The End of History and the Last Man
As the 1980s drew to a close and the walls – concrete and symbolic – around what was the Soviet bloc crumbled, American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama turned Marx on his head and dusted off Hegel to produce an analysis that was immensely popular and immensely controversial – political history was at its end; the great battle of ideas had been won; society had within its sights “the final form of human government”: western liberal democracy. Wow. Big claim. Everywhere the free market, the multi-party electoral system, the regime of liberal rights had triumphed or was soon to triumph and no where no way no how could anything ever challenge its dominance again.
Expanding on his own 1989 essay, “The End of History”, the book argued that history was an evolutionary process, and though events, conflicts, transitions would still occur, liberal democracy had become the universal ideal, the standard for political governance, and no other system could forseeably replace it. There may be steps backward, there may be alternatives proposed and attempted – in the grand march of history, however, there could be nothing better, but only a further consolidation of the basic tenets and institutions of liberal democracy.
For those who liked to think of themselves as victors in the Cold War, Fukuyama’s analysis was touted as the academic messiah, the philosophical explanation for western triumph. For critics, however, it was less genuine triumph and more triumphalism, a short-sighted analysis that took a temporary state of affairs and generalized its universality and timelessness, and operated more as propaganda for the post-Cold-War order than sophisticated political theory. The End of History, that is, simply outlined the basic principles of an existing state of affairs and attempted to explain these as some moral good rather than a political-economic order. Any facts that contradicted the argument were simply ignored, as were very real and continuing political, cultural and ideological conflicts across large swaths of the globe.
In the years since its initial publication, The End of History has seen its fair share of detractors. And since 2001, particularly, many have suggested Fukuyama’s claims have proven premature and overly-simplistic. Many, though, still hold fast to the basic thesis, and the notion that liberal democracy is as good at is gets and constitutes a universal political morality like nothing else, continues to hold sway.
- Wiki on The End of History and Francis Fukuyama
- The short version – Fukuyama’s 1989 essay that started it all