The End of History and the Last Man | Study Guide

Francis Fukuyama

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The End of History and the Last Man | Part 2, Chapter 5 : The Old Age of Mankind (An Idea for a Universal History) | Summary



Fukuyama introduces the concept of a "Universal History": an "attempt to find a meaningful pattern" in human development. He notes that ancient historians did not attempt such histories, preferring cyclical explanations like the rise and fall of tyranny. Fukuyama credits Christian writers with the first universal histories. Thinkers in the Renaissance (the period of intense renewed interest in cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, occurring in Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries) built on earlier Christian ideas of universality and added into them narratives of progress that were derived from progress in the understanding of science. The first true universal histories, Fukuyama alleges, were the work of German philosophers Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and Hegel in the 18th century. For Hegel Universal History is the tale of "the growth of the equality of human freedom." Fukuyama then introduces and discusses the argument between the philosophies of Hegel and another sort of Universal History, that of Marx. Although Marx owed much to Hegel's method, Marx believed a different sort of society than a liberal democratic republic lay at the end of history: communism, the classless society of true equality. Fukuyama rejects Marx, however, because of the apparent failure of all Marxist societies. Fukuyama proceeds to introduce the ideas of Russian Hegelian philosopher Alexandre Kojeve (1902–68). Kojeve alleged the true end of history was reached by the nations of Western Europe after World War II. Fukuyama returns once more to the pessimism that discredited universal histories in the 20th century. But he restates his belief that the events at the end of the 20th century have in fact strengthened the case for just such a history.


Fukuyama must define what he means by a "Universal History" before he can continue. This he does in Chapter 5 by running through a brief intellectual history of the concept. This is primarily because, at the time he was writing, it was an unfashionable concept, as a result of the "historical pessimism" he identified in Chapter 1. In Fukuyama's historical sketch the ideas of Hegel and Marx receive the most attention because it is the ideas of Hegel, especially his conception of the human spirit and historical progress toward democracy, that Fukuyama will lean on most heavily in his own argument. Marx, on the other hand, is the inspiration of communist regimes that had so recently failed. It is not only Fukuyama's discussion in this chapter that reflects an argument between the philosophies of Hegel and Marx; Fukuyama's project in the book could be described as framing the entire history of the 19th and 20th centuries as essentially a contest between the ideas of Hegel and Marx.

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