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November 08, 2007


Elisabeth Miller

Many students have already stated that you have to look at Fukuyama's writing in context with the historical time period 1989, but I still don't think that makes his arguments more sane. He repeatedly says that western democracy is the end stage of history becuase there are no social problems it can't solve, but he doesn't give many examples. His main example of how the african americans are poor still, not because of our system, but because of the legacy of slavery is rediculous. How can you seperate the two when our system of liberal democray was created during a time when slavery was still ongoing? He also says that he only wants to focus on the major challenges to democracy (facism and communism) because he doesn't want to have to deal with every "crackpot" theory, but he doesn't really take into account that a new system or governance could emerge. Overall, I felt he spewed out a lot of theories without much supporting evidence.

Nathaniel S. Aylard

Is Fukuyama insane? What a loaded question to ask a person! I do not find him “insane” or “manipulative” for that matter (Eric). Writing this article following the collapse of the Soviet Union, how else could one understand international politics at the time? Realism, an approach looking at state to state interactions, was still a dominant paradigm to view the world seeing it become unipolar with the United States being the big guy on the block. Moreover, through a neoliberal perspective, one could see a particular set of institutions, namely neoliberal, still standing and flourishing in many of the European countries. Thus, from a systemic level of analysis, Fukuyama does not appear to be insane believing history has come to an end for mature liberal states. There was no rival power or ideology to counter the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution”. In other words, there appeared to no other system that could rival western liberal democracy.

Nevertheless, he did jump to this conclusion too fast as many of my other colleagues have pointed out. Western liberal democracies have not always been successful and this may not always be the right option for a given country, society, or community. As Julia pointed out, Stern’s work illuminates a competing ideology to this acceptance of liberalism as the end of all ends. Thus, what is missing from Fukuyama’s argument is domestic and individual level of analyses. Is liberalism the be all and end all of history? And if so, what does this imply about structure of the state and the norms of the individual? But then again, what is liberalism, be it political and/or economic?

This last question is what makes it hard for me to accept “the end of history”. Liberalism itself as a label is in flux and changes depending on how you dissect it. It could be having an emphasis of equal rights, having the security of the state, or having the freedom to consume. These ideas in turn influence how a person believes the state or authority over the community should act. Should the US continue to subsidize its farmers? Should African governments be more involved in directing investment? These questions depend on how one sees and understands liberalism! Thus, I cannot agree that liberalism is universal since not everyone follows one type of this ideology.

Nonetheless, as Karina explained, liberalism as an ideology has survived against its competitors. I further, can see her point about Fukuyama possibly touching upon not every society can achieve democracy and liberalism, however he concludes that past norms will be “replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumers”. This implies he sees the world moving toward a consumer centric neoliberal world. But how? And will it last? Globalization appears to be the underlying factor but this current structure and process is dependent on its actors (ie states) to support the system as well as individuals that support the actors. Thus, this current system will continue to be or something new will change the current order influencing the importance of the state, the effect of values, and even the creation of new norms. Actually, it appears this is the history of finding one’s identity be that communal, national, or international.

Krista Ellis

One could see how, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama could conclude that Western Liberal Democracy is ultimately the triumphant form of mankind’s ideological evolution. The foil against with which the US and Western Europe were compared in the second half of the twentieth century fell, and so it would be difficult to imagine any other ideology springing up to takes its place. However, it is a little ‘insane’ (more unwise than crazy, actually) to conclude this as the “end of history.” First, history is considered the documented actions of man, not the evolution of societal organization (though a historical progression could be constructed as such). Second, because Fukuyama questions, “Have we in fact reached the end of history? Are there, in other words, any fundamental "contradictions" in human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure?” It could be considered “insane” that he did not consider the entire scope of human history; were Mercantilists able to envision a better way until Smith came along? Etc. In the other reading- Jihad vs. McWorld, we learn of the potential disastrous impact of extremism and conformity on liberal democracy. In my opinion, Fukuyama makes an interesting argument, but is a little too narrow-minded to consider the possibility of some viable but not yet conceived alternative to liberal democracy, that may even be more beneficial to states outside of the Western World.

Julia Lohmann

In agreement with some of my peers, I think that labeling Francis Fukuyama ‘insane’ comes from misunderstanding what he means by “history.” As others have pointed out, he is not talking about conflict (he explicitly states that he doest not forsee and end to armed international conflicts), or meaningful events, but rather the ideological search for the ‘truth.’ It might be more helpful to understand his argument as ‘the end of philosophy.’ Further, when he was writing he was witnessing the death of some of the most powerful ideological movements that have ever occurred in modern history, and after seeing the effect of this, it is not that hard to think the surviving one (liberalism) would remain the only one standing when the dust cleared.
That being said, I do think his view is a bit naïve, and there was a bit of superiority in some of his paragraphs that struck me as quite hypocritical (as he then laments the ‘boredom’ that will inevitably ensue). He overestimates the spread and attractiveness of liberal ideology without defining it very well, and does not take into account that by its very acceptance in other countries, it may change drastically. It is true that writing in 1989 he could not have been expected to foresee the renewed ‘imperialism’ of the United States’ foreign relations, or the fundamentalist ideologies that have risen up in response to it, but stating that history had reached its end really had no basis. He was writing at a time of great change, one which cannot be easily labeled as a period of international relations’ history, but he should have foreseen the coming of some new ideology, not lamented the ‘triumph’ of the one which seemed at the point most powerful. The fact that he makes this claim at all, no matter what he believes the implications to be, make me believe that he is not insane, far from it, but he is a bit conceited.

Kieran M. Duffy

I agree with Julia in the fact that Fukuyama discounts religion competing with neo-liberal democracy. While democracy and capitalism is spreading all over the world and there is much newfound wealth, what is interesting, in my opinion, is that at the same exact time that there are hundreds of thousands of new millionaires there are many that are not following the money path but follow religous paths instead. I feel that this is partly proved by the new challenge America faces as it has been in a full-blown war on terror for years now. Therefore, in this sense it is not the end of history, in my opinion.

I do not think Fukuyama is crazy. A most important quote to me is "The struggle between two opposiong systems is no longer a determining tendancy of the present-day era. At the modern stage, the ability to build up material wealth at an accelarated rate on the basis of front-ranking science and high-level techniques and technology, and to distribute it fairly, and through joint efforts to restore and protect the resources necessary for mankinds's survival acquires decisive importance" (18).

I agree with him very much here except for the fact that he leaves out religion and his message "and to distribute it fairly" as a priority for countries. I think that while this was written in 1989 it embodies the dominant world powers such as the US, Russia, and China. War is not a chief concern, it is economic power.

Dorit Iacobsohn

Fukuyama seems to have little faith in humanity’s ability to innovate and adapt. He is assuming that the world will remain as it is with firmly established borders and determined nations. This is not taking into account the increasingly globalized world order which has weakened borders, and the possibility of a future with an international political system. We could one day have a global governance rather than a national or regional governance. Fukuyama's assumption that we have all of the information that we need to concretely state that liberal democracy will be the dominant political system in the future is naïve and absurd. While it is true that liberal democracy is undoubtedly the best political system in the current international political environment, is it really outside of the realm of comprehension that within the next several hundred or thousand years, we could come up with a better system? \

It is important to note that liberal democracy as a widespread global political system is a very new development. Liberal democracies have failed before, like in post-WWI Europe where much of Europe democratic, but were not seeing progress and so switched to fascism and Marxism.

Fukuyama believed that since American liberal democracy prevailed in the Cold War, nothing else of great significance will ever occur again. A new global stability was realized, as it transitioned from a bipolar political system to a unipolar political system. Much like Andrew Gurowitz alluded to, Fukuyama seemed to have forgotten that unipolar political systems are the least stable, and historically have a tendency to transition to a multi-polar political system. We are seeing this emerge today with the rise of China and India, and with countries in the Middle East like Iran gaining significant leverage in the international sphere with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. What could arise from this? We don’t know. Liberal democracy prevailing is definitely an option, but it is not assured.

I think Fukuyama wrote this thesis in the heated passion of the American victory of the Cold War, and was too caught up in the liberal democratic afterglow. But as we progress in history, the future looks hazier, and more uncertain. I do not think Fukuyama was insane, but I do not think he is correct either.

Alexander Henson

While I don’t think that Fukuyama is necessarily insane…wait, scratch that – he might be. Or, he may be a genius. I can’t think that anyone as remarkably learned (as he obviously is, given his knowledge of the history that he laments the eventual demise of) as he could make this write this sort of article without having his tongue in his cheek. It’s really the only explanation that I can figure for an article with such an unabashedly brash thesis. I’m going to offer an alternative theory here – that Fukuyama is actually proffering a 20th century “modest proposal”.
For those who haven’t read it, Johnathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public (or for short, A Modest Proposal) is Swift’s satirical work suggesting that Ireland solve its poverty problems by selling their children to the richer, upper class – as food. He even goes into detail, noting the nutritious and delicious aspects of roasted, stewed, and baked Child. Of course, the entire work is a satire, meant to subversively jab at England and its treatment of Ireland. The point is, Swift used such an astonishingly horrific example to veil poignant commentary. Is it possible that Fukuyama is doing the same?
Perhaps – although to a lesser degree than Swift. I think that Fukuyama is legitimately concerned for the rise of liberalism as the dominant driving force in political and economic arenas of most of the major world powers. This helps us understand what he means by “history”: that, until now, the world’s great events and wars, tragedies and triumphs, successes and failures, have been driven by conflicts between differing politico-economic systems. Now, with the rise of democracy, he believes that history, as we have come to know it, may cease. I think he uses such a loaded phrase mostly for shock value (and of course because of its reference to Marx) – to show his readers that such a homogeneously adapted system may have the unintended consequences of leaving mankind without the kinds of historic events that signpost our progression through time.
This, I think, is where he is wrong. Yes, democracy is indeed gaining traction as the standard for political systems. But there are so many variations, so many different contexts in which they exist that they could not possible be the same. The art and philosophy he dreads to lose will still continue to flourish – either as a reflection of this new world or as a backlash against it. But, again, I digress – I do firmly believe that Fukuyama may have been exaggerating the point in order to highlight dangers that he believes us not to foresee.

Arsalan Mahtafar

My main critique of Fukuyama’s argument is that his definition of modern neoliberalism is too broad and deliberately over-inclusive so that he could in fact prove his point. The problem is that within his definition of modern neoliberalism, still many conflicts and contradictions exist. For instance, the degree of government intervention is social affairs in liberal democracies are not defined, and in his argument, Sweden and the United States will all fall under the same “umbrella definition.” However, these two countries are completely different, both in their political organization and the functions of their states. In other words, many conflicts still exist, even in the modern Western Neoliberal democracies, on the role and function of the state. Another example would be in the US, which the Democrats believe that healthcare should be universal and the Republicans believe it should be private.
But the critique does not end here. These were just the conflicts and contradictions that still exist within the western democracies. Outside the western democracies, we can see many other views on how the government should be organized and how it should function. For instance, many theocratic states in the middle-east do not believe that the church and the state should be separate, which is one of the cornerstone principles of a neoliberal western democracy. In fact, these states believe that the religious leaders should also be the rulers of the state.
In summary, I believe the Fukuyama’s theory is weak on two premises. First, even within Western Liberal democracies, there are different opinions to what the role and shape of government should be. Secondly, and much more obviously, outside Western nations, we can see many other forms of governments that are truly believed to be superior, and there is no indication that these countries are moving, and will ever be moving, towards modern neoliberalism.

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