Francis Fukuyama The End Of History Essay

Within weeks, "The End of History?" had become the hottest topic around, this year's answer to Paul Kennedy's phenomenal best seller, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers." George F. Will was among the first to weigh in, with a Newsweek column in August; two weeks later, Fukuyama's photograph appeared in Time. The French quarterly Commentaire announced that it was devoting a special issue to "The End of History?" The BBC sent a television crew. Translations of the piece were scheduled to appear in Dutch, Japanese, Italian and Icelandic. Ten Downing Street requested a copy. In Washington, a newsdealer on Connecticut Avenue reported, the summer issue of The National Interest was "outselling everything, even the pornography."

"Controversial" didn't begin to cover the case. Unlike that other recent philosophical cause celebre, Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind," Fukuyama's essay was the work of a representative from what is often referred to in academic circles as the real world. This was no professor, according to the contributor's note that ran in the magazine, but the "deputy director of the State Department's policy planning staff."

It wasn't just the message, then; it was the source. Maybe there was an agenda here. . . . By mid-September, Peter Tarnoff, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, could speculate on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times that "The End of History?" was "laying the foundation for a Bush doctrine." Not bad for a 16-page article in a foreign-policy journal with a circulation of 6,000.

YOU HAVE TO PASS THROUGH A METAL detector to get to Francis Fukuyama's office in the State Department, and the silver plaques beside the doors - INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS MATTERS, NUCLEAR RISK REDUCTION CENTER - confirm that this isn't a philosophy department. But the elegant private dining room on the 8th floor, overlooking the Potomac, could easily be mistaken for an Ivy League faculty club. Plush carpets, chandeliers, a sideboard out of Sturbridge Village, oil portraits of 19th-century dignitaries on the walls - an environment conducive to shoptalk about Hegel.

It's mid-September, and the arrival of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze for meetings with Fukuyama's boss, James A. Baker 3d, is less than a week away. "It's a busy time," says Fukuyama, apologetically. Apart from assisting in the preparation of "talking points" for the Secretary of State, he's been besieged with telephone calls from book editors and agents eager to cash in on his famous article.

How does he account for the commotion? "I don't understand it myself," Fukuyama says quietly, sipping a Coke. "I didn't write the article with any relevance to policy. It was just something I'd been thinking about."

He does seem an unlikely celebrity. (But so was Paul Kennedy. So was Allan Bloom.) His khaki suit has an off-the-rack look about it, and he speaks in a tentative, measured voice, more intent on making himself clear than on making an impression. A youthful 36, he emanates a professorial air - an assistant professorial air.

Fukuyama doesn't quite fit the neo-conservative stereotype. Whatever ideological direction he has gone in lately, he's still a child of the 60's. He belongs to the Sierra Club; he's nostalgic for California, where he worked for the Rand Corporation; he worries about pesticides in the backyard of the small red-brick bungalow in the Virginia suburbs where he lives with his wife and infant daughter.

"The last thing I want to be interpreted as saying is that our society is a utopia, or that there are no more problems," he stresses. "I simply don't see any competitors to modern democracy." In short, he's a liberal neo-conservative.

Fukuyama grew up in Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town, a middle-class housing development on the Lower East Side. His father was a Congregational minister who later became a professor of religion, and Fukuyama's own direction in the beginning was toward an academic career. As a freshman at Cornell in 1970, he was a resident of Telluride House, a sort of commune for philosophy students; Allan Bloom was the resident Socrates. They shared meals and talked philosophy until all hours, living the good life Bloom would later evoke in "The Closing of the American Mind," the professor and his disciples sitting around the cafeteria discussing the Great Books.

Fukuyama majored in classics, then did graduate work in comparative literature at Yale, where he studied with the deconstructionist Paul de Man (who would achieve posthumous notoriety when it was discovered that he'd published pro-Nazi articles in the Belgian press at the height of World War II). "It was kind of an intellectual side journey," Fukuyama says.

After Yale, he spent six months in Paris, sitting in on classes with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, whose abstruse and fashionable discours would become required reading for a generation of American graduate students. Fukuyama was less than impressed. "I was turned off by their nihilistic idea of what literature was all about," he recalls. "It had nothing to do with the world. I developed such an aversion to that whole over-intellectual approach that I turned to nuclear weapons instead." He enrolled in Harvard's government department, where he studied Middle Eastern and Soviet politics. Three years later he got a Ph.D. in political science, writing his thesis on Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East.

Fukuyama's first job out of the academic world was at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica. Then, in 1981, Paul D. Wolfowitz, director of policy planning in the Reagan Administration (and also a former student of Bloom's), invited him to join his staff. Fukuyama worked in Washington for two years, then returned to Rand.

For the next six years, he wrote papers for Rand on Soviet foreign policy, speculating on such weighty matters as "Pakistan Since the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan" and "Soviet Civil-Military Relations and the Power Projection Mission." In "Gorbachev and the Third World" (published in the spring 1986 issue of Foreign Affairs), Fukuyama claimed that Soviet foreign policy was still expansionist, and that despite efforts to economize at home and act conciliatory abroad, Gorbachev was quietly "trying to stake out a more combative position" in client nations like Angola and Afghanistan, Libya and Nicaragua. The message of these heavily footnoted articles was clear: The cold war is still on.

Last February, shortly before he returned to Washington to become deputy to Dennis Ross, the new director of policy planning, Fukuyama gave a lecture at the University of Chicago in which he surveyed the international political scene. It was sponsored by his former professor, Allan Bloom. "My whole life has been spent in organizations that prize technical expertise," says Fukuyama. "I was anxious to deal with larger and more important issues" - what Bloom calls "the big questions."

As it happened, Owen Harries, co-editor of The National Interest, was looking around for a think piece on the current situation - a piece, as Harries explains it, that would "link history with the great traditions of political thought." Harries got hold of Fukuyama's lecture and instantly recognized that it was "a provocative, stimulating essay, just what the times needed."

HARRIES, A DONNISH, PIPE-SMOKING Welshman whose desk is piled high with books - he was educated at Oxford and was for many years a professor of politics - belongs to a type that exists only in Washington. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, calls them "policy intellectuals." In New York, people talk about the latest issue of Vanity Fair; in Washington, they talk about the latest issue of Foreign Policy.

Some of these policy intellectuals are in government; Carnes Lord, the author of a highly regarded translation of Aristotle's "Politics," is national security adviser to Vice President Quayle. Others are "fellows" or "scholars" at the Heritage Foundation or the Brookings Institution. Often, they have grand titles; Michael Novak, for instance, is the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Many are fugitives from academic life. "A lot of people around the office came up to me after the article appeared," Fukuyama says. "Hegelians who hadn't gotten tenure."

The political orientation is well to the right. "We hold to a traditional view of foreign policy," says Owen Harries. And what does he mean by "traditional"? "The belief that power politics is still in business. A belief in the efficacy of force."

The National Interest is clearly a well-heeled outfit. It's funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a prominent neo-conservative organization; the John M. Olin Foundation, established by a wealthy manufacturer who made his fortune largely in munitions, and the Smith Richardson Foundation -which, says Harries, "supports a number of good causes around the place."

The magazine's quarters, in a modern office building on 16th Street in Washington, are a far cry from the grubby cubicles one associates with political journals on the left (if there still are any). The floors are carpeted and the phones ring with a muted chirp. The elevator has piped-in Mozart instead of Muzak. Directly across the street, behind a high wrought-iron fence, is the Russian Embassy.

The National Interest, now four years old, is the creation of Irving Kristol - listed on the masthead as its publisher. His desk at the magazine is sort of in the lobby area; but then, he occupies many desks. Apart from his two magazines (he's also publisher of The Public Interest), Kristol is a distinguished fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Last year, he gave up his professorship at New York University and moved to Washington. New York was no longer the nation's intellectual center, he wrote in The New Republic a few months later, explaining his decision. The intellectuals had disappeared into the universities. The culture of Washington was just as "nasty and brutish," in Kristol's Hobbesian view, as anywhere else. "But there is one area in which Washington is an intellectual center, and that is public policy: economic policy, social policy, foreign policy, today even educational policy."

Living in Washington doesn't make Kristol any less a New Yorker. The cigarette, the rumpled seersucker jacket, the shrewdly self-deprecating wit are more congenial to a seminar room at the City University of New York's graduate center on 42d Street than to a Washington think tank. Why did "The End of History?" make news? "I'd like to think it's because my coming to Washington from New York has raised the level of discussion," Kristol says with a laugh. And Fukuyama's thesis? "I don't believe a word of it."

Neither did a lot of other prominent opinion-makers around town. "At last, self-congratulation raised to the status of philosophy!" sneered Christopher Hitchens, a Washington-based Englishman who writes a column for The Nation. "The Bush years have found their Burke, or their Pangloss." For Strobe Talbott, editor at large for Time magazine, "The End of History?" was "The Beginning of Nonsense."

If it wasn't nonsense, Fukuyama's basic thesis wasn't exactly news, either. For months, conservatives had been gloating over the demise of Communism. "The perennial question that has preoccupied every political philosopher since Plato -what is the best form of governance? - has been answered," wrote Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post last March, before anyone had ever heard of Francis Fukuyama. "After a few millennia of trying every form of political system, we close this millennium with the sure knowledge that in liberal, pluralist, capitalist democracy we have found what we have been looking for." Essentially, that was Fukuyama's message, but it didn't draw swarms of reporters to Krauthammer's door.

So how did "The End of History?" become such a big event? It was the Hegel spin that did it. Not only is America winning, Fukuyama claimed, but the flourishing of democracy around the world is the fulfillment of a grand historical scheme. The end of the cold war and the disarray of the Soviet Union reflected a larger process -the realization of the Idea. History, Hegel believed (or Fukuyama says he believed), "culminated in an absolute moment - a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state became victorious." And that moment, it just so happens, is now.

A weird thesis, utterly speculative and impossible to prove. But "The End of History?" was a stylish performance, erudite and written with a rhetorical flair rare in the somber prose of Washington policy journals; it possessed intellectual authority.

Fukuyama's respondents greeted the piece with open arms. "I am delighted to welcome G.W.F. Hegel to Washington," declared Kristol. Senator Moynihan, himself a Harvard government professor before he discovered politics, confessed that his grasp of Hegel was shaky; but he dusted off his European history, tossing in a few references to Marx and Rousseau. "It is not often that one has the opportunity to argue about Hegel in The National Interest (or anywhere else, for that matter)," noted the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, who is the wife of Irving Kristol. Soon after the article appeared, there was a conference held to discuss it at something called the United States Institute of Peace. Kristol, Himmelfarb and Krauthammer were in attendance, along with the Sovietologist Richard Pipes. The rest is . . . history?

IT'S NOT HARD TO SEE why Fukuyama's essay won favor among this community. It's not only the high-flown references to Kant and Hegel, not only the message that Western democracy beat out the competition. "The End of History?" has a polemical edge familiar to readers of "The Closing of the American Mind."

Like Bloom, Fukuyama doesn't have much patience for non-Western cultures. ("For our purposes," he writes, "it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso.") And like Bloom, Fukuyama's no booster. The West isn't so hot either. At the heart of his critique is a veiled contempt for the very culture whose triumphs in the political sphere it purports to celebrate.

What distinguishes Fukuyama from the crowd of conservative pundits elated by Gorbachev's troubles is his curled-lip attitude toward the victorious party. Say the West has won, that fascism and Communism are dead, that no significant ideological challenges are on the horizon - then what? There's an "emptiness at the core of liberalism," Fukuyama maintains. What does America have to offer? "Liberal democracy in the political sphere combined with easy access to VCRs and stereos in the economic." The society Hegel envisioned at the end of history, a universal state in which the arts flourish and virtue reigns, is nowhere to be found. Instead we're stuck with a "consumerist culture" purveying rock music and boutiques around the world.

So the end of history may not be such a good thing after all. In fact, Fukuyama concludes, it will be "a very sad time." Why? Because the meaning of life lies in the causes that we fight for, and in the future there won't be any. "The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands." Put plainly, we're heading for a time of "boredom."

As a Washington cab driver said when I tried to explain why I was in town, "Give me a break!" Does Fukuyama really believe all this? "I guess I prefer not to answer that," he said one afternoon, talking in his State Department office. "Leave it ambiguous. All I can say is, if people can't take a joke. . . ."

That he meant to be provocative is obvious; but it's clear from his rational, erudite prose that he wasn't fooling around. As a political theorist, Fukuyama is more in the tradition of Bentham or Locke than of pop futurists like Alvin Toffler. "All I meant by that last paragraph," he says, "was that there's a tension in liberalism that won't go away. There are all kinds of reasons for being a liberal: the security and the material wealth it provides, the opportunity for spiritual and intellectual development. But it fails to address some fundamental questions. You know, what are the higher ends of man? Should we just be content with having secured the conditions for a good life, or should we be thinking about what the content of that good life is?"

IF LIBERALISM STILL has a few kinks to work out, Communism is finished, although "there may be some isolated true believers left in places like Managua, Pyongyang or Cambridge, Massachusetts," writes Fukuyama with characteristic acerbity.

In Cambridge, the contempt is mutual. Even in that citadel of 1960's subversion, there aren't too many Communists left, but there is an inordinately dense concentration of people around Harvard Square who know their Hegel, and the summer issue of The National Interest sold out there virtually overnight. By and large, the Cambridge intelligentsia is dubious about "The End of History?" The distinguished Harvard government professor Judith N. Shklar didn't even have to read Fukuyama's piece in order to dismiss it as "publicity." Her colleague Daniel Bell, who did, pronounced it "Hegel at third remove . . . and wrong." (Bell's classic book, "The End of Ideology," anticipated Fukuyama 30 years ago.) The historian Simon Schama, author of "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution," is more tolerant. Himself an idiosyncratic practitioner of the genre, he found the piece "spirited and lively," but wonders how Fukuyama could have failed to address the revival of religious fundamentalism or the conflicts that could arise out of nationalism. "It's more of a theological document, don't you think, a work of prophecy," he says. "I mean, nobody really believes in the end of history."

It's not too hard to think of scenarios that would spoil Fukuyama's end of history. Who's to say what would happen in the Soviet Union if glasnost and perestroika collapse? What new dangers might a reunified Germany pose? Or a newly industrialized China? And what about the nuclear threat? That would put an end to things, the political scientist Pierre Hassner observed, "in a more radical sense than he envisages."

Gertrude Himmelfarb's response in The National Interest was perhaps the most damaging refutation of all. To begin with, Hegel never said that history would end in a literal sense; it's a continuous process in which "the synthesis of the preceding stage is the thesis of the present, thus setting in motion an endless dialectical cycle - and thus preserving the drama of history." And what about black poverty, the poverty of the underclass? asked Himmelfarb. In southeast Washington, where young blacks are dying nightly in the front lines of the drug war, history doesn't seem over; it seems to be just beginning. As Irving Kristol tartly put it, "We may have won the cold war, which is nice - it's more than nice, it's wonderful. But this means that now the enemy is us, not them."

Liberals complained that Fukuyama ignored the third world. Conservatives weren't too enthusiastic about his dour assessment of the winning team. Where is it written that government should provide for the spiritual needs of its citizens? Michael Novak wondered in Commentary. Democracy promises freedom from tyranny; it doesn't promise to make us happy. "The construction of a social order that achieves these is not designed to fill the soul, or to teach a philosophy, or to give instruction in how to live," Novak wrote. Democracy isn't a required course; it's an elective.

ANUMBER OF COMMENTATORS have compared "The End of History?" to the famous article published by George F. Kennan in Foreign Affairs in July 1947 and signed with an anonymous "X." Kennan's essay warned of Moscow's expansionist tendencies and called for a policy of "firm and vigilant containment," thus supplying the term that would come to characterize America's foreign policy in the postwar era.

In an article in Policy Review last summer, "Waiting for Mr. X," Burton Yale Pines, the magazine's associate publisher, called for an update. The cold war was over, Pines agreed; only what was the United States doing about it? How to deal with the turmoil Gorbachev's reforms have provoked? What should be our policy toward Eastern Europe? "Needed, in essence, is another 'X' article," wrote Pines - an article that would encourage the United States to seize the initiative. Given this hunger for a sequel, it's not surprising that Fukuyama is being touted as our "X."

But is he? It's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as a media phenomenon. "Each year needs a new sensation," says Daniel Bell. "It encapsulates a mood that people feel and gives it a vocabulary."

The practical consequences have been more difficult to measure. In the wake of Shevardnadze's visit, interpreters of foreign policy were busy scrutinizing speeches for evidence of endism. Did Fukuyama's article reflect President Bush's thinking? Was it a high-level policy paper in disguise? Senator Moynihan, for one, is skeptical. "The minute you announce that the cold war has ended and history is over," he notes, "a lot of people are going to say, 'Hey, wait a minute, we're out of a job.' " If only for bureaucratic purposes, then, history is still a going concern. As for the article's actual influence, "there's no connection between this piece and what the Government does," Kristol says flatly. "No one in the Administration has read it."

Everyone else has. Whether or not we've reached the end of history, we haven't reached the end of "The End of History?" The fall issue of The National Interest featured more "responses," and you still can't pick up a magazine or a newspaper without stumbling across some reference to Fukuyama. "I don't see much of a future for liberal democracy here in Peru's Shining Path country, but people would be pretty excited about VCRs if they only had electricity," the journalist Tina Rosenberg reported with laconic irony in The New Republic, writing from Baja Collana, Peru. "But that's just one of those technological problems Francis Fukuyama says we'll have to spend our time grappling with now that there are no more ideological conflicts to keep us busy." In a way, though, the question mark in Fukuyama's title has pre-empted criticism. History, after all, is only a way of making sense of things. Human beings depend on narrative to create an illusion of order, the literary critic Frank Kermode has argued in his profound book, "The Sense of an Ending." "To make sense of their span they need fictive concords with origins and ends, such as give meaning to lives and to poems."

"The End of History?" is a poem. (No wonder no one in the Administration has read it.) Even if we have come to the end of history, that may not be the end of it. As the historian Jerry Z. Muller observed, writing in Commentary last December, "After late capitalism comes more capitalism." And after the end of history comes more history. THOUGHTS FROM 'THE END'

The passing of Marxism-Leninism, first from China and then from the Soviet Union, will mean its death as a living ideology of world historical significance. For while there may be some isolated true believers left in places like Managua, Pyongyang, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, the fact that there is not a single large state in which it is a going concern undermines completely its pretensions to being in the vanguard of human history. And the death of this ideology means the growing "Common Marketization" of international relations, and the diminution of the likelihood of large-scale conflict between states.

This does not by any means imply the end of international conflict per se. For the world at that point would be divided between a part that was historical and a part that was post-historical. Conflict between states still in history, and between those states and those at the end of history, would still be possible. There would still be a high and perhaps rising level of ethnic and nationalist violence, since those are impulses incompletely played out, even in parts of the post-historical world. Palestinians and Kurds, Sikhs and Tamils, Irish Catholics and Walloons, Armenians and Azeris, will continue to have their unresolved grievances. This implies that terrorism and wars of national liberation will continue to be an important item on the international agenda. But large-scale conflict must involve large states still caught in the grip of history, and they are what appear to be passing from the scene.

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its North Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again. (From "The End of History?" By Francis Fukuyama, The National Interest, No. 16, Summer 1989.)

James Atlas is an editor of this magazine.

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[T]he whig historian can draw lines through certain events, … and if he is not careful he begins to forget that this line is merely a mental trick of his; he comes to imagine that it represents something like a line of causation. The total result of this method is to impose a certain form upon the whole historical story, and to produce a scheme of general history which is bound to converge beautifully upon the present—all demonstrating throughout the ages the workings of an obvious principle of progress.
—Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History

“If this is the best of all possible worlds,” he said to himself, “what can the rest be like?”
—Voltaire, Candide

It is difficult to remember an article in an intellectual political quarterly that made as big a splash as did Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History?” when it appeared in the Summer 1989 issue of The National Interest. While the response was far from unanimously favorable, it was extraordinarily large and passionate. Such prominent figures as Allan Bloom, Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Samuel P. Huntington, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in the pages of The National Interest to comment on the fifteen-page piece. The article became something of a cause célèbre, attracting heated commentary across the U.S. as well as in Europe, Asia, and South America. Its millennarian title, sans question mark, soon became a slogan to be bruited about in Washington think tanks, the press, and the academy. The young Francis Fukuyama, then a deputy director of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, quickly emerged as a minor celebrity, replete with a position at the RAND corporation and a generous book contract allowing him to expand on his ideas. Even those who took issue with the article—“I don’t believe a word of it,” was Irving Kristol’s rejoinder to its main thesis—were careful to praise the author’s intellectual sophistication. Rarely has the word “brilliant” been used with such cheery abandon: perhaps here, in the response to “The End of History?”, were those “thousand points of light” we had been hearing so much about at the time.

Why the fuss? Writing at a moment when Communisim was everywhere in retreat, it was hardly surprising that Francis Fukuyama should have proclaimed the end of the Cold War and “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.” Such proclamations were already legion. What commanded attention was something far more radical. Claiming to distinguish between “what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history,” Francis Fukuyama wrote that

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.

“The end of history as such,” “the evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”: these were the sorts of statements—along with Francis Fukuyama’s professed conviction that “the ideal will govern the material world in the long run”—that rang the alarm.

Some of the negative responses to Francis Fukuyama’s article, as he was quick to point out, were based on a simplistic misreading of his thesis. For in proclaiming that the end of history had arrived in the form of triumphant liberal democracy, Francis Fukuyama did not mean that the world would henceforth be free from tumult, political contention, or intractable social problems. Moreover, he was careful to note that “the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet in- complete in the real or material world.”

What he did maintain, however, was that liberal democracy was the best conceivable social-political system for fostering freedom; and therefore—because “the ideal will govern the material world in the long run” —he also claimed that liberal democracy would not be superseded by a better or “higher” form of government. According to Francis Fukuyama, other forms of government, from monarchy to communism to fascism, had failed because they were imperfect vehicles for freedom; liberal democracy, allowing mankind the greatest freedom possible, had triumphed because it best instantiated the ideal. In this sense, what Mr. 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” he had in mind was in the nature of a telos: more “fulfillment” than “completion” or “finish.”

True, one might still ask whether the career of History so understood is anything more than a speculative fancy—whether, indeed, the ambition to distinguish between “what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history” is not bootless, given man’s limited vision and imperfect knowledge. In any event, the idea of the end of History is hardly novel. In one form or another, it is a component of many myths and religions—including Christianity, with its vision of the Second Coming. And anyone familiar with the interstices of nineteenth-century German philosophy will remember that the end of History also figures prominently in the philosophies of G.W.F. Hegel and his disgruntled follower Karl Marx. It is perhaps worth noting, too, that one important difference between most religious speculation about the end of History and versions propagated by philosophers is hubris: orthodox Christianity, for example, is gratifyingly indefinite about the date of this eventuality. Hegel harbored no such doubts or hesitations. What he called “the last stage of History, our world, our own time” was ushered in by Napoleon’s armies at the Battle of Jena in October 1806. “This,” Francis Fukuyama writes, “Hegel saw … the victory of the ideals of the French revolution, and the imminent universalization of the state incorporating the principles of liberal democracy.” It is Francis Fukuyama’s view that “the present world seems to confirm that the fundamental principles of socio-political organization have not advanced terribly far since 1806.”

As Francis Fukuyama acknowledges, the philosophy of Hegel, especially as interpreted by the Russian-born Marxist philosopher and French bureaucrat Alexandre Kojève, was the chief theoretical inspiration for “The End of History?” Whatever else can be said of Hegel’s philosophy, or its interpretation by Kojève, there can be no doubt that it demands an extraordinarily cerebral view of the world. In the famous lectures that he gave in the 1930s on Hegel’s first book, The Phenomenology of Spirit, Kojève tells us that History “cannot be truly understood without the Phenomenology,” and, moreover, that “there is History because there is philosophy and in order that there may be Philosophy.” For those less persuaded of philosophy’s determinative importance in human affairs, such statements may help explain why Hegel, in the preface to the Phenomenology, should have defined “the true” as der bacchantische Taumel, an dem kein Glied nicht trunken ist: “the Bacchanalian whirl in which no member is not drunk.” Inebriation of some sort, at any rate, would seem desirable when entering such heady waters.

Curiously, Francis Fukuyama’s attitude toward the end of History is deeply ambivalent. On the one hand, faithful Hegelian that he is, he regards it as the final triumph of freedom. He speaks of nations or parts of the world that are still “stuck in history” or “mired in history,” as if residence in the realm of history were something it behooved us to change. On the other hand, he foresees that “the end of history will be a very sad time,” partly because he believes that the things that once called forth “daring, courage, imagination, and idealism will be replaced by economic calculation,” and partly because “in the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.” Thus he acknowledges “a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed” and even suggests that the prospect of perpetual ennui that awaits mankind “after” History may “serve to get history started once again.”

When we turn to Francis Fukuyama’s new book on this subject,1 we find that he has collected a number of careful hedges and qualifications to place around the ideas he put forward in “The End of History?” For example, he continues to insist that there has been “a common evolutionary pattern for all human societies—in short, something like a Universal History of mankind in the direction of liberal democracy.” But instead of presenting this Universal History as the record of an ineluctable dialectic, he now admits that it is “simply an intellectual tool.” Early on in The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama repeats his claim that

We cannot picture to ourselves a world that is essentially different from the present one, and at the same time better. Other, less reflective ages also thought of themselves as the best, but we arrive at this conclusion exhausted, as it were, from the pursuit of alternatives we felt hadto be better than liberal democracy.

But at the very end of his book he hesitates, suggesting that the evidence for necessary progress—evidence that the “wagon train” of history is moving in the right direction, that the lead wagons have in fact reached their destination—is “provisionally inconclusive.” The generous response to such tensions is that they render Francis Fukuyama’s discussion richer and more nuanced; the skeptical response is that, in an effort to answer his critics, he has opened himself to the charge of inconsistency on fundamental issues.

Francis Fukuyama claims at the outset that The End of History is not simply a restatement of his famous article. Perhaps, then, we should call it a re-presentation and expansion of the ideas he articulated in “The End of History?” Divided into four parts and some thirty chapters, the book painstakingly presents the case that history possesses a structure and direction, that the direction is up, and that we in the liberal West occupy the final summit of the historical edifice. What’s new is a lot of detailed philosophical discussion. Francis Fukuyama provides a summary of Plato’s speculations about the origin of our sense of honor and shame as well as a long discussion of the famous master/slave dialectic in Hegel’s Phenomenology. Following Hegel, he presents the “struggle for recognition” as the “longing” that drives history, and concludes that liberal democracy offers the most complete and “rational” satisfaction of that longing possible. The last part of the book is essentially a meditation on his claim that the end of history will be “a very sad time.” Francis Fukuyama is particularly worried that the satisfactions of living at the end of history will leave mankind so dull and complacent that his spiritual life will atrophy and he will find himself transformed into that flaccid creature, Nietzsche’s “last man,” described in Thus Spoke Zarathustra as “the most despicable man” who is “no longer able to despise himself.”

Like the article that occasioned it, The End of History also provides two quite disparate views of the world. On one side we have Francis Fukuyama the conservative political analyst, commenting in lithe, well-informed prose on the state of the world. This gentleman is hardheaded, wry, and full of quietly witty obiter dicta. “In America today,” he writes, “we feel entitled to criticize another person’s smoking habits, but not his or her religious beliefs or moral behavior.” Moreover, this Francis Fukuyama recognizes that, whether or not we are at the end of History, nothing has happened to cancel a nation’s need for vigilance: “no state that values its independence,” he insists, “can ignore the need for defense modernization.” Indeed, one imagines that he would accede wholeheartedly to the wise observation of the Roman military commentator Flavius Vegetius: si vis pacem, para bellum (“If you want peace, prepare for war”). One is not surprised to find endorsements on the book jacket from such well-known figures as Charles Krauthammer, George F. Will, and Eduard Shevardnadze.

On the other side we have Francis Fukuyama the philosopher, impressively erudite, deeply committed to a neo-Hegelian view of the historical process. This Francis Fukuyama seems to put greater stock in ideas than facts (indeed, one suspects that he would scorn the distinction between ideas and facts as an artificial construct). He speaks often about “the motor” or “directionality” of history, “internal contradictions” that must be overcome, and “the complete absence of coherent theoretical alternatives to liberal democracy.” He even suggests that “the present form of social and political organization is completely satisfying to human beings in their most essential characteristics.” It is not quite clear what the Messrs. Fukuyama have to say to each other, though their co-habitation clearly makes for sensational copy.

We have nothing but good wishes for Fukuyama 1; about Fukuyama 2, however, we have grave reservations, not least because of the threat his ideas pose to his more commonsensical twin.

Like most world-explaining constructions invented by humanity, Hegel’s dialectic acts as catnip on susceptible souls. Once one is seduced, everything seems marvelously clear and, above all, necessary: all important questions have been answered beforehand and the only real task is to apply the method to clean up the untoward messiness of reality. It is very exiciting. “All of the really big questions,” as Francis Fukuyama puts it in his preface, “had been settled.” But the problem with such constructs is that they insulate their adherents from empirical reality: since everything unfolds “necessarily” according to a preordained plan, nothing that merely happens in the world can alter the itinerary. As the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski observed in his book Religion,

Monistic reductions in general anthropology or “historiosophy” are always successful and convincing; a Hegelian, a Freudian, a Marxist, and an Adlerian are, each of them, safe from refutation as long as he is consistently immured in his dogma and does not try to soften it or make concessions to common sense; his explanatory device will work forever.

What one gains is an explanation; what one loses is the truth. There are good reasons—from the rise of multiculturalism to the state once known as Yugoslavia—to believe that what we are witnessing today is not the final consolidation of liberal democracy but the birth of a new tribalism. For those committed to the end of History, however, it’s simply that “the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet in- complete in the real or material world.”

Among the unpleasant side effects of adherence to such doctrines is the habit of intellectual arrogance. Hegel offers the supreme case in point. About his “firm and invincible faith that there is Reason in history,” for example, the philosopher assures us that his faith “is not a presupposition of study; it is a result which happens to be known to myself because I already know the whole.” It is cheering to possess knowledge of “the whole,” of course, but a bit daunt- ing for the rest of us. Not surprisingly, such arrogance also expresses itself about com- peting doctrines. Thus we find Francis Fukuyama, supplementing Hegel with Nietzsche, explaining that “the problem with Christianity … is that it remains just another slave ideology, that is, it is untrue in certain crucial respects.” How gratifying to be able to docket the whole of Christianity and file it away as an example of mankind’s spiritual immaturity!

Perhaps the most obvious problem with Hegel’s philosophy of history is that the “necessary” freedom which his system mandates can look a lot like unfreedom to anyone who happens to disagree with its dictates. As the contemporary German philosopher Hans Blumenberg observes, “If there were an immanent final goal of history, then those who believe they know it and claim to promote its attainment would be legitimized in using all the others who do not know it … as a mere means.” The twentieth century has acquainted us in terrifyingly exquisite detail with what happens when people are treated as “moments” in an impersonal dialectic. We find ourselves in a situation where “real freedom,” as Hegel puts it, demands the “subjugation of mere contingent will.” It is hardly surprsing that Leszek Kolakowski, writing about Hegel in Main Currents of Marxism, should conclude that “in the Hegelian system humanity becomes what it is, or achieves unity with itself, only by ceasing to be humanity.” Once again, the contrast with Christianity is illuminating. For while the good Christian, too, believes that freedom consists in the “subjugation of mere contingent will,” he endeavors to act not in accordance with “the Idea” as formulated by a nineteenth-century German philosopher but with God’s will. Moreover, while Hegel insists that with the formulation of his philosophy “the antithesis between the universal and the individual will has been removed,” Christianity has had the good manners to attribute a large dollop of inscrutibility to God’s will. By refusing to saddle mankind with “necessary freedom,” Christianity preserves a large domain for the exercise of individual freedom in everyday life.

Mr. Fukuyama’s commitment to the Hegelian dialectic leads him to some strange inversions. Early on in his book, he remarks that “it is possible to speak of historical progress only if one knows where mankind is going.” But is this so? Is it not rather that what one needs in order to discern progress is knowledge of where mankind has been, not where it is going? And in any case, whom should we trust to furnish us with accurate reports about where mankind is going? Is G.W.F. Hegel, for all his genius, really a reliable guide? Is Francis Fukuyama? No: history, a humble account of how man has lived and suffered, is what we require to declare progress, not prophecy.

It is important to stress that the issue is not whether mankind has made progress over the millennia. Surely it has. The exact nature and extent of the progress can be measured in any number of ways. The material progress of mankind has been staggering, especially in the last two hundred years. Ditto for mankind’s political progress, despite the tyrannies and despotisms that remain. As Francis Fukuyama points out, in 1790 there were only three liberal democracies in the world: the United States, France, and Switzerland. Today, there are sixty-one. That is remarkable progress. But it is also contingent progress, reversible by the same means that accomplished it in the first place: the efforts of individual men and women.

Indeed, one of the great casualities of Hegel’s system is the whole realm of individual initiative. Francis Fukuyama has told us that “in the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy,” precisely because at the end of History nothing remains for those disciplines to accomplish. But how often, even before Hegel, has that end been proclaimed. Gilbert Murray, in The Classical Tradition in Poetry, recalled being told that “one of the very earliest poems unearthed in Babylonia contains a lament that all reasonable subjects for literature are already exhausted.” And just about the time Hegel was proclaiming the end of History, we find the French painter Eugène Delacroix observing that “Those very ones who believe that everything has been said and done, will greet you as new and yet will close the door behind you. And then they will say again that everything has been done and said.”

One of the most serious moral problems with the idea of the end of History is that it implacably transforms everything outside the purview of the theory into a historical “accident” or exception, draining it of moral significance. Hegel’s system tells us what has to happen; what actually does happen turns out not to matter much. Francis Fukuyama admits that “we have no guarantees” that the future will not produce more Hitlers or Pol Pots. But in his view, evil, e.g. the evil which produced the Holocaust, “can slow down but not derail the locomotive of History.” More: “At the end of the twentieth century,” he writes, “Hitler and Stalin appear to be bypaths of history that led to dead ends, rather than real alternatives for human social organization.” But what can this mean? The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was the tragedy that sparked Candide, Voltaire’s attack on Leibniz’s dictum that ours was necessarily “the best of all possible worlds.” What philosophical empyrean need one inhabit in order to regard the course of history since 1806 as the reprise of a completed symphony? How far shall we trust a “Universal History” that relegates the conflagrations of two world wars and the unspeakable tyranny of Hitler and Stalin to epiphenomenal “bypaths”? I submit that any theory which regards World War II as a momentary wrinkle on the path of freedom is in need of serious rethinking.

If Francis Fukuyama’s commitment to Hegel is itself problematic, so at times is his interpretation of Hegel’s teaching. For it is not at all clear that Hegel himself was a champion of anything like what we call liberal democracy. Francis Fukuyama complains that people have labeled Hegel “a reactionary apologist for the Prussian monarchy, a forerunner of twentieth-century totalitarianism, and … a difficult-to-read metaphysician.” Let’s grant that the bit about totalitarianism is moot. What about the rest? No one is going to give Hegel a prize for limpid prose. Perhaps, as Francis Fukuyama says, Hegel was par excellence the “philosopher of freedom.” Perhaps. Certainly he talked about freedom a great deal. He was fond, for example, of claiming that “the History of the World is nothing other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom.” We must of course hope that that notion is a consolation to the multitudes whom the dialectic has consigned to the uncomfortable (but, alas, necessary) role of unfreedom in the lower-case day-to-day history we all merely live through.

But liberal democracy? No doubt it was just one of those lucky strokes of fortune, an example of life imitating art: still, it is remarkable that “the Germanic world” of the nineteenth century should emerge as the political zenith of Hegel’s system, primus inter impares of “those nations on which the world spirit has conferred its true principle.” Mirabile visu, convenience once again jibes seamlessly with necessity. But question: was Hegel’s Prussia, at the time of Metternich, of Frederick William III, et al., a “liberal democracy”? Did Hegel believe that it was? Francis Fukuyama is surely correct that to have a liberal democracy, the people must be sovereign. But in The Philosophy of Right Hegel seems to think that the sovereign should be sovereign. “The monarch,” he tells us, is “the absolute apex of an organically developed state,” “the ungrounded self-determination in which finality of decision is rooted,” etc. He says, further, that constitutional monarchy such as we see in … oh, well, in nineteenth-century Prussia, for example, is “the achievement of the modern world, a world in which the substantial Idea has won the infinite form.” In other words, he likes it.

Or at least he appears to like it. In a footnote, Francis Fukuyama acknowledges that Hegel overtly supported the Prussian monarchy. He nevertheless maintains that, “far from justifying the Prussian monarchy of his day,” Hegel’s discussion in The Philosophy of Right “can be read as an esoteric critique of actual practice.” Presumably, it is by virtue of some such “esoteric critique” that Hegel, champion of the Prussian state, turns out—truly, essentially—to be an enthuasiast for Kojève’s “universal homogenous state,” a.k.a. liberal democracy. It is nice work if you can get it.

It may also be worth pointing out a curious inconsistency in Francis Fukuyama’s account of the end of History. If, as Hegel’s famous slogan has it, “the real is the rational and the rational is the real,” how are we to understand Francis Fukuyama’s “provisional inconclusiveness”? Indeed, how are we to understand his suggestion that nostalgia, or boredom, or evil might “re-start” history? What, is mere nostalgia a match for the imperatives of History? Can boredom contravene “God’s walk through the world,” as Hegel once described the process of history? If the end of History is a logical and metaphysical necessity, how are we to understand Francis Fukuyama’s hesitations? In fact, his ambivalence contributes greatly to his book’s vividness, for it provides a little space for reality to enter. But considered on his own—i.e. Hegel’s—terms, Francis Fukuyama would seem to be a disappointing dialectician.

It should go without saying that none of these criticisms is meant to deny that the Hegelian system possesses tremendous aesthetic appeal. The panoramic drama of absolute being struggling to achieve perfect self-knowledge in history: it is an imposing tale of a thousand and one nights for the philosophically inclined. The inconvenient question is only whether the story it tells is true. Perhaps, as Kierkegaard suggested, Hegel was a man who had built a palace but lived in the guard house.

Francis Fukuyama’s own addiction to palace building shows itself in a response to critics that he published in the Winter 1989/90 issue of The National Interest. “In order to refute my hypothesis,” he writes “it is not sufficient to suggest that the future holds in store large and momentous events. One would have to show that these events were driven by a systematic idea of political and social justice that claimed to supersede liberalism.” But this would be the case only if one grants Francis Fukuyama’s premise—that we are in possession of a “systematic idea of political and social justice.” In fact, it may be that what we need is not a better theory but less theory.

In this respect, as possibly in others, a good antidote to the Hegelian juggernaut is the mild doctrine of the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana. In Character and Opinion in the United States (1920), Santayana distinguishes between “English liberty,” which is “vague,” “reticent,” and involves “perpetual compromise,” and “absolute liberty,” which he describes as “a foolish challenge thrown by a new-born insect buzzing against the universe.” “In the end,” Santayana suggests, “adaptation to the world at large, where so much is hidden and unintelligible, is only possible piecemeal, by groping with a genuine indetermination in one’s aims”—that is, by rejecting the inflated promises of absolute liberty for the more modest satisfactions of local freedom. To the partisan of the Hegelian dialectic or any other “fixed programme or, as he perhaps calls it, an ideal,” this capitulation to uncertainty will doubtless seem strange. But the Danish Prince was right: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

1The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama; Free Press, 418 pages, $24.95.

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