What is meant by the phrase "the telos of history?" Can historians ever arrive there, given that no history can be truly objective?
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The phrase “telos of history” refers to the concept of an end state at which mankind has reached the limits of its socioeconomic and cultural development. “Telos” is derived from the Greek “teleology,” defined as the study of evidence of design in nature, or as “the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose.” [i.word.com/dictionary] More often employed by social science theorists than by historians, who generally eschew such grandiose conceptual notions, the “telos” of history is the suggestion that there is or can be a point at which humans have culturally evolved as far as they can, and a final state, or utopia, has been reached. The main proponent of such a theory could be said to have been Karl Marx, who is most well-known for “The Communist Manifesto,” but whose "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts" (1844) more ably describe a socioeconomic evolution culminating in a perfect egalitarian society. The most recent example of an attempt to articulate a “telos” of history was Francis Fukuyama, whose 1989 essay in the journal "The National Interest," “The End of History?” sparked a vibrant debate regarding the author’s contention that, with the end of the Cold War, mankind had reached the end of its sociocultural evolution, and that democracy was the final form of government that could survive, a direct rebuttal to Marx’s contention that communism would represent the final form of government. That Fukuyama could be said to have been wrong so soon after postulating his notion is not a complete refutation of his theory. The emergence of an alternative form of government – essentially a hybrid of capitalism and autocratic control first successfully implemented in Chile and now evident in China – has given critics of Western style democracy intellectual ammunition, but the continued evolution of Chilean politics into a full-fledged democratic model does restore a semblance of balance to the debate. Consequently, whether historians can ever truly arrive at a “telos” of history remains as uncertain today as it was 150 years ago when Marx was contemplating such matters. Clearly, subjective biases, too common in most histories and social science theories, makes it exceedingly unlikely that a viable theory will emerge anytime soon. But, then, the end of communism as a model caught a lot of people off guard.
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