The End of History and the Last Man
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…
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