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Encyclopedia > End of History

The End of History and the Last Man is a 1992 book by Francis Fukuyama, expanding on his 1989 essay "The End of History?", in which he argues the controversial thesis that the end of the Cold War signals the end of the progression of human history:

"What we may be witnessing in not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war 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." (quoted from "The End of History?", 1989)

This thesis conflicts most particularly with Karl Marx's philosophy of history: dialectical materialism. His version of the "end of history" is a time when class distinctions no longer exist, believing them to be the cause of the evolution of "all hitherto existing society." He called this state of classlessness inevitable (though he did not venture to guess how long it would take for it to come about), and named it communism. Fukuyama's thesis, coming at the end of the Cold War, is an obvious reference to Marx's historical dialectic. However, Fukuyama reverts back to the work of Marx's original source, Hegel (especially Hegel as interpreted by the French thinker Alexandre Kojčve). Fukuyama seems to have been pointed in Kojčve's direction by the prominent neoconservative political philosopher Leo Strauss, who is also influential on Fukuyama's philosophy.


Fukuyama's thesis consists of two main elements.

  • First, there is an empirical argument. Fukuyma points out that since the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, democracy, which started off as being merely one amongst many systems of government, has grown until nowadays the majority of governments in the world are termed 'democratic'. He also points out that democracy's main intellectual alternatives (various forms of dictatorship) have become discredited.
  • Second, there is a philosophical argument, taken from Hegel. Very briefly, Fukuyama sees history as consisting of the dialectic between two classes: the Master and the Slave. Ultimately, this thesis (Master) and antithesis (Slave) must meet in a synthesis, in which both manage to live in peace together. This can only happen in a democracy.

Fukuyama's thesis is generally misinterpreted and misunderstood. For example, it is frequently claimed that Fukuyama believes that history ended in 1989 (with the fall of the Berlin Wall). In fact, following Hegel, Fukuyama believes that history ended in 1789, with the French Revolution, as this marked the beginnings of parliamentary democracy. All that has happened since then is that it has become more and more obvious that parliamentary democracy is a fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives. It must be stressed that the most basic (and prevalent) error in discussing Fukuyama's work is to confuse 'history' with 'events'. Fukuyama does not claim at any point that events will stop happening in the future. What he is claiming is that all that will happen in the future (even if totalitarianism returns, even if fundamentalist Islam becomes a major political force) is that democracy will become more and more prevalent in the long term, although it may have 'temporary' setbacks (which may, of course, last for centuries).


There have been, needless to say, many criticisms of the 'End of History' thesis. Some of these include:

  • Islamic Fundamentalism. Some critics state that Islamic Fundamentalism (as represented by Osama Bin Laden for example) stands in the same relation to 21st century democracy as, for example, stalinism and fascism did in the 20th century (i.e. as a fundamental intellectual alternative). Fukuyama discusses this briefly in The End of History. He argues that Islam is not an Imperialist force like stalinism and fascism: i.e. that it has little intellectual or emotional appeal outside the Islamic 'heartlands'. Moreover, when Islamic states have actually been created (for example Afghanistan), they were easily defeated militarily by the powerful democracies. Fukuyama points to the economic and political difficulties that Iran and Saudi Arabia are facing, and argues that such states are fundamentally unstable: either they will become Islamic democracies (like Turkey) or they will simply disintegrate.
  • Marxism, of course, is another End of History philosophy. Therefore Marxists like Perry Anderson have been amongst Fukuyama's fiercest critics. Apart from pointing out some obvious facts (that capitalist democracies are still riven with poverty, racial tension etc.), Marxists also reject Fukuyama's reliance on Hegel. According to them, Hegel's philosophy was fatally flawed until Marx 'turned it on its head' to create historical materialism. Fukuyama argues that even though there is poverty, racism and sexism in present-day democracies, there is no sign of a major revolutionary movement developing that would actually overthrow capitalism. Whether such a movement will develop in the near future remains to be seen.
It should be noted that, while Marxists certainly disagree with Fukuyama's claim that capitalist democracy represents the end of history, they support the idea that the "end of history" will indeed consist of the victory of democracy: communism, in the Marxist view, must necessarily involve a form of direct democracy.
  • There is also the environmentalist challenge. Environmentalists argue that the capitalist economies' propensity towards growth will eventually collide with the Earth's natural Limits to Growth. Some radical alteration in the socio-economic situation of the West would then have to take place.
  • Numerous other intellectuals and thinkers have disagreed with the End of History thesis. For example, Samuel P. Huntington, in his essay and book, "The Clash of Civilizations," argues that the temporary conflict between ideologies is being replaced by the ancient conflict between civilizations. The dominant civilization decides the form of human government, and these will not be constant.

Fukuyama himself later conceded that his thesis was incomplete, but for a different reason: "we hadn't reached the end of history because we hadn't yet reached the end of science" (quoted from front flap of Our Posthuman Future). Fukuyama predicts that humanity's control of its own evolution will have a great and possibly terrible effect on the liberal democracy.


Some argue that Fukuyama presents 'American-style' democracy as the only 'correct' political system and that all countries must inevitably follow the this example; however, many Fukuyama scholars claim this is a misreading of his work. Fukuyama's argument is only that in the future there will be more and more governments that use the framework of parliamentary democracy and that contain markets of some sort. Sweden, Venezuela, Turkey, India and Ghana fit this description as well as (or better than) the United States.


It has also been argued that Fukuyama's notion of "The End of History" is merely a Hegelian articulation of the Whig interpretation of history. However, as the latter sections of his book makes clear, Fukuyama is no liberal optimist: instead he is a pessimist influenced by Nietzsche (especially Nietzsche as interpreted by Leo Strauss) who sees the end of history as being ultimately a sad and emotionally unsatisfying era.


Publication history

See also


  Results from FactBites:
 
Francis Fukuyama & the end of history by Roger Kimball (2846 words)
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.
For in proclaiming that the end of history had arrived in the form of triumphant liberal democracy, Fukuyama did not mean that the world would henceforth be free from tumult, political contention, or intractable social problems.
Fukuyama envisaged was not the end of history—understood as the lower-case realm of daily occasions and events—but the end of History: an evolutionary process that represented freedom’s self-realization in the world.
The End of History (8209 words)
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the 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.
For human history and the conflict that characterized it was based on the existence of "contradictions"; primitive man's quest for mutual recognition, the dialectic of the master and slave, the transformation and mastery of nature, the struggle for the universal recognition of rights, and the dichotomy between proletarian and capitalist.
To say that history ended in 1806 meant that mankind's ideological evolution ended in the ideals of the French or American Revolutions: while particular regimes in the real world might not implement these ideals fully, their theoretical truth is absolute and could not be improved upon.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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