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Professor Hegel Goes to Washington

The End of History and the Last Man

by Francis Fukuyama
Free Press, 418 pp., $24.95

Francis Fukuyama’s discovery of the end of history first came to the public’s attention in the summer of 1989. The essay he wrote for The National Interest on “The End of History?” made the headlines in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere; it was for a short time a truly global sensation. The news that history had ended aroused much disbelief. Even those who were glad that Fukuyama had declared that democracy was in no further danger from its rivals were not persuaded that this was because history had stopped. Indeed, the suggestion struck many readers as more or less mad; this seemed to be a time when history was happening everywhere and happening particularly fast. The announcement of the end of history coincided with the bloody repression of the Chinese democratization movement in Tiananmen Square, and only briefly preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overthrow of Ceausescu.

Other readers, familiar with the work of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and their interpreters, knew that what Mr. Fukuyama had in mind was not history but History, not the “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” that Macbeth railed against, and Henry Ford dismissed as “bunk,” but “History as a Whole.” They were less surprised by Mr. Fukuyama’s discovery than by the furor it aroused. They remembered Herbert Marcuse announcing the end of history in One Dimensional Man, and Daniel Bell discovering “the end of ideology” some years before that. Mr. Fukuyama candidly admits that the tale he tells is an old one. Its author was a Russian emigré philosopher, Alexander Kojevchnikoff, better known as Alexandre Kojève, who in the mid-1930s began to lecture to the students of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. It was in these lectures that he first laid out Hegel’s account of the end of history, an account he made his own, and one that Mr. Fukuyama has now popularized with a few modifications of his own.

Kojève’s lectures evidently had a considerable charm; Raymond Aron, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty attended them along with Georges Bataille, Jacques Lacan, Eric Weil, and many others. In 1947 the French novelist Raymond Queneau turned Kojève’s lecture notes into a book entitled Introduction à la lecture de Hegel. Given Queneau’s other work and Kojève’s intellectual skittishness, I have always regretted that it wasn’t called Zazie dans la dialectique, but one can’t have everything.

The book seems not to have been well known in the United States—it was better known in Canada1—until it was partially translated in 1968. This version was edited by Allan Bloom, better known for The Closing of the American Mind, and one of Mr. Fukuyama’s teachers at the University of Chicago. On the other side of the Atlantic, Kojève provided many students’ first introduction to Hegel, even though he dealt with only one of Hegel’s major works—the Phenomenology of Spirit—and seduced students into concentrating on only one section of that dense volume, the so-called “dialectic of lordship and bondage” or the “master-slave dialectic.”

There were many reasons for the book’s popularity. It was written with great panache, while Kojève made Hegel seem both intelligible and exciting, even if pretty far gone in megalomania. He picked out those aspects of Hegel that led most naturally to Marx on the one hand and to Heidegger on the other; he played down Hegel’s philosophy, narrowly considered, and played up the historical sociology that was latent in his work. And he said a lot of strikingly implausible things about the politics of the twentieth century.

Kojève was a Marxist, but he spent the postwar years working for the greater glory of corporate capitalism and the capitalist welfare state in the French Ministry of Economic Affairs, and then as a senior civil servant of the European Community; he died in Brussels in 1968. In what sense he was a “Marxist” is a bit mysterious. Perhaps his most famous opinion was that postwar America is a classless society which has little labor and high consumption, and therefore has realized Marx’s aspirations.

One can even say that from a certain point of view, the United States has already attained the final stage of Marxist “communism,” seeing that, practically, all the members of a “classless society” can from now on appropriate for themselves everything that seems good to them, without thereby working, and the USSR gave me the impression that if the Americans give the impression of rich Sino-Soviets, it is because the Russians and Chinese are only Americans who are still poor but are rapidly proceeding to get richer.

So much for the cold war.

The End of History and the Last Man is not just warmed-over Kojève, nor is it just an inflated essay. It is a long book, and tackles a large number of questions—from staples of the oped pages such as the differences in American and Japanese work habits and the prospects for nationalism in Eastern Europe, to staples of under-graduate sociology such as the plausibility of an “economic interpretation of history.” What makes it distinctive is its attempt to connect such issues with the two large themes gestured at in the title. Has History—Weltgeschichte with a Big H—come to an end? If it has, has it created a world in which only the projects of the bons bourgeois are possible? Are we doomed to be what Nietzsche dismissed as “last men,” animals whose horizons are limited to securing their creature comforts?

The End of History and the Last Man is an easy book to summarize, and Fukuyama does it very well in his introduction. History has ended in the sense that there is no more room for large ideological battles. Liberal democracy is not merely triumphant, it is simply what there is, and all there can be. There is literally no more room for debate over fundamentals. What Kojève called the “universal and homogeneous state” has arrived, and it is liberal democracy. There are two reasons for its triumph. First, the growth of science and our increasing ability to dominate nature means that societies that are technologically effective dominate societies that are not. Part of the technique of dominating nature efficiently is to be properly organized, and the market, the capitalist firm, and the capitalist entrepreneur have proved to be uniquely efficient forms of organization. This is sociologically commonplace and amounts to the common coin of Marx and Weber.

Still, this does not explain how the modern organization of the economy happened, or how it ended in democracy. The second element is the irrational component in economic behavior that the sociology of Marx and Weber doesn’t explain. This is “the search for recognition.” We do not want only to satisfy our needs for food, shelter, sex, and comfort; we much more powerfully wish to establish ourselves as people to be reckoned with. Achilles sulked in his tent while the Achaean army failed to make any headway against the Trojans, not because the slavegirl Briseis was important as an item of consumption, but because he had lost face surrendering her to Agamemnon. Mankind is much more powerfully driven by the desire for recognition than by desires for a high standard of living. The mastery of nature owes more to the spirit of conquest than to economic calculation. A society, like our own, in which economic calculation holds sway is the byproduct of a history driven by the demand for recognition.

Why does this yield liberal democracy? Because this is the form of social order in which the desire for recognition can be satisfied by everyone. Each is recognized by all. It is stable, immune to subversion by outgroups who desire to be recognized but are not recognized. It is this that was Hegel’s message. But the result is ambiguous. Nietzsche’s complaint, echoed by Heidegger, was that the terms on which this was achieved destroyed the whole point of the search for recognition. As has rather too often been said, “If everybody’s somebody, nobody’s anybody.” Worse yet, if there are no projects that are worth risking our lives for in the search for recognition, what is most distinctive in human life has gone. For Kojève, following Heidegger following Nietzsche, Americanization is a return to animal mindlessness. Fukuyama converted that hardly optimistic observation into the conclusion that history had ended in the triumph of the West.

In the two years since his original article appeared, Fukuyama has taken heed of the many critics his essay attracted. In the process, he has stripped his argument of much of its empirical content. The most obvious complaint against the view that the whole world is committed to liberal democracy is that most of it is not. Much of Asia is committed to some form of democracy, to the idea that governments are accountable to their subjects, and must maintain constitutional rather than merely personal authority. But this is not liberal democracy; it is neither built on nor friendly to the moral individualism that underpins liberalism.2 It is not concerned with our anxieties about the boundary between the private and the public; it is not worried as we are about keeping government authority out of our sexual, religious, intellectual, and moral allegiances. Lee Kuan Yew has called the system he has built “East Asian Confucian capitalism.”

Fukuyama agrees and disagrees almost simultaneously. He has a chart of liberal democracies on which Singapore appears, and two discussions in the text in which Singapore is treated as an authoritarian and nonliberal political system. Japan gets the same contradictory treatment. This incoherence is hard to account for; it may be because he does not know what he really believes.

This suspicion is reinforced by the discrepancy between the bold statements of the beginning of the book and the hesitant tone he strikes three hundred pages later. To begin with, Fukuyama is sure that liberal democracy is the wave of the present and the future, and that any disturbances to the liberal hegemony will be brief, localized, and unimportant. But in the last three chapters of the book, History threatens to begin all over again. Western societies are unsatisfying to their own members because they offer too little sense of community, the point on which Asiatic societies are strongest. Since he has already agreed that liberal democracy may not be as good for economic growth as a more authoritarian and more communalist social and political order, Fukuyama cannot but agree that more communitarian and authoritarian societies may succeed in the global competition, after all. But then where is the end of history? The “universal and homogeneous state” is not dictated by “rational desire” and “rational recognition” after all, or if it is, it manifests itself as nonliberal democracy.

He acknowledges, too, what the Berkeley political scientist Ken Jowitt has been arguing much more vividly, that the vast gap between the increasingly rich first world and a resentful but possibly nuclear-armed third world may lead to any amount of twenty-first century violence, with unpredictable consequences.3 Fukuyama is unable to decide whether this outcome would still be a triumph for the end of history thesis—since what the resentful third world resents is not being like the modernized first world—or a genuine departure for a different destination. If the third world isn’t the source of something new, Fukuyama nonetheless wonders whether internal strife may undo countries like the United States. Indeed, he ends the book wondering whether we may not first converge on liberal democracy, and then head off in entirely new directions after all.

  1. 1

    See Tom Darby’s discussion of Kojève in The Feast (University of Toronto Press, 1982; 1990); the preface to the 1990 edition contains some acerbic criticism of Fukuyama’s 1989 essay, which Darby sees as a simple ideological exercise in celebrating the triumph of Western liberalism. Darby’s view is that “there are no winners.”

  2. 2

    This point has been made with some authority by Li Xianglu, the former secretary for economic reform in the government of the reformist Chinese prime minister Zhao Ziyang. In an essay in the Winter 1992 number of New Perspectives, he says of Singapore that “its core values are not Western liberalism or individualism and it may yet evolve into a system posing a challenge to the West. China is likely to follow this alternative path.” (p. 15).

  3. 3

    His New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction (University of California Press, to be published in April 1992), has some very sharp and anxious things to say about the dangers to world peace posed by “American liberal absolutism,” and the seeming incapacity of American politicians to embrace the idea of sharing global influence with Japan and a united Europe, as well as the prospects of continued disorder in an impoverished and bitter third world.

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