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.
He spins an elaborate metaphor: history is like a pioneer wagon train heading for a distant town, with different wagons at different points, but all heading for the same place. But he ends uncertainly:
Alexandre Kojève believed that ultimately history itself would vindicate its own rationality. That is, enough wagons would pull into town such that any reasonable person looking at the situation would be forced to agree that there had been only one journey and one destination. It is doubtful that we are at that point now, for despite the recent worldwide liberal revolution, the evidence available to us now concerning the direction of the wagons’ wanderings must remain provisionally inconclusive. Nor can we in the final analysis know, provided a majority of the wagons eventually reach the same town, whether their occupants, having looked around a bit at their new surroundings, will not find them inadequate and set their eyes on a new and more distant journey.
This last thought is simply inconsistent with what purports to be the philosophical basis of the end of history thesis.
Read unsympathetically, The End of History and the Last Man is a string of op-ed page speculations. No subject receives more than a page or two of discussion. While every issue is interesting, and Fukuyama writes agreeably enough, his treatment rarely rises above the banal. Yet the book comes encrusted with tributes to its brilliance from George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, and Tom Wolfe, none of whom is especially stupid or easily deceived. It is easy enough to see that George Gilder has misread the whole thing4 and believes that it is a hymn to laissez faire; but George Will at least should know better than that. There must be something going on whose attractions are not immediately visible.
One attraction is that Fukuyama likes asking Big Questions, and much of the world likes Big Questions, too. Fukuyama doesn’t just argue that liberal democracy is the only political option now open; he argues that liberal democracy is the meaning of history. The authority for this claim is Hegel-as-filtered-through-Kojève. It is an odd place to turn for metaphysical reassurance, however. Anyone who has read any Hegel knows that Hegel did not think that liberal democracy was where history would end. Hegel thought that the ultimate form of political association was a rational legal state, but it would be explicitly anti-democratic, and liberal only in its attachment to the rule of law. Crucially, Hegel had no time for the individualism that Americans regard as the very heart of liberalism. He insisted on the priority of the state to the individual, insisted that individuals had no rights against the state, said that the common people should be “simultaneously respected and scorned,” and offered as the most rational form of modern political association something much more interesting than Fukuyama, namely the corporate state.
Pace Kojève and Fukuyama, the Hegelian state was not “homogeneous,” that is, classless, other than in the sense that the rule of law applied to everyone—which was also the only sense in which it was “universal.” Hegel was explicit about the need to balance the marketplace with legally recognized corporations, about the need for a hereditary, agrarian element in the state, about making representation corporate rather than individual, and about doing what could be done to control capitalism as well as allow its modernizing effects full play. Fukuyama says that few Americans read Hegel, because he is thought to be difficult and metaphysical. Fukuyama appears to be among their number, for the truth is that Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is not in the least difficult; it just happens to say pretty much the opposite of what he claims.
Fukuyama, like Kojève, rests his case on the Phenomenology of Spirit. The Phenomenology is difficult, partly because Hegel finished it in a hurry, and it is unclear whether it says what he wanted to say or not. It is in fact hard to say just what the book is about. At one level it seems to be the autobiography of God, insofar as God manifests Himself in human culture. At another level, it is a history of human consciousness, both the way individual minds develop and the way cultures develop characteristic ways of thinking. Politics occupies a fairly lowly place in such an enterprise; art, religion, and philosophy are much more salient. Kojève somewhat vulgarizes the entire project by turning it into sociology; Fukuyama vulgarizes it entirely. Having taken the high ground by insisting that we need to give an account of History as a Whole, a project that Hegel called “the true theodicy,” Fukuyama reassures his readers a dozen pages later that the philosophy of history has nothing to do with religion. This is either incoherent or disingenuous.
In the first place, it misrepresents the driving force behind the philosophy of history, even on Fukuyama’s own account. Fukuyama himself observes that the philosophy of history, in the sense in which it is concerned with the “meaning” of the entire historical process, is a secular holdover from Christian eschatology. Greek and Roman philosophers thought history was cyclical and repetitive just like any other natural process; Machiavelli, whom Fukuyama mysteriously believes to have been the founder of modern historicism, followed his classical masters in thinking the same. The Judeo-Christian tradition was anti-classical in thinking that history had a definite dramatic shape, with a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. It was the Christian image of History as a three-act play—Fall, Suffering, Redemption—that found its way into Kant’s philosophy of history, into Hegel’s and eventually into Marx’s supposedly empirical and sociological “materialist conception of history.” President Bush tells us that it was with God’s help that America won the cold war and defeated Saddam Hussein; Fukuyama’s God is History-with-a-Big-H.
Disclaiming any religious intention misrepresents Hegel’s philosophy. There is an old tradition, started immediately after Hegel’s death, that Hegel was an atheist whose talk of God was simply a ruse to deceive his Prussian employers, and Kojève subscribed to that view. Much of his Introduction à la lecture de Hegel is devoted to the idea that Hegel’s atheism consists in his treating God as a sort of allegory for Man. But all the evidence we have tells us that Hegel was a Lutheran who thought that the truths presented pictorially and imaginatively in religion needed to be represented plainly and rationally in philosophy if they were to be rationally discussed. The point of the philosophy of history was theodicy, to justify the ways of God to man, or, more philosophically, to show people that they could not rationally wish the world to be other than it is. As Hegel says at the end of The Philosophy of History, thus we see that this process is not only not without God but is always and everywhere God’s work. Passing off the Phenomenology as sociology misses the point of Hegel’s Idealism. Unless the Phenomenology can explain history as the work of Spirit, history is one damned thing after another, an empirical, not an intelligible, process.
Hegel did after a fashion present the modern world as coming “at the end of history.” But Fukuyama is deaf to the multiple ambiguities in Hegel’s account. Hegel claimed that history was the history of freedom. The freedom in question was not political freedom, but the “rational self-direction” that Isaiah Berlin has baptized “positive liberty.” Freedom was not a matter of indeterminacy or randomness—a child who replies “nine” or “six” or “five” at random, when asked to add four and three, is not displaying freedom but mathematical incapacity. A mathematician knows that “seven” is the only thing to say, but “seven” is not forced upon him; it is not an external reality to which he has to conform. Rather, when counting properly there is only one route to go. How this rationalist view of freedom is to be applied in each sphere of life is hotly debated; what is not open to dispute is that Hegel’s conception of freedom is “rational freedom.” One reason why he never captured the hearts of English commentators was that he thought English “laissez faire” mistook chaos for freedom.
Fukuyama knows this, I think, though he has nothing to say about the ways in which liberal democracy does (or more plausibly does not) sustain rational freedom. His interest is exhausted by the claim that the achievement of freedom means the end of history. Even here, he is deaf to nuance. Hegel’s view that history had ended rests on a simple triadic account of the history of freedom. Once, there was prehistory, when mankind lived in something other than organized political society, nomadic tribes, scattered families gardening in the bush, and so on. History began with Persian despotism. Here the discovery of the human will took place. One person, the despot, was free. Freedom had arrived in the world, but as the possession of one man, and manifested as arbitrary rule. Its next manifestation was in the Greek polis, which was law-abiding, self-governing, and independent of other states, but which restricted freedom to a small number of its inhabitants—citizenship was confined to free, adult, native-born males, who were capable of fighting for their country, and whose independence was guaranteed by their ownership of enough land to live on.
Like most German philosophers Hegel had hankered after the classical republics in his youth, and as a young man he had gone off with Schiller to plant a “freedom tree” in celebration of the outbreak of the French Revolution. But by the time he wrote the Phenomenology of Spirit and even more so when he wrote The Philosophy of Right and The Philosophy of History, he had decided that classical citizenship represented a form of freedom that was beneath the moral and intellectual level of the modern world. The truth represented by the modern world was that “man as such is free.” It is this slogan that Fukuyama latches on to.
But when did mankind discover that “man as such is free”? Kojève identified the end of history with the work of the French Revolution, and claimed that “Robespierre-Napoleon” was a world-historical individual whose tyrannical eruption into European history paved the way for the “universal and homogeneous” state. On that view, the battle of Jena at which Napoleon defeated the combined forces of Austria and Prussia in 1806 really was the end of history, and when Hegel saw Napoleon ride into the captured city of Jena he really had “seen the Spirit of the World crowned and riding on a horse.” For Kojève it was a comforting creed, since it suggested that Stalin and Hitler, too, were just quirky ways in which the “cunning of reason” had chosen to work out the implications of Napoleon’s victory over the ancien régime. Matters had been settled at Jena, and were merely ratified by Stalingrad and Hiroshima.
But this is a peculiar rendition of Hegel’s ideas. Hegel frequently claimed that the discovery that freedom was the human essence became a world-historical doctrine with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. He sometimes traced it back much earlier than that. He suggested that Socrates’ appeal to the dictates of his own individual daemon against the common opinion of Athenian democracy first launched the thought; and Nietzsche’s distaste for Socrates certainly rested on the view that conscientious dissent was destructive of the solidarity of the Greek polis. Hegel also suggested that Roman law manifested a commitment to individualism in that every individual was treated as a legal person, subject to and protected by the law. His taste for contradiction, of course, was gratified by the way the Roman Empire simultaneously reduced the value of citizenship by subjecting everyone to the power of the emperor and elevated individuality by insisting on the omnipresence of the law.
The rights of conscience, legal individuality, and the capacity to own property all form elements of modern freedom, and Hegel thought modern society could, in principle, realize them, though only insofar as its members were taught to demand their rights within its limits. Was this the end of history? In one sense, yes. The history of the concept of freedom must come to an end once “man as such is free”—the triad “one, some all” extends no further. But this is a purely verbal point. It does nothing to settle the question whether our exploration of rational freedom itself has any boundaries. Socrates died twenty-three centuries ago, and it would be hard to deny that fundamental changes have taken place since then; Luther died four centuries ago, and changes almost as fundamental have taken place since then; even the hundred and sixty years since Hegel’s death have been rich in fundamental changes. All of which makes one wonder quite what Hegel had in mind, if he thought that further fundamental transformations were out of the question.
My own view is that Hegel was much more ambivalent and ambiguous than Fukuyama supposes. Hegel’s vision of philosophy as an ascent to Absolute knowledge meant that serious philosophy had to represent itself as summing up all previous thought, all human history, all cultural achievement; but there was a pathos about this, since any serious philosopher also understood that previous philosophies had been superseded in ways their creators could not have foreseen. By the same token, any philosophy of history is retrospective, viewing the historical process as leading up to the present, and refusing to predict the future. In his introduction to The Philosophy of Right Hegel famously declared that “the Owl of Minerva only flies at dusk.” Philosophy paints in “grey on grey”; it looks backward, and “paints a form of life grown old.” This is far from triumphalist, and suggests that Hegel’s view was that new forms of life might arise, but that it was not up to philosophers to predict them.
What of the “last man” in Fukuyama’s title? Kojève and Fukuyama both make much of the passage in Phenomenology in which Hegel raised the question of how human beings distinguish themselves from the outside world. Characteristically, Hegel thought that eating things, burning them to keep warm, using them in general, made a metaphysical point: conscious beings were more important than mere nature. The dialectic of master and slave starts from the thought that we are inclined to treat other people as if they were part of nature, too; we want to use them. But since they are people, not mere things, we want to make a particular kind of use of them. We want them to acknowledge that our purposes are their purposes, that we count and they do not. This sets up an obvious conflict—for they see us in the same light. It is a conflict with no room for negotiation; either I am the one who matters or You are. It seems clear that Hegel had in mind the heroic ethos represented in Homeric poetry as an example of what it was like to be driven by this urge to impose one’s will upon all comers.
This conflict of aspirations leads to a struggle to the death. Since it is our life that gives us value, we are not serious unless we risk it. But, a fight in which both parties die is no good; nor is one in which one party dies, since what we are after is recognition, and you can’t get that from a corpse. The struggle must divide mankind into masters and slaves. The slave is defined by his fear of death, the master by his willingness to hazard his life. Which holds the key to the human future? Paradoxically, the slave. The slave owner is typically idle, perhaps a splendid beast, exciting to watch in battle, but otherwise conservative and unimaginative. The slave has to work, and in the process learns what human creativity is capable of. He also knows what it is like to be recognized as a person, since he recognizes the master as one. The slave thus knows what recognition of one another as equals would be like.
To abbreviate Hegel’s very long story, human freedom is achieved in a society whose members recognize each other as free and equal citizens. This freedom and equality is, once more, not that of liberal individualism, but that of the corporate state—the Napoleonic ideal. What Hegel does not ask—or Kojève for that matter—is whether the end results are particularly attractive. Kojève observes in passing that if human beings were made human by the historical struggle, they will cease to be human once the struggle is over. With the Americanization of the world, we shall become superior animals; strictly speaking, we shall have no culture, no art, no romantic love, and none of the passions that once drove history. The heavily ironic tone of much of the Introduction makes it hard to know what we are supposed to make of it all. It is made harder by a footnote which Kojève added after visiting Japan in 1959. Here he says that an alternative to American mindlessness is Japanese snobbery—equally unhistorical, formal, and empty, but undeniably a human achievement. Again, it is hard to know what to make of the thought, all the more so when Kojève assured an interviewer who raised the matter just before Kojève’s death in 1968 that he was merely playing when he wrote it, and was playing with his interviewer now.
Fukuyama knows what he makes of the thought. Unlike those who read him as a simple triumphalist, he is alarmed by the idea that the end of history will produce people who only want high levels of consumption, enjoyable leisure activities, and security. He mentions the possibility that Wall Street traders, makers of Donald Trump-like deals, and similar heroes of the acquisitive culture may find enough challenges in such activities to keep the appetite for heroic risktaking satisfied. He doesn’t believe it; he thinks graduates troop into law schools like sheep. He is well read enough to know that for Nietzsche nothing would do except risking one’s life. If the test of character is the ability to face annihilation without flinching, all other forms of risk-taking are surrogates; conversely, if risking your life is simply a leisure activity, as it is in rock climbing or hang gliding, it simply can’t matter in the way courage in battle did for Hector and Achilles. Those who complain that victory in the cold war is less exciting than it ought to be have their answer. It is as exciting as the end of History allows—not very exciting at all.
Although Fukuyama’s éclat comes from the way he throws Hegel and Nietzsche into the post-cold war debate, much of his book is sociological rather than philosophical. This is especially true of the long argument to the effect that industrialism is inescapable, and that capitalist industrialism is a lot more efficient than the alternatives. On all this, his views are orthodox and sensible. Where it is hard to know what really causes what, he is properly reticent. Thus, he considers explanations for the economic troubles of Latin America—Catholicism rather than the Protestant ethic, feudal assumptions among both the elites and the workers, misguided attempts at self-sufficiency rather than specialization for the international market—but does not settle for any one in particular.
The same readiness to canvass all possibilities comes out in his discussion of the prospects for international peace and security. Observing that no liberal democracies have ever fought each other—the British burned Washington in the War of 1812, but that hardly counts—he is sanguine about a future in which the world is full of liberal democracies. Whether they will fight the third world he cannot say. He notices in passing that one prospect is vast population movements as third world and recently emancipated second world peoples try to get into Western Europe and the United States; but whether this will result in mayhem is again too hard to predict.
It is hard to quarrel with such reticence. If History is at an end, particular events certainly are not, and only a fool would risk his reputation by predicting the course of either domestic or international affairs over the next ten years. It is much easier to quarrel with the extraordinary analytical looseness with which Fukuyama tackles the issue on which he is decisive, namely the irreversibility of the liberal-democratic solution to our ills. Part of the problem is that he seems to have a complete contempt for history in the usual sense, and part is that he seems to have no imagination.
So far as history goes, the text suggests that he believes that Britain was a “liberal democracy” in 1848, and the US in 1790, even though he defines democracy in terms of full adult suffrage—which Britain did not achieve until 1928 and even the US only in 1919. Turn to his footnotes, and he points this out himself, arguing that we can still call them “democracies” when they do not fit his own criteria. This is impossible, since it ignores the central question raised by the horrors of the twentieth century—whether mass democracy is consistent with liberal values, and whether capitalism can work smoothly in anything other than a corporatist environment. That Fukuyama does not see this is not surprising, for analytically, he seems to have no idea what “liberal” means.
The index of the book is a giveaway; Tocqueville is well represented, Jefferson hardly appears, and Mill not at all. Nobody who took liberalism seriously could think that the best guides to liberalism are the illiberal Hegel and the Stalinist Kojève—in the footnotes Fukuyama does his not very convincing best to claim Kojève as a liberal, but the task is hopeless. When the question confronting Americans today is whether the chaotic but undeniably liberal democracy that they have inherited from the Founding Fathers is any match for the corporatism of Japan and a united Europe, it won’t do to lump all regimes other than centrally planned Communist dictatorships together and call them liberal democracies. It is only from an altitude so great that most of human life is invisible that Japan and the United States could be passed off as examples of the same socio-political system.
As to the longer future, how can we tell what novelties mankind might come up with? Only nine years ago Jean-François Revel made a great hit with Why Democracies Perish. At the time, many people pointed out that they weren’t perishing in any great number, but M. Revel was not much deterred. The logic of democracy was to perish, and if communism somehow failed to be the cause of their perishing, something else would show up to do it. Now we have Mr. Fukuyama telling us that democracies not only do not perish, but are inscribed in History. Economic, political, and cultural divergence is ruled out for ever. This claim is made at a time when world population is growing far too fast, when religious fundamentalism is increasing, and when we have no idea how to resolve our environmental problems at a reasonable cost, to name only a few of the central issues of which Fukuyama hardly seems aware. Innumerable problems will surely demand new institutional, cultural, and psychological resources to adapt to them, and it takes an astonishing smugness to think that “more of the same” will be enough, and an extraordinary lack of imagination to believe that we are incapable of thinking of something new.
Nor is it so clear that spontaneous cultural divergence has become impossible. It was not History that imposed a sort of democracy on Japan, but two nuclear attacks and an American occupation. It was not the inefficiency of Nazism that brought multiparty democracy and welfare capitalism to the Federal Republic of Germany, but millions of dead and wounded at Stalingrad and in Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin. These were not societies whose inhabitants spontaneously gave up on them and turned to “the West.” They were bombed, beaten, and occupied into democracy. Why should we think the People’s Republic of China is going to develop into a larger version of the US? There will be technological convergence, but why should there be cultural convergence? Of course, it’s hard to imagine what dramatic changes will take place. But history has always taken us by surprise.
It remains, in the end, a puzzle that Mr. Fukuyama is such a darling of American conservatives. It’s not as though the US were Britain where conservative intellectuals are a rare breed; they are to be found in droves in think tanks, on newspapers, and on television programs, interning away for conservative politicians, and word processing in assorted foundation offices. Still, they are usually employed to comment on matters of the day, rather than deliver the judgments of world history. What is puzzling is why the idea that “Professor Hegel goes to Washington” has become popular. Why should people sleep more soundly for thinking that a dead Prussian philosopher and his eccentric French interpreter have certified them as the final products of History as a Whole?
The only explanation I can think of comes from Voltaire’s Candide. Candide’s tutor, Dr. Pangloss, held that this was the best of all possible worlds, and every evil a necessary evil. Candide is an outraged satire on the very idea that this could be the best of all possible worlds, and a savage commentary on the idea that its evils are necessary. Mr. Fukuyama is the conservative’s Dr. Pangloss. If what we’ve got is what History with a capital H intends for us, then we, too, live in the best of all possible worlds, and if it remains a bit of a mess, this is a necessary mess. Meanwhile the comfortable and conservative may bask in the thought that their privileges come with the blessing of History; they can display high seriousness by writing elegant essays on the low cultural level of consumer society, and display a decent compassion for those who have fallen off the historical bus before it ever got to the consumer society. But above all, they can settle for the politics of business as usual. It used to be said that the Church of England was “the Tory Party at prayer.” The United States has never had an established church, and conservatives may have felt the lack of it. Mr. Fukuyama has provided them a Hegelian prayer book, for which they are properly grateful.
March 26, 1992
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.” ↩
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). ↩
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. ↩
Reviewing Fukuyama in The Washington Post, Gilder even contrives to include a plug for a capital gains tax cut in his essay. ↩