Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The End of History and The Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama. Free Press, 1992 ix + 418 pp., Amazon price $12.61 paperback; $10.34 Kindle.

The quest for the answer to humankind’s final and most essential form of government has been a major source of philosophical discourse throughout history. Throughout the ages philosophical ideologies have sought to extricate humankind from the entanglements of their own imperfect natures with a goal to arrive at a society that most suits their competing socio, political and economic interests. Plato’s Republic dissected humankind’s nature or soul into tripartite sections; desire, reason and thymos, thymos being that part of the soul that craves recognition. Each part of the tripartite must be managed in order to create a just and ordered society. Machiavelli believed that opportunity for civil order rested in harnessing man’s capacity for bad behavior to create civil order and obedience, advocating a rationalistic approach that the end goal, civil order, justifies the means. The early modern English liberals Thomas Hobbes and John Locke viewed man’s primal need for self-preservation as the cornerstone for divining humankind’s ultimate civil society, albeit each of them arriving at that conclusion through differing perspectives. Immanuel Kant’s endpoint for civil society was human freedom, and G.W.F. Hegel postulated that man’s need for recognition was central to organizing civil society. Friedrich Nietzsche believed in an aristocratic society that encourages its citizens to aspire to greatness, venerating those achieving such status. 

As humankind meandered through this maze of philosophical musings society made tremendous technical progress causing a clash of developing cultures with ever advancing scientific developments. This begs the question as to what sort of civil society will eventually emerge to meet the demands of these competing forces?

Francis Fukuyama addresses this question in his book The End of History and The Last Man, which was the outgrowth of a 1989 article he wrote for National Interest entitled “The End of History”. Fukuyama, a noted political scientist, political economist and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, has written extensively on issues relating to democratization and international political economy. His book’s thesis is that liberal democracy may be the only true legitimate form of government (legitimate government was described by Vaclav Havel as “the power of the powerless”) and, as such, liberal democracy will be the endpoint of man’s ideological evolution. According to Fukuyama liberal democracies will be the final universal and homogeneous state.  Fukuyama arrives at his thesis through a twofold approach; first, a review of what he believes inspires humankind’s purpose for existence and, second, an analyses of the forces that thrust history forward.

Fukuyama performs a comprehensive review of major historical philosophies, and determines that Plato’s tripartite soul is central to answering this question identifying thymos, as interpreted by Hegel, as the principal driver for enlivening humankind’s existence. Fukuyama asserts that Hegel’s dialectic view of thymos represents a constant “struggle for recognition” that animates humankind’s moral need for dignity, self-worth, and even the willingness to risk one’s life in battle or for other noble reasons. Hegel’s “first man” is similar to Hobbes’ and Locke’s warlike state of nature pitting man against man, but differs in that Hegel believes that the first man’s conflict is the struggle between lordship and bondage. Fukuyama’s thesis accepts Hegel’s contention that human history should be viewed as a search to satisfy the desires of both masters and slaves, and “history ends with the victory of a social order that accomplishes this goal”. Therefore man has a sense of morality that strives for prestige, recognition and the capacity to make moral choices, and is not simply some higher animal reduced to the need for societal protection of property, power or self-preservation.  According to Fukuyama liberal democracy becomes legitimate when humankind’s desire, reason and thymotic need for recognition are each regarded and balanced within the constructs of civil society. 

Fukuyama’s thesis also maintains that history is driven directionally by the forces of modern science, which acts as a mechanism for historical change, having a twofold effect. First, the threat of military technology forces states to restructure their social systems to be conducive to producing and deploying military technology, which can recast societies into a more nationalistic state. Second, economic-based scientific developments, along the lines of the industrial revolution, can cause major shifts in societies resulting in larger urban areas, breakdowns of small communities, and the establishment of bureaucratic forms of organization that take the place of the individual craftsman. One of the consequences of scientific industrialization is the evolution of rational labor decisions to effectuate economic efficiency, which also serves as a catalyst for homogenizing societies. Fukuyama avows that taken together military and economic scientific advances do not in and of themselves cause historical change, but the sheer force of their influence moves history in a certain direction. Military and economic strength puts a country on a level playing field with other countries that promote the freedoms that permit scientific advances to flourish, and those countries are predominantly liberal democratic states promoting democratic capitalism.

Fukuyama provides numerous historical examples to support his thesis that a liberal democratic state is the only truly legitimate form of government that will represent humankind’s ultimate civil society. Communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were totalitarian regimes that sought to crush civil society and have total control over its citizens.  Francisco Franco’s Spain and various military dictatorships in Latin America sought to control society. Totalitarianism failed in the People’s Republic of China causing a return to greater economic freedom, which opened the door for its citizen’s desire for greater political freedom. In sub-Saharan Africa, socialism and post-colonial traditions of a one-party system have been discredited due to the region experiencing economic collapse and civil war. Fundamental to this international pattern of failure for totalitarian/authoritarian regimes was their inherent illegitimate promises for economic and political stability. These totalitarian forms of government did not have any long-term solutions or framework for resolving societal instabilities. Once the door for economic liberalization opened freedom of thought prevailed and paved the way for a more liberal democratic framework of government.

A conspicuous deficiency in Fukuyama’s book is how religion, specifically Christianity, has been instrumental in moving history toward a homogenous liberal democratic form of life. Fukuyama gives short shrift to Christianity’s influence on the historical progression toward liberal democracy. In fact he treats Christianity as an impediment to democracy by characterizing it as “…another slave ideology”. Fukuyama admits that Christianity recognizes equality but only in the sense of every man having a moral choice to accept or reject God. According to Fukuyama under Christianity humankind is a slave to God’s purpose for man on earth, thus forever a slave on earth with the promise of true freedom and recognition only in the Kingdom of Heaven. Fukuyama ignores in his dialectic how totalitarianism replaced a Christian attitude of good versus evil, with a collectivist distinction of progress and reaction. In light of this Daniel J. Mahoney points out in his book The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order that “…liberals subsequently rediscovered the dependency of liberty upon conceptions of natural and divine justice that are required to temper human willfulness and which provide an intellectual context for moral conscience.” A more brusque representation of how Christianity directed humankind away from totalitarianism toward liberal democracy was stated by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he stated that totalitarianism arose because “men had forgotten God”.

Notwithstanding this criticism The End of History and The Last Man is an extremely comprehensive and scholarly amalgamation of political philosophy, political economics and historicism that attempts to reconcile humankind’s purpose with its most accommodating society. Fukuyama’s work is advanced material best suited for professional historians, political scientists, academicians or graduate students, since exposure to those disciplines is vital to fully appreciate the book’s ideological ruminations. Its thirty-one chapters begin with quotes establishing each chapter’s theme and are organized by sections representing each facet of the book’s thesis. The forty-seven pages of notes and ten pages of bibliography provide abundant insight into Fukuyama’s provocative topic. Fukuyama’s narrative can be ponderous and one feels that the author overstates his points through a process of convoluted logic, but despite this awkwardness the author delivers a vital discourse on the fate and resolution of humankind’s societal structure.

One could describe Fukuyama’s work as controversial or even incendiary. At a minimum it is certainly stimulating. The End of History and The Last Man is apt to generate more inquisitions into humankind’s destiny than simply tacit acceptance for the inevitable liberal democratic state. His work is a promising start on the all-important conversation on the form of civil society that best befits humankind.

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