The End of History and the Last Man | Study Guide

Francis Fukuyama

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The End of History and the Last Man Study Guide." Course Hero. 5 Apr. 2019. Web. 10 Aug. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-End-of-History-and-the-Last-Man/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2019, April 5). The End of History and the Last Man Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-End-of-History-and-the-Last-Man/

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The End of History and the Last Man Study Guide." April 5, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-End-of-History-and-the-Last-Man/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "The End of History and the Last Man Study Guide," April 5, 2019, accessed August 10, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-End-of-History-and-the-Last-Man/.

The End of History and the Last Man | Summary

Share
Share

Summary

Part 1: An Old Question Asked Anew

Francis Fukuyama opens his book by discussing the then-recent events that prompted his thesis. He begins by discussing the pessimism about historical progress he detects in his contemporaries. The reason for this is the destructive events of the 20th century, including two world wars and the rise of many authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. These events helped to destroy certainties about progress that were common in the 19th century and have caused some in the West to question the validity and effectiveness of democracy itself. But Fukuyama wishes to make an opposite case: events in the 1980s and 1990s offer reason for renewed optimism. He argues the apparent strength of authoritarian states was always a fiction. Pessimists had mistaken a temporary blip on the road to progress for a real threat to liberal democracy. He examines first the authoritarian states of the right, and then the "totalitarian" states of the communist left. Both kinds experienced a series of crises in the 1970s and 1980s from which few recovered. In both analyses Fukuyama points to two crises that these kinds of states could not resolve: their inability to manage rapid economic change and the inevitable crisis of legitimacy. Fukuyama argues his age is undergoing a global liberal revolution which is ushering in the final stage in a "Universal History": the worldwide triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism (the economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and distributed through markets).

Part 2: The Old Age of Mankind

Fukuyama begins this part by laying out the case for a "Universal History," that is, a grand narrative of human development across history, or the idea that history is the tale of inexorable (unavoidable) social progress. He traces the ideas of metanarrative history from classical thinkers up to more modern examples, like Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), and Karl Marx (1818–83). Fukuyama disagrees with Marx and believes Hegel's idea of history heading toward liberal democracy was more accurate. He then proceeds to lay out the first of two mechanisms he believes underpin the liberal revolution. This is economic, and especially technological, change that means the ascent of capitalism as the most developed form of human economic activity is inevitable. He believes technological progress is inevitable because it is tied to scientific progress, which is, likewise, inevitable and moving in the direction of more and more complete knowledge.

Planned economies cannot compete with market economies because planners cannot allocate resources as efficiently as markets can. This means planned economies cannot adapt quickly enough to technological change; they thus lag behind market economies. Moreover, he believes the so-called "Asian economic miracle" of the mid-20th century showed that rapid industrialization and market liberalization did not necessarily lead to the deprivations communist ideologies said they would. Fukuyama points out, however, that this economic account of the liberal triumph does not go far enough to explain exactly how and why it happened. He believes the ascent of liberal economics, whose advantages seem to Fukuyama self-evident, is easier to explain than the triumph of liberal democracy, which Fukuyama views as more problematic.

Part 3: The Struggle for Recognition

Fukuyama proceeds to explain why people across the globe have revolted to overthrow tyrannical regimes and institute liberal democracies. He takes Hegel's conception of history as a "struggle for recognition" and deploys it for his own purposes. The desire to be recognized as a human being with worth and dignity is Fukuyama's engine for the ascent of liberal democracy. He begins by considering the "first man" at the earliest stage of history, who was engaged in violent struggles for prestige as a way to gain recognition. This is similar to the conception of early humanity found in English philosophers John Locke (1634–1704) and Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), which Fukuyama discusses as a way to introduce his (and Hegel's) preferred understanding of humans as always—across all class and national divides—engaged in a struggle for personal recognition. Fukuyama further points out this was not an idea original to Hegel; it comes from classical philosophy through Greek philosopher Plato (428–348 BCE) in the form of the concept of thymos, or "spiritedness."

Fukuyama goes on to apply this understanding of thymos as underpinning many phenomena otherwise thought of as motivated by economics. Workers on strike, for instance, are not motivated primarily by higher wages or better working conditions but by their own sense of self-worth, or thymos. For this reason they despise strikebreakers because strikebreakers call into question the strikers' thymos. The American Civil War (1861–65), likewise, according to this theory, was caused by thymotic desires rather than economics. Furthermore, Fukuyama places thymos into his immediate context as one of the main motivations driving the revolutions against communist regimes in the 1980s. Returning to Hegel, Fukuyama outlines Christianity's contribution to the Hegelian conception of humanity. According to Fukuyama, Christianity proposes all humans are ultimately equal in the eyes of God and articulated a vision of universal human freedom. For Hegel this means also that all humans possessed thymos and were driven by it to desire freedom. These principles are made manifest in the "universal and homogenous state" at the "end of History" which in Fukuyama's view is best represented by the contemporary United States of America.

Part 4: Leaping Over Rhodes

Part 4 is titled "Leaping Over Rhodes." This phrase refers to one of the fables of Greek storyteller Aesop (c. 620–560 BCE) about a bragging athlete who exaggerates the distance of a jump the athlete made when visiting the city of Rhodes. The athlete boasts that many people witnessed the incredible leap and could prove the athlete's story. However, those listening to the athlete's story respond that there is no need for witnesses of what happened in Rhodes. The athlete should go ahead and perform the same incredible leap right now. The fable is a well-known cautionary tale against boasting.

Having outlined his historical argument, Fukuyama begins to explain what it means to live in the "end of History" and what problems the future holds. One of these is the incomplete application of liberal democracy across the world. He identifies two main opponents of liberal democracy: religion and nationalism. Fukuyama believes it is only in the creation of civic and democratic cultures that democracy can truly take root. A strong "democratic tradition" is not necessary, but statesmen and people alike must be willing to practice democracy and see it flourish. Fukuyama then examines the "work ethic" that is derived (like democracy) from thymos rather than pure economic motives. This work ethic differs from culture to culture, and Fukuyama uses this to explain why, although they may adopt democracy, economic and social differences among nations will persist. Authoritarianism is another aspect of culture Fukuyama ponders. He sets the roots of authoritarianism in "group cultures" as found in Southeast Asia. It is these cultural factors that, for Fukuyama, create the persistence of authoritarian politics in places like Singapore.

Having established to his satisfaction that competition at the end of history will be between cultures, he then points to what a foreign policy of the period will look like. He attacks the foreign policy "realism" of the Cold War as treating contemporary facts about nations and the balance of power as set facts that have to be accommodated. Fukuyama stresses that these "facts" were contingent on a set of historical circumstances that are now changed by the overthrow of communism. Realism is thus unrealistic as a basis for a new foreign policy. Fukuyama posits a growing distinction between the "historical" world in which nations, nationalism, and imperialism persist, and the "post-historical" world where cultures are drawn together through ties of international trade and cooperation.

Part 5: The Last Man

Fukuyama spends the final section of his text considering the challenges and problems that face the "last man" at the end of History. He questions whether the victory of liberalism (the political system that places highest emphasis on preserving personal liberty) and capitalism will ultimately leave inhabitants of "post-history" unsatisfied and cause backsliding into older modes of being. One problem posed to the "post-history" world is the persistence of megalothymia, the desire to be recognized as greater than others. Fukuyama believes this to have been tamed but not eradicated by the liberal state. Another problem Fukuyama foresees is that liberal democracy places too much emphasis on the rights of citizens and not enough on citizens' duties to their communities and society. This means communities, which Fukuyama holds to be the bedrock of an orderly and successful society, will begin to break down. He closes by making the case that, in the future, a directional history such as that which he proposes will become self-evident to observers.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The End of History and the Last Man? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!

Stuck? We have tutors online 24/7 who can help you get unstuck.
A+ icon
Ask Expert Tutors You can ask You can ask You can ask (will expire )
Answers in as fast as 15 minutes