabia is not constrained by goals of economic development, but their security extends only as far as oil remains in high demand, which will not be for long. For the most part, modern technology is highly emancipatory.
Where his wrong, however, is in not contemplating the possibility of new technologies capable of controlling masses of people by a powerful few, as envisioned by the apocalyptic anti-Communist writers Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), 1984 (George Orwell), Darkness at Noon (Arthur Koestler), and cinematographers like Jean-Luc Godard (Alphaville). The totalitarian ambitions of the Soviet state foundered on the new technologies that were too synergistic with modern industrial life and private incentives, but there is no reason that a progressive economic system like that of the Chinese might not find new technological means of controlling masses of affluent workers and even middle-class entrepreneurs over the long run. There is no extant technology that would facilitate this control, and those of us who value freedom and democracy must struggle to promote emancipatory over enslaving technologies in coming decades. Even should we survive nuclear Armageddon, global warming, and other byproducts of emancipatory, it is not at all the "end of history."
on January 16, 2001
The main problem with Fukiyama's End of History is simply that it is badly written; Fukiyama's prose is verbose and redundant - the reader ends up reading the same points three or four times.
That said, much of the criticism that the book has received is, in my opinion, misplaced. Fukiyama is not claiming that the capitalist system is some sort nirvana, but simply that history is a directional force that has delivered us to a point in which free market economies have reached a state of efficiency and harmony with human nature and therefore in large part won't be replaced by competing systems. This is not a value judgement, as has been accused by many critics; it's simply a matter of natural selection.
Is Fukiyama saying that a free market economy is *better* than competing systems? Well what he's saying that it is better at *doing certain things*, and this is an important distinction. Fukiyama claims not a moral superiority ("best of all possible worlds") but a functional superiority in which the occasional backtrack (a military coup here, a revolution there) will be shown to be mere blips. History, according to Fukiyama, is asymptotic, and we're approaching the end state.
Much of Fukiyama's argument is philosophical and at such lacks empirical data. So be it; I see this book as more than anything a discussion piece and many of its claims are essentially can't be proved (or will be proved or disproved over the next century or so).
This is a flawed work, but one which makes some interesting points. Fukiyama's discussion on Thymos and the "desire for recognition" as the dividing line between slaves and masters is interesting, but in that I'm not a scholar on Hegel and haven't read the original works I don't know if they've simply been lifted from previous writings.
In the end, reading this book is a lot of work for a little insight, therefore it is with a degree of reluctance that I recommend it. On second thought, a better idea would be to go to your local library and dig up the original 1989 National Interest article; you'll get essentially the same main ideas without having to slog through hundreds of pages of wordy and repetitive text. In some ways this book has changed the way I look at the world, but some of the conclusions I've taken with a grain of salt.
What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. -"X" (Francis Fukuyama), The End of History? (The National Interest)
One assumes that only George F. Kennan's "Containment" memo, likewise published under the pseudonym "X", can rival Francis Fukuyama's essay "The End of History"--first published in 1989, in The National Interest--in terms of impact on the public consciousness of a foreign policy brief. Fukuyama's essential argument was not that history, in terms of events and conflicts and the like, had actually come to and end, rather that liberal capitalist democracy represented the final step in Man's political evolution. With its overtones of Cold War triumphalism, the piece set off a huge kerfuffle and turned a State Department cypher into a significant political philosopher almost overnight.
In this book, Fukuyama expands on the ideas in his original essay and introduces several new ones, the most important of which, embodied by the idea of "thymos", is that the greatest threat to the End of History is the fact that people demand recognition. By recognition, he means something fairly broad, but which we all intuitively recognize :
...that part of man which feels the need to place value on things--himself in the first instance, but on the people, actions, or things around him as well. It is the part of the personality which is the fundamental source of the emotions of pride, anger, and shame, and is not reducible to desire, on the one hand, or reason on the other. The desire for recognition is the most specifically political part of the human personality because it is what drives men to want to assert themselves over other men... .
Liberal democracy succeeds brilliantly at fulfilling Man's basic desires--food, clothing, shelter--but it raises several questions. Will Man, once satiated, still have the kind of thymos which has driven the species to achieve technologically and culturally ? Will the most able in society be content to be treated equally with those they consider their inferiors, or will they demand a level of political recognition commensurate with their contributions to society ? Will those at the bottom of the social scale--and liberal democracy does, undeniably, produce a hierarchy from poor to rich--be content to have less than those at the top of the scale, or will they demand that the high be brought low ? Fukuyama seeks to provide answers to these questions, drawing upon thinkers like Plato, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Alexandre Kojeve, and upon the experiences of modern times.
The book is always fascinating, sometimes wrongheaded and frequently brilliant. In the end, the question that animates the discussion is the same that mankind always faces ; which will ultimately triumph, the desire for security or the urge to freedom. There is no more important issue in human history and the ways in which we answer it will, as always, determine our future. Even if he does not arrive at any final answers, Fukuyama adds immeasurably to our understanding of the question and its importance.
GRADE : A+
on April 5, 1998
Contrary to the common interpretation, Fukuyama, in fact, predicts the implosion of liberal democracy because of its inherent contradiction between liberty and democracy. Liberty encourages differentiation among people, while democracy is predicated on equality. Understanding the implications of this contradiction is critical for all of us living in the end of History.
on November 18, 2014
The arrogance of the title kept me for too many years from reading this book. I still disagree that history has an end (a steady state) or that there is such a thing as the last man, but I was very wrong to put off reading this for so long.
Francis Fukuyama looks at history and says it's going to a specific destination. That's wrong. But the insights he brings as he defends this thesis are so clever and so deep that his conclusion, wrong or right, is neither here nor there.
When he speaks of history reaching an end, he means "end" as the end which justifies the means, not "end" as is the end of a story. And this is where (I think) he is completely wrong: history is not history towards anything. History is Darwinian but not in the "might makes right" vein which led to such perversions as eugenics. History is Darwinian in that it is ever changing and always adapting to what is going on now.
The foundation of Fukuyama's theory of history is that the Last Man in History is different from the First Man who made History. Economic theory takes reason as the defining characteristic of man's behaviour. Man wants to maximize his happiness and minimize his pain. Fukuyama credits Locke and Hobbes with these insights, but he then goes back to Plato to look for something else that might motivate man and better explain history. He is looking for a third part to man's soul, so to speak, a part that motivates him in a way that neither seeks pleasure nor avoids pain and suffering. After all, Man shares these two aspects of his being with animals. The First Man of History must have had something else prodding him on.
Fukuyama goes back to Plato and his theory of the tripartite soul. The third part of the soul is what Plato calls "thymos" to which Fukuyama comes back again and again. Thymos is the part of ourselves that yearns for recognition by other men. According to this theory of history, history is made by men who are willing to risk death (an idea Fukuyama credits to Hegel) in order to win something as insubstantial and abstract as a flag or as honour. This thymos also motivates man into fighting for liberal democracy, because all men and women in a liberal democracy are recognized as equal by each other. They all have some say in how they are ruled. The master isn't fighting for recognition from other masters anymore. We are all masters--the Last Man is his own master within a liberal democracy and that is the end of history.
Man is driven towards democracy not because he wants wealth or because he fears the master's whip. We want democracy because we want to have a say in what happens to us, even if it costs us comfort and brings us some pain. That history is driven by thymotic values is a profound insight. As he argues his point, Fukuyama undermines along the way the purely economic theories of history (other things motivate us besides wealth) as well as Henry Kissenger's still enormously influential theories of Realpolitik among self-interested nation states (in a world of realpolitik, why hasn't the USA taken over Canada already?).
Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced of Fukuyama's thesis. I see no end to history and no last man because I don't see a steady state of affairs. Certainly, liberal democracy is the most desirable of the political systems we know and Fukuyama doesn't imply that because liberal democracy is now prevalent, and becoming universal, nothing else will happen. Of course history will roll on in that sense, and Fukuyama never dismissed the idea that events like 9/11 would continue to happen. But he thinks that a world of democracies would be necessarily stable, and this is where I disagree.
Fukuyama never takes into account the inherant instability of large systems. This chaotic movement of complex systems is why we cannot predict the weather, it's why we cannot predict stock prices, it's why new ideas and technologies disrupt societies.
The world is about as large as it gets as far as our own lives are concerned (the rest of the Cosmos being outside our timescale). The Roman Empire fell and Western Civilization only just barely survived. China's greatest novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, begins with the sentence "Empires wax, empires wane." While history might not be as cyclical as the Romance implies, neither is it teleological as Fukuyama contends.
Some times and eras are true Golden Ages. India achieved in the past a degree of spirituality as yet unsurpassed. Greece gave us Reason, and Rome Power, then the Dark Ages humbled Western Man. China invented the meritocratic civil service (that's what Confucian studies were all about). Yet these Great Powers waned. The world is a chaotic place, a dangerous place, and it is also a magnificent place.
If nothing else Fukuyama brings reason and a certain abstract, intellectual magnificence to our understanding of history. At least for that reason, The End of History is well worth reading.
Vincent Poirier, Quebec City
on April 19, 2015
A well presented argument for why one can consider liberal democracy the end of history that is directional.
However, I found it difficult to believe the argument for the directionality of history, based mainly on appeal to scientific method and technological advancement. The argument as to why liberal economies result in liberal democracies was even less convincing.
Having said this it is a very interesting read that opens up many different avenues to explore. Indeed if, like me, you are not educated in social or political philosophy this is a great introduction to some of the great challenges of society today and to several of the great contributors to the underlying ideas of Anglo Saxon liberal democracy.
An excellent book.
on July 10, 2011
I'm almost embarrassed that it's taken me so long to get around to reading this. It was, however, the most interesting book I've read in some time. The ideas here are rather subtle and reach far back into the Western philosophical tradition. Most of the reviews (at least those giving the book low rating) don't seem to get this. This is not some simplistic, Euro-centric utopian worldview. It's much more meaningful than that.
This could be a difficult book to get through if you have not read Nietzsche, Marx, Hegal, and others. (I realize now that I have been remiss in not pursuing a serious read of Hegel.) This isn't some simplistic screed by another flash-in-the-pan politico; this is deep stuff and requires a lot of work to get the substance.