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November 08, 2007


Irina Zeylikovich

I think its really easy to categorize Fukuyama as ‘insane’ now, with the luxury of hindsight. But we have to keep in mind when he was writing – 1989. It is easy to imagine that, flushed with the American ‘victory’ of the Cold War, Fukuyama brazenly proclaimed the “victory of liberalism,” specifically of “Western liberal democracy.”
Given the historical context, I think Fukuyama’s article was an extremely interesting read, and I can see why it was so popular when it was first released. However, I disagree with him on a fundamental point. He basically says that there are no longer any “contradictions in human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism,” thus history grinds to a halt. However, I don’t agree with the logic that history moves forward solely through contradictions or conflict, so I do not see the argument as valid. Also, there are several instances where Fukuyama uses examples to show that history has been on a path leading to this victory he’s proclaimed, which is too determinalistic for my tastes.
Interestingly enough, Fukuyama altered the thesis put forward in this article when he wrote “Has History Started Again?” There he discussed the threat put forward through what he called “Islamo-fascism”, but because it did not constitute a political-economic system his original argument still held (according to him).

Noah Castro

Fukuyama is an instigator of neoliberal politics, who got way too excited and presumptuous by the fall of the Soviet Union. His article “The End of History” is a compilation of persuasive rhetoric geared toward fortifying a new stronghold on the political frontier. My objection to Fukuyama's argument relates to one specific quote:

“For our purposes, it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso, for we are interested in what one could in some sense call the common ideological heritage of mankind”

I find this assertion, that “western liberalism” represents the ideological heritage of mankind, to be very audacious. Such an attitude about international politics is derived from an overall misconstruction and objectification of the geopolitical events that have defined mankind's development for the past century. The cold war was fought in the periphery, where imperialist ambitions of the hegemonic super powers has left incalculable amounts of social, political, economic, and physical damage that will resonate through millions and millions of “strange thoughts” within many generations to come. Furthermore, how can one even purport to suggest that “western liberalism” is an ideological commonality when nearly 50% of mankind is poverty stricken and feels oppressed by it.

Of course Fukuyama's Hegelian justification for his assertion implies that western liberalism is the common ideological heritage because we, the united states, say it is and since we have proven to be the great power of the world, ordained by the great spirit, our way must be the only right and true way.

I do not believe that the ends justify the means. I do not condone justification through use of force and coercion. In addition, I believe that where there is desperation there is struggle and conflict. Three billion impoverished people makes for a lot of desperation and dynamic ideological unrest. There is no “common ideological heritage of mankind” from either an economic or political perspective. Fukuyama's argument is fundamentally erroneous.

Eric Silverman

While I don’t find this article to be evidence of “insanity”, I believe that it is a very manipulative and dangerous precursor to an ideology that justifies the universal implementation of economic and political liberalism. This is a misguided conclusion based off of the narrow scope of his argument. Hegel first used history in the strict definition of as the result of the violent of the battle of ideas. Fukuyama is convinced that Liberalism has already clashed with every ideology that poses a threat and is destined to be recognized as the “common ideological heritage of mankind.”

This idea is dangerous because if it is taken seriously, it very much becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Because we are at “the end of history”, there is no longer any incentive to change or reform the overarching structure that is supposedly supposed to become hegemonic. It is very convenient to write off problems of inequality and poverty as “the historical legacy of pre-modern conditions.” It puts the source of the problem on something that is out of the hands of contemporary politicians and economists, who are now allowed to focus solely on the efficient implementation of liberalism. Moreover, it implies that the longer countires stay stuck in this “pre-modern” state, the more likely they are the encounter an extremely painful transition into the light. At the end of the Cold War, I can see how this argument could be useful in converting the world away from communism, but today it is a precarious overgeneralization.

Liberalism, or I suppose liberalism as we see in Reich, tends to be exaggerate the problems of class and socioeconomic status, birthing serious questions regarding our “common ideological heritage.” The world is becoming more and more unequal, and the fact of the matter is people have not stopped thinking about ways to reconstruct modern economies and polities. History is not only the result of violent philosophical conflicts, but also is the product of the past’s interaction with the present and future. Because there is no way Fukuyama can look into the future, there is no way he can claim that our ideological evolution has stopped.

Susanna Babos

When I read Fukuyama’s essay, it became clear that Fukuyama believes that the European Union is not heading toward democracy, but rather towards the end of history. According to Fukuyama, the EU has an increasing tendency to prefer group rights over individual ones, meaning that this results in a collision with democratic rights that were first established during the period of Enlightenment. This therefore leads to a certain renunciation of its own historical development and to some extent ethics too.
Fukuyama also proceeds to voice his opinion about Islamist, and he contrasts them with Bolsheviks and Nazis. Fukuyama actually disagrees with Huntington, who said that there is no universal law of history for societies to grow in a liberal democratic direction. However, I find his ground for universalism not too persuasive because you cannot really put Islam into a universal history, unless you are willing to overlook the following factors:
- the sharia does not recognize secular law
- it provides certain rights to Christians and Jews, but not to pagans
- no principle for reform is included or described anywhere
Therefore, these factors prove that Islamism is a problem for the Universalist view of human history.

Karina Tregub

All of the comments so far have strongly opposed Fukuyama’s arguments and his claim that history has come to an end. While I agree that his notions are extreme and his rationale not sufficiently proven, there are certain nuances within his argument that are worth noting. While he suggests that the end of history signals “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government,” he admits that this is not an absolute for all nations. He brings in the requirement that there must be an “abundance of a modern free market economy” in order for liberalism to signal the end of history. This is because the nation must come to a certain state of consciousness which will allow for the growth of liberalism. Since “consciousness is cause and not effect,” Fukuyama claims that political and economic structures are an effect of a prior state of consciousness that made them possible. Whether this state of consciousness gives rise to liberalism or not really depends on the cultural and social characteristics that make up the nation in question. Fukuyama does not ignore the economic inequalities that are present in the world, but says that they have less to do with “the underlying legal and social structure of our society” and more to do with the cultural and historic backgrounds. I agree with Eric that history is “the product of the past’s interaction with the present and future” and that one cannot predict what the effects of that interaction will be. But it is not impossible to analyze the direction in which ideology and history is more likely to go, depending on the past and present events.

Although Fukuyama believes that the end of history means that societies “end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society,” he does not feel that all nations must become liberal societies. He seems to touch upon the fact that not all countries can achieve democracy and liberalism the way that the western countries have, but he does see liberalism as the surviving ideology, when compared to fascism or communism. After the end of the communist system in the USSR, there were signs of changing social mindsets. Fukuyama comments on the Soviet’s new political thinking, which strived for more economic concerns, with less emphasis on nations involving ideological conflicts and using military force for power. In this respect, I would agree with him. I was in Ukraine this summer, and as a former Soviet republic, it is still very much tied to the Soviet ideological roots and economic interdependencies. However, there are clear pulls towards capitalism within the various industries, especially in cities that are being rebuilt by private businesses and individuals. It is true that the government system is still not efficient and cohesive, but the entrepreneurial and real estate sectors there are quite successful. Although there is still a long way to go before their system can be called liberalism or democracy, the driving forces towards a freer and more capitalist market are definitely in tact. Whether or not this is true for other former Soviet republics takes more in-depth analysis and research. This is something that Fukuyama’s article definitely lacks; therefore, while I would not necessarily call his initial ideas insane, the insufficient proofs do make his arguments seem very weak, especially to a modern audience, living through his predictions and claims.

Norris Tran Duc

I found Francis Fukuyama’s essay very interesting. Keeping in mind that he wrote it in 1989 and that the fall of the Soviet Union was actually only a few years away, I agree with Irina on how his article may have been popular at the time. Yet it maintained the idea that the West had won or would win once again, and the United States, holding its hegemonic supremacy over the world had paved the correct path to the “happy ending” of the ideological heritage of mankind and of history.

Although “fascist and communist challenges to liberalism are dead,” I do not think Fukuyama took into account the fact that although the world was indeed converging away from those two ideologies and towards liberalism, others would soon spring up to replace them. Western liberal democracy is not in the slightest utopic, it’s just possibly the best of what we have so far, and to believe that it is the best, acknowledging that there is still a huge gap between rich and poor nations, developed and developing nations, is almost pathetic and I personally refuse to give up and say that Western liberal democracy is the end of history.

Yet, there are many things Fukuyama stated that was, just like other readings, have been prophetic, such as his belief that environmental concerns and economic calculation would engulf the “end of history” into a morose and sad time. Yet I do believe that he makes too brash of a statement when he says “the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal… will be replaced.” Like Susanna and Julia have mentioned, I believe that Islam and the rise of religious fundamentalism and nationalism are in fact huge contenders to liberalism.

I do not agree that the world is now divided into a “part that was historical and a part that was post-historical.” The world of today in the United States is focused on the war on terrorism. What is terrorism? Is it a form of religious fundamentalism or is it even reverted back to the basics of anarchy? Assuming Western liberal democracies has universalized the ideological world, we cannot say the same for technological advancements. As technology advances by the day, people now have the ability to change the world around them, some have the ability to create a new world. Technology can pave the way to a new world, and in that new world, who is to say that Western liberal democracy is the best? Technology can intertwine itself with the free economic liberalism of our markets, but it could even potentially destroy it if the Stock Market suddenly ceased to exist. For example, and Heaven forbid this happen, should terrorist organizations get hold of or use nuclear weapons, even an ideological hegemon like the United States would possibly fall back fifty or even hundreds of years in development. Is Western liberal democracy really going to be able to contend against an immense reversal in history? A nuclear bomb killed off fascist Imperial Japan. Could a nuke not do the same to Western liberal democracies, proving to the world that if it weren’t for Western liberal democracies (who partially created our current terrorists), nukes would not have been detonated in the first place?

Just like the 20,000 Chinese students studying in America, I believe that it is too brash to end the pages of history with Western liberal democracy, since the children of today will decide and mold the world of tomorrow as they see fit, in accordance to the ever developing technology that will be at their disposal. Sure, Western liberal democracies may be the most prominent at the time. I do not suspect that theocracy or anarchy will take over the world anytime soon, but a new form of government may develop in the future, possibly something different like a technocracy or anarcho-capitalism (which I am just stating as examples, hopefully not as eventual truths).

Dave Koken

I agree with many of the previous posters who have noted Fukuyama’s shortsightedness in proclaiming that the defeat of communism and fascism meant the “total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” The rise of religious fundamentalism and Islamic states in the middle east and perhaps even the socialism of South America can surely seen be viewed as “viable systematic alternatives.” However, while he may have been a little presumptuous in this regard, I think that it is very difficult to argue with Fukuyama’s particular conception of “the end of history.” He most succinctly summarizes what he means by this when he says, “To say that history ended in 1806 meant that mankind's ideological evolution ended in the ideals of the French or American Revolutions: while WHILE PARTICULAR REGIMES IN THE REAL WORLD MIGHT NOT IMPLEMENT THESE IDEALS FULLY, their theoretical truth is absolute and could not be improved upon.” (my emphasis)

In my opinion, previous posters have been too focused on how liberal ideals have come to be represented in the real world as we currently view and experience it and more emphasis needs to be placed on the ideals themselves. In practice, the ideals of the French Revolution have often created intolerable conditions that simply could not be part of an ideology that the world would claim as its universal “common heritage.” True. However, I would argue that poverty, suffering, disease, etc. are not conditions fundamentally linked to the ideals of western liberalism, but only connected to the imperfect implementation (see above quote) of those ideals by countries in the modern world. The current state of international affairs (one in which there is such widespread suffering) seems to be in direct contradiction to ideas like equality, freedom, and tolerance, which are core aspects of the western idea that Fukuyama believes has “triumphed.” The current state of suffering seen in the international arena, therefore, is not indicative of a failure or flaw in liberal ideas, but only demonstrates the current failings of states to implement those ideas effectively.

While I believe that many challenges to liberalism remain, or will arise, and that history is far from over, I find Fukuyama’s argument to be compelling. Perhaps I am blinded by my own experience living in a very western world, but it I see a very clear role for individual rights and democratic expression in the increasingly interconnected, technologically-advanced world in which we live. Whether the liberal idea will be able to completely take over as the sole, universal world ideology in the physical realm is yet to be seen, but I think it is a distinct possibility for our collective future.

Samira Ghassemi

True, given the context of when Fukuyama wrote this, liberalism was given an ego far beyond expected in today's world. After winning the cold war, his only insane action (which given the time period wasn't insane, just very radical) was to proceed with this new wave of victory with a very confident attitude that liberalism, or what we call neo-liberalism today is the only efficient and as Noah and Eric quoted, a "common ideological heritage of mankind" - which in my opinion is non-existent.

In comparison to what we read last week and our present knowledge, Fukuyama's argument is flawed; China – a non-democratic and non-liberal nation – is rising and taking up market shares left-and-right, so to speak, and there is even a fear that they will soon overcome the United States.Fukuyama does address the growing notion of globalization and what he refers to as “common marketization” where a large-scale conflict is very unlikely – due to the fact that countries of the west have shareholders across the globe and in many different countries.

A Prime Minister of India would drink his own urine whereas the Queen of England would drinks gin before sleeping - different ideologies no better than the other, but with a supremist attitude such as Fukuyama, that attitude will only cause conflict or at least generate it, as seen as any radical thinker (the world is not black and white).

Aside tangents, Fareed Zakaria’s article “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” illustrates the fact that countries that have tried to follow our notorious democratic government system, have failed to do so. Our definition as he puts it is “a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property.” We can see this in effect in Iraq and the imminent future. For instance Zakaria explains that Iran has one of the most liberal democratic elections but does not provide any individual right to the people – the government rules over the people very strictly. Maybe Fukuyama is right that we may not see any large-scale conflicts, because they must involve large states as well (who are “still caught in the grip of history”) and hopefully that isn’t the case. So then I finish with one question: what would happen if these large states, instead, back up smaller states such as Israel or North Korea?

Andrew Gurwitz

I think any thinker who has the audacity to claim we’ve arrived at the end of history, is not only insane, but extraordinarily naïve. The idea that within the entire future of the world there lay no challenges to liberalism seems utterly impossible. To begin, it would seem that the world Francis Fukuyama describes barely exists. Fukuyama claims a univerisalization of the Western ideal, evidences through the spread of Western consumerism, for example, but the liberalizing China and Russia that he describes hardly embody liberal ideas in their governments and still hold fast to their power. When he dismisses to the past 19th century imperialism, he claims that illiberal ideas of the “white man’s burden” and “the right of one nation to rule over other nations without regard for the wishes of the ruled.” Though, the developed nations still view the Global South as their burden, and though they may not be clamoring for colonies still, they compete to develop these countries, to import their liberalism, and deliver their advice. The idea that the right of one nation to rule over another has passed ignores the way in which the world’s most powerful countries instruct, advise, and warn the rest of the world. The Cold-War bipolar system may have passed, but the determination to acquire power has not. International relations is not built upon the liberalizing ideals of the United Nations General Assembly, but the United Nations Security Council, if even that. It is the powerful countries of the world who use their power not for liberalization, but to maintain the status quo power relationship. As long as power and inequality persist, challenges to that system will inevitably appear.

Jessica Stern’s Terror in Name of God shows us that the religious fundamentalism we have come to know in this decade is no new thing. In fact, as Fukuyama claims the world has arrived at an ultimate solution (one which is decidedly secular), he seems to ignore the persisting history of religion in the world. That is, the persistence of forms of governance where non-democratically elected leaders (the Pope, Rabbis, Ministers) who proclaim and decree to the delight of their followers. At their most fundamental ends, religions want not to live in a society of religious freedom and respect, but of their own religious absolutism. This contradictory movement in ideology should not be ignored.

Andrew Epstein

I believe the answer to the question of, “is Francis Fukuyama insane?” is an emphatic no. In fact I found this essay to be the most intriguing piece of literature that we have read up to this point. At the time that Fukuyama was writing, 1989, he would be correct in thinking that the challenges to liberal democracy seemed to be all but erased upon the end of the Cold War and the collapse of “Marxist-Leninist Ideology.” I think he oversteps his claim in some occasions providing liberal democracy as a solution to all current and future conflicts. For example he states, “But in the universal homogenous state, all prior contradictions are resolved and all human needs are satisfied. There is no struggle or conflict over "large" issues,” this is an overstatement because as we know conflicts arise from such areas as race and religion which can remain different in a “universally homogenized state.” However Fukuyama seems to appreciate the fact that religion and nationalism can replace communism and fascism as the threats to modern liberal democracy.
His stance on religion, particularly the power of Islam and the Islamo-fascist movement, I feel becomes the most flawed part of his essay. He seems to understand the gross power of religion when he states, “Modern liberalism itself was historically a consequence of the weakness of religiously-based societies which, failing to agree on the nature of the good life, could not provide even the minimal preconditions of peace and stability” but he writes off this failure as one that can be overcome by neoliberal thinking. To reiterate Julia’s point, he fails to recognize the power of a movement whose followers consist of 1/5 of the World’s population. I was surprised that he did not follow up more on the example of Islam because in my mind it poses the greatest threat to his argument that history is in fact over. As we have seen throughout history, Religion in fact has the power to maintain a conflict whose solution can not be found in any specific form of government. And, if according to Fukuyama the continuation of history relies on conflict, I believe the challenge of religion will keep our history from coming to an end.

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