The End of History and the Last Man | Study Guide

Francis Fukuyama

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The End of History and the Last Man | Afterword | Summary

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Summary

In 2006 Fukuyama reflects on the 17 years of criticism that have accumulated since the publication of his original essay in 1989. Firstly, he restates what he meant by the "end of History." He reminds the reader that he took the idea from Hegel and that many thinkers since the work of Hegel and Marx thought history had a direction with a definite end-point. Marx thought this was communism. The collapse of communist regimes in 1989 led Fukuyama to believe it was liberalism, not communism, that was the final stage of humanity. Fukuyama stresses that his conception of history, like science, is universal. It is not the possession of the West, but the possession of all humanity. One aspect of this universal progress is found in the universal demand for improving living conditions and wealth. Economic development tends to lead to the growth of a "middle class" that desires, and agitates for, democracy. Democracy thus follows economic development. But the desire for democracy is not as strong as the desire for wealth. Democracy is problematic and involves struggles between communities and cultural groups. A major challenge to liberalism comes from Islam in particular, in Fukuyama's view. He argues that Islam is in the middle of a struggle between religious law and secular modernity, which the Christian world had previously gone through.

Fukuyama seeks to clarify, in the face of criticism, that he did not mean to say it is the United States itself that represents the "end of History." He is keen to point out that modern Europe, defined by market economics, liberal democracy, and cross-national cooperation, represents the triumph of liberal democracy just as adequately as the United States.

Fukuyama then reviews four challenges to his thesis. The first comes from Islam, which appeared to some (after the attacks of September 11, 2001) to exist in tension with liberal democracy. Fukuyama does not believe the problem resides in Islam itself but in certain political implementations of Islamic philosophy. He distinguishes a form of "political Islam" as being at fault, likening it to previous ideologies like fascism and communism. He thinks the problem of integrating religious minorities into European countries, for example, to be a more serious threat than these political Islamists.

The second challenge is that of a global democracy that transcends the nation-state. Fukuyama had previously only considered democracy as a political system practiced within states. The growth of the European Union suggested the possibility of a democracy that worked above individual nations. Fukuyama ultimately thinks this project is not likely to succeed.

The third challenge is that of political authority. This is a problem primarily in the developing world. Fukuyama states, "we know relatively little of how to build strong political institutions in poor countries." He notes that The End of History did not provide a theory of how to build stable political institutions and cultures outside of the realm of economics. Fukuyama also points out that other challenges to the "end of History" hypothesis are posed by factors like terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction or the effects of disastrous climate change that could radically disrupt systems of government.

Fukuyama outlines one final challenge: new technology, particularly biotechnology. Fukuyama believes the potential to manipulate the human genome or alter consciousness through drugs leads to the possibility for new forms of politics in the future. A "post-human" future, powered by biotechnology, might override the "end of History."

Analysis

With the benefit of hindsight Fukuyama is able to pose some responses to criticisms of his work. As of 2006 he thought his thesis was still broadly correct. Nevertheless, he is able to see certain trends and events he was not able to predict while writing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of these, foremost in the minds of many Americans in the first years of the 21st century, was the apparent rise of political Islam and a new clash of ideologies. The War on Terror seemed to have taken the place of the Cold War. Fukuyama does not think political Islam poses a challenge to his thesis, however. Insofar as Islam is problematic, it takes the form of the problem of integrating a religious minority into the societies of Europe and the United States. This is the sort of problem he anticipated in the "end of History," however.

Fukuyama's discussion of biotechnology is a reflection of continuous technological progress of the kind he noted in The End of History. The ability to remake what it means to be "human" poses a subtle but serious threat to Fukuyama's conception of the human spirit and the predictable path of "History." It was a subject Fukuyama worked on personally for the administration of President George W. Bush.
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