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November 08, 2007


Vera Bersudskaya

Reading Fukuyama’s article was very enlightening. It is so famous and everyone talks about it so much, that there is a “Telephone” effect. Everyone denounces Fukuyama’s worship of the neoliberal, triumphant Western idea, without actually reading to the end of the article, where he expresses his doubts about the virtues of this end of history:
“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.”
Everyone says that the continuation of conflicts and the rise of Islamism prove him wrong, while in his article he actually notes the emergence of “religious fundamentalism” and also points out that the end of history “does not by any means imply the end of international conflict per se.”
Fukuyama wrote his article in 1989 and it is definitely more nuanced than everyone portrays it to be. First of all in 1989, the collapse of USSR was not a 100% evident. Second, he does not in any way suggest that all conflict will end and that everyone will embrace democratic neoliberalism and live happily ever after. In fact, he just claims that, for the large part, mankind has finally reached Hegel’s last “democratic-egalitarian” stage of consciousness. Of course, one may be tempted to challenge him by saying that not everyone agrees with this view, take the above mentioned Islamists in example, but as Fukuyama suggests they do not provide a coherent exportable ideology appealing to non-Muslims.
I think the main downfall of his argument, which seems otherwise very relevant and powerful, is the lack of ambition to make the world even better, to try to look for a system even better than the neoliberal one. For example, he acknowledges the growing inequality in America, but justifies the system as being the closest one can ever get to “classless society.” Given this passive and rather pessimistic view of the politico-economic possibilities, various challenges like the “illiberal democracies” that Zakaria talks about, will not be dealt with. There is a great danger in settling for mediocrity. There is always room for improvement, and thus no “end” proper.

Serena Yang

Francis Fukuyama’s essay revolves around the idea of Hegel’s dialectic, the idea that history advances through a series of ideological confrontations, the thesis and the antithesis duke it out and the synthesis is what’s left when the dust settles. While Fukuyama believes that this dialectical process is winding down, that there are no more “fundamental ‘contradictions’ in human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism,” there is of course, as Vera points out, the obvious dialectical battle that refutes this argument, liberalism versus fundamentalism. But more than that I do not believe that Fukuyama completely buys into the liberal ideology that heralds the end of history, and it is this contradiction that I think renders his argument less than convincing. Liberalism does not promise or guarantee a perfect society yet that is what the end of history would imply.

I think this is the point that Vera is getting at when she talks about how there is always room for improvement so history cannot end. Fukuyama himself recognizes the existence of ideologies that could potentially challenge this neoliberal status quo but he dismisses them in a few sentences. He acknowledges the rise of fundamentalism but then backtracks, saying that “it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance” and that “other less organized religious impulses have been successfully satisfied within the sphere of personal life that is permitted in liberal societies.” Fukuyama also admits that he is not interested in small, developing countries because it is “the larger and more developed states of the world who after all account for the greater part of world politics.”

But why doesn’t Fukuyama give Islamic fundamentalism more credit or pay more attention to developing countries? I think when it comes down to it, Fukuyama has observed that the world’s richest countries, the most industrialized countries, have acquired wealth and high standards of living via liberal ideologies; and indeed not only do these large, developed countries have little incentive to change the status quo, but they also pressure smaller countries to develop economically and politically according to the same liberal ideals. Nevertheless, this does not mean that there is only one way to develop. Furthermore, the very inequalities within and between countries born from liberalism brew resentment against liberal states. And I think this resentment is what we see in fundamentalism and developing countries, which is why Fukuyama was wrong to gloss over them and why his argument that neoliberalism is the end of history is contradictory and unconvincing.

Kinzie Kramer

I found Fukuyama’s article initially interesting and finally just insulting- he has absolutely no faith in human’s creativity and passion. His statement that we have reached the end of history because we have reached “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution,” I believe to be overly apathetic and impertinent. Mankind’s ideological evolution will continue and there is no such thing as Hegel’s “absolute moment - a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state became victorious;” at the very least I refuse to believe that we will all just swallow a happy pill and call it quits on trying to advance civilization. As Vera stated in her above posting, the main downfall of his argument is the lack of ambition he thinks that humans’ possess to make the world a better place. We are not just going to stop and allow history to be over.

I also take issue with the following quote: “Our task is not to answer exhaustively the challenges to liberalism promoted by every crackpot messiah around the world, but only those that are embodied in important social or political forces and movements, and which are therefore part of world history.” I’m not sure what his definition of “crackpot messiahs” is, but I certainly think that in this statement he is overlooking people who have affected history. For example, I realize this sounds strange, but the leaders of the Heaven’s Gate cult who convinced 38 people to commit suicide so as to meet Jesus on the spaceship that was supposedly behind the Hale-Bopp Comet. I personally would consider the leaders of this group “crackpot messiahs,” but they certainly affected a group of people, gave cult a whole new meaning, and were apart of world history. I don’t think they should be discounted. If having a hard time with this example, think of Hitler. He could fit the definition of crackpot messiah as well, and he started a world war.

Jessica Chu

Like Vera said, time and multiple mouths tend to mutate the ideas behind theories into simplified catch phrases that are used to sum up an entire work. Unfortunately, Fukuyama’s essay has been circulated as a praise of liberalism and the bulk of his analysis has been left by the wayside. He did in fact distinguish between victory of liberalism in ideas, and victory in the real world. He acknowledged that there would still be turmoil and conflict, but the ideology of democratic liberalism would be the final and only ideology that could unit the world. Towards the end, Fukuyama does question whether the end of history is really in the best interest of the people, and even suggests a perpetual boredom following the end of history. Fukuyama presents the idea that we have reached the end of history with democratic liberalism as surprisingly detached. He doesn’t advocate liberalism with a burning passion, he just presents it as an inevitable fact of life. It was bound to come upon us if we waited long enough.
His very ambivalence to the idea, I think, is his greatest flaw. By presenting his theory as an inevitable fact of life, it seems like he’s attempting to add scientific legitimacy to his claim. By claiming that the natural course of history would have brought us to democratic liberalism, and then proceeding to try and prove it using leaps of faith is painfully reminiscent of when people tried to justify racism “scientifically”. In racism’s case, they would measure the size of the cranium among other seemingly scientific procedures that proved the superiority of whites. However, those procedures took leaps of faith to tie up a conclusion of racial superiority. Personally, I do not agree with Fukuyama, and after democratic liberalism has spent its time in the sun, Fukuyama is going to be looked back on as ridiculous.

Hye Jin Lee

I found the “end of history” argument of Fukuyama very weak and unconvincing. I certainly do not think, as Vera and Serena said, democratic liberalism would be the ideology that would achieve united, homogeneous communities. I also found his argument very pessimistic when he argued that terrorism and national liberation wars would be inevitable. One form ideology cannot be the solution to the world as countries have different cultures and social characteristics and values, and they all develop in different ways. As Jessica said, he would be looked at as completley ridiculous and narrow-minded when looked back in the near future.

The most disagreeable part of his argument I found was where he says that “the root cause of economic inequality do not have to do with the underlying legal and social structure of our society, which remains fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributionist, so much as with cultural and social characteristics.” Legal aspects in my opinion can be strengthened beyond to give support for those in lower economic status. Even with abolition of slavery, for example, they need stepping stone to fully utilize their potential economic output that they have to offer to the society. In terms of education, even with loans and grants from school, it is much harder for those in lower economic status to enroll in college than those from a wealthy family.

It is certainly saddening to read, although I certainly do not agree: “In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy.” I do not think art or philosophy, art especially, will cease to exist. This statement of his, as Kinzie said, in a sense reveal his opinion on human “creativity and passion.” However I do not believe that he feels that they are not valuable are not needed. Art and philosophy will continue to contribute to human history throughout democratic liberation and beyond. We have seen in the past repeatedly how even in the most difficult times such as in SU concentration camps, art and entertainment were what kept people alive and necessary for human survival.

Shane Barclay

I will not stray from the overwhelming disagreement with Fukuyama’s claims, but I would like to expand on two points that Kinzie made which I wholeheartedly agree with: that there is no “absolute moment” which indicates the end of history and that his lack of faith in human imagination is insulting.

Fukuyama must be a bit confused. The physical evolution of humans may be waning, but the ideological evolution is not. We have used our brains to make physical evolution more meaningless, but it is the evolution of our brains that allows that. There is no legitimate evidence that could show that the perpetuation of human ideas is over and I do not even see any indication of it slowing down.

How dare he claim that we are relegated to the “perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history!” If Fukuyama proves to be correct in predicting that society is eventually going to be based on a bunch of calculations rather than the continual evolution of ideas then I have no doubt that he will be proven incorrect. The mundane daily life will surely drive people to recreate “history.” Fukuyama qualifies this revolution with a “perhaps,” but that is where he is wrong. If he is right up to that point then humans will without-a-doubt feel the desire to change things; to invigorate life with art and imagination. This has happened before—look at the Renaissance—and would happen again.

Cindy Yu-Hsin Chou

Fukuyama is presumptuous in two parts of his basic argument: 1) that the Cold War is the end of history, and 2) in the contention towards the end of history as "universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”. Fukuyama states that in the past, there have been two main challenges to liberalism: fascism and communism. This is simply contentious. By saying this, Fukuyama is shortsighted and assumes the liberal world today to be the only democratic institution in history. One need only to look at history to see the various democracies that have been crushed in the past. Take Ancient Greece: one of the most classic examples of democracy and a leading power in the world, it still failed to withstand the forces of history. Every time and place produces a set of accompanying of events and conditions, and it is my firm belief that forces in the world are cyclical. It is not possible for one grand power to maintain that status forever, and nor is it possible for one type of institution to last forever. Fukuyama also neglects the fact that liberal democracy is an ideal, and realistically, even self-proclaimed “liberal democracies” like the United States finds ways to infringe on the rights and freedoms of individuals. Related to this, Fukuyama furthermore is too simplistic and does not see that the world is not black and white: even if one assumes that globalization and the free market is leading many countries to liberalize today, Fukuyama does not recognize that though the end product will have elements of liberal democracy, it may also equally have elements of government intervention and other variations of authoritarian rule or institutional control. As countries like China and India, in addition to other Asian countries, increase their stake and influence over the global economy, the forces of the international realm will change into something bigger than universalized liberal democracy, and it will not be the end of history.
Fukuyama states that “FAILURE to understand that the roots of economic behavior lie in the realm of consciousness and culture leads to the common mistake of attributing material causes to phenomena that are essentially ideal in nature.” Too bad it is he that fails to understand the roots of change and circumstance in the world.

Tal Yeshanov

Modern neoliberalism may shed light into a new way to govern society and can give light on how one should think, however, it cannot be the end of history. In his writing, Fukuyama believes that “it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run”. I disagree with him, while I recognize (Vera mentioned this too) that the end of history does not necessarily translate over to the end of internal conflict and strife, I think history cannot end because it is that very internal strife and conflict between groups of people that cause history to be what it is. For example, in his writing Fukuyama even gave the example of Europe in 1945. It is impossible to have conflict such as that in the 1940s and not have it escalate into a war and to take a step further, into history. Strife IS history. Whether we are in a neoliberalist, communist, socialist, or democratic society something will always be happening. While I do agree with Fukuyama and Serena Yang, the liberal way is in fact in some cases the better way to go. This is because most industrialized countries have been able to develop their economies not solely due to communism but also due to the very ideals of liberalism. We should also keep in mind that a system of neoliberalism accepts some government intervention. This has an effect on the system of government in the state that liberalism has been adopted, but then again it also affects the global economy in that is controls how other countries are being run. Having these different systems of thought in place promotes resistance and conflict and thus in the end history cannot end as long as conflict can still arise.

Stephen Deng

Francis Fukuyama claims that modern liberalism has won out and that there are now no more eligible challenges to that mindset. He invokes Hegel when he talks about a continuous history being first and foremost a manifestation of continuing “developments in consciousness and ideas.” The man is convinced that such developments are at an end and therefore, we have reached the end of history.

The rest of this piece is defense. One can imagine why. He uses history to eliminate Fascism and current events in the then USSR and China to undermine the legitimacy of Socialism as a threat to the neo-liberal status quo. His basic argument lies upon this statement:

“But at the end of history it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society.”

Fukuyama acknowledges that there is going to be continued conflict especially in the form of fundamentalist religious movements and scattered nationalist movements. He claims however, these are also unworthy challenges to the established neo-liberal mindset.
Francis Fukuyama writes in 1989. Perhaps thinking about this in its historical context, one can see why he believed in the possibility of the end of history. This is during the end phase of the Cold War. The world had been in a bipolar system for over 40 years. Fukuyama, being born in 1952, had only known such a world in his lifetime. With the international scope of the Cold War and the enormous disparity between the two powers and other states, it would seem that the victor of the Cold War would have its ideology spread and dominate leading to an end of international political history.
However, one look at the 2007 world and his theories are shattered. Based on technological and scientific innovations alone one can see that we are definitely not at the end of conscious development. The internet, genetics and other innovations flourished in the period after this piece was written.

One the political front I agree with Kinzie and Serena’s opinions. 9/11 and its subsequent response showed that smaller, non-core state actors can have a huge effect on international politics. Vera supports Fukuyama’s idea that these actors cannot appeal to non-religious audiences’ and are therefore ineffective. It is in fact religious fundamentalism that shapes American military and intentional relations policy. They only need to have sway over the decision-making of the core states to become a considerable challenge to the dominant ideology. Fukuyama’s dismissal of these actors is premature and false.

David Guarino

The end of history? A bold rhetorical move, but little more. Other posters have disputed the specific content of Fukuyama's argument here that modern liberalism shall rein supreme forever, and ideological struggle will cease to be a factor in international relations. Let me address what I believe is a more fundamental issue at play in his piece.

Fukuyama is an idealist. Now this is not to say he is an optimist, but rather an obsessor of the ivory tower, an avowed believer in the Keynesian maxim that all policymakers are slaves to defunct academic scribblers. And if we limit his argument to the scope of the academic sphere (what some political scientists dub the 'epistemic communities' in the background of bureaucratic and political decisionmaking) then he is fully right. I think it is fair to say that the range of legitimate governance modes is now limited in one form or another to liberal democracy. The outliers we see in totalitarianism (North Korea) or theocratic absolutism (Iran) do indeed to be singular historical exceptions on their way out. The latter challenge may be more significant than the former, but even in the Iranian example we see that - when left alone - democratic impulses seem to take hold and drive many decisions.

But where Fukuyama is wrong is precisely in choosing this scope as an appropriate unit of analysis for all of history. The world of ideas is not the world. And as much as I'd like to dismiss historical materialism as defunct intellectual games, material conditions are nonetheless a driving force in history to this day.

Changing technology will indeed alter the nature of human relations. The assumption of liberal democracy as a lasting system is that constraints in human nature and technology prevent any better system (think Churchill: neoliberalism as least terrible of all the others), but these constraints can and will change. I hate to go all sci-fi, but wouldn't the nature of a democratic system be radically altered if individual input to democratic mechanisms could be more direct and near-immediate? What if instant scientific-polling of constituencies were at such a low-cost that policymakers become little more than statisticians? Better yet, think of a market where changes in demand are immediately met by changes in supply. Financial derivatives in everything. Universal access to the best universities in the world, from Nairobi to Punjab.

These things are not outside the realm of possibility in the near future. And to buy into Fukuyama's argument is to deny that underneath the power of ideas lies technological constraints. Imagine Athens without the written word. Better yet, imagine the different lessons one could learn from classical philosophy if a holographic Socrates were posing the questions rather than a cheap piece of paper from Moe's.

Fukuyama's end of history is the end of this particular centimeter. But humanity has certain evolutionary and existential promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.

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