on 10 March 2006
The End of History and the Last Man combines a wide range of subjects: history, philosophy, political theory, international relations, economics and psychology to build a coherent model of human history. Fukuyama shows insightfulness and lucidity in this enormous undertaken – he is an intellectual heavyweight.
The book argues that History ends with Liberal Democracy in the political sphere and the free-market in the economic sphere. Its critics contend that it is merely western triumphalism at the end of the Cold War. However, this book is anything but triumphant. Fukuyama analysis the type of man (hence the second, often over-looked, part of the title “…and the Last Man”) living at the end of History. Fukuyama does not like what he sees: the Last Man has no higher ideals above his own health. He lives solely to prolong his existence. He is risk averse; a weak pitiful creature scared of death.
One reviewer of the book gives it one star because Fukuyama uses the Hegelian historical paradigm. However, this is only half the story because Fukuyama builds two independent, although complementary, views of history’s linearity: one Hegelian the other based on improving technology and increasing scientific knowledge. Hence even if you are not Hegelian you can still largely agree with Fukuyama’s arguments.
This is one of my favourite books and it is impossible to do Fukuyama’s clever, finely balanced juxtaposed arguments justice. I can only recommend reading the book. Finally, because this book embraces so many subjects it has made me want to explore many of the ideas behind the arguments.
on 6 January 2013
The year is 1993. The Berlin wall has fallen. The West has won the Cold War. The West's ideology seems triumphant as Communism has been discredited around the world. In this heady political milieu, Francis Fukuyama posits that History has ended because it is directional and inexorably leads all people to choose the most rational form of government: liberal democracy. Twenty years on, Fukuyama's thesis seems questionable.
The End of History is based on the Hegelian conception of history as the unfolding of Spirit. History, defined by Hegel as the progress of mankind to higher levels of rationality and freedom, terminates in the achievement of full self-consciousness. Fukuyama argues that mankind seems to be making Hegelian progress for two reasons: economics and the need for self-recognition.
1. ECONOMICS. Modern economies need to be rationally organised. Plans need to be made and products produced using rational means. As such, reason and efficiency become the animating features of a modern economy. In the process, rational means of production undermine traditional sources of authority such as clan ties and religion.
2. SELF-RECOGNITION. Various interest groups in a modern country vie for power in order to be 'recognisd'. People, being social creatures, want to have their voices heard. The only system that guarantees that the voices of competing interest groups will indeed be heard is liberal democracy
So far, so good.
The End of History was written at the end of the Cold War when Russia was comatose and China had not yet emerged on the world stage. Fast forward twenty years and the story is different. China is the second-largest economy in the world and is emerging as a counter weight to the West. A resurgent Russia has weathered the debilitating storms of the post-Communist era. And both countries are decidedly not liberal democracies. According to Fukuyama, we were at the end of History in 1993. Apparently, Fukuyama missed something.
NO SYNTHESIS: THE POWERFUL AND RE-PACKAGED MILLENARIANISM
The main weakness in Fukuyama's thesis - and its underlying Hegelian foundation - is the notion that there is directionality in history; that History has a goal which will unfold by and by. This is not only a weakness, it is a dangerous notion because it glibly justifies the status quo.
In essence, Fukuyama's thesis is an ode to the victors of the Cold War; he seems to be saying, 'Why not pat ourselves on the back? Guess why we (the West) are dominant? Well, because we are the culmination of History; all of History has been leading us to this point.' Such thinking is intellectual cowardice since it does not examine power relationships. Instead, it papers over the real human misery that the powerful inflict on the less powerful. Afterall, if the powerful are only playing their part in the unfolding of a universal spirit of History, why should one question imperialism, colonisation, slavery and other shameful episodes through which the powerful have dispossessed the powerless (in the name of a greater good)?
While reading the book, Fukuyama's thesis - and indeed Hegel's - felt oddly familiar to me: I had heard it before in Sunday School. Fukuyama has repacked the millennial promises of a New Jerusalem (in the Book of Revelations) into a secular narrative and presented it as definitive History. It is not clear to me why there is rational directionality in history and why the end thereof should be 'Christian'. Fukuyama does not explain this well.
Are we are all destined to be liberal democrats (in the Western mould)? Fukuyama assumes that there is one way of coming to terms with modernity - the Western way. As such, he does not pay adequate attention to the traditions of non-Western cultures and how these cultures might embrace modernity on their own terms. Despite the considerable weaknesses of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the End of History because it is very well-written and quite engaging. Yet, I was unconvinced by Fukuyama's arguments. My recommendation: Read the End of History because it is an influential and interesting book; however, be skeptical about its universalist secular eschatology.
on 6 December 2003
By 'the end of history' Fukuyama means that humankind has found the ultimate form of governance and that the period of experimentation has come to an end. Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfies its deepest and most fundamental longings. For Hegel this was the liberal state while for Marx it was a communist society. Fukuyama believes that humanity will be led to liberal democracy.
The book is divided into five sections. Part I addresses the issue of universal history. As individuals we can be optimistic about the 20th century with its improving prospects of health and happiness but pessimistic at the slow progress towards liberal democracy. This 20th century pessimism is in contrast to the optimism of the 19th century marked by peace and improvements in material well being. Science was conquering disease and poverty and the spirit of 1776 and the French Revolution was spreading throughout the world. There was a feeling of accumulating knowledge, increasing wisdom and advancement from the lower to higher levels of intelligence and well being. Free trade was replacing empire building and it seemed that war would be economically irrational. But the 20th century started disastrously with thousands dying daily over a few yards of ground in World War I. Horrendous as this war turned out to be, it was only a foretaste of new forms of evil backed by modern technology and more sophisticated political organization. The ultimate evil of the holocaust emerged in a country with the most advanced industrial economy and one of the most cultured and well-educated populations in Europe, highlighting the need for technological progress to be accompanied by moral progress. Without moral progress, technology will be turned to evil purposes and mankind will be worse off than previously.
However, the author argues that during the second half of the 20th century the world got better and the final quarter of the century saw communism and authoritarian governments collapsing or undergoing severe crisis. In most cases reforms were not imposed from the outside but were due to an internal crisis of confidence that had infected the ruling elite. In Fukuyama's opinion liberal democracy remains the only coherent political aspiration spanning the globe and this is his basis of optimism. After a millenium of experimentation and false starts humankind can at last see the light at the end of the tunnel and this is his rational for drawing our attention to the need to plan the next steps.
Part II uses natural science to explain the direction and coherence of history, based on the fact that technology confers a decisive military advantage and limitless wealth. The logic of natural science seems to dictate a move towards capitalism; the world's most developed countries are also its most successful democracies.
Part III introduces the concept of man's struggle for recognition. Only man can move beyond self-preservation for the sake of higher, abstract principles and goals. Much of human behavior can be explained as a combination of desire and reason, but Hegel maintains that self-esteem drives the whole historical process. When we are not recognized we feel anger; when we fall short of our own sense of worth we feel shame; and when we are correctly evaluated we feel pride. It is self-esteem that drives men into a battle to the death, creating masters of those willing to risk their lives and slaves of those who give in. But the relationship of lordship and bondage would ultimately fail because humanity is not complete. Lordship and bondage led to the French and American revolutions to be replaced by the principles of popular sovereignty, the rule of law and universal and reciprocal recognition. Adoption of these principles should ensure that every citizen recognizes the dignity and humanity of every other citizen. Dissatisfaction with the flawed recognition available in aristocratic societies caused revolutions while Communism is being superceded by liberal democracy primarily because it has a defective form of recognizing man's self-worth. Seeking recognition has been the central problem of politics for the past millenium; it was the origin of tyranny and the desire to dominate. The author warns us that communities must cater to the desire for recognition while protecting themselves from its destructive effects.
The deeper and more profound question concerns the goodness of liberal democracy itself and not only whether it will succeed against its rivals. The internal contradictions have already lead to such serious problems as drugs, homelessness, crime, environmental damage and consumerism. Part IV questions whether today's liberal democracy is completely satisfying because capitalism creates economic inequality and equal people are recognized unequally. In addition peace and prosperity leaves unsatisfied that part of us that seeks struggle, danger, risk and daring.
Part V: The Last Man brings us to the important part of the book which can be summed up by these sentences: "Common sense would indicate that liberal democracy has many advantages over its 20th-century rivals, fascism and communism, while loyalty to our inherited values and traditions would dictate unquestioning commitment to democracy. But the cause of liberal democracy is not necessarily best served by unthinking partisanship, and by the failure to address squarely democracy's failings. And it is obviously impossible to answer the question of whether history has come to an end without looking more deeply at the question of democracy and its discontents." Left to itself can liberal democracy be indefinitely self-sustaining, or will it collapse from internal rot much as communism has done? This is the part of the book which we must study carefully to ensure that never again will technology and sophisticated political systems be turned to evil purposes leaving mankind worse off than he was before.
on 14 March 2004
As a beginner, I found this book to be a clear and inspiring introduction to political philosophy, from Plato to Nietzsche. It also provides a model to understand history: a constant evolution of societal arrangements as opposed to a random sequence of events.
Mr Fukuyama’s argument is that liberal democracy and the free market are superior forms of political and economic organization. Any issues can be resolved within these systems – as opposed to replacing them with alternatives. Humans are mostly satisfied with these arrangements. We have therefore reached the “End of History”.
Recent terrorist attacks suggest that not all humans are satisfied with democracy and free markets. While these systems may have proved superior to an ideology (communism) – further challenges may lie ahead.
Regardless of whether history is at an end, this book is an insightful and compelling journey through the landscape of western political thought.
on 2 November 2014
Okay, maybe not in so many words, but all the way through The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama treads a fine line between reasonably lucid interpretations of political philosophy on the one hand, and then deliberately provocative value-judgments on the nature of man and society on the other. Maybe that's why it's been such a seller the past 20-odd years.
Fukuyama argues that History (always a capital H) is a Mechanism (capital M) by which liberal democracy overturns a series of irrational and inegalitarian forms of government (feudalism, monarchy, fascism, soviet communism, etc) to ensure the majority of people are provided with an equal opportunity to freely participate in a world of material comfort and mutual security.
Liberal democracy, according to Fukuyama, is the only form of government that rules for the people, as opposed to a range of otherwise authoritarian regimes that govern only to fulfil the megalomaniacal whim of a despot or local oligarchy. Only liberalism allows for the educated and egalitarian society required to rationally maximise the flow of technologies and goods demanded in a post-industrial state. Only democracy can facilitate and regulate all the different businesses and interest groups involved in a complex modern economy. Authoritarian rulers wither away before the task.
But, being a pessimist, Fukuyama doesn't see this as a good thing. The pay-off for stability is domestication, with men becoming hollow creatures addicted to material possessions and unable to aim higher than their lowest-common-denominator set of paper thin values. What man needs most, he says, is dignity and community, the very things that liberal democracy itself has paradoxically undermined through its equalisation of society.
That's what gets me about this book, it's a bit of a downer really, as if Fukuyama appalled himself in writing out the logic of his own neoconservative position. He calls people who are unmotivated to work, "dead wood". He talks positively about the "benign suffering" of working people required for swift economic development. He warns that if injustice is ever abolished man's life will "come to resemble that of a dog." He says things like, and I quote, "many European publics simply wanted [World War I] because they were fed up with the dullness of civilian life." He sees Humanity as mechanistically resolving itself into a cow-like condition of peaceful uniformity, where the only hope for Man lies in the rediscovery of self-identifying communities and the reawakening of his lost dignity and self-esteem at the End of History. Phwoar.
One thing you can't argue with is this book makes you feel very clever. It's simple to read but jam-packed with references to thinkers and philosophers through the ages; Plato, Hobbes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, they're all in there. It's the sort of book you look good reading whilst at lunch in your city office, which, of course, is what matters most to us Last Men. I definitely recommend giving it a go. Don't worry, it won't turn you into a rabidly Thatcher-loving neoconservative Tory monger straight away. It's too much of a sad story after all.
on 10 February 2013
Fukuyama writes very well, he engages you right from the beginning and takes you on a mesmerising journey that includes tables, figures, stats, quotes, everything he needs to posit his theory of American democracy being the solution for all the world's ills. And while reading it you find yourself slowly being convinced and taking note of the various catchy statements he makes at the end of each chapter. However when you finish the book and realise its 2013 and not 1989/1992 you will see the flaws in the argument and how far away we actually are from the End of History. I liked it though and I'm sure there are plenty in the US administration who believe this theory may actually be correct and have desires on implementing it.
on 10 April 2005
Having first read this book perhaps ten years ago it has been interesting to watch world events unfold a democratic ideas continue to take hold across the globe.
The main thrust of this book is to promote the idea that no one has come forward with a more effective and stable model than capitalism and democracy, warts and all. The sometimes stumbling rise of this form of society is inevitable across the globe. He persues this arguement philosophically and empically. It is food for thought for example that despite all the conflict of recent times no two democracies have gone to war against each other in the last 100 years. It is fair to say that this book has changed the outlook of myself and others and left me feeling better about living in a fairly liberal capiltalist democracy.
Despite what other people may have written here I did not find the book overly intellectual, this really is a compelling read for those who like arguement. The points contained within this book simple and clearly put forward. That said I found this to be a deeply flawed work and yet this did not detract from my opinion of it. Yes some of it is cobblers but given the scale vast subjects covered the detail of the arguements are not as important as the conclusions reached. That may sound odd but rather like Mr Fukuyama's arguement that no one has come up with a better form of govenerance than the USA despite all it's faults, the same appears to apply to the book itself as I have yet to read a better explanation of our times. He brings to life what is essentially are age old discussions. This book is starting point or stepping stone for discussions rather than an end point. Somebody had to say it first for someone else to prove it wrong.
on 18 September 2000
Francis Fukuyama has wrote a very well researched piece of work, his theory of the End of History is intriguing and indeed makes some very good points regarding the workings of the human psyche and the desire for recognition (the Thymos). A desire that, he argues, is massaged best by Liberal Democracy as opposed to its opponents.
He documents the (then) recent spread of Liberal Democracy into every part of the globe, and sees this as 'proof' of the 'Liberal victory'. However I feel his work is rather optimistic and is too quick to sweep today's social problems such as drugs, crime (etc) under the carpet, and fails to seroiously recognise the new ideological opponents of Liberal Democracy such as Islam and Environmentalism. I feel he is also too fast in disregarding the old ideological opponents of Liberal Democracy, namely Communism and Fascism, that have indeed revised their own doctrines in recent years. He sees Communism in a very black and white manner. There is more than one road to Communism, but he fails/refuses to contemplate that Communism could ever lead to the free and equal society that Marx envisioned as the 'end'. Which I found very irritating at times. Mr Fukuyama's vision of the Communist 'end', for some reason, only extends, in his view, to the harsh inhumane Stalinist society that developed in Russia. That is why I would recommend that anyone who reads This book also reads Derrida's Spectres of Marx as well.
The idea that we have reached the 'end' is something that even Fukuyama seems to keep questioning himself throughout the book, although he does clearly believe we will eventually get there.
He leaves us with the admirable vision of democracy forever, unfortunately I cannot be that optimstic, as the megalothymotic (the desire to be recognised as better than someone) wishes of of some individuals like Stalin and Hitler will always reverse the egalitarian progression of man and womankind. Indeed has not Slobodan Milosevic's recent actions just proved this very point?
on 21 July 2016
Careful now, this book may touch you in a profound way, for it may affect your view of the world. In the last pages, you will not heave a sigh of relief of the kind “yeah, democracy will eventually win”. No. In the end you are left with your mind churning, only one question left: Is that creature, the democrat man, is he going to survive?
This is not a praise to capitalism and profits, as some people think. It is not an economic textbook, nor a mere political science book. Rather it is the struggle of the rational man Vs the beast and the irrational man. It is Liberal Democracy Vs totalitarianism and illiberal ideologies of every kind. For, it is evident that capitalism and surplus may well exist in regions that suppress human rights or having a bad record on freedom of speech. But it is only in liberal democracy that human dignity is respected. Human rights and equality are better protected in a “universal” way in liberal democracies.
Fukuyama sought arguments from the greatest minds of all time: Plato, Hegel, Immanuele Kant and Nietzsche. Fascinating, from “the battle for pure prestige”, “the Universal and Homogeneous State” to “Men without chests”. And you don’t have to be an academic or a political analyst to read it. Do not miss it!
on 21 February 2015
I totally disagree with this as I am an old socialist but the guy is persuasive and lucid on the merits of a Hegelian reading of historical development - readable, provocative and influential - highly recommened.